Gio Gonzalez’s first trip through the free-agent process didn’t treat him well this winter, but being a free agent who’s already stretched out in mid-April — he threw 93 pitches in his last Triple-A start with the Yankees — should lead to more interest in the lefty. Clubs throughout the league might have been content to lean on internal options rather than promise a roster spot to Gonzalez over the winter, but injuries and poor performances early in the year have created an abundance of fits, and the market now has few remaining alternatives. Unlike fellow veteran lefty Dallas Keuchel, Gonzalez isn’t attached to a qualifying offer, and he’s pitched recently in a professional setting.
The asking price on Gonzalez isn’t known, but at this point, it’s difficult to imagine it’s especially exorbitant. Gonzalez settled for a minor league deal with the Yankees that came with a $3MM base rate and a hefty $300K per start in terms of incentives. At this point, a mid-range guarantee on a one-year deal that promises him a spot on a big league roster seems like it should be sufficient to sign Gonzalez, and any salary to which he agrees would be pro-rated to exclude the portion of the season that has already been played out anyhow. Put another way, signing Gonzalez to a one-year deal with a pro-rated $5MM base salary would mean adding roughly $4.3MM in spending through season’s end.
In yesterday’s MLBTR chat, it was a bit surprising to see the number of questions centering around Gonzalez. He’s a fine pitcher with an established track record, but the level of interest in him among our reader base was greater than it was at any point throughout the winter. That makes sense in mid-April, though. There are few legitimate upgrades on the free-agent market this time of year — Keuchel is a notable exception but has a much higher asking price — and teams are generally reluctant to make trades at this juncture of the season. If you’re a fan hoping to see your favorite team make even an incremental upgrade in the rotation, Gonzalez is quite possibly the best bet as far as someone who can be ready in short order. Given the general intrigue surrounding him, plus the fact that it’s April 23 and there are minimal transaction/hot stove-related storylines to monitor, the following is a way-too-in-depth look at where Gio Gonzalez could plausibly be expected to sign.
To kick things off, it seems unlikely that Gonzalez’s preference would be to sign with a non-contender. It’s true that Dan Straily recently did just that by signing with the Orioles, but he has a lesser track record and presumably faced a more limited market. Gonzalez has reportedly already drawn interest from a pair of contending clubs, and he likely wants to return to the postseason. It’d be a surprise to see him land with the Orioles, Marlins, Royals, Giants or White Sox. Clubs that entered the season unlikely to contend but have gotten off to solid starts, such as the Tigers, Blue Jays, Diamondbacks and Rangers, are all a bit likelier but still seem somewhat like long shots from here. There’s a case to be made for each of those clubs to take a look, and all have shown some willingness to spend at the levels it might take to land Gio, but a realistic assessment of their chances doesn’t really support an early-season investment.
Modest as Gonzalez’s asking price figures to be, not every team will rush to commit even a few million with the season underway. The Indians barely spent in free agency, and while they’ve lost Mike Clevinger for a couple months, they surely wouldn’t displace any of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer or Shane Bieber for Gonzalez. Pirates ownership is even more averse to spending, and Gonzalez doesn’t represent a clear upgrade over any of the current starting five (based on their early performances, anyhow).
The Cubs’ rotation is already expensive and performing well, and ownership set hard budgetary restrictions over the winter. The Red Sox are looking at 75 percent tax on any dollars spent, and they only expect Nathan Eovaldi to miss six weeks with his recent injury. They’re likely to stay in house.
Other teams are likely content with what they have in house. The Rays don’t have a set five-man rotation, but the trio of Blake Snell, Charlie Morton and Tyler Glasnow is formidable. Yonny Chirinos is something between their fourth starter and the top followup arm to an opener, and the Tampa Bay organization seems content to continue on with that opener tactic rather than adding another conventional starter. The Nationals have the game’s most expensive top four and a respectable fifth starter in Jeremy Hellickson. The Phillies are a bit of a tight fit with Jerad Eickhoff back in action and Nick Pivetta still in the picture.
The Dodgers are already teeming with rotation options and have Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill back from injury. Out in Colorado, the Rox have finally found a homegrown slate of starters who’ve gotten the job done. Cincinnati has had success with its revamped rotation and will soon welcome Alex Wood back from the IL. The Braves have more young starting pitching options than any team in the game. Over in Houston, it’s tough to Gonzalez as a compelling upgrade, especially with some intriguing young arms stashed in the upper minors. Similarly, it seems doubtful that the Twins would pull the plug on their Martin Perez experiment after all of 12 innings.
More than half the teams in the league seem unlikely to represent a landing spot for Gonzalez, but there are plenty of viable on-paper fits in both the American League and the National League.
The Angels have again been hit hard by injuries, and Gonzalez could easily step in over Chris Stratton. Elsewhere in the division, Oakland’s injury woes date back to 2018, and offseason signee Marco Estrada has already seen his longstanding back issues flare up. De facto fifth starter Aaron Brooks has struggled, too. Perhaps the Mariners shouldn’t be taken as legitimate postseason contenders just yet, but they’re seven games over .500 with baseball’s second-bet run differential. Adding Gonzalez to deepen a rotation that currently contains rookie Erik Swanson and a perhaps fading Felix Hernandez would be a risk-free move that could help maintain their performance to date.
There are several National League contenders that arguably ought to take a hard look. The Padres’ bold plan to cycle through young starters is sure to have its ups and downs throughout a long season; plugging in a durable, well-established veteran holds obvious appeal. In the central division, the Brewers and Cardinals have both seen cracks form in their starting staffs to open the year. The Milwaukee organization, in particular, has a connection to Gonzalez and is already rumored to be in on him now. Also rumored to have interest are the Mets, who are surely thinking of replacing the struggling Jason Vargas.
It’s tough to anticipate any kind of bidding war here. But there are enough clear landing spots to think that Gonzalez may be able to push the price up a bit and command a MLB rotation gig right out of the gates.