Gio is still an effective starter that deserves so much better than a minor league deal.
This article was written before it was announced that Gio González signed a one-year, $2 million deal to return to the Brewers, with bonus incentives that can boost his salary to $4 million. While it is great to see him sign an actual major league contract, much of what has been written here still applies, as this salary will pay him far below what he is worth.
Gio González recently decided to exercise the opt-out in his minor league contract with the Yankees, thereby forcing the team to either promote him to the majors or grant him his release. The team decided that it did not like starting pitching depth, despite the fact that their best pitcher is on the IL, they have multiple injury-prone starters, and CC Sabathia is a few months shy of his 39th birthday, so they granted González his release.
The minor league contract that the Yankees offered González was nothing short of an embarrassment for a pitcher who is, at worst, a solid back-end starter. For all the talk around how neither Dallas Keuchel or Craig Kimbrel have signed yet, González having to settle for a minor league deal is right up there, and it is disgraceful. Had the Yankees chosen to promote him, he would have gotten only a $3 million base salary plus $300,000 for each start he made. Worst case scenario, he costs less than $10 million, which is basically free when you’re talking about the Yankees. It’s worth mentioning that he has made 32 starts for three straight seasons and a 31-start season in 2015.
As recently as 2017, González had an outstanding year with a 3.09 RA9 and 6.5 WAR, but he regressed quite a bit last year. It was expected, and not just because his 2017 DRA was higher than his RA9 at 3.60. As discussed by Nick Pollack in Gio’s player profile on FanGraphs, his fastball velocity fell 2 MPH to 90 MPH in 2017. He was able to get by thanks to his curveball, but that pitch was not nearly as effective last year, and it really affected his performance. He finished the season with an unremarkable 4.42 RA9 amidst a decline in his peripherals. His walk rate shot up over 10 percent, and his strikeout rate fell below 20 percent.
Due to being out of the playoff picture and Gio’s pending free agency, the Nationals traded him to the Brewers last year at the waiver-wire deadline, and the results could not have been any better. He was critical down the stretch, turning in an outstanding 2.49 RA9 over his final five starts of the season. Unfortunately, it was not because he was doing anything differently, or else somebody might have actually handed him a decent contract this offseason. He was the same pitcher he had been all season, he just benefited from a .182 BABIP and the Brewers’ excellent defense.
Still, despite González taking a step back last year, he still cracked 2 WAR in all three versions of the model. I understand that he is 33 years old, but he is still a solid pitcher, and that is worth a serious major league contract. There is no shortage of teams that could really use him.
As a Mets fan, I can echo the frustrations of this team refusing to shore up the back of the rotation. Every time I see that Jason Vargas or Chris Flexen is going to start a game, I start twitching. Flexen is not a major league quality pitcher, and Vargas has not been one since the Mets signed him last year. Since arriving in Flushing, he has had a 6.79 RA9 and been worth -1.2 WAR! This needs to stop!!! It’s one thing not to pay Keuchel nine figures — even though he is absolutely worth it to a competitive team — but it’s quite another to not bring González aboard for far less. The NL East race is going to be too tight to make unnecessary concessions anywhere on the roster.
Yes, Gio is not perfect, but he is more than a serviceable back end starter that can upgrade quite a few starting rotations. Hopefully he signs soon, and for a multiyear major league contract that pays him what he is worth.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.