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Is Gio Gonzalez Worth the Hype?

Step aside, C.J. Wilson. There’s a new pitcher in town commanding the attention of major league teams. Following his best season as a pro, the Oakland Athletics are looking to deal Gio Gonzalez. While Gonzalez has developed into a very successful pitcher the last two seasons, there are still some questions about his actual value. Given that he won’t cost as much as the other free agent options — and he would be under team control until 2015 — Gonzalez appears to be a valuable piece in this market. How does he stack up against his competition?

In order to gauge Gonzalez’s value in this market, let’s look at how he compares to some of the other available pitchers over the last two seasons — when Gonzalez became a full-time starter.

While Wilson and Edwin Jackson have pitched better than Gonzalez over that period, both players will make more money than Gonzalez next season. Roy Oswalt has also performed better than Gonzalez in fewer innings pitched, but his back injury makes him a riskier proposition going forward. Kuroda also looks like a decent option, but he’s 36 years-old and isn’t a long-term option. If a team doesn’t want to commit the years and the money to these free agents, Gonzalez looks like a good, cheap alternative.

If a team is looking to acquire a pitcher by trade, the ability to control Gonzalez until 2015 makes him an intriguing option. Gavin Floyd has been a better pitcher over the past two seasons — and he’s signed to a very reasonable deal until 2013 — depending on whether his $9.5 million option is picked up. He’ll likely be a better pitcher than Gonzalez over the length of his remaining contract, but getting Gonzalez for an additional two years is significant.

John Danks comes with the same issue. He’s been better than Gonzalez, but Danks is only under contract for one more season before he becomes a free agent. Jonathan Niese may not have pitched as well as Gonzalez over the last two seasons, but he’s also pitched fewer innings. Niese has solid peripherals — and is also under contract until 2015 — making him nearly as desirable as Gonzalez.

Since Gonzalez can be controlled for so long, the A’s are asking for quite a bit for the 26-year-old pitcher. The A’s are allegedly looking for a package similar to the one they received for Dan Haren. They’ve also asked for Jacob Turner, Martin Perez and Mike Stanton/Logan Morrison in separate deals depending on whether you believe the rumors. While Gonzalez has been a good pitcher, he still has his warts.

Since he’s become a permanent member of the A’s rotation, Gonzalez’s 4.09 BB/9 ranks as the highest in baseball. While his high strikeout rate can offset that deficiency, Gonzalez’s walk rate is a one thing holding him back from being an elite starting pitcher. If Gonzalez loses even an ounce of command, things will go downhill for him very quickly.

There’s also a question of how Gonzalez will pitch outside of Oakland’s ballpark, but those worries are overblown. While Gio’s ERA is nearly a run higher on the road, both his FIP (3.97 to 4.15) and xFIP (3.90 to 4.05) are actually better away from the Coliseum. Nearly all of Gonzalez’s peripherals remain the same no matter where he pitches, so a change of scenery shouldn’t affect him as much as people may think.

All told, Gonzalez looks like a valuable commodity in this market. He’s younger and cheaper than the other free-agent pitchers, and he’s under control longer than the pitchers available in trades. He might not be the best pitcher on the market, but Gonzalez is a fine acquisition for a team that misses out on the premier free-agents. When those teams start scrambling to acquire pitchers, Gonzalez might be the most attractive option still on the market.