Nationals Tie Knot With Gio Gonzalez

The Nationals have not been shy about their dealings with Gio Gonzalez. First, they dealt three of their top 10 prospects — including two of their top three — for the 26-year-old hurler. Then, over the weekend, the Nationals completed the bond, signing the lefty to a contract extension worth $42 million over the next five years. The contract also includes two club options for a combined $23 million.

The deal covers the Nationals’ last four years of control of Gonzalez (including his Super Two season this year) and buys out one year of free agency. Judging by similar deals we’ve seen in recent years, the Nationals don’t just see Gonzalez as a decent number-two starter. They think he’s an ace.

Specifically, there have been three five-year contracts handed out to starting pitchers with four seasons of team control remaining. Two of them went to pitchers who have already taken up the mantle as their team’s ace — Ricky Romero in Toronto and Jon Lester in Boston. The third went to a pitcher who would be his team’s ace if not for the acquisition of Zack GreinkeYovani Gallardo in Milwaukee. Gonzalez’s performance, particularly over the two years prior to signing the contract extension, was pretty much right in line with what Lester, Romero and Gallardo did to convince their bosses to commit over the long term:

Although it is a simplistic analysis — it ignores how the four pitchers arrive at their results and the inevitable discussion on Gonzalez’s walks — based on ERA- and FIP-, Gonzalez measures up well with his contemporaries who have received similar contracts, at least in terms of length. But where his peers received either $30 million or $30.1 million, Gonzalez walks away with $42 million.

Part of this disparity definitely results from Gonzalez’s Super Two status, something the other trio didn’t possess. Inflation could be a possibility as well — Lester signed his deal prior to the 2009 season, Gallardo prior to 2010, and Romero prior to 2011, although the economy has somewhat suppressed salary growth prior to this season. Even with these adjustments, it would seem the value of Gonzalez’s contract is even higher than those of the other three pitchers mentioned here. It partly goes to show the bargains these teams have earned with their young pitchers, particularly the Red Sox with Lester. It also goes to show how much hype was behind Gonzalez this offseason — as good as he’s looked in Oakland, I would never have thought of him as above Lester or Romero, and probably not above Gallardo either.

Despite his wildness — he led the majors in walks last season — Gonzalez was a very good pitcher in Oakland, and what he’s done prior to his age 26 season is impressive. It remains to be seen if Gonzalez will be able to rein in his control and take the final step towards truly becoming an elite pitcher, and the hype over his strikeouts and shiny, Coliseum-aided ERA may have inflated his cost a touch. Still, the Nationals have locked up a good, young starting pitcher, and Gonzalez has more than enough room to grow to justify the money.

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15 Responses to “Nationals Tie Knot With Gio Gonzalez”

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  1. Sully says:

    I mentioned this in another post, there is a top 10 Prospect link that is more recent. The link you provided should be tossed.

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    • John C. says:

      Agreed, the list is out of date – although his point (that the Nationals dealt two of their top three prospects) is arguably still accurate. Although Hulett’s November list had Cole at #3 and Peacock at #7, he put a lot of faith in the 2011 draft class, a class that hasn’t had much professional experience (outside of Purke, who was merely OK in the AFL, no experience at all). I’d have had no trouble with a list that had Cole and Peacock at the #2 and #3 spot in either order.

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  2. Well-Beered Englishman says:

    Great article/analysis, and my thanks to ye.

    I think that Gallardo is the best comp because the Nationals are hoping for Jordan Zimmermann (@2.3MM in ’12) and Stephen Strasburg to each be ace material. This does signal that, however the excellent prospects they dealt pan out, Gio will be (they hope) making the trade worthwhile for a very long time to come.

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  3. MC says:

    i believe his two option years are worth a combined $24mm

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  4. Gary says:

    While I imagine the super two makes a pretty big difference, the second club option is pretty big deal too no? He exchanged his future right to free agency by a year in exchange for some present day value. The Nat’s essentially paid $X million dollars for the right to have a 2nd club option at the end of his contract.

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  5. Roberto says:

    “and the hype over his strikeouts and shiny, Coliseum-aided ERA may have inflated his cost a touch.”

    Perhaps. Then again the difference in park factor between the Coliseum and Nationals Park is negligible: .947 (20th in MLB) versus .955 (18th in MLB). What’s more, as MLB Network pointed out, Gio’s record versus the NL is pretty good: he averaged 7 innings per start and his WHIP and ERA were both 0.94.

    Granted, it’s a small sample (4 starts) and things could go south but I think that the talk about the impact of moving from the Coliseum to Nationals Park is overstated.

    FYI, someone did an analysis of the possible impact on Gonzalez from a smaller foul territory at Nationals Park. His results were posted at a chat with Tom Boswell. Here’s the link:

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    • I believe he has one of the best breaking balls in baseball. I think, from watching him against the Giants, he must be very hard to pick up or something as well. NL hitters seem a little mystified. Oh well, film will cure that.

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    • kick me in the GO NATS says:

      probably right about the park effects.

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    • 123 says:

      He’s only made 9 of his 89 career starts against NL teams. Those 9 starts are over a span of 3 seasons and include 3 matchups against the Giants. The stats are kind of interesting, but have about zero predictive value.

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  6. Antonio Bananas says:

    Any idea how much his walk rate will decrease since he gets to see a pitcher every 9 AB? Or will it stay relatively the same because, say there’s a runner on second and 2 outs, 8th spot up, you likely int walk the 8 man and face the pitcher. Also, is there a stat or a study that looks at those types of walks, as in, if he does have the same amount of walks, but some are ‘smart’ walks, he’s a more productive pitcher.

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  7. Brian says:

    Gio for Johan Santana, straight up?

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  8. Will H. says:

    Rendon wasn’t a top-3 versus two of Milone, Peacock, Cole and Norris? I find that a stretch.

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  9. Matty Brown says:

    3.50 Era, 9.2 k/9, 3.8 bb/9, 200 ip over the next 5 seasons.

    I think that is a fairly reasonable (a bit optimistic maybe) expectation of Gio in the NL during his prime years.

    That is a very valuable pitcher. (3.5 – 4.5 WAR i would guess)

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    • Antonio Bananas says:

      I don’t think his K/9 stays that way. Maybe next year, but I think by year 3 it’ll be down to about 7.5 or 8, then by year 5 maybe as low as 6.

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