Should the Rockies Again Invest in CarGo?

Carlos Gonzalez is good theatre.

He hit baseball’s most impressive home run last season, according to Jeff Sullivan. The shot left Gonzalez’s bat with a 117-mph exit velocity and 14.2-degree launch angle. That’s baseball equivalent of a 1-iron from an in-his-prime Tiger Woods.

That’s not a snapshot of a player you’d worry about losing it the near term.

He also hit baseball’s fifth-longest home run last season, according to HitTracker. The 475-foot, third-deck shot at Coors Field featured his signature, and aesthetically pleasing, follow-through and bat drop.

For me, Ken Griffey Jr. had the best swing and home-run pose of the modern era, but Gonzalez’s swing is right there among today’s best left-handed batters. It’s the kind of cut to which you could get emotionally attached. The swing has allowed Gonzalez to distinguish himself as one of the sport’s most productive hitters since 2009.

But time catches up to all of us, and looks – and swings – can be deceiving. Gonzalez was once a tools-laden player who could impact the game a number of ways; now he’s more of a bat-only threat with mixed assessments of his defense. He’s entering the final year of a seven-year deal and is owed $20 million by the Rockies. As pretty as that left-handed swing is, 2018 will represent his age-32 season, and he’ll be arriving at a place on the aging curve where mild declines can accelerate in the wrong direction.

He’s become the type of player for whom the market has over-corrected, according to FanGraphs’ Dave Cameron.

So it’s interesting to see the Rockies remain interested in keeping Gonzalez around beyond his current contract. There’s been buzz about an extension dating back to December, and Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich confirmed to MLB.com’s Thomas Harding on Tuesday that the Rockies are open to a contract extension.

Here’s Bridich, from Harding’s piece:

“We’ve contemplated the possibility of an extension with him. We’re hopeful we can at least explore that further. We feel like there’s a good chance we’ll be able to at least explore it further. After that, there’s really not much to say.”

Gonzalez is the rare Scott Boras client who has signed a long-term extension, electing not to test the open market. Given the prospect of similar players available in next offseason’s outfield free-agent market and given the difficulty with which Jose Bautista and other sluggers have contended in finding work this offseason, perhaps Gonzalez is motivated to strike another deal.

He’s the kind of player who can help sell some tickets and drive some ratings in the short term. But with the Rockies coming off a 75-win season and with Gonzalez entering the last year of his previous deal, this seems like the kind of player whom the Rockies should be trying to sell – not invest in.

For starters, he’s produced fewer and fewer wins. He posted 4.7 WAR in 2013, was below replacement level in an injury-shortened 2014 (-0.5 WAR), rebounded to a degree in 2015 (2.4 WAR), only to decline in 2016 (1.9 WAR). The baserunning is on the decline as is the defense in spacious Coors Field. While the bat is still potent, Gonzalez lost nearly 60 points in isolated slugging percentage last season.

Steamer projects Gonzalez to post a 1.6 WAR in 2017, continuing a gentle decline.

From a pure math standpoint, extending Gonzalez doesn’t make much sense on the surface. He projects to produce negative surplus value in 2017. Moreover, the Rockies share a division with the competitive Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants.

The Rockies also have a number of internal options like David Dahl, Gerardo Parra, and Raimel Tapia.

Perhaps there are intangible considerations to consider with a Face of the Franchise, but a second, significant contract extension is often a losing investment. The Rockies should know this well, after having traded Troy Tulowitzki to Toronto in 2015 — in the midst of his second extension — partly with a view to getting out from under that contract.

It’s unclear what kind of deal Gonzalez is seeking — and to what type of dollars and years the Rockies are amenable, too. But a lengthy, significant contract would likely produce negative value. Gonzalez’s swing is a work of art, but it’s not an asset that’s likely to appreciate or hold value.



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