Gonzalez comfortable in Colorado
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Carlos Gonzalez regularly hits bullets at Rockies camp that have teammates in awe, he carries the potential to be the best all-around player in the league and he wears a smile at all times. He's only 25, yet he understands how good he is. And especially how he good he has it.
A five-tool player with even rarer wisdom who led the National League with a .336 batting average, Gonzalez hit 36 home runs, stole 26 bases and won a Gold Glove in a breakout 2010 season. And he happily signed up for another seven years at $80 million this winter to remain with Colorado rather than wait for greater riches. He grew up in Maracaibo, Venezuela, and he understands how fortunate he is.
He also has been through some very difficult times as a player, and as phenom who's already been traded twice and demoted, too, he understands that things aren't always greener elsewhere. He very likely would have made more money had he gone year-to-year with his contracts. But he looks around, and he feels content. He has no regrets.
"I'm very happy with my decision,'' Gonzalez said. "I feel comfortable in Colorado. I feel comfortable with my teammates. I feel comfortable with the front office. This is the team that pushed me to be the best player I can be."
That Gonzalez played it safe after finishing second in the NL with a .598 slugging percentage and took the deal offered doesn't mean he doesn't believe in himself, either. He believes he is lucky. 'I feel blessed to have the talent I have. I think it's a gift from God," he said.
Beyond the five baseball tools he's been blessed with, Gonzalez also possesses humility and humor. He said he believed the Rockies were fair with him. His agent Scott Boras has semi-seriously lamented the fact that the Rockies were "too fair," meaning Gonzalez understandably felt he couldn't turn it down. Boras has made his greatest mark taking superstars to free agency, as he did twice with Alex Rodriguez and is about to do with Prince Fielder. But Gonzalez isn't one to go for the financial gusto. He took $150,000 as a gifted 16-year-old when others said he could possibly get $1 million. "Look at where I am now,'' he said to explain that call.
He thought that early deal was fair. Same for this one.
"I'm very happy with the numbers," Gonzalez, 25, said of his latest deal. "This is a great opportunity or me. This brings security for me and my family. Now my only worry is to play baseball. There are no other problems. It was very difficult or me to say no."
While Boras normally prefers great players to capitalize via free agency and Gonzalez took what will likely be under-market dollars assuming all the latest projections come true for him, Gonzalez suggested Boras was on board, or as on board as one can imagine. Boras did negotiate the deal with Rockies GM Dan ODowd, and Gonzalez said he allowed the player to make the call.
"He gave me all the information I needed,'' Gonzalez said. "At the end of the day, we made the decision. He supports me with that. We're still working together. Everything's fine. Every person who represents you wants the best for you. This is something I decided. I think it was fair enough. And he agreed with me. It was difficult or me to say no. I'm going to be young enough to be a free agent again. And I'm sure he's going to represent me still.''
Boras praised Gonzalez's handling of the situation. "He's very good at reviewing and analyzing,'' Boras said. "He had to turn down three or our offers to get where he's at. He listened to the information and reviewed every offer. From his standpoint, I think he managed the situation very well.''
Boras continued, "I gave a prospective showing what we thought he could obtain as a free agent in four years, gave him all the information to analyze all the factors. I have the highest praise for Carlos' ability and would not have had any problem going year-to-year. That was his decision. I also don't have any problem with him taking it. I think in this instance, knowing what he and his family wanted, I was very much on board with this decision.''
Boras has told people it might have been difficult for Gonzalez to explain a rejection of $80 million to folks back in his homeland as a partial explanation for why he had little choice. And Gonzalez seemed to agree, saying, "Of course ... not everyone has the opportunity I have to make a lot of money playing baseball.''
Rockies co-star Troy Tulowitzki said Gonzalez was updating him along the way during the negotiations, and part of the reason Tulowitzki signed his six-year, $119 million extension through 2020 was that he believed Gonzalez when he suggested he'd strongly consider signing long term, too. "I knew it would be tough with him having Boras. But we're friends, and he told me, 'If they make a fair offer, I'll be on board with you,'" Tulowitzki said. This was a key for Tulowitzki, who added, "There isn't one single player who can take a team to the World Series. You need a mix of players. To have two, that's kind of where it's at."
There is a nice confidence among all the Rockies, one of the better clubhouses in baseball. The veteran Jason Giambi, now 40, opined that there's no doubt they would have won the tough NL West if not for injuries last year. Others don't go quite that far. But it's clear they believe in themselves in Rockies camp.
"I'm going to be here another seven years. [Tulowitzki] is going to be here another 10 years. Hopefully, by the time it's over for us here, we'll have won a few World Championships,'' Gonzalez said. "We have things every team needs. We have pitching, offense, really good defense. If we stay together with all the pieces we have, I'm sure we'll be good.''
Gonzalez had his breakout year last season, confirming the Rockies' hopes since they traded Matt Holliday for Gonzalez, Huston Street and another player. Gonzalez was always considered to have promise, but early on some scouts noted there was a big hole in his swing on the inside part of the plate, one executive with an AL team said. It's odd to think a player this great has been traded twice. But as Gonzalez pointed out, he was traded for two very special players, the other being Dan Haren. The teams that traded Gonzalez may look mistaken for having done so, but he struggled mightily at times with the Diamondbacks and A's. With Oakland in 2008, he hit .242 with four home runs. And his 2009 season started lowly, as well; he finished with a .282 average and 13 home runs, finally flashing his vast potential.
The turnaround, O'Dowd said, was when he struggled to start with the Rockies, and manager Jim Tracy sat Gonzalez down and told him, "We believe in you. You're our guy.'' After that, he took off, putting up numbers that rival anyone in the game, winning a Silver Slugger to go with the Gold Glove.
"When I got the opportunity in Oakland, I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to do well,'' Gonzalez said. "You should never put pressure on yourself. You should play for your teammates. That's how you have to learn to play the game. You can't make numbers without your teammates.''
Gonzalez, who'll be moving from center field to left field this year to make room for even speedier Dexter Fowler, seems almost too good to be traded. He is definitely too good to be traded twice (but as one A's exec pointed out, a lot of great players are traded early in their careers). The Rockies couldn't have known he'd be this good.
Early in his career, Gonzalez was often perceived cocky. " We haven't seen any of that," O'Dowd said. "We knew he had star-like ability. We didn't know he was such a quality kid. He's been the consummate teammate. He's got the whole package.''
And he wasn't even talking about the contract.
• Francisco Rodriguez's agent, Paul Kinzer, said he plans to be vigilant about watching how the Mets handle K-Rod this season, considering his $17.5 million option that's triggered if he finished 55 games and the club's well-documented financial woes. People in the know don't see the Mets letting K-Rod finish too many games that aren't save situations, making it very unlikely he'll get to 55.
• The Phillies are concerned about Chase Utley's right knee, in part because the knee has yet to respond to a cortisone shot. The very tough Utley has yet to appear in a game. Phillies scout Charley Kerfeld had been watching the Rangers and was believed to be looking at Michael Young, but the Phillies hadn't called the Rangers as of this morning. A trade of Joe Blanton for Michael Young has only been speculation to this point.
• The Rangers' Chris Davis is tearing it up and playing very fine defense at third base, too. But since he has one option left, and with the Rangers well stocked at first and third, he is expected to be sent down.
• The Dodgers are looking for their No. 2 hitter. Casey Blake gets the first crack. Jay Gibbons is another possible candidate, vs. righties anyway.
• Rubby de la Rosa, who throws 98 with command and poise, is impressing in Dodgers camp.
• Jake Peavy continued to progress, going 3 2/3 innings and allowing one run vs. the Giants. Manager Ozzie Guillen said he's been their most impressive starting pitcher so far this spring. They are now targeting Peavy to be ready to start the season with the team.
• White Sox catching prospect Tyler Flowers has been superb this spring, but there doesn't appear to be room for him with the big club (A.J. Pierzynski and Ramon Castro are their catchers).
• There is believed to be a split among White Sox people about whether to make Matt Thornton or Chris Sale the closer.
• The Padres hope Bengie Molina would consider playing for little money, which is what they have left in their budget. But they got the impression he's still in "retirement mode.'' Too bad. He fits, and he lives in San Diego.
• One old-time scout on Josh Hamilton: "He's the closest thing I've seen to Mickey Mantle.''
• The Reds' rotation looks good and deep. One scout said they should be good again, with the one question being shortstop, where Paul Janish is expected to start (don't be surprised if Edgar Renteria forges a lot of playing time).
• Freddy Garcia, who's known for bad springs, is off to a great start with the Yankees. According to one person who knows Big Game Freddy well, one difference is that he knows he has to pitch his way onto the team (even if he is a favorite for the No. 4 starting job, there are no guarantees).
• The Mets are holding onto Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo for now -- though the odds seem to be against either one of them sticking with the club (though there are not a lot of great second base or lefty relief options in their camp).
• There is renewed concern about Carlos Beltran's knee after he needed to be shut down for five days early in spring.
• Chris Young and Chris Capuano look likely to win the Nos. 4 and 5 starting jobs with the Mets.
• Pablo Sandoval on losing 38 pounds this winter, by working out (with decathlete Dan O'Brien) and eating less. "It's hard to do.''