- Marwin Gonzalez is the exact player teams are looking for in this era. So why is he still unsigned?
The free agent deep freeze has affected every type of player except relief pitchers, but it is especially surprising to see Marwin Gonzalez unsigned in February. The Astros' valued super-utilityman followed his breakout 2017 season with a strong 2018 campaign, logging 16 homers and a 103 OPS+ to join a .247/.324/.409 slash line while playing every infield position along with leftfield. He seems like he'd be one of the valued players around—a strong defender with a power bat who can play five positions—but he remains homeless. So what should Gonzalez be looking for? And where does he fit best? Our panel of experts weighs in.
Jon Tayler: Finding a new home for Marwin Gonzalez is, paradoxically, both easy and difficult. It’s a simple task because Gonzalez, versatile as he is, fits anywhere; it’s tough because, versatile as he is, he fits everywhere. You can make the case for Gonzalez on nearly every team in baseball. There’s also the matter that a number of teams have already dug up their own versions of him, taking their reserve infielders and handing them new gloves to make them super-utility types. And then there’s the fact that a bunch of teams—mostly contenders—don’t really seem to be trying to improve this winter. Add all that up, and you have a market wide open for Gonzalez’s services without clamor for them.
Eschewing all the rebuilding squads that have no use for a 30-year-old player, Gonzalez makes the most sense for a contender with holes in the outfield (particularly left, his primary position) and the infield, either at shortstop or second base. To my eyes, his best fit is Colorado, which refuses to let the Ian Desmond dream die and will stick him in left after displacing him from first base. That’s a waste of the Rockies’ time, as Desmond has proved that he has nothing left to give with his bat. Gonzalez, even if his 2017 now looks more like a fluke than a new baseline, would be an improvement. He’d also offer insurance at second base if rookie Garrett Hampson can’t hack it there and at first if new addition Daniel Murphy falls prey to injury once more.
Emma Baccellieri: González is solid (111 OPS+ in his five full big-league seasons) and flexible (he played every non-battery position at least once last year). His versatility makes a Swiss army knife look like an underachiever—and it also means that he could fit in some capacity on just about any team. But for the purposes of this exercise, let's go with Atlanta. The Braves are chock full of young talent and fresh off a division championship, hoping to contend for years to come; González could be a piece to help push them over the edge in the immediate future. If Dansby Swanson continues to struggle at shortstop, he could step in at the position, and otherwise, he'd make for a capable fourth outfielder. And if injury or underperformance strike just about anywhere else on the diamond, he'd be able to help out. The Braves would be better for it. González's ideal contract would be four years, $40 million with the Braves; in this era, however, it will likely be back with the Astros for one year, $13 million
Tristan Jung: The ideal contract for Gonzalez would be a 3-year, $27 million deal with the Athletics. Oakland is set to play a lot of Nick Martini in left field and Jurickson Profar at second base, and Gonzalez would likely be an upgrade over either of them. Even if Profar and Martini turn out to be good, the A's can just have Gonzalez play pretty much anywhere, and he would fit in very nicely with that lineup.
Likewise, if the White Sox actually manage to sign Machado, they should immediately get Gonzalez on the phone because they need good baseball players and Gonzalez is both a) affordable and b) good. The realistic contract for Gonzalez is a short-term deal with some AL Central or NL East team that is looking to buy low and make a play for the next two years or so. If the Phillies win the Harper/Machado sweepstakes they should also think about adding Gonzalez.
Gabriel Baumgaertner: As Tom Verducci wrote after the Yankees signed D.J. LeMahieu and the Nationals signed Brian Dozier, teams are embracing versatility, which is driving down wages. Gonzalez is the archetype of what teams want—a reliable hitter who can play multiple positions and hit anywhere in the lineup. The problem, as Jon Tayler indicates, is that teams have already found their Marwin Gonzalez or are grooming him. The Dodgers have Enrique Hernandez. The Red Sox have Brock Holt. The Yankees signed LeMahieu. Even the Rays, a team that’d be perfect for him, have Daniel Robertson.
I think Gonzalez would work great in Milwaukee, where he could mostly play second base instead of Cory Spangenberg and then play shortstop when Orlando Arcia enters one of his inevitable hitting slumps. Instead, it feels like he’s likely headed back to Houston, where they know how to use him and somewhere that’d offer him the pillow deal that he could use if the market stays dry. It's too bad to see a player like Gonzalez, a non-prospect who used his time as a reserve to become a valued member of a World Series winner, be all but ignored in the free agent market. I'm confident, however, that his value will be evident wherever he lands.