Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Newest Phillie - Alex S. Gonzalez

News that was first reported early this morning by the Philadelphia Inquirer has now been confirmed by the Philadelphia Phillies via a press release on their official website – Alex Scott Gonzalez is the newest member of the Phillies organization. The Phillies have also dipped into their international scouting budget and snatched up another young Australian prospect. If you don’t mind, I’ll just pass along a link that explains the story (since I know very little about the Aussie baseball) and just move on to devoting about 1,000 words on Alex Gonzalez.

In a vacuum, this has the look and feel of a good addition. Gonzalez is an above average defender with the talent to play any of the four infield spots – he has only played SS and 3B in his big league career, but the transition to the right side of the infield shouldn’t be too much of a problem for Gonzalez as it is a necessary adjustment the natural shortstop would have to make eventually in order to prolong his big league career through reinventing himself as a utility guy. Gonzalez also has a commodity that looks to be severely lacking in this present incarnation of the Phillies collection of benchwarmers – power. Gonzalez has hit 137 homers in his 12 big league seasons with 20 of those coming in his career high homer year of 2003 (in the NL with the Cubs).

Gonzalez isn’t necessarily an ideal option of the bench, however, as he has one of the most atrocious strikeout/walk ratios in major league history. Gonzalez has struck out a remarkable 1155 times in his 1376 games played while only walking 390 times (good for 2.96 strikeouts for every walk). Not exactly the kind of bat you’d want off the bench in a late game situation even when taking into account the power he provides. I’m not sure if Gonzalez has enough power to justify his strikeout totals, but this is a point that could be debated.

I’m sure Gonzalez is remembered by the five organizations he has played for in very unique ways. Gonzalez has spent the bulk of his playing days in Toronto (8 years) and Chicago (2.5 years), so the memories in those places may actually be somewhat significant. We’ll get to those in a second, but it would be a shame if the nomadic existence of Gonzalez over the past two seasons is ignored. Four teams in two years is an impressive feat for any player and it deserves proper recognition. I mean, seriously, what Expos fan can forget the 35 he games played in Montreal after the Cubs dumped him back in Canada in 2004? Padres fans still look back fondly at his 23 late season at bats with the team after they picked him for the stretch run? Devil Rays fans can now look back at Gonzalez for what he truly was – a one year stopgap who fit the bill as the “veteran presence” management was looking for. Gonzalez did hit the ball very well at Tropicana Field in ’05 (.283/.340/.433) so maybe Rays fans can remember the good times they enjoyed watching him play at home when they look back on the one year Alex Gonzalez era.

Toronto fans can probably only look back at Gonzalez and wonder what might have been. He was a highly regarded prospect coming off of an All-State year at Killian High School in Miami, Florida who fell in the draft due to the fear most teams had that he would opt for college instead of the pros. Toronto took a chance on him in the 14th round and it quickly paid off. After an early minor league adjustment period, Gonzalez settled in and by 1993 had established himself as one of the top shortstop prospects in all of baseball. He hit .289/.340/.451 with 16 homers as a 20-year old kid in AA in ’93 and then followed it up in 1994 with an even more impressive .284/.365/.435 line with 12 homers in AAA. His development was astonishing – he had improved in every aspect of the game, most notably his plate discipline, in just a four seasons as a professional. Gonzalez was called up and given the everyday job at shortstop for the Blue Jays in 1995 – he posted an OPS+ of 87 in 367 at bats as a 22-year old in the majors. His career OPS+ as it stands right this minute – 79. Needless to say, Gonzalez did not progress at the big league level like so many had predicted he would. His offensive game stagnated or worse –in some areas, again going back to plate discipline, his numbers regressed. This made me think of something Bill James wrote about Shawon Dunston in his Historical Baseball Abstract; he wrote, “He was basically an eternal rookie, a player who continued until the end of his career to make rookie mistakes.” I haven’t followed the career of Alex Gonzalez closely enough to say the same about him, but Shawon Dunston did happen to have a very similar statistical line as Gonzalez as both players progressed into their late 20’s. Just a thought.

If Blue Jay fans feel badly about the time they spent watching Alex Gonzalez, consider for a second what Chicago Cubs fans went through. Gonzalez was the man at shortstop for the Cubbies during Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS. Gonzalez dropped a routine ground ball hit right to him that would have ended the eight inning with Chicago up 3-1. Seven Marlin runs would eventually score, Steve Bartman would be run out of town, and the World Series drought for the Cubs would live on. Baseball is a game of inches – a solid and very applicable cliché if you ask me.

It’s really anybody’s guess as to how Alex Gonzalez will be remembered for his time spent in Philadelphia. He comes in hot; 2005 was the best full season of his career. He hit .269/.323/.410 with 9 homers in 349 at bats while playing third base for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. His OPS+ of 95 was his highest over a full season ever, topping the 100 he put up in 154 at bats in ’99 and the 94 OPS+ of 2002 in his first of two full seasons with the Cubs. He’ll be 33 years old on April 8th, so what you see is what you get. He is a very talented athlete who does certain things reasonably well (power and defense), but always leaves you wanting more. He is a unique player to evaluate because he has a rare skill set – how many utility infielders do you see out there who combine good defense with good pop while consistently finishing with over 100 strikeouts a season? The terms of the contract will play a big part in determining how good or bad a move this was, but Gonzalez is a decent ballplayer who is capable of helping this team. To borrow a phrase I used earlier - in a vacuum, this has the look and feel of a good addition. The problem with this move is that it isn’t in a vacuum (obviously). Other acquisitions have been made this offseason and more moves are still to be made. How does Gonzalez fit on this team? What will be done about David Bell? Why is Abraham Nunez even here? Should Danny Sandoval and Matt Kata start shagging flies right this minute? How in the world did Tomas Perez even get a 2-year deal (with an option!) in the first place? Well, at least I can actually answer one of these questions…just blame it on Ed Wade.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yippie.

11:38 AM  
Anonymous braveswin said...

I agree, where does Gonzalez fit in? Nunez was given a 2 year deal to backup Bell at third. Gonzalez had a good season at third last year, and like you said he's versatile. For now, does that place him second on the depth chart behind Rollins?

This could be a contingency plan for a possible David Bell trade. Bell's in a contract year and if he continues slumping, the Phillies could trade him for pitching or something. That would allow Gonzalez or Nunez to play third.

2:56 PM  
Blogger XXX said...

All good stuff, I agree with both commentors - Yippie indeed. Gonzalez is a strange pickup for the Phils since I look at him as a better, more accomplished player than Nunez (though they have very different skill sets, so both can be of use in theory). A Bell trade is definitely something to look out for.

1:46 AM  
Blogger gr said...

if bell slumps, who would take him?

5:25 PM  

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