Orioles Sign Mike Gonzalez To Close

It came as quite a surprise to me that Mike Gonzalez is already 31 years old. I mostly remember him as a power closer for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but he has spent three seasons with the Braves since being traded for Adam LaRoche. Anyway, the O’s signed Gonzalez to be their new closer, at the cost of a two year year, $12 M contract* (with incentive bringing it up to a potential $16 M). My immediate reaction is “that kind of sucks, but at least it’s not Fernando Rodney.” A closer look is certainly warranted though.

* A few minutes before the details came out, I was asked on Twitter to predict the price:

  • I’d guess $14 M over the two years, maybe with a bonus for saves or games finished or something like that.
  • Maybe $12 M considering the O’s have to give up a second-round draft pick to sign him.

Can you say Bingo?

The lefty can certainly bring the strike-outs, posting a career mark of 10.6 K/9. He doesn’t have the best control though (4.1 BB/9 career, though a little lower recently) and has been a flyball pitcher in recent years. He throws pretty hard (around 92.5 mph) and has a really good slider, but his injury history means that the 74 innings he pitched last year were easily a career high (previous high was 54 in 2006). Gonzalez’s 2.57 career ERA certainly looks very nice – his 3.27 FIP is still shiny – but the 3.57 xFIP is merely above average.

If you project Gonzalez to pitch 60 high leverage innings with a 3.25 ERA, then he’d about a 1.3 Wins Above Replacement player, worth around $6 M. Now, I find it pretty doubtful that the Orioles will get 120+ innings out of Gonzalez over the two years, and with the incentives in the deal there’s very little chance of him over-performing and being a bargain. The Orioles will also have to give up their second round draft pick, worth around $1-2 M. That is a lot to give up for a guy to save maybe 30 games for a 70-75 win team. If they were contenders it might be a different story (though not too different), but given where the team is they should be holding on to draft picks and investing money in young players instead of 60-70 inning relievers.

I’m sort of working under the assumption that at some point Andy MacPhail will trade Gonzalez for more prospects than he’s worth, which makes me not be really against the deal. I certainly think it wasn’t a good decision – though not the worst possible one the team could have made given their interest in finding a “closer” – but taking that money ($16 M assuming incentives kick in + $2 M for the draft pick) and maybe paying Aroldis Chapman (or some international prospects) might have been the better bet for the team in the long-run.

[Edit: Unless the just rumored $30 M price-tag for Chapman is true. That’s a bit high for my tastes.]

How do you all think Gonzalez and his new teammates will do next season? 2010 Projection