With Opening Day just over a month away, the A’s are still searching for starting pitchers. At this point in the offseason, almost all of the decent starting pitching options have been signed. Oakland has made a couple signings to bolster the rotation; inking Mike Fiers and Marco Estrada. There’s another free agent starter whose still available however, and if the A’s were to sign him, he’d be returning to where his career began.
Gio Gonzalez, the 33-year-old southpaw still unsigned in February, could make a return to Oakland. He and the A’s have reportedly discussed a contract, but there haven’t been any reports indicating that they’re close to reaching an agreement.
Gonzalez debuted with the Athletics in 2008, then was dealt to the Washington Nationals in December of 2011. Following two rough seasons to start his career, in which he pitched to a combined 6.24 ERA, he got on track in 2010. In that season, Gonzalez went 15-9 with a 3.23 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 3.78 FIP, 49.3 GB%, and just 0.67 HR/9. However, his big struggle was with his walk rate, as he has dealt with throughout the majority of his career, allowing 4.13 BB/9.
Despite the high walk rate and WHIP, his advanced numbers show that he was just about as good as his stellar 3.23 ERA showed. Gonzalez followed up his breakout season with another terrific year in 2011, tallying 16 wins, a 3.12 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 0.76 HR/9, 3.64 FIP, and 8.78 K/9. Once again though, he struggled with 4.05 BB/9, but was clearly able to limit the damage. Gonzalez was named an All-Star for the first time in 2011, and after gaining interest from others teams, he was dealt to the Nationals a few months before the 2012 campaign.
Gonzalez’s success continued with his new team, going 21-8 with a 2.89 ERA in his first season with the Nats. He then posted a 3.36 ERA the next season, a 3.57 ERA in 2014, and a 3.79 in ’15. 2014 was the first season since 2010 that he made less than 30 starts, making one trip to the disabled list but still making 27 starts in the campaign.
After six straight years with ERAs of 3.79 or lower, Gonzalez experienced some struggles in 2016. Over 32 outings, the left-hander pitched to a 4.57 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 3.76 FIP, 47.6 GB%, and 0.96 HR/9. “Struggles” may not be the right word though, because Gonzalez’s advanced stats show that he pitched much better than his ERA. Also, he controlled his walk rate better than any previous season, posting 2.99 BB/9. Overall, his 4.57 ERA definitely wasn’t a correct representation of his season, as his 3.76 FIP suggests that he should’ve had a seventh-straight season with a sub-4.00 ERA.
Gonzalez showed that his elevated ERA didn’t represent his pitching, following up 2016 with a 2.96 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 3.93 FIP, 0.94 HR/9, 81.6 LOB%, and 3.54 BB/9. Despite a slightly elevated FIP, Gonzalez’s other numbers check out, and he was able to put together his second season with a sub-3.00 ERA.
2017 would be his last full season in Washington, as Gonzalez was traded to the Brewers a month before last season’s conclusion. He had struggled to a 7-11 record, 4.57 ERA and 1.53 WHIP with the Nationals in 2018, but immediately turned things around in Milwaukee.
Over his five starts as a Brewer, Gonzalez collected three wins without a loss, and posted a sharp 2.13 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and .157 opponent AVG across 25.1 innings. In 32 total outings with the Nats and Brewers in 2018, the southpaw pitched to a 4.21 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 4.16 FIP, and 0.89 HR/9. While it wasn’t his sharpest season, he was still productive, and proved that he can still be a valuable piece of the rotation.
Gonzalez is coming off a contract in which he earned $8.4 million per season. With the elevated amounts that starting pitchers have received this offseason, it’s likely he could get a similar amount, and probably more. However, with pitchers and catchers reporting in less than two weeks, Gonzalez may be willing to take less money if he gets a decent offer.
While the A’s once again have a tight budget heading into next season, this is a deal that they still have a shot at pulling off. Unfortunately, there are other teams looking for starting pitchers that still have some money to spend, which makes it more likely that Gonzalez signs somewhere else. But if the A’s really want to have a decent rotation as they look to make another postseason run in 2019, they’ll put up the money to bring Gio Gonzalez back to Oakland.
Photo Sources: Reviewing The Brew, Getty Images, District On Deck