Posted on November 2, 2016 by Bryan Zarpentine
Baseball’s offseason is less than 24 hours away, and when it does officially get underway one of the first moves the Washington Nationals are expected to make is picking up the 2017 option on left-handed starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez. Interestingly, no one from the Nationals has commented on whether his option will be picked up, but a representative for Gonzalez called the move “a matter of course,” implying that picking up the option is an easy decision for the Nationals.
If the Nationals do indeed pick up the option for Gonzalez, he will make $12 million next season. He would then have a vesting option for 2018 that would kick in if he pitches at least 180 innings in 2017. Gonzalez hasn’t pitched more than 180 innings since 2013, although he was less than three innings from reaching that threshold this season, so by picking up his option, the Nationals are likely committing to two more years of Gonzalez in their rotation, assuming he stays healthy in 2017.
Based on his age, track record, and the fact that he’s left-handed, Gonzalez is practically a bargain at $12 million compared to what a comparable pitcher might be worth on the free agent market. However, it’s difficult to deny that his ability and effectiveness as a major league pitcher is starting to decline. Gonzalez has seen his ERA increase in each of the last four seasons. This past year, he posted a 4.57 ERA, up from 3.79 in 2015.
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There is also the issue of his declining velocity and the fact that his strikeout rate continues to drop. At this stage in his career, the somewhat diminutive 31-year old has regressed to a back-of-the-rotation caliber starter. He is no longer a weapon at the front of Washington’s rotation that they are counting on to lead them to the promised land. Nevertheless, he does have value in that he is the only left-handed starter the Nationals have and he’s averaged 31 starts per season during his five years in Washington.
However, one has to wonder if the Nationals could spend some time this winter shopping him on the trade market, much like the Texas Rangers are doing with Derek Holland, although the Nationals have far less urgency to make a move since they are expecting to pick up Gonzalez’ option. Due to his durability, the Nationals could conceivably get a much bigger haul for Gonzalez than the Rangers may get for Holland.
While the Nationals would certainly welcome the steady presence of Gonzalez at the back end of their rotation, Washington may also feel like it’s time to make room for some of their younger pitchers. Max Scherzer and Stephan Strasburg will undoubtedly lead the rotation in 2017, and after a great 2016 season, it’s hard to imagine Tanner Roark not being part of the rotation as well. With those three in place, the Nationals may not need Gonzalez to round out their rotation.
Joe Ross has proven that he belongs in a big league rotation when healthy, and the Nationals certainly want to make room for Lucas Giolito, who should be ready to be a full-time member of the rotation at some point in 2017. The same can be said about Reynaldo Lopez and A.J. Cole, giving the Nationals four candidates for the final two rotation spots without factoring Gonzalez into the equation.
The Nationals would certainly be content with Gonzalez in their rotation, as they’re satisfied enough with him to pick up his $12 million option for next season. But it’s not yet written in stone that he’ll be in Washington in 2017. The Nationals will pick up his option when the offseason officially begins, but they will also explore their options, meaning Gonzalez could be pitching somewhere other than Washington in 2017.