The Oakland Athletics Should Pursue a Gio Gonzalez Reunion

Left-hander Gio Gonzalez remains one of the most notable free agents on the open market. Meanwhile, the Oakland Athletics need starting pitching; a reunion between the two parties makes all the sense in the world.

The 2018 season was a complex period of time for Gonzalez. In split time with the Washington Nationals and Milwaukee Brewers, he recorded a 4.21 ERA and 1.44 WHIP. Simultaneously, after getting traded from the Nationals to the Brewers in an August 31 trade, he recorded a 2.13 ERA and 0.95 WHIP in five starts. But the postseason was discouraging for Gonzalez’s sake. While he made two starts in the Brewers’ National League Championship Series matchup with the Los Angeles Dodgers, he was removed from his Game 1 start after just two innings and was forced to leave the game in the second inning of his Game 4 start due to an ankle injury.

Was the 2018 version of Gonzalez the one teams will be signing up for? That’s difficult to say given how the left-hander has been a reliable force on the rubber every fifth day for the majority of his career. In fact, he’s just one year removed from recording a 2.96 ERA with the Nationals.

Gonzalez is a groundball pitcher. At times, it works in his favor given how he makes quick work of opposing teams and keeps his pitch count down. On the other hand, it can plague him. For example, before 2018, he had been removed from postseason outings early due to laboring through at-bats and putting runners on base. In the regular season managers are more prone to letting their starters work through trouble, but in October they’re not as patient given the importance of every at-bat.

The Oakland @Athletics need starting pitching help, and a reunion with former A's starter @GioGonzalez47 makes sense for both sides. @RPStratakos has more.Click To Tweet

Despite the criticism and, at times, inconsistency in his game, Gonzalez is a proven commodity who has made 31-plus starts in eight of the last nine seasons, including each of the last four. Does he put runners on base often? Yes, but he works out of trouble more often than not, can pitch on a consistent basis, and has postseason experience. For the A’s sake he would give them a much-needed established starter.

In the midst of their surprising 97 win-season that included an appearance in the American League Wild Card Game, the A’s had one of the best pitching staffs in Major League Baseball in 2018. While it was mostly generated by their bullpen, the A’s starting rotation held its own. Left-hander Sean Manaea recorded a career-best 3.59 ERA; veteran right-handers Trevor Cahill and Edwin Jackson gave the A’s competent outings down the stretch; after coming over in a midseason trade with the Detroit Tigers, right-hander Mike Fiers was a reliable force on the rubber every fifth day, finishing with a 3.74 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in 10 appearances, nine of which were starts. The problem is that three of those four figures are no longer with the A’s.

While Fiers re-signed on a two-year, $14 million deal, the A’s will be without Manaea for the bulk of 2019 due to a shoulder injury, Cahill signed a one-year, $9 million deal with the rival Los Angeles Angels, and Jackson remains a free agent.

Now, the A’s do have some proven starters in place. They re-signed Fiers, added right-hander Marco Estrada on a one-year, $4 million deal — although he’s coming off a season where he recorded an abysmal 5.64 ERA — Daniel Mengden has been efficient in the 24 starts he has made from 2017-18, and Chris Bassitt recorded a 3.02 ERA in 11 appearances in 2018, seven of which were starts. But those four starters don’t form a rotation that can carry a team deep into the playoffs.

The A’s need to add either a top-of-the-rotation force, or multiple middle-of-the-rotation starters. In all likelihood, president Billy Beane will feel more inclined to sign someone on a shorter deal in terms of both years and dollars considering the organization’s Moneyball demeanor, which makes Gonzalez a suitable signing. Based on left-hander Wade Miley reeling in just a one-year, $4.5 million deal with the Houston Astros earlier this week after a bounce back 2018 season, it’s likely that Gonzalez, who is coming off a shaky 2018 campaign, will cash in on a contract worth a smidgen more than that amount — which the A’s can afford.

Gonzalez made his MLB debut with the A’s in 2008. While he only made 10 appearances in his first season and struggled in his first complete season (2009), Gonzalez grew into a top-of-the-rotation starter in the coming years. In 2010 and 2011 he recorded ERA’s of 3.23 and 3.12, totaled 200-plus innings in each season, and cracked the AL All-Star Game roster in 2011. Sure, like he does today, Gonzalez put runners on base often, but he was able to work out of trouble. The A’s would end up trading Gonzalez to the Nationals after 2011.

Heading back to where it began is a viable option for the southpaw considering the limited options that appear to be at his disposal, as well as the role he could man on the A’s pitching staff.

The likes of All-Star closer Blake Treinen, Lou Trivino, Ryan Buchter, Yusmeiro Petit, Fernando RodneyLiam Hendriks, and free agent signee Joakim Soria form one of the best bullpens in MLB and one that’s heavily relied on to carry the load for the A’s. In fact, their bullpen was second in MLB in innings pitched last season (641.1), as well as third in ERA (3.37), second in opponent batting average (.220), and sixth in strikeouts (627). Heck, manager Bob Melvin opted to go with a bullpen day over a true starting pitcher in the AL Wild Card Game.

At this stage of his career Gonzalez doesn’t pitch as deep into games as he once did, and he’s more effective in five-to-six innings of work. Based on how their bullpen is constructed to pitch three-to-four innings a game, adding a starter who is likely to be removed in the middle of games is a logical fit for the A’s pitching staff. If their offense — which features Khris Davis, Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, Stephen Piscotty, Marcus Semien, and Jurickson Profar, among others — produces at the level it did last season again in 2019 (the A’s were fourth in MLB in runs last season with 813), a stable starting rotation will be enough for the A’s to compete for the playoffs.

The A’s will be a competitive ballclub on a nightly basis in 2019, but they need more pitching if they want to keep pace in the AL; Gonzalez would be a beneficial addition in their quest to do so.

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