Astros: Marwin Gonzalez will command a sizable raise in free agency
Of all the Astros’ impending free agents on the position player side, Marwin Gonzalez likely holds the most value to the team.
Unlike last year when the Astros basically “ran it back,” the team will look somewhat different next season. Thanks to the free agency of Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton, Evan Gattis, Tony Sipp, Martin Maldonado, Gonzalez, and possibly Brian McCann, Houston’s roster will never be the same. That’s not necessarily a good or bad thing. Despite a rather somber Instagram post from Gonzalez that casts doubt on his future in Houston, the Astros ought to consider bringing him back under the “right” deal.
That said, the age-29 super-utility player likely is a hot commodity on the open market. Many teams throughout today’s baseball landscape highly value a player who can play multiple positions and provide a quality bat. Over at Spotrac, one can view the market value of a player and comparable contracts in the sport. The site is giving Gonzalez an annual value of $17.9 million per season while drawing comparisons to the following deals:
Alex Gordon; four-years, $72 million
Justin Upton; five-years, $106 million
Dexter Fowler; five-years, $82.5 million
Lorenzo Cain; five-years, $80 million
Based on these comparisons, it is fair to speculate if a new Gonzalez contract is outside the Astros’ comfort zone. The market value tool on Spotrac is calculating a four-year, $71.77 million for the super-utility player. Will Gonzalez receive a contract for this length and salary commitment from any team? Perhaps, although I would caution that last year’s offseason was quite slow. But this year’s Hot Stove season features Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, two superstars who could help the lower tiers of free agency once they sign a new contract.
In a way, Gonzalez looks similar to a younger version of Ben Zobrist, who also plays multiple positions with a competent bat. Here is how the two players compare since 2015:
Ben Zobrist – .272/.362/.429, 52 HR, 12.2% BB%, 12.3% K%, 114 wRC+, 11.0 fWAR
Marwin Gonzalez – .270/.328/.444, 52 HR, 7.2% BB%, 21.3% K%, 112 wRC+, 7.4 fWAR
Although Zobrist has seven-to-eight additional years on Gonzalez, he has been a more valuable player since 2015. While their hitting metrics are similar across most categories, Zobrist does draw more walks and strikes out less than Gonzalez. At the same time, the Astros’ impending free agent has shown more power in the last four seasons. Defense is the driving difference of value between the two players. By the way, Zobrist signed a four-year contract with the Cubs before the 2016 season for $56 million. Since Gonzalez is younger than what Zobrist was three years ago, I’d expect that the former receives a slightly more lucrative offer.
General manager Jeff Luhnow has stated that raising payroll shouldn’t be an issue, if necessary. Gonzalez won’t come cheap, and the Astros still have the long-term futures of Gerrit Cole, George Springer, Carlos Correa, and Alex Bregman to consider. What Houston does have is payroll flexibility as Altuve’s recent contract extension is the only guaranteed money on the books past 2020. Take that tidbit with a grain of salt, though, as arbitration and future contracts will take a good portion of the future payroll.
At this point, it is a coin flip whether Houston will retain Gonzalez’s services, especially in light of his anticipated demand on the free agent market. Plus, the emergence of Tony Kemp does throw doubt on whether the Astros will retain Gonzalez if it feels the former can do a comparable job for a fraction of the price. Any team that does inquire about Gonzalez will have to pay a lot of money.
Honestly, a four-year contract starting at $15 million annual value along with an opportunity for consistent playing time seems like a distinct possibility. Whether that offer will eventually come from the Astros remains to be seen. At least we still have the moment when he hit the most significant home run in club history during Game 2 of the 2017 World Series.