There are citizens of Rockiesville who believe that Colorado Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez will never again be the player he once was. I am not one of those people.
But is a trade in order either way?
His injury history is scary, and his future a guessing game. The Rockies should move Carlos Gonzalez under the right circumstances this offseason (or early next season) but that position is highly conditional.
Reasons not to trade Carlos Gonzalez
5. You risk alienating fans
Fan fickleness is not the best reason to make personnel decisions. Okay, it's among the worst. But for a loyal fan-base like the one the Rockies have, trading one of the only two recognizable stars (apologies to Nolan Arenado, who is on his way), especially if it is for players no one has heard of, could be a public relations nightmare.
It could affect ticket sales early in the year, and if the team gets off to a poor start and/or Tulo gets hurt again, the fans and the team may pack it in early in 2015. This is an unlikely scenario, or at least unlikely to unfold just because CarGo was traded, but it is one that worries owners whose main job is to put butts in seats.
Also, speaking from a fan perspective, I really like Carlos Gonzalez. I'd rather he succeed here. He was traded twice (Arizona to Oakland to Colorado) before blossoming into a star in while wearing purple. He is ours, we love him and he has been great to the city of Denver.
He has the most beautiful swing since Griffey Jr. and watching Gonzalez roam the outfield when healthy is almost comparable to Jr. as well. Although I am in favor of trading him for the right deal, I will be sad if ever the day comes when Carlos Gonzalez puts on another uniform.
4. You risk alienating Troy Tulowitzki
More importantly than us middling fans is Troy Tulowitzki's opinion. Tulo is pretty firmly on record against rebuilding (or I suppose in favor of winning now) and views CarGo as his closest peer and running mate. Oftentimes, trades for players like Gonzalez return a bevy of prospects, but Tulo may not take to the idea of sacrificing another year or two of his prime while waiting on the return from the CarGo trade to arrive.
In order to sell Troy Tulowitzki on a trade of his closest peer, the Rockies will need to get players who can make an immediate impact at the MLB level.
3. When healthy, he is reasonably paid
His contract is taking a $6 million jump next season, but that still makes him paid quite reasonably if he can return to the player he was from 2009-2013.
During that time span he averaged 3.66 fWAR per season -- accumulating a total of 18.3 in five seasons -- on a contract that totaled $14 million.
That number jumps to $16 million for just next season, which is still fair for that kind of production. It does jump up to 20 million for the 2017 season, but at least for next year, a healthy Carlos Gonzalez is worth what he is due to make. Consider too that Shin-Soo Choo, who has averaged 2.98 fWAR over his last five seasons (total of 14.9) will be getting $14 million in 2015 and $20 million in 2016.
Or, to put it another way, it is unlikely that the Rockies find a player the quality of a healthy Gonzalez for less than 16 million a year on the open market.
2. When healthy, he is really good
Carlos Gonzalez has been excellent for Colorado at times. We discussed those WAR numbers above and things actually look better when you take a deeper look inside the numbers. Defensive metrics have always disliked outfielders in Coors Field's massive expanse, so he rates negatively in dWAR despite having a reputation as an excellent defender until 2014.
His worth is probably better understood from a pure raw skills perspective because when he is on, it can be argued that he is one of the best all-around players in all of baseball as evidenced by fivethirtyeight.com rating him as one of only four true five-tool players in the game.
CarGo was the only player in baseball to have four consecutive 20-20 seasons (20 home runs and 20 steals) from 2010 to 2013.
He knows the ballpark, recently made a switch to right field where he looked to have regained his defensive spark even amidst a tough year of injuries. When he and Tulo are in the lineup, the Rockies are a winning baseball team.
If the Rockies can get good CarGo healthy for a full season, he makes them better than most likely returns in a trade at this time. Which brings us to ...
1. His value is low coming off a poor season
The biggest hurdle to a trade of and for Carlos Gonzalez is that he is coming off by far his worst season as a professional baseball player.
He battled knee tendinitis, an alien-cheeto-fatty-mass-with-tentacles in his finger, and perhaps most importantly, some difficult times in his personal life. I don't know about you, but if the health of my family was in question, I would have a hard time focusing on baseball.
On the field, he posted a WAR of -0.3 in 2014, his lowest mark since tallying 1.0 in 85 games for the Oakland Athletics in 2008. He also finished with a wRC+ of 83, his lowest with the Rockies since he put up 117 in 2009. It's fair to say that his stock is at an all-time low.
The problem is that the Rockies can't afford to trade a player of CarGo's theoretical caliber for 50 cents on the dollar which limits the number of potential trade partners for them to deal with this winter. Another team would have to be willing to trade for a presumably healthy and effective Carlos Gonzalez and all the recent evidence suggests he is neither of those things.
Reasons to trade Carlos Gonzalez:
5. He may never regain his form
This could be the number one reason depending on your perspective. I put it fifth because I believe there is plenty of good baseball left in Carlos Gonzalez but the fact remains that beliefs are rooted in faith; the substance of things hoped for in the evidence of things not seen.
It has been a while since we've seen the CarGo of old and he even struggled on the field this season when he was reportedly good enough to go. There is no concrete evidence that Gonzalez can and will return to star-caliber play. So, he could be good again, or he may be a 16 million dollar pumpkin.
Please don't let that happen. Baseball is better with him in it and being awesome.
Still, it may behoove the Rockies to move him while it is still ambiguous.
4. His health concerns handcuff the Rockies, moving him frees up space
Spreading the resources out means more things have to go wrong in order to derail your team. The Rockies cannot afford to bank on a healthy CarGo when they could likely turn him into two or three players who could help them in multiple areas and who would be less likely to all go on the DL at the same time.
It isn't just that he may never be back to his old self, but even if he does come back strong, he still has a history of nagging and shorter-lived injuries. Those maladies often coincide with Tulo missing time and the Rockies losing a ton of games.
If someone were willing to eat a decent chunk of his contract, the actual players received in a trade would only be part of the benefit, as the Rockies could likely use the savings to even further bolster team depth.
Another team who doesn't have a second injury prone star could afford to take the chance on Gonzalez, especially a team with money who could buy a replacement player in the event that he goes down. Unless the Rockies are willing to increase payroll to include a third (fourth if you count JDLR) star level contract, Gonzalez should be traded no later than next year's trade deadline before he becomes an incredibly expensive set of handcuffs.
3. Inject new life into an organization stuck in the mud
In the last four seasons, the Colorado Rockies have finished with records of 73-89, 64-98, 74-88, 66-96. In those years, CarGo has missed 35, 27, 52, and now 92 games.
It's nowhere close to being his fault, but the mantra oft repeated by ownership that this team will be competitive when it returns to health has become synonymous with stagnant front office policies and perpetual losing. Rockies fans are at or near an all-time low in a commodity that is desperately important for the soul of a baseball fan: hope.
As long as CarGo and Tulo remain both the lifeblood and -- along with Jorge De La Rosa -- just over half of the available budget, Rockies fans are stuck in a merry-go-round of hoping for the exact same thing that fails to happen each year.
People tend to look at the cast list and expect to see the same movie they've already been duped into paying for four times.
Regardless of what the return may be, moving Carlos Gonzalez for a collection of other players completely changes the narrative surrounding the team and opens up all kinds of interesting avenues in terms of how they can build and what needs to go right in order for them to be competitive.
It would also be another good way for Jeff Bridich to put his own stamp on the Rockies and signal further departure from the struggles of the past.
2. The Rockies have plenty of capable outfielders
It's not wise to bank on repeat performances from Corey Dickerson, Charlie Blackmon, and Drew Stubbs who accumulated 2.6, 2.0, and 2.5 fWAR respectively in 2014, but outfield is the Rockies strongest and deepest position discounting when short stop is manned by a healthy Troy Tulowitzki.
Dickerson is both a regression candidate coming off a 140 wRC+ performance in his first full season logging starters innings, and a potential growth candidate in the areas of defense, on-base skills, and base running.
And while sophomore slumps are common among young hitters because pitchers tend to adjust once a book is written with a year's worth of stats for that hitter, I know of few who follow this team who don't expect to see Dickerson continue to hit exceptionally well. So far, that's all he's ever done. I still worry about his defense though, which means I would be open to trade proposals for him as well.
For all of Charlie Blackmon's well discussed shortcomings -- mostly relating to how streaky his offense can be -- he was still worth 2.0 fWAR this season, was one home run away from being a 20/20 guy (19 HRs, 28 SBs), doesn't strike out much (14.8 percent), and is versatile both in terms of being able to play three outfield positions and as a guy who is a capable lead-off hitter but may produce better in another spot in the lineup.
Drew Stubbs is an exceptional defensive asset everywhere he plays and can be a pretty darned good offensive player ... but only at Coors Field.
Brandon Barnes showed himself to be at least serviceable, and I know some stat-hounds will roll their eyes at this, but I love him in clutch situations and as a clubhouse chemistry guy for this team. The Rockies also have decent depth options in (apparently) Ben Paulsen, Kyle Parker, and in a few years hopefully, David Dahl and/or Raimel Tapia.
Also, Rosell Herrera (PuRP No. 8) has been converted into an outfielder and there is always the chance that Michael Cuddyer winds up back with the team. Do with that whatever you will.
Even if you aren't buying all that as a good reason to let Gonzalez go, players like Stubbs, Barnes, and Blackmon, show that the Rockies can get good production from outfielders on the cheap in free agency and through the draft which has not been the case at other positions.
Trading Gonzalez won't create the massive hole that moving Troy Tulowitzki, or even Jorge De La Rosea, would. They may miss out on extra production, but if you subscribe to a kind of Drag-Factor-team-building theory (which I do) sacrificing that production in order to decrease drag at other positions may be the best and fastest way to turn this team around.
1. It may be the only way to bridge Troy Tulowitzki's prime with the next window of contention
The Rockies could conceivably absorb the blow of losing CarGo by reproducing his value in the aggregate, meaning they have a unique opportunity to trade a player with star pedigree for help in spots they may not be able to address via free agency.
The Rockies have shown an inability to sign free agent pitching (or free agent pitchers have shown an unwillingness to sign in Denver) meaning that the trade route is the only way the Rockies can make an immediate impact on their rotation. Waiting on prospects grows tiring.
It only takes one team to believe that a just-turned-29-year-old Gonzalez is worth trading for. The Rockies could target a catcher like Jason Castro from the Astros or maybe one of the Mets prospects. The could aim for a middle infielder who could move DJ LeMahieu into a much needed utility role. Such a move would also almost certainly better the offense.
But really it all comes down to pitching. Unless the Rockies land a top-end catcher, the number one priority in dealing CarGo (and the number two and three priorities) have to be getting some live and healthy (and preferably young) arms into the rotation and bullpen.
The Rockies had one of the best offenses in baseball in 2014, even when you park-adjust and were still pretty much a joke. That is how bad the pitching was. As identified by RIRF's new Pitching Drag Factor (hooray), the Rockies single biggest issue was pitchers throwing too many innings of godawful baseball.
There is some help on the way from prospect like Jon Gray, Eddie Butler, Tyler Anderson, and Dan Winkler. But there is a gap between now and then where I believe the Rockies can contend with the offense they have sans CarGo and some league average pitching. Trading Gonzalez may just be the best possible way to solve the Rockies biggest problem and keep Tulo happy and here.