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Rockies officially re-sign Carlos González: What the head and the heart say

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Two Nicks argue over the decision to bring CarGo back to the Rockies

Some major questions have arisen since the announcement that Carlos González is coming back to the Rockies. Now that the González has passed his physical and the deal is official, it’s time to answer those questions. On the one hand, should fans be worried that González looked like a shell of his former self most of 2017? Should we be worried that his bat speed is really gone? On the other hand, should Rockies fans just forget it and be happy that CarGo’s possibly infectious positivity and smile is back, along with that sweet swing (however much speed has been lost on it)?

The answer to these questions is “yes.”

The Rational Nick (McIntyre):

It is true: Baseball is a game driven by nostalgia, feeling, and an inner love for our team that transcends rosters, managers, and periods of highs and lows.

It is also true: Nostalgia, feeling, and love for sports are cultivated through winning and special teams that you can look back and remember fondly because of the great moments, playoff victories, and, ideally, championships.

The Emotional Nick (Walsh):

Those eyes. That smile...

MLB: Colorado Rockies at San Diego Padres Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The Rational Nick:

Fans will often say, “Stop being so obsessed with the numbers or the manager’s decisions and just enjoy this for a while.” I think that comments like this are a misjudgment of why analytical thinking, sound decision-making, and informed reason are important. We don’t rip on emotional decision-making because we are soul-crushing, lifeless number-crunchers who don’t care about the people.

Rather, it’s the opposite. We want to take a game (and a team), that has given us memories, happiness, and some turmoil, and actually learn more and enhance our understanding of something we already love on the emotional level. We should look at Carlos González through an objective lens because the Rockies are a good team that we want to see win, first and foremost.

The Emotional Nick:

Okay, I have to ask: Is there an example of a grown man swinging a baseball bat, crushing a baseball, and doing it with more swagger than CarGo? Well, I’d have a hard time finding any Rockies player who has a prettier swing than Carlos González since he joined the Rockies in 2009.

It’s no surprise González has solidified himself as a fan-favorite. He trails only Todd Helton and Larry Walker in Games Played for the Rockies, and could surpass Larry if he plays in 56 more games this year. CarGo has established himself as a face of the franchise, and did so by creating a career highlight reel of moonshot homeruns, Superman-esque Gold Glove plays in the outfield, community engagement through his Carlos González Foundation, and of course, getting us all Taco's by hitting for the cycle with a walk-off home run in 2010.

He’s the whole package folks. Looks, skill, humor, and compassion. Some nay-sayers will try and tell you CarGo is on the decline and entering his age 32 season (not even a year older than me...) after an abysmal 2017 campaign. His free-agency stalled this offseason, and it appeared teams were giving up on him. Well, I say it’s their loss and our Car-Gain.

The Rational Nick:

Signing Carlos González to a $8 million, one-year deal is an emotionally-driven decision. The decision to sign González wasn’t based in an analysis of wins-gained or on-field value. For a team that is currently within a winning window and plays in a difficult division, it is disappointing that $8 million was spent on a player who is unlikely to bring on-field value above what other players already on the roster could bring, or other free agents that were available this winter and signed for far less elsewhere.

Let’s take a look at González’s 2017 performance—but more importantly, his trends going forward. Digging into the underlying numbers, there is plenty of cause for concern.

On the surface level, the numbers were unimpressive. González had a .262/.339/.423 - roughly league average across the board. On defense, Gonzalez was also less than stellar, with a career low in outfield arm runs and 1.7 runs below league average according to UZR/150. Statcast had González at +1 Outs Above Average, meaning he was essentially league-average in catch probability.

The Emotional Nick:

Yes, Carlos had a down year in 2017. It’s easy to get caught up in that and expect the worst—it was disappointing. But like a sweet, innocent child, you can dislike their actions but still love them. How could you ignore eight great memory-filled years because of one stinker? In a 162-game season, players can have bad months — but that doesn’t mean they’re washed up. There are ups and downs in baseball, and no one is immune. Not even our CarGo.

But that swing...

It’s important to point out a key fact about this example of CarGo demolishing a baseball—it happened at the end of last year in a September that saw him slash a scorching .377/.484/.766, hit for 59 total bases, and six of his fourteen total HRs. Those aren’t the numbers of a washed up or declining player—CarGo ended 2017 by figuring out his slump, which bodes well for a successful 2018.

The Rational Nick:

González was a negative WAR player in 2017 overall. For comparison, Carlos Gomez, who was a very serviceable 2.3 fWAR player for the Rangers in 2017 (and is the same age as CarGo), signed a 1-year, $4,000,000 deal with the Rays. Curtis Granderson (who is 36) also signed a 1-year, $5,000,000 deal with the Blue Jays, despite being a 2.1 fWAR player in 2017. CarGo will be taking up considerably more salary than those higher-performing players.

To take this a step further, the Rockies had been considering adding depth at first base. Adam Lind had a quietly impressive year at the plate for the Nationals, posting a 122 wRC+ and an .875 OPS. Although he was poor in the field, he put time in at both first base and left field. Lind was only able to muster a minor league contract from the Yankees, with the possibility of maxing out at $2 million if he makes the 40-man roster.

The Emotional Nick:

It’s not all about the numbers. Not only is CarGo a fan-favorite, he’s a clubhouse favorite, and brings a valuable veteran presence, postseason experience, and infectious positive attitude. Like German Marquez said earlier this month, “[CarGo’s] a good person and he’s a veteran guy and he was my friend. He gave me confidence.” And while it’s hard to quantify, it’s clear his teammates wanted him back because he makes this team better.

The Rational Nick:

Looking beyond the raw numbers, CarGo’s skills aren’t improving, but it’s not all terrible news. According to Statcast’s Sprint Speed, CarGo topped out at 26.6 MPH, good enough for 312th place in baseball last year (26.8 and 26.7 in 2016 and 2015, respectively). Carlos Gomez, for comparison, topped out at 28.1 MPH, 100th in the league. That doesn’t bode well for an aging outfielder in a difficult outfield.

When it comes to plate discipline, González has been pretty consistent from 2015-2017, however it is concerning that his numbers declined at the plate despite this. González used to hit some of the hardest balls the most consistently, but not so in 2017. Gonzalez only “barreled” balls in 3.9% of his plate appearances, ranking 202nd among those with at least 100 batted balls. In 2016, he had barrels in 6.3% of plate appearances.

Is this the worst signing in the world? Of course not. In fact, it’s almost certainly not even the worst signing of the 2017 offseason. The Rockies definitely overpaid for González and determined clubhouse value to be worth a couple million dollars. Seeing players like Gomez and Granderson sign for less is disappointing (albeit earlier in the offseason), but even seeing players with high value such as Lance Lynn sign for one-year, $12 million elsewhere is disappointing from a Rockies perspective. There’s no reason to think Lynn would have come here, but with the market tanking like it has, you would have liked to have seen the Rockies go after someone with a lower price and higher upside—not the opposite.

If González proves me wrong, that would be excellent news for the Rockies, and they really could use some depth in the outfield. What I fear most is that González will take away playing time from developing talent like Raimel Tapia and Mike Tauchman (and possibly David Dahl) while also not providing positive value above what those players could provide. We should assess González on the margin, not by his total value, given that he was signed as a free agent.

The Emotional Nick:

At the very least, one teammate in particular made a strong case for CarGo’s return, and who could argue with him?