Be Careful With Gio Gonzalez

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Athletics’ lefty Gio Gonzalez is the hot pursuit of multiple teams this winter.

But there are red flags that would tell me to steer clear of him.

In fact, there are similarities between Gonzalez and other lefties—Jonathan SanchezOliver Perez and Rick Ankiel—who have or had great stuff, but were at risk of disintegrating at a moments notice.

Two of them did.

His arm lags behind his body and he has trouble maintaining an arm slot and release point; he barely uses his body and the entire stress of generating arm speed falls on his elbow and shoulder; he lands on a stiff front leg and throws slightly across his body.

These flaws could be a problem as his career progresses or they might not be—hindsight tells all with injuries; they’re probably a factor why he strikes out and walks so many hitters.

This is not atypical among lefties who rack up a lot of strikeouts and walks, in part, because of their lack of control and a funky, deceptive, ball-hiding motion. They miss bats, but they also miss the strike zone.

It’s much easier for a hitter to get comfortable with a pitcher like Greg Maddux, Cliff Lee or Roy Halladay (even with their willingness to knock hitters down) because he at least knows they’re going to throw strikes; there’s almost a surprised aspect to the games in which a Gonzalez, Perez or Sanchez have their control; by the time the hitters realize they’re not going to be walked, it’s the eighth inning, the boxscore makes it appear as if they’ve been dominated and the starter’s out of the game.

When a team is paying for incremental improvement and potential while ignoring landmines, they run the risk of doing as the Mets did and overpaying to keep Perez only to flush $36 million down the tubes.

Billy Beane—for all the mistakes he’s made in the journey from “genius” to mediocrity and worse—is not stupid.

He saw from across the San Francisco Bay what Jonathan Sanchez was; he knows that Gonzalez’s value is never going to be higher; Gonzalez is arbitration eligible under “Super 2” status and is going to get a big raise after consecutive seasons of 200 innings pitched and that he’s a rising “star”.

But trapdoors are rampant.

Sanchez has talent and it made sense for the Royals to acquire him; they only surrendered Melky Cabrera. The Royals knew that they had replacements at the ready for Cabrera and he would never again be as good as he was in 2011.

The phrase, “Gimme a break, it’s Melky Cabrera,” is a viable excuse to trade him.

But Beane’s not asking for a Cabrera in a deal for Gonzalez.

He asked the Marlins for Mike Stanton.

Few are looking for an underlying agenda in the shopping of Gonzalez because Beane has plenty of reasons to do it.

Under the guise of “I have no choice” Beane can mask the intent of why he’s trading Gonzalez if anyone asks. There are several simple answers to give and all are effective subterfuge to the issues listed above.

“He’s arbitration-eligible and we can’t pay him.”

“We’re not getting the new ballpark, so I have to tear the thing down.”

“He’s one of our most valuable assets and we’re trying to maximize him with multiple pieces.”

Responses like these will assuage any concerns that Beane’s selling the interested party a product that he might not want in the first place.

But if the Athletics were in a better position, Beane might still be looking to trade Gonzalez. This just makes it easier to do and get more in the process.

The fall of Beane has had some interesting side effects in his dealings. Since he’s no longer considered a “genius” who’s going to pick their pockets, opposing GMs won’t be as reluctant to trade with him; and with the legitimate reasons for putting Gonzalez on the market, he can get some quality in a trade and dispatch a pitcher who could come apart if one of his mechanical or control problems manifests itself and swallows up the talent therein.

If I were an interested team and the A’s demands remained on a level with Stanton, I’d wish Beane a good day and move on from Gio Gonzalez. There are too many concerns to give up a ton for a pitcher who’s hair trigger to implode at any time.

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