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Monday, November 20, 2006

Reds sign Alex Gonzalez

This hasn't been officially confirmed by the Reds yet, but they have apparently signed SS Alex Gonzalez, 29, to a three-year, $14 million deal ($4.7 million/year). He is the younger of the two MLB shortstops named Alex Gonzalez (the other played for Philadelphia last year). Gonzalez was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Florida Marlins in 1994 out of Cagua, Venezuela at age 17. He rose quickly through their system for his young age, making his major league debut as a late-season call-up in 1998 at age 21. In his time in the majors, Gonzalez has earned a reputation as an excellent defensive shortstop, and also a guy who has some pop in his bat as evidenced by the 23 home runs he hit in 2004. Recent stats: The remarkable thing about Gonzalez's lines, at least when I look at them, is that his OPS has remained almost perfectly constant in recent years despite the dramatic differences between his 2004 line and his 2005-6 lines. In '04, Gonzalez slugged 0.419, which is pretty decent for a middle infielder (though not as good as his solid 0.256/0.313/0.443 campaign of 2003). Unfortunately, his OBP was a miserable 0.270 in 2004. In '05 and '06, he was better (relatively) about getting on base and avoiding the stirkeout, but his power numbers dropped substantially. Whatever variant of Gonzalez we get next year, we're looking at a guy who is only a modest offensive improvement over a replacement player like Juan Castro...by one win, at most.

But that's ok, this guy's supposed to be a defensive master, right? Well... it's true that his fielding percentage is quite good for a shortstop (career 0.970), making no more than 16 errors in any of the past 5 seasons. But his range is thoroughly average. His 2003-2005 3-year total under John Dewan's fielding system was -1 plays made over 3755 innings. Similarly, Clay Davenport's fielding system puts him at +1 runs saved over 422 games in the same time period. That's a far cry from Adam Everett's defensive prowess, and with minimally (at best) better offensive production.

Now I can deal with average defense from a shortstop if the offense is there. But unless he reverts to his classic-peak-at-age-26-to-27 form of 2003-2004, we're dealing with a guy who is barely producing above replacement level hitting. And, since he'll start the season at age 30, he might even be starting to slip defensively by the end of his new contract. I wouldn't mind having him as a cheap ~$1-2 million signee who might serve as a utility guy off the bench. But as a $4.7 million/yr starter over three years? I realize the market for middle-infielders is thin this year, but why can't Ryan Freel play 2B and Brandon Phillips play SS? Both are at least average defenders (and probably above-average), and are solid offensive performers. Investing in Gonzalez just doesn't seem to bring much return for the Reds. Except a weaker offense.

As usual when I criticize a player move, I really hope I'm wrong. But in this case, we're not dealing with a guy who has a lot of unknowns. Alex Gonzalez has a steady track record of just not being a very good player, on offense or defense. At least the Reds reportedly still have another $20 million to play with this offseason. Hopefully they can put it to good use. On that front, I'll profile the Reds' other unconfirmed signing, Mike Stanton, tomorrow.