We’re nearly a week into February, and there is still room for the Oakland A’s to make another addition to their pitching staff if they want to. The starting rotation has plenty of candidates but it would be fair to say there are only two guaranteed members in Mike Fiers and Marco Estrada, with everyone else representing some sort of injury bounce-back, or untested prospect, or swingman who hasn’t fully proven himself.
There has been some minor movement on the staff lately, even outside of the signing of Estrada. Parker Bridwell now provides some non-roster rotation depth, and Jerry Blevins does the same for the bullpen. There are possible futures in which they go into the season with their current collection of arms and it all works out great. But the odds would surely feel a whole lot better with one more honest-to-goodness MLB starter on hand.
For their part, the A’s have made clear that they’re still on the lookout for pitching. That doesn’t guarantee anything, and especially doesn’t guarantee any more MLB contracts, but it at least makes it worth continuing to discuss the topic.
In that vein, Tuesday brought us a new rumor to play with, or at least the reigniting of an old idea. The A’s “remain interested” in Gio Gonzalez, reports Bob Nightengale of USA Today. To be clear, that’s not a super meaningful rumor — it’s not the same as saying they’re in actual contact, nor that he’s any kind of singular or primary target, nor that they’re any kind of front-runner to land him. But at least we can say Gio isn’t not on Oakland’s list of potential candidates, however long that list may be.
We’ve already discussed Gio once, before the Winter Meetings, but back then he was being estimated at 2yr/$24m. It’s February now, and free agency has been a buyer’s market for the second straight year. Perhaps it’s time to readjust the conversation to consider the value of having Gio on a one-year deal. Let’s begin with the stats from the last three seasons:
Gio, 2016: 4.57 ERA, 177⅓ ip, 171 Ks, 59 BB, 19 HR, 3.76 FIP, .317 xwOBA
Gio, 2017: 2.96 ERA, 201 ip, 188 Ks, 79 BB, 21 HR, 3.93 FIP, .295 xwOBA
Gio, 2018: 4.21 ERA, 171 ip, 148 Ks, 80 BB, 17 HR, 4.16 FIP, .325 xwOBA
The pros are obvious. He’s a lefty, and he’d become the next in the A’s recent trend of bringing back former fan favorites. He got Cy Young votes as recently as 2017, after his velocity had already dipped down a couple ticks, and at age 33 there’s no reason he can’t still have anything left in the tank. He’s also durable, as we’ll get to in a moment.
The cons are also clear. His ERA has been over 4.00 in two of the past three years, and even that great 2017 was backed up by questionable peripherals (like leading the league in walks) so it looks more like the outlier. He’s not an innings-eater, having reached 180 frames just once in the last five seasons. His strikeouts and walks are both slowly creeping in the wrong directions. On a more marginal but still interesting note, he’s also never been good in the playoffs, with zero quality starts in eight tries.
I’m not sure Gio is a bounce-back candidate, per se. It seems like he is what he is now, with a 91 mph fastball that tops out at 93, and an ERA that is most likely to start with a four. The thing is, that still might be a worthwhile addition for this team. After all, the one thing that has never wavered has been his ability to take the mound consistently. Over the last nine years he’s made at least 32 starts seven times, and the only times he fell short were seasons of 31 and 27. While he doesn’t throw 200 innings anymore, he’s also gone under 170 only once since leaving Oakland. Like with Estrada, Gio can be reasonably counted on to at least pitch at all, even if a lot of the starts don’t go past five frames.
I don’t have a strong opinion on this one, especially without knowing the possible price point, so I’m mostly looking to begin a conversation here. How much does AN want Gio to come home, and how much would folks pay him to do so? Would he be an actual upgrade, and if so how much of one? Let’s debate in the comments!