When the Phillies signed right-handed Cuban fireballer Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez last August, there were hopes that he would slot in to a 2014 starting rotation featuring Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, giving the Phillies a formidable threesome that would allow them to compete. To say the least, that didn’t happen. A lot of other things didn’t happen for the 2014 Phillies, as they have plummeted to the bottom of the National League standings.
Now, the focus must be on 2015, and the focus on next year begins with looking at what is happening in the minors throughout the rest of 2014.
I had the chance to see Gonzalez pitch a few weeks ago (apologies for not proving an instant scouting report), and he did look strong velocity wise. He threw 21 pitches, 12 of them for strikes, so there were some command issues. That being said, he was consistently in the mid 90’s, hit 96 a few times, and looked leagues better than some of the batters he was facing. (He should have been out of that 9th inning a bit sooner if it weren’t for a defensive lapse.)
Since then, Gonzalez has been promoted to AAA, appearing in three games. After two strong appearances, he was hit around a bit Tuesday. Marc Narducci provides a full report of that here.
Overall, Gonzalez’s season has been decent enough: 31.2 IP, 32 H, 37 K, 16 BB, 3.69 ERA, 3.20 FIP, 3.55 SIERA. The walk number is a bit high, but the other numbers are decent enough.
Where do the Phillies go from here with the 28-year-old Gonzalez? The original plans for him to be a starter appear to be fading, as he seems to be settling into this bullpen role. Here’s another problem: the Phillies were most certainly counting on him to be in their rotation at some point. In a strange turn of events, the bullpen has suddenly become a strength for the Phillies, and would likely be one next year, barring major changes.
The Phillies will need help in the rotation next year if they want to “re-load” as Ruben Amaro, Jr. is calling it. Gonzalez would have slotted nicely in there, but it’s probable now that the Phillies need two (maybe three) free agent signings to even form some semblance of a rotation.
When the Phillies signed Gonzalez last year, I had expected him to be in the Majors (and in the starting rotation) by May or June at the latest. The shoulder troubles certainly prevented that from happening. Now, it looks like it’s time to accept Gonzalez for what he is: a bullpen pitcher.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But, is there actual upside to keeping Gonzalez here? That’s what needs to be determined. We have not seen a clear cut plan from the front office on what moving forward looks like, whether it’s signing guys to large deals this off-season (think Scherzer, Shields, etc.), trying to find one-year flier type guys at numerous positions, or just finally accepting things and blowing it up (releasing Howard, trading Byrd, etc.)
Gonzalez is a puzzle piece that doesn’t really seem to fit. Square peg, round hole type of business, if you will. At a $4 million AAV for the next two years, can the Phillies really afford that in the bullpen? They have Jonathan Papelbon, but will be here? If he’s not, do they really need someone like Gonzalez eating up that kind of money, if say, Ken Giles is the closer?
Here’s the problem: Gonzalez doesn’t really “fit”. Then again, nothing really seems to “fit” when you can’t get a grasp on what an organization is trying to accomplish.
Gonzalez will have a chance to prove himself, and may even get a shot in the big leagues in September. You’d have to think this is the plan, considering he has missed so much time. The Phillies want to see Gonzalez pitch. If he pitches well (or even mediocre) in AAA, he’ll likely get a call-up in September. He’ll be competing against some already established bullpen talent in Philadelphia, though.
Can Gonzalez provide value out of the pen?
Here are some relievers making comparable salaries:
Javier Lopez (SF, $4MM)
Matt Belisle (COL, $4.25MM)
Brad Ziegler (ARZ, $4.5MM)
Santiago Casilla (SF, $4.5MM)
Save for Belisle, all of those guys are having pretty good years, and have been pretty consistent relievers in the league for a while now. Can Gonzalez provide that type of value to a Major League team? That remains to be seen.
The Phillies are just, simply put, in a very odd spot with Gonzalez. His money could be directed elsewhere. But Gonzalez doesn’t really seem to have any value to any team but the Phillies. He would have to come up at the end of this year, pitch well, and then start next year in the bullpen and pitch well again to have any sort of trade value. Remember, he’s coming off an injury as well, which could scare teams.
If the baseball gods allow it, the Phillies would be in contention next year and wouldn’t have to think about trading him. But that bullpen would include Jonathan Papelbon, Antonio Bastardo, Justin De Fratus, Ken Giles, Jake Diekman, and Mario Hollands. That’s six spots already taken up. Where does Gonzalez even come into play? Is long relief an option? Moving Bastardo or Papelbon could create a spot for Gonzalez, but there have been no signs that they’re getting rid of those guys.
For now, Gonzalez can only do one thing: pitch. He’s done that relatively well this year, save for that high walk rate. Nobody really knows what the future holds for Gonzalez. Not knowing what the future looks like has become a familiar tune for the entire organization.