Phillies in between rock and hard place with Gonzalez

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.

26 thoughts on “Phillies in between rock and hard place with Gonzalez

  1. The only thing this team has is $. As long as he has talent, I don’t care what he makes. That money is already spent. Try him as a Starter in ST.

  2. Ryan Howard has the Phillies between a rock and a hard place . MAG not so much. Did the Phillies expect a number 2,3 guy for 4 million a year . I really doubt it . Good read even if I don’t agree

    1. I’m with you. MAG makes less than Roberto Hernandez and Mike Adams. You pay a little extra in these international markets, but get the benefit of never losing a draft pick. For an organization with more money than brains, they need to throw all their cash at these defectors.

  3. Hopefully Paps and Bastardo are moved at some point, then MAG has the opp in 2015 to be a set-up/closer guy.

  4. I don’t agree that it’s time to accept that MAG is a reliever. He went a long time without pitching and the move to the bullpen probably has more to do with his shoulder than his talent level. As noted in the article, there are plenty of open spots in next year’s rotation and I see no reason, health permitting, why Gonzalez shouldn’t get a chance to win one of them.

    If he does end up being a solid starter for $4 mil, that’s great. I don’t think I have to remind everyone that Kyle Kendrick is making almost $8 mil this year. If he ends up as a reliever, that’s too bad but his salary isn’t going to kill the Phillies. Guys do get hurt/struggle sometimes too. I’m not expecting the six guys mentioned to make up our bullpen for the entirety of next season.

    For now, I just want to see him continue to be effective at whatever level he’s pitching and, yes, limit the walks a little more.

    1. I was going to say the same thing. It makes no sense to try to stretch him out as a starter now. I’m surprised that the Phils have handled his situation intelligently…in fact I’m shocked. Wait until the offseason then put him through the same program you put any starter through so that he’s stretched out and ready to go by the end of spring. If he doesn’t make it as a starter, then put him back in the bullpen. Either way, he’s a pretty cheap stopgap until the next wave of Nola/Biddle/Imhoff/’15 first rounder are ready.

      The Phils will go in to next season with 4 of the 5 guys they have now in the rotation and the last spot will be between MAG, Pettibone, and whatever scrubs Amaro unearths this offseason. That’s my prediction. Can’t wait for Eagles training camp 2015 already

  5. i would be very surprised if he was not a starter come next spring training. I really believe they wanted to see him compete at some level this year and hopefully his arm would hold up. We need to remember that he had not pitched for a couple years and he obviously was not able to compete at his regular level at the beginning of this year. Hopefully a good off season of training and a ML throwing program will keep his arm strong.

  6. The Phillies tried him as a starter and he did not succeed but if he ends up as a late inning reliever it is not the end of the world.

    1. His arm wasn’t right when he was starting. His velocity was 4-6 mph lower and they shut him down. He hasn’t made any starts since coming off the DL throwing 96

    2. Yeah but he hadn’t pitched much l. Once he got his arm back they decided to get him on the field rather than take the time to stretch him out. Bi suspect they’ll try again in the offseason as they’ve suggested

  7. Great article and good topic at a depressing phillies time I agree with someone previously saying I think phillies just wanted too get him in action more than whether he is a starter or reliever
    I think next year they will try and stretch him out being their #4 or 5th starter- if it doesn’t work out and he goes to the pen it will give them a lot of options with another power arm and a top #5 bullpen in mlb(albeit a really expensive one)

  8. Mike Adams and his $6M AAV come of the books this year. MAG’s $4M is already spent. I don’t consider it a dollar issue. As for the bullpen, nothing is etched in stone for the young guys. Barring any trades, only Papelbon and Bastardo will be guaranteed spots mostly due to their guaranteed contracts (either already negotiated or after arbitration). De Fratus, Diekman, Giles, and Hollands are at or barely above league minimum. Without a clear difference in skills, MAG might already be penciled in ahead of De Fratus next season because of his salary if they aren’t going to try him again as a starter.

  9. Let’s not assume that Papps or Bastardo will be here and let’s also not assume that Diekman and Hollands aren’t scrubs and that Defratus won’t get hurt

  10. I don’t agree that the ship has sailed on him being a starting pitcher. Based on a game I saw, MAG’s pure stuff out of the bullpen is pretty impressive. Obviously in relief, you’re generally only going to see the FB / SL, and generally things play up in short stints. However, when he was signed, there was talk of him throwing 6 different pitches. I noticed the same command issues you did, which no doubt limits his ceiling as a starter. But I don’t think we’ve seen nearly enough to know how he would play out as a starter given a full offseason and spring training to build up to it. My guess is he could probably be one of those guys who is occasionally electric, but too inconsistent to maintain any sustained success.

    1. Well MAG was starting at 21-years old in the very competitive Cuban League in 2007. He started games and pitched for La Habana from 2007 to 2009, and for the national team in few international tournaments, including the 2009 and 2011 Baseball World Cups. Then there was the two year suspension for the failed defection attempts..
      So his arm isn’t ‘career fatigued’ and could be stretched for 2015 ST and end up in the mid to end of the rotation.

  11. If MAG can get stretched out and come into spring training healthy I think he will be a starter. There are a couple problems I see with making him a starter. If MAG becomes a starter no one knows how effective he will be. He also may not be able to get stretched out or stay healthy. Even if he stays healthy how many innings can we expect from this guy? I would think they would have him on some kind of innings limit on the year. If he can’t go deep into games and/or can’t make all 30 starts or so there will be extra stress on the pen and more depth needed for the rotation. I think he has a chance to be a pretty good pitcher whether that be in the pen or rotation, but there are a lot of “IF’s”. All we can do is sit back and watch this unfold and hope he can contribute to next years club. Ruben has made worse moves then signing MAG so I don’t view his salary as a huge problem. Lets just be glad he didn’t get the full 48mil he was apparently going to get. Maybe MAG can turn into a good arm for us and be a value at 4mil a year!

  12. Sorry for not posting the past few days. But Bootsy Doo had a personal issue to work through. But I’m back, baby! Posting on MAG. And predicting we will see the Cuban and Ruben together in South Philly this September. MAG will relieve, but come Spring Training he will start based on his starting-pitching repertoire (then by May, he will blow out his elbow.) You’re hearing it here first, people, do you realize that?

    Bootsy Doo owwww!

  13. Good article.

    “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.”

    So true, so true.

  14. If he ends up best suited for bullpen, then pitch him there. However, there is a lot of time before next spring for him and the team to prepare for him to audition to be a starter. Don’t forget that Nola and Imhof look like they could break into the majors next year as they are both advancing well. 2016 could have a lot of young pitchers, so a couple of 1 year pitchers maybe needed at least to start year. Oh and Martin could be in pen next year.

  15. RAJ said that they won’t be competitive in 2015 and 2016. The “retool” word is done, he’s finally come to his senses and has admitted that it’s going to be ap rough 2015 and 2016. At least he’s finally being honest.

  16. I’m not sure what the rules are, but is he eligible to be sent to the Arizona Fall League and start?

    1. I expect MAG to spend Sept in Philly, not in Arizona. He will definitely be given the opportunity to be stretched out in the spring to try and win a starter’s spot. When everyone accepts the fact that the team can’t win in 2015, better long term decisions can be made like finding out what we have in guys like MAG.

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