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December 7, 2011

BP Unfiltered

Winter Meetings Dispatch: Giophysics

by Jay Jaffe

One of the more interesting names on the Hot Stove burner is that of Oakland's Gio Gonzalez. In a thin free agent market for starting pitching, the 26-year-old lefty is drawing serious trade interest from a number of suitors, mainly because he's tremendously affordable; a Super-Two under team control through 2015, he would cost pennies on the dollar relative to C.J. Wilson during that timespan, which only takes him through his age 29 season. Should they choose to pull the trigger, he'll bring the A's a significant haul in young players; the fact that they don't absolutely have to increases Billy Beane's leverage.

Gonzalez has outstanding stuff. According to the PITCHf/x data at TexasLeaguers.com, he throws both two- and four-seam fastballs averaging around 92-93 MPH; in 2011, he threw them 65 percent of the time. The former generates groundballs, the latter swings and misses (11.5 percent) and a whole lot of fouls (20.2 percent). He's got a big-breaking curve which he throws around 28 percent of the time (12.3 percent swing-and-miss), and a changeup around seven percent of the time (14.9 percent swing-and-miss). He's thrown a hair over 200 innings in each of the past two seasons, with a combined ERA of 3.17, a low homer rate (0.7 per nine) thanks to a groundball rate around 50 percent, and a strikeout rate that jumped from 7.7 per nine in 2010 to 8.8 per nine in 2011; among southpaws, only Clayton Kershaw and Cliff Lee were higher. He's tough to hit, with a .282 BABIP helped by a good infield fly rate in Oakland's spacious mausoleum.

The problem is his walk rate, which was steady at an MLB-high 4.1 per nine in each of the past two seasons (300 inning minimum); by comparison, the world's most frustrating pitcher, A.J. Burnett, has a 3.8 mark in that span. Still, when you put it all together, his 3.71 FIP for 2010-2011 still suggests a pretty good pitcher; that mark aligns almost perfectly with a 3.78 road ERA accompanied by a more normalized .306 BABIP across those two seasons.

So he's an inexpensive mid-rotation guy who might pass for a number two starter if he could trim that walk rate just a hair; he's less clearly a two now than Wilson because the latter has performed comparably in a ballpark at the opposite end of the pitcher-friendliness spectrum. That's enough to have teams lining up around the block in pursuit; via MLB Trade Rumors, the Diamondbacks, Tigers, Phillies (who acquired him from the White Sox as the player to be named later in the 2005 Jim Thome trade, then sent him back to Chicago a year later along with Gavin Floyd in the Freddy Garcia deal), Nationals, Reds, Marlins, Blue Jays and Yankees have all expressed interest.

At this writing, most of those teams appear to have been scared away by the asking price, since the A's are seeking a package comparable to what they received when they dealt Dan Haren to the Diamondbacks in 2007, with young, high-upside outfielders a key facet of their wish list. That Haren trade brought back Brett Anderson, Carlos Gonzalez, Chris Carter, Aaron Cunningham, Dana Eveland and Greg Smith—a tremendous haul even if only the first two players were able to sustain their value for any length of time. According to the New York Daily News' John Harper, Beane asked Brian Cashman for young thumper Jesus Montero, center field prospect Mason Williams, and either Manny Banuelos or Dellin Betances, both pitching prospects. There's no report as to where on that list Cashman hung up the phone. Other team's top prospects—the Tigers' Jacob Turner, the Phillies' Domonic Brown—have also been discussed in the context of Gonzalez deals; it has been suggested that a deal with the Phillies would be a potential precursor to Cole Hamels' departure, either via trade or post-2012 free agency, though Ruben Amaro Jr. has already shot that theory down.

Despite the buzz, it doesn't sound like anything is imminent on the Gonzalez front. But for a team in search of starting pitching and willing to sacrifice blood instead of treasure, he is certainly an intriguing possibility.

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay by clicking here

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