It isn't often that a potential All-Star-caliber starting pitcher becomes available on the free-agent market during the regular season, but due to the special case of Cuban righty Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, the Philadelphia Phillies suddenly have yet another strong arm to add to their already impressive stable.
According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, the Phillies signed the 26-year-old phenom to a six-year deal worth in excess of $50 million.
In fact, ESPN.com is reporting that the contract could potentially be worth as much as $60 million, so there is no question that the Phillies are taking a bit of a risk with an unproven commodity.
With that said, the Phillies are better off getting a pitcher with immense potential such as Gonzalez than waiting for the offseason. Fairly average major league starters tend to get $10 million-per-year contracts in free agency due to the simple fact that teams don't let their elite starters hit the market.
It remains to be seen if Gonzalez will become elite, but he clearly has a better chance of reaching that level than the likes of Phil Hughes, A.J. Burnett or countless other middle-of-the-road guys. Also, with Philadelphia's starting pitching situation in flux, it makes perfect sense for the team to bring in another rising star at the position.
Just a couple years ago, there was talk about the Phillies having the greatest rotation of all time as it sported Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt. While that quartet had some success, the Phillies were unable to reach the World Series, and their time frame of dominance really only lasted for one year.
Halladay has been on the shelf for the bulk of the season, and he has been absolutely awful when he has pitched, so it seems pretty unlikely that the Phillies will re-sign him.
Lee has had a fantastic season, but there are rumors swirling around him with the trade deadline approaching and Philly tumbling in the standings. According to Mike Axisa of CBS Sports, Lee has been scratched from Saturday's start with a stiff neck. While Lee may actually be banged up, there is plenty of speculation that the Phillies could be protecting their asset in the event of a trade.
As for Hamels, he has really struggled this season after signing a monster, seven-year contract extension. His awful record of 4-13 is a bit misleading as his ERA is 4.09 and his WHIP is 1.25, but he has thrown significantly worse than he has over the past three years.
Since it's unclear if or when Hamels will return to ace form, Gonzalez is essentially an insurance policy. If Hamels is able to bounce back, then the Phillies could have a formidable one-two punch at the top of the rotation. Even if he continues to fall off, though, Gonzalez will be the ace in waiting.
The general consensus is that Gonzalez is major league-ready right now, so the Phillies should get an opportunity to work him into the rotation late in the season. He'll probably need a couple starts in the minors, but with Philadelphia falling out of the playoff race quickly, it makes perfect sense to give Gonzalez a taste of the big leagues in September.
The best historical comparison that can be made to Gonzalez's case is that of Jose Contreras. The Cuban veteran was signed by the Yankees at the age of 23 in 2003, and he showed flashes of brilliance early as he went 7-2 with a 3.30 ERA in his first season. Contreras quickly fell off after that, though, and he has bounced around ever since.
Although Contreras never became the ace that the Yankees hoped, he pitched out of a major league bullpen as recently as this season with the Pittsburgh Pirates at 41 years of age. With that said, the Phillies can't base Gonzalez's situation off Contreras' because they are totally different pitchers.
Aroldis Chapman was in the same situation a couple years ago, and he has happened to develop into one of the best closers in the game. Simply put, every case is different, so Gonzalez can't be judged until he takes the mound and either sinks or swims.
Teams that take risks tend to excel, so the Phillies should be applauded for thinking outside the box and going for the big score with Gonzalez.
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