Mike Gonzalez and the Baltimore Orioles' Future

Josh LevittSenior Analyst IDecember 17, 2009

PHOENIX - MAY 30:  Relief pitcher Mike Gonzalez #51 of the Atlanta Braves pitches against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the major league baseball game at Chase Field on May 30, 2009 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Diamondbacks defeated the Braves 3-2.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

When the free agent season began, one of the hot names on the market was pitcher Mike Gonzalez. The left hander was one of the top relief pitchers in baseball last season and was a hot commodity on the market because of his ability to strike out hitters and his dominate stuff.

Gonzalez, who was a type A free agent, was not surprisingly offered arbitration by the Braves, who were hoping to acquire two high draft picks for losing Gonzalez.

Back in November, I pondered how Gonzalez's type A status would affect the number of teams interested in him on the free agent market. I concluded that even though Gonzalez was one of the hottest free agents out there, that his best chance to maximize his earning potential would be to sign with one of the worst teams in baseball statistically in 2009 so that they would not have to surrender a top draft pick for his services.

And last night, Gonzalez did exactly that when he came to terms with the Orioles on a 2-year/$12 million dollar contract.

Considered one of the top relievers on the free-agent market, Gonzalez, 31, went 5-4 with a 2.42 ERA, 17 holds and 10 saves in 80 appearances for the Braves last year, while primarily serving as a left-handed setup complement to Rafael Soriano. He struck out 90 batters in 74 1/3 innings, and opponents hit just .209 against him.
It's unclear whether the Orioles view Gonzalez as their full-time closer or whether he'll be part of a closer-by-committee approach that includes right-handed relievers Jim Johnson and Koji Uehara. Either way, Gonzalez will strengthen a bullpen that fell apart last year after All-Star closer George Sherrill was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in late July.
By bringing Gonzalez into the fold, one has to wonder how the Orioles envision this move effecting their future. Here's how: the Orioles have a stable of young and talented players, but the one area that has consistently killed them over the past few seasons has been the bullpen.
There have been so many times where the Orioles bring leads into the late innings, only to see the bullpen blow it. After awhile, losses like that become very discouraging for a young ballclub that is filled with great potential in the starting rotation.
That's where Gonzalez comes in.

The Orioles are hoping that with Gonzalez on board and Koji Uehara now thrown into the mix, that the back end of their bullpen will be stabilized and the Orioles will now be able to hold onto leads instead of blowing them like they have so many times in the past.
Even though the Orioles are not expected to compete this season, it's still vital that the Orioles learn how to win baseball games because winning leads to confidence, which can only help the Orioles young players as they move forward.
Economically, this deal makes sense for the Orioles. The Orioles are not committing a large sum of money or years to Mike Gonzalez and best of all, the Orioles get to keep their top pick even though they signed a type A free agent, who was offered arbitration.
Because the cost was lower for the Orioles to sign Gonzalez than it was for most teams, the Orioles gave up less to sign him. Morale of the story: sometimes there are advantages to playing badly (picks 1-15 protected).

As for Gonzalez, this deal represents a potential opportunity for him to close and prove to teams all around the league that he can be a lights out closer. By the time the deal expires, Gonzalez will be 33 years old and if he puts together two great seasons with the Orioles, there's no reason to think that Gonzalez won't be in line for a big money contract after the 2011 season.