Gio Gonzalez rewarded Billy Beane and the Oakland A's for the faith they showed in him when they shipped Nick Swisher to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for him, Ryan Sweeney and Fautino De Los Santos.
His first two partial seasons with the A's in 2008 and 2009 were marred by inconsistency. While he showed glimpses of the "stuff" that made him a first round draft pick in 2004, and a top-prospect in the White Sox organization, he also was wild and let his emotions get the better of him when he started to struggle.
He posted a 1-4 record with a 7.68 ERA in 10 appearances (seven games started) in 2008, followed by a 6-7 record with a 5.75 ERA in 20 appearances (17 games started) in 2009.
In 2010 Gio earned the fifth spot in the rotation behind Ben Sheets, Justin Duchscherer, Dallas Braden and Brett Anderson. By the end of the year he had emerged as one of the A's three young aces, posting an impressive line of 15-9 with a 3.23 ERA in 33 games (all starts). He struck out a career high 171 batters and reached 200 innings pitched for the first time in his career.
All-Star-Worthy Encore Performance
This season, Gonzalez is the A's most worthy all-star candidate.
He has followed up his breakout season with an even better first half of 2011. Following his last start against the Florida Marlins, his record is 7-5 with a 2.38 ERA in 102 innings pitched. He has 99 strikeouts compared to 46 walked batters. His 0.5 HR/9 and 7.1 H/9 rates are the lowest of his career.
His 2.38 ERA is the fifth lowest in the Major Leagues.
His 99 strikeouts are the 10th most in the American League.
When Ron Washington announces his selections for the American League squad, Gonzalez is the most likely player to be selected to represent Oakland at the midsummer classic.
Trade Speculation Exists, but Gonzalez Will Remain in Green and Gold
Gonzalez's strong season has prompted some people around baseball to suggest that the time might be right for the A's to sell high and listen to trade proposals involving the lefty.
Billy Beane publicly stated earlier in the season that his young starting rotation was practically untouchable this year. Still, the trade speculation exists.
There is a track record of Beane and the A's trading away valuable pitchers, but always in a rebuild, not to bring in a solid bat for a pennant race.
The two most famous trades came within days of each other following the 2005 season. Beane traded away Mark Mulder to the St. Louis Cardinals for Dan Haren, Kiko Calero and Daric Barton.
He also traded Tim Hudson to the Atlanta Braves.
Mark Mulder earned $4.4 million in his final season with the A's and received a raise to $6 million the following year with the Cardinals.
Tim Hudson earned $4.55 million in his final season in Oakland and $6.75 million the following year with the Braves.
Dan Haren, who was traded following the 2007 season, earned $2.2 million his final year with Oakland and $7.5 million his first year with the Diamondbacks. The Haren trade, equally as well-known as the Mulder and Hudson trades, brought Gonzalez's rotation-mate Brett Anderson to the Athletics.
Gio Gonzalez is earning just $420,000 this year and will reach arbitration for the first time in 2012. While he is definitely in line for a significant raise, it is unlikely he will approach the salary numbers of any of the three other A's star starters that were shipped elsewhere.
Gonzalez has expressed his interest in signing an extension with the A's that would lock up his arbitration years. While an extension would also increase his trade value, it would give the A's some cost control that would allow them to continue building around their rotation.
All of the A's previous high-profile trades of starting pitchers have been completed in the offseason, in attempts to bring large returns of Major League-ready, or close to MLB-ready prospects to help restock the farm system and build another contender.
The A's believe they are just entering their window of contention. The farm system may be thinning out as more players such as Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Jemile Weeks and Chris Carter join the big league club.
Even with the large number of free agents at the end of the season—Josh Willingham, David DeJesus, Hideki Matsui and Conor Jackson—the A's believe they have the talent in the minors to keep them in the middle of the AL West race for years to come.
Michael Taylor, Adrian Cardenas, Jai Miller, Jermaine Mitchell, Grant Green and Michael Choice all figure to play roles in the Athletics' future success when the current crop of players move on. If they live up to their potential, or at least match that of the current group, the A's will be able to build on their successes (modest as they may currently be).
Their young pitching, with Gio Gonzalez as one of the core members, remains the key to their success.
Cahill, Anderson and Gio should be the centerpieces of at least the next three or four seasons in Oakland. With Cahill's inconsistency this season and Anderson's injury history, Gio just may be the Athletics' most important pitcher moving forward.
With Rich Harden returning to the A's, Brandon McCarthy and Tyson Ross currently on rehab assignments and Guillermo Moscoso and Graham Godfrey proving they can be effective Major League starters, the A's do have some expendable pitching coming soon. A trade for a hitter remains entirely possible.
Gio Gonzalez will not be the player that the A's will look to move though. Not in 2011, and I would be willing to bet not within the next two following seasons either.
Look for him representing the green and gold in early July at the all-star game instead.