The Braves will not be bringing back shortstop Alex Gonzalez in 2012.
Yesterday was the deadline for Major League teams to offer their own free agents salary arbitration. Salary arbitration is usually a formality for veterans, as they normally sign contracts without the help of the arbitration process. Still offering a player arbitration or not has more meaning than it seems on the surface.
Anytime a club declines to offer a veteran arbitration, it means two things. First, they will not be awarded a draft pick as compensation if the player signs elsewhere. Second, the player isn't likely to return. Since the end result of arbitration is usually a salary equal to fair market value, not offering it means that the team isn't willing to pay the player what he's worth.
The Atlanta Braves declined to offer shortstop Alex Gonzalez arbitration, meaning his career in a Braves uniform is more than likely finished. This article examines both sides to the argument of whether or not it was a smart decision.
Bringing Alex Honzalez back would have been a smart move in spite of his flaws.
The choice to not offer arbitration to Gonzalez will certainly be questioned, because even though he had his struggles with the bat, he was a plus-defender at short. Not having any strong internal options, coupled with reports that Frank Wren isn't looking to spend much on a shortstop this winter also make this a questionable decision.
According to speculation, if he went to arbitration Gonzalez would likely earn a salary near $3 million. That's not a very high figure, especially if it's only for one year. He would be more productive with the bat than Jack Wilson, and is proven unlike prospect Tyler Pastornicky. Even those top two internal options may not be good to start the year as Wilson is currently a free agent and Pastornicky may need more minor league seasoning before he's ready for a shot with the big club.
The Braves do have a talented shortstop prospect in Andrelton Simmons, but Simmons will begin the year in Double-A and isn't likely to be ready for Major League action until 2013. Bringing back Gonzalez for one more year would have helped to bridge the gap before Simmons is ready.
A team capable of competing for a World Series championship in 2012 needs a solid veteran like Gonzalez to play strong defense at shortstop. His offense is inconsistent and gets criticized, but he's the type of player fans could really end up missing unless something surprising happens. Also not offering arbitration means the club will not be receiving a compensation draft pick for the loss of a Type B free agent, something that would have been a nice bonus.
Alex Gonzalez isn't irreplaceable.
Frank Wren usually makes smart moves, so not bringing back Alex Gonzalez means one of the following things. Either Tyler Pastornicky is more highly regarded by the Braves' front office than we realize; top prospect Andrelton Simmons may be ready for the Majors sooner than believed; Jack Wilson and Pastornicky could share the job and be solid or there is something in the works behind the scenes.
Wren decided to take the $3 million or so that Gonzalez would be set to earn and use it in a different way to help improve his club. Gonzalez was a good defender, but he was a hole in the lineup with on-base percentages under .300 in both season's with the team.
Gonzalez isn't irreplaceable, so the team can find a replacement that the front office likes better assuming that they don't already have one in the fold. Gonzalez is going to be 35 years old for next season, so going younger isn't a bad choice.