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Whither Gonzo?

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Heroes and Zeroes, Series 46: vs. Rockies, on road
Estes: 6 IP, 5 H, 4 BB, 0 ER
Glaus: 6-for-12, 5 RBI, 4 HR
Villarreal: 3 IP, 2 H, 0 BB, 0 ER
Gonzalez: 1-for-11
Ortiz: 3 IP, 4 H, 3 BB, 5 ER

In any other series, hitting four home runs and batting .500 would get you lauded as the top hero, but not in Coors Field, where that can only be considered a slightly above-average performance - Green (6-for-14) and Tracy (5-for-12, 4 RBI) couldn't even crack the podium. Instead, we give it to Shawn Estes, whose six shutout innings was a great way to come back, though the walks were a bit worrying. Glaus takes second, and Villarreal, the forgotten man of the bullpen, ignored for eight days, gave us three strong innings in only 29 pitches.

Ortiz is the obvious villain of this series, managing to claim this spot entirely on his performance in the fourth innings on Sunday, facing seven Rockies' hitters and retiring, er, none of them. However, when your reigning batting-average champ manages just one single in three Denver games, and his season average is now three points above Royce Clayton... The second half of this year has been eminently forgettable for Gonzo: after batting .303 to the end of June, he's hitting just .226 since, and has only three hits, all singles, so far this month. The death of his stepfather seems to have affected him more than he'd probably admit.

And, perhaps as a result, the following leapt out and whacked me across the face in the Banana this morning: "the Diamondbacks may consider a trade, perhaps involving Quentin or, to a lesser extent, Gonzalez or Glaus." That such heretical thoughts would even be suggested in, basically, the Diamondbacks version of Pravda, is astonishing.

For Gonzo is the face of the franchise - he merely knocked in the winning run in the World Series, f'heavens sake. He has the longest unbroken run with Arizona of any player (at the major league-level: Terrero, Valverde, Villarreal and Cintron were all here in the minors when Gonzalez arrived). He does really cringeworthy commercials for Leslie's Pool Supplies. He is a genuinely nice guy, about whom few have even a single bad word. And yet...

Facts have to be faced. This is not the Luis Gonzalez who hit 57 homers in 2001. This is, in fact, barely even the Luis Gonzalez who played two-third of last year with half an arm. Here are the stats for the past five years:

       BA   OBP  SLG   OPS  HR*
2001  .325 .429 .688 1.107  57 
2002  .288 .400 .496  .896  31 
2003  .304 .402 .532  .934  27 
2004  .259 .373 .493  .866  26 
2005  .268 .363 .444  .807  24 
Tracy .291 .343 .515  .858  28 
* = pro-rated for 162 games

Now, past performance is no guarantee - witness Tony Clark, currently batting 17 points above any year in the previous decade, and Shawn Green, who might hit .300 for the first time since 1999. But the decline of Gonzo is obvious, and will likely only accelerate next season. There's no doubting his spirit or desire - he wants to match Julio Franco, and play into his late-forties - but there's a point where the good of the team has to outweight this.

Which is why the last line in the above chart is Chad Tracy's statistics for this year. The article in the Banana is mostly about where to play Tracy next year - something that appears to have been given little thought, given the long-term signings of Glaus, Green and Clark. According to Jeff Moorad, "I'm going to play him. I don't know where, but I'm going to play him." I can only presume they're planning to petition MLB to make the game 10-a-side next season, because there aren't many alternatives.

It would seem that Jackson and Clark have first-base sewn up for next season. Glaus has Tracy's old position at third, similarly secure. Shawn Green in CF and Gonzo in left, only leaves RF for Tracy...but Carlos Quentin would appear ready for the big show there, and making him languish in AAA for another season seems pointless. Which is why the T-word is being mentioned with regard to Gonzo.

There are two problems. One: Gonzo has absolute right of veto over any trade here, and he likes it in Arizona. Two: anyone want a 38-year old left fielder, with limited range and arm, hitting .268 but earning $11.5m next year? Anyone? We'd likely end up having to eat most of his salary, if we could find a team that was interested - but if we did, it's certainly worth considering.

The alternative is paying Gonzalez to ride the pine next year, which will almost certainly be his last - there's an option for 2007, but the club would be insane (no, make that, more insane than usual) to pick that one up, for $10m plus bonuses. Instead, I think Gonzo being "rested" is something we are likely to see more of, as the season progresses, if performances continue going in the directions they have been. The question is, will it happen before our chances of contending in 2006 are irreperably damaged?