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The End of an Era

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Luis Gonzalez is in the last month of his career with the Arizona Diamondbacks; a career that began almost un-noticed with his arrival in a minor December 1998 trade, peaked with that bloop single in Game 7 of the World Series, and is now coming to a close, not without some controversy. It's clear that the sides did not reach an agreement: but how hard did they try? That, for the moment, is the big unknown; we haven't even heard Luis's side of the story, as yet - he'll probably talk to the press before tonight's game against Colorado.

Reading the information out there thus far, it seems the team didn't hang around, making it clear early on in their talk that there would be little or no offer on the table. Sounds bad, but it could have been a reaction to Gonzo's earlier, well-publicized comments that part-time play is not an option. To quote Jeff Moorad, "This isn't a financial decision. This is a decision about the long-term success of our ballclub." So it doesn't seem that money was particularly the issue here, and that playing time was more likely the stopper.

Even in a part-time role, all things being equal, how many games would Gonzalez actually get? Another year older, another year slower... His OPS this year is .825, the same as last season, but down 110 points from what it was three years ago, so if he had played in 2007, I'd be expecting it to be .800 at best. It's conceivable he might only be our sixth-best outfielder; not just behind the starting three, but also Jeff DaVanon and Scott Hairston. Given that, it's hard to justify even the use of a roster spot for Gonzalez, at any price.

Much credit to Josh Byrnes for making this decision, which cannot have been an easy one, especially given the inevitable repercussions. It's probably the hardest decision he's had to make since coming here, and I applaud his guts for pulling the trigger, since it's in the long-term interests of the team. While I'd like to see Gonzalez end his career here, this is not a retirement home for aging baseball players. You get the playing time that you deserve, and Arizona has better, cheaper options for the at-bats Gonzalez would have taken. Luis's heart is the problem, and I mean that only in the sense it's too big. Left up to him, he'd probably play until he was 50 - and there's a sizeable group of fans who would let him.

Will there be a backlash? Certainly. It's already under way [more comments on a different Republic story], in a brutal fashion. But this is partly why it's a good thing to get this out of the way now; several months will pass, before people have to make decisions on their ticket renewals. Heads will cool; hopefully, Brandon Webb will win the Cy Young award, and we acquire a stud starting pitcher or two. Season ticket renewals might still be down, and attendance at the opening games of 2007 could also be lower. But that will last only until our performance improves, which I don't expect to be long. All those burning Byrnes in effigy now, will be back in time for the playoffs. And I note that here, no-one has currently voted the move a disaster for the franchise.

It will be interesting to see how Luis Gonzalez handles himself this afternoon. The organization have made it very clear that they would like him to return, whenever his playing career is over, whether as a manager, broadcaster or executive. If he wants to do that, then expect the usual diplomatic, classy performance from Gonzalez in front of the media. My instincts lean towards this: unlike his benching tantrum early in the season, he's had 24 hours to think about this and formulate a response. While he certainly could rip the organization a new orifice, I'm thinking he won't - not yet, not least because he will want a proper farewell. If he burns his bridges and plays nasty, he could find himself benched for the final series.

Many great comments on the news, so thanks to johngordonma, VIII, suitsmetoATnT, Otacon, azdb7, William K, Devin, Louchart45, npineda, Diamondhacks, TheMainMan, icecoldmo, Sir Geon, kylerkenney, Barry23 and DiamondbacksWIn for their thoughts to date. Great questions raised, like was there any option of resigning him at all? At the moment, we just don't know. Sir Geon also paints an interesting picture of how the season could/should have gone down, with everything being love 'n' roses. I think that didn't happen because Gonzalez believed he could play well enough to merit an extension, and it never seemed impossible - it's not like he was hitting .220 all year). Hence the sudden crunch in the last two weeks; Gonzo says he wants a proper farewell, the team says, "There you go".

Perhaps the most interesting question was William's, asking who will be the "new face of the franchise"? He suggests Brandon Webb, and I think that, especially if he wins the Cy Young, he'll be the center of advertising: Come Out and See the Best Pitcher in the NL! However, I believe it's hard for any starting pitcher to become the face, simply because they only appear one game in five. I think the most likely candidate is a position player, and one who will be in a D'backs uniform for a long time to come. If I'd to pick one right now, I'd go with Stephen Drew. However, whoever gets the winning hit in Game 7 of the World Series will likely receive instant promotion!

Actually, I'm curious as to how and when Gonzo became the face: obviously, it wasn't when the franchise began, and given the low-key expectations at his arrival, I doubt it was immediately on becoming a D'back. I think it may largely be the result of building, slowly and surely, a good old-fashioned rapport with the fans. I've heard many stories about people meeting him, and they all (ourselves included) were in the most glowing of terms. Luis always had time, a word and a smile for anyone, and that is the kind of thing that makes people devoted supporters for life.

We'll have to wait and see which D'backs have the personality and long-term occupancy to do this. Eric Byrnes has the former, but I don't know if he'll stick around enough. D, Q, Y and J will all be here, but I can't say anything about their personalities: I've not met them, and don't know anyone who has. It'll be interesting to see who advertisers lock on to - Leslie's Pool Supplies may need a new spokesman, to start with, though I suspect they'll be looking for someone more family-oriented than the rookies.

So where will Gonzo go? That's going to be an ongoing story. One of his agents said, "I think there are going to be several - five, six, seven - teams that are going to be suitors for him. I think there will be a lot of activity, probably very early in the free-agent signing period." We'll see what happens: a good starting point would be look at team production from left-field. Gonzo this year is at .825; let's reduce that figure to .790, given park factors and his age, but there are a dozen teams for whom that would be an improvement. Though Tampa Bay - a team for which Gonzo has expressed interest - is not one of them.

His agent also said, "He'd like to go back to the big dance and win another World Series, or at least play in the postseason." Looking at the list, that does restrict things, since many current or imminent contenders are getting decent production from LF. [Of course, if he goes to the American League, he could always DH, but I don't think he'd like that option.] Here's a closer look at the teams remaining, who are currently better than five games below .500, together with what they've been using this year:

  • NY Yankees. 2006 OPS: .784; main occupants = Melky Cabrera, Hideki Matsui. The Yankees would probably enjoy getting the hitter who "beat" them in the World Series, to play alongside the pitcher who won Game Seven. However, Hideki Matsui just came back from a shattered wrist, and is signed through 2009, so it seems very unlikely Gonzalez would play here.

  • Detroit. 2006 OPS: .780; main occupants = Craig Monroe, Marcus Thames. Monroe's contract is up at the end of this year, and his production has been disappointing, with a K:BB ratio of worse than 3:1. So they could be looking for a replacement. But would Luis want to take his family and three young kids to the Motor City? Its reputation, deserved or not, remains poor.

  • St. Louis. 2006 OPS: .767; main occupants = Chris Duncan, So Taguchi. It's the latter half of the equation that's responsible for the poor performance, batting .229 with one HR in right-field. Since his arrival, Duncan has hit .324 with 12 HR in 148 at-bats, so there's no space here for Gonzalez - even if Duncan's father wasn't the Cardinals' pitching coach!

  • NY Mets. 2006 OPS: .739; main occupants = Cliff Floyd, Endy Chavez. This is intriguing. They'd love to have the man who ended the Yankees' streak too, and it'd give them another lefty outfield bat, teaming Gonzalez up with Shawn Green once again. Floyd's contract runs out this season, and he's been hampered by injury, but it seems more likely that Green - already signed for next year - would move to LF, making room for Lastings Milledge.

  • San Diego. 2006 OPS: 736; main occupants = Dave Roberts, Eric Young. Roberts' OPS was a healthy .776, and his 38 stolen bases should also be factored in. His deal is up, and the White Sox are apparently interested; this would be the closest Gonzalez could be to AZ, so he could conceivably keep his family here. The Padres also face us 19 times a year, giving him a chance to rub our organization's nose in it.

  • Chicago White Sox. 2006 OPS: .718; main occupants, Scott Podsednik, Pablo Ozuna. While stealing 39 bases, Podsednik has hit only .258 with 3 HR, and has often been replaced with Ozuna against lefties. Gonzalez, even if willing to be platooned, would be no help there. Podsednik's deal ends this season, however, and his lacklustre production means he may not be re-signed, making this a potential destination. He was only paid $1.9m, however.

The above are all "quick and dirty" analyses, and do not take into account any prospects that may be lurking in the wins. However, they would seem the most obvious destinations, given Gonzo's preferences, as expressed by his agent. But wherever he goes, and no matter the terms of his departure I think all Diamondback fans will have a special place in their heart for Gonzalez, and all he has done for the club over the past eight year. Thank you, Luis, for everything.