Gio Gonzalez’s contract has become ridiculously favorable for the Nationals

brushback_harperIntrepid columnist Thomas Boswell dropped some serious knowledge in his chat yesterday. He’s hearing that the Nationals offered Ian Desmond an extension that could be worth more than $90 million, but Desmond turned it down. He also writes that they might have landed Grant Balfour if the Nationals had not insisted on deferring such a large portion of an offer worth roughly $12 million over two years.

Those are financial issues the Nationals either had to worry about or still have to worry about. They have one crucial order of business they don’t have to worry about, but it may be overlooked in terms of importance to their future: Gio Gonzalez’s contract has become ridiculously favorable.

In Gonzalez, the Nationals have an all-star caliber pitcher who has been worth about four wins above replacement per season over the last three years. He will not turn 29 until September, which means he still has several prime seasons left. And if the Nationals want, they have him under contract for the next five years at the bargain price of $55.5 million – but only three guaranteed years for $32 million.

Before we go further, we should make clear that Gonzalez didn’t sign a bad deal or get suckered. When Gonzalez signed the deal, the Nationals guaranteed him $42.5 million, a risky bet on any 26-year-old pitcher. It also provided Gonzalez the opportunity for a lifetime of financial security.

But as Gonzalez has stayed healthy, developed as a pitcher and continued his excellent performance, the contract has become a boon for the Nationals. In what would have been the final two years of arbitration eligibility, Gonzalez will make $19.5 million. Over the same span, at the same point in his career, Jordan Zimmermann will make $24 million.

Unlike Gonzalez, Zimmermann will then have the opportunity to test a free agent market flush with cash; it’s not crazy to think Zimmermann could surpass the five-year, $80 million deal the Tigers gave Anibal Sanchez. In what would have been his first three free agent seasons, from 2016 through 2018, Gonzalez will make $36 million over three years – $6 million more than the three-year deal Scott Feldman signed this winter.

And it actually gets more favorable for the Nationals. If Gonzalez suffered a significant setback in performance or health in the next three seasons, they can choose not to exercise $12 million options in 2017 and 2018. If things go right, the Nationals get an ace at a No. 3 or 4 starter price. If things go wrong, they have little exposure.

As Gonzalez prepares for his third season in Washington, the Nationals are lucky to have him. They are even luckier to have him at his contract terms.

FROM THE POST

Ryan Zimmerman is preparing to play first base, but he still believes he can play third base at his old level for years to come.

Boz has a ridiculously informative and entertaining chat, which includes buzz on Ian Desmond’s contract talks.

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