In an unsurprising move made hours after the offseason officially began, the Washington Nationals picked up Gio Gonzalez’s option, meaning they’ll owe him $12 million in 2017. The Nationals also declined their option on right-handed reliever Yusmeiro Petit, who would have been owed $3 million but will instead get a $500,000 buyout.
Those in the industry consider Gonzalez’s contract a bargain. Similar left-hander Scott Kazmir got $16 million annually from the Dodgers before this season; lefty Brett Anderson got a $15.8 million qualifying offer from Los Angeles, too. Though Gonzalez might inspire those inside and outside the dugout to tug their hair out, he does take the mound every fifth day with uncommon reliability: Gonzalez has won 10 games in every season since 2010. Among lefties, only Clayton Kershaw can say the same.
But the 31-year-old Gonzalez’s performance dipped this season. His ERA jumped by nearly a run. His average fastball velocity dropped by about a mile per hour. But he is the only left-hander in the organization ready to start at the big league level right now. If he throws 180 innings next season, which he has not done in any of the past three seasons, a $12 million option for 2018 kicks in, too. In other words, should the Nationals decide they can tolerate his short-term inconsistencies for big-picture production, Gonzalez could remain the lone left-hander in their rotation for the next two seasons. Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Tanner Roark are under team control through 2018 and beyond.
The Nationals have another option, which is to capitalize on Gonzalez’s value in a weak starting pitching market and trade him. Since they do not have to trade him, and are dealing from a position at which they have plenty of young talent, they could set a high price and take nothing less, being no worse off for their efforts if no one bites.
Petit, brought on to be a long man who could also pitch in middle relief, did hardly any of the latter after showing poorly in that role. His contract included a team option that would have paid him $3 million in 2017, which was more than the Nationals were willing to give him after he pitched to a 4.50 ERA in 36 games. The 31-year-old did not get many chances down the stretch and did not pitch well when he did. As a result, Dusty Baker called on him just 14 times after the all-star break. His ERA in those 14 appearances was 9.35. Petit is now a free agent.
The Nationals have five days in which to negotiate with their own free agents before other teams can begin doing so next Tuesday. When that period begins, they will have four members of their 2016 rotation — Scherzer, Strasburg, Roark, Gonzalez — under team control and a handful of young right-handers from which to choose a fifth.