Gio Gonzalez had never been to Washington before Tuesday night, and he and his family wanted to see as much as they could. Gonzalez attended the Washington Capitals game, where an image of the Washington Nationals’ newest attraction was flashed on the Jumbotron. That caught him off guard.
Gonzalez and his family poured out of Verizon Center, intoxicated by the sights. He and his brother ran up the steps at the Lincoln Memorial and, even knowing the city was wrong, shouted “Rocky!” The Mall made them think of “Forrest Gump.” When they saw the White House, they started quoting the movie “Independence Day.”
They were having a blast.
“We’ve got to go see everything right now,” Gonzalez’s father, Max, said.
“Dad, I’m going to be here for the next five years and beyond that,” Gonzalez said. “We’ll see plenty of it. Just enjoy your time.”
The Nationals introduced Gonzalez at a news conference at Nationals Park on Wednesday, a month after they traded four prospects to Oakland for the left-handed starting pitcher, and a week after they signed him to a contract extension that could keep in Washington through 2018.
Gonzalez, 26, embraced his new home, his new team and his new role: a pitcher the franchise hopes will help them become a contender now and into the future.
“I’m definitely the type of guy, I don’t want to let you down,” Gonzalez said. “I will do anything and everything I can to make sure you got exactly what you wanted. And I love the pressure situations. Give me the baseball. I’ll be in the bullpen if I have to. And this is what the Nationals brought to the table – ‘We made this trade for you to go out there and compete for us.’ I felt like it was a privilege and an honor to do that.”
Gonzalez’s contract does not include any no-trade provisions, but the Nationals expect him to top their rotation, between Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, for years to come. Wednesday, General Manager Mike Rizzo called Gonzalez “our newest family member” and “part of the furniture here.”
Rizzo called Gonzalez’s agency, ACES, shortly after finalizing the trade to ask about an extension. The sides agreed quickly, Gonzalez eager to stabilize his future, the Nationals wanting to guarantee a maximum, cost-controlled return for dealing away four of their top 15 prospects.
“We were satisfied and convinced that this is the type of person and player that we want on the mound for us and in the clubhouse,” Rizzo said. “We’ve done a lot of homework. I’ve known Gio for a long, long time. I know the scout who signed him for a long, long time. We’re convinced of the makeup. We’re convinced of the character.”
Upon learning he had been traded, Gonzalez felt mutually fond of the Nationals. After the initial shock — “no more green and gold,” he said — Gonzalez beamed. He would play nine games each year in Miami, where he grew up. (He played high school baseball with Nationals first baseman Chris Marrero, and against shortstop Ian Desmond.) He quickly felt “home” with the Nationals, he said.
“As soon as they said, ‘We’re interested, we want you,’ when they made the trade happen, I was more than happy to smile,” Gonzalez said. “My family, we sat down and analyzed the whole thing. It came down to, we’re happy, this is where we want to be.”
And so Wednesday, Gonzalez arrived at Nationals Park. He met Jayson Werth in the clubhouse. At the news conference, his parents, two brothers and a cousin sat in the front row, next to principal owner Mark Lerner. Rizzo slung a jersey over his shoulders. “Little nervous,” he muttered as he fastened the top two buttons. He displayed no nervousness as he answered questions, composed and confident.
“We’re ready, we’re going to come out here swinging for the fans and we’re definitely going to go out there and try to shut teams down,” Gonzalez said. “I think this is a great opportunity and a great organization to do it with. I think I’m going to be here and I’m going to be happy for a while.”
Following Gonzalez’s news conference, Rizzo addressed the Nationals’ pursuit of Prince Fielder, who agreed to a nine-year, $214 million deal with the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday. Rizzo made no bones about the Nationals’ interest, but said the team had a firm price point it did not want to cross.
“I felt that we were players,” Rizzo said. “We were being aggressive in the negotiations. I felt that we were players in the process, but it’s an unpredictable process and you don’t know what deals are out there and you don’t know what is fact and what is fiction.
“We felt comfortable to the fact that we were in the game and, again, I felt very comfortable that we had parameters set in my mind, and those were comfortable parameters. And if we couldn’t get a deal done there, we weren’t going to get a deal done, and I was comfortable with that we had some good options already available to us.”