Shortly after acquiring Gio Gonzalez from the Oakland A’s in late 2011, the Washington Nationals signed the then-26-year-old lefty to a 5-year/$42M extension that included club options for the 2017-18 seasons at $12M per, with a $500,000 buyout before the next-to-last season (2017), and the 2018 option guaranteed if he throws at least 180 innings in 2017.
"Gio's ample talents are well-known and chronicled," Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo told reporter, including MLB.com’s Bill Ladson at the time.
"Today's extension was about comfort for both parties. From our end, the two option years and team control were imperative to the extended commitment.”
That extension paid Gonzalez, now 31 years old, $12M in 2016, when the southpaw was (11-11) in 32 starts with a 4.57 ERA, 3.76 FIP, 59 walks (2.99 BB/9), 171 Ks (8.68 K/9) and a .257/.326/.404 line against in 177 1⁄3 IP, over which he was worth 2.9 fWAR, down from 5.0, 3.2, 3.2 and 3.7 in his previous four years with the Nationals.
Gonzalez started strong this season, going (3-1) in his first eight starts, with a 1.86 ERA, 13 walks (2.42 BB/9), 40 Ks (7.45 K/9) and a .222/.277/.289 line against in 48 1⁄3 IP.
He was just (3-8) over the next 13 outings, however, with a 5.89 ERA, 32 walks (4.04 BB/9), 75 Ks (9.46 K/9) and a .281/.362/.463 line against in 71 1⁄3 IP in that stretch.
Gonzalez’s fifth season in D.C. ended with a (5-2) stretch in August/September, which saw the nine-year veteran post a 5.17 ERA, 14 walks (2.26 BB/9), 56 Ks (9.05 K/9) and a .269/.318/.420 line against in 55 2⁄3 IP.
It was a frustratingly up and down campaign for the lone left-hander in the Nationals’ rotation, which saw him struggle with shutdown innings and consistency.
Even he said he wasn’t sure what he needed to do to improve as he prepared for a potential playoff start when a reporters asked as the regular season wound down.
“I don’t know what to say there. I don’t know,” Gonzalez said. “You figure that one out for me. I’ll figure it out some day.”
Before he started against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS, Gonzalez said he’d put the regular season behind him so he could focus on the task at hand when a reporter asked if he’d reflected on how things went in the regular season.
“I have,” he said. “October 2 was the last time I thought about it. This is the playoffs now. That's over with.”
“The season's over with,” Gonzalez said. “It's not -- it's not something I want to sit back and reflect. I want to talk about now, which is October -- what day, October 8.
“It's playoff time. So this is the time you need to turn it on and get ready to go. If they need me to pitch against the Dodgers, then I'm going to pitch against the Dodgers.”
In his fourth postseason start for the Nationals, Gonzalez gave up four hits, a walk and three earned runs in 4 1⁄3 innings pitched, receiving no decision in Washington’s 8-3 win over LA in Game 3.
In his four playoff starts, he has a 3.93 ERA, 13 walks (6.38 BB/9), 15 Ks (7.36 K/9) and a .209/.333/.313 line against in 18 1⁄3 innings.
Now the Nationals have a difficult decision to make. Do Rizzo and Co. in the Nationals’ front office want to pick up Gonzalez’s $12M option for 2017? Is $12M a reasonable price for a third/fourth starter?
He reached 180+ innings over four straight seasons from 2010-2013, but hasn’t in any of the previous three seasons, when he’s finished with 158 2/3, 175 2⁄3 and 177 1⁄3 IP.
Do the Nationals risk having to pay Gonzalez $24M over the next two seasons, buy him out for $500,000 this winter, try to trade him?