"It's a disgrace that the D-backs got rid of Gonzo. People wonder why there is no more loyalty in sports. Why should any player be loyal to the D-backs, if they were not loyal to the most visible player in the history of the franchise? I wish Gonzo the best. Maybe Artie Moreno will give him a shot as the DH in Anaheim. Josh Byrnes is just a Theo Epstein wanna be. The new ownership is no Jerry Collangelo."
It's been like this all week. When the news was announced, I was flooded with the emails. My phone wouldn't stop ringing.
What are they doing!
He's the face of the franchise!
How do they expect anybody else to come here?!?
It was the last one that prompted this article. The fact that they are not resigning Luis Gonzalez is precisely the reason the will be able to bring in other players. Gonzo has recovered, after a borderline horrible first half he's been pretty good the second half of the season, but he's no longer a force, no longer a #3 hitter, no longer the best player, or even one of the best players, on the team.
Here's the real question. Do you want Luis Gonzalez back, or do you want a shot at the NL West next season?
The Diamondbacks have money to spend in free agency. Will they spend it wisely? Will they get the starting pitching they need? Will they find at least one reliable bullpen arm? I don't know, and no one will until next season, but here's one thing you can bet on.
If they brought Gonzo back at $10 million, they certainly wouldn't.
Compare Gonzalez's number with that of his (at least right now) replacement in left, Eric Byrnes. They don't compare. Byrnes is better right now. Carlos Quentin is ready, and Chris Young has shown he is as well. Chad Tracy, Stephen Drew, Orlando Hudson and Conor Jackson are on the infield, and the three headed monster of Johnny Estrada, Chris Snyder and Miguel Montero will prove to be a battle for two spots all spring.
It's just the pitching. Brandon Webb is a Cy Young candidate, and what else do we have? Jose Valverde may be the closer, but he may be injury prone and unable to deal with the pressure. There are about 15 guys who might be the perfect tandem of set up men, but none of them are that guy. What is the answer? Micah Owings and Greg Smith are likely a year away. Dustin Nippert and Edgar Gonzalez have yet to step up and claim a spot in the rotation, and as good as Enrique Gonzalez was after the first inning, it seems unlikely the MLB will institute a new rule that all games start in inning number two.
Gonzo was, is, and likely always will be the face of the franchise. He does a ton for the community, but do you think he's suddenly going to stop? Of course not, Gonzo knows this is a business, and he knows it's not the decision the fans would have made. Gonzo has come up with probably hundreds of big hits for the organization, but very few in the last two years. His family is here, and they love it here, and so did he, which is the only reason this matters. If Gonzo didn't like it in Arizona so much, it wouldn't have been a big deal, he would have been shopping himself around all season.
The bottom line is that the D'Backs did it right. Gonzo asked to know. The D'Backs didn't have to tell him, or the press, or the fans, that this was it. They could have simply said we're considering the options, waited until January, and then said 'No, thanks.' Gonzo asked to know now and the D'Backs let him know. They let the Arizona fans have another couple of weeks watching their hero, the man who's biggest hit was a broken bat bloop single, in a year where he hit 57 dingers. The man who was, at best, a journeyman before he arrived in Arizona.
There are two statements in the letter printed above I'd like to address specifically.
I wish Gonzo the best.
So do I. So do we all. So do the D'Backs. Especially if he ends up on the A's, or frankly anybody not in the NL West. You just know he's going to torch us if he's in the National League, and Lord help us if he heads to a division rival, because he might hit .200 all season, but against the D'Backs you just know he'll hit .450 with 10 homers and 20 RBI in 16 games. You just know it, and frankly, so do the D'Backs front office people, and they were willing to take the risk.
It's the second one that got to me though.
The new ownership is no Jerry Collangelo.
No, they're not. You know how I know they're not? Because they let Gonzo know when he asked. Remember Randy Johnson's farewell press conference? How about Curt Schilling's? No, you don't, because there wasn't one. The D'Backs let them know long after the season was over, long after people had stopped caring about the D'Backs, and started hoping against hope that the Cardinals would be good. There was no farewell tour, no 'long goodbye' for two players who, one could argue, were much more instrumental in winning the World Series than Gonzo was.
That is not a knock on Collangelo. That is not to imply that he did things the wrong way. Neither player particularly wanted to come back. Schilling was ready for a bigger stage, and got one, stapled ankle and all, in the World Series with the Red Sox. Johnson wanted to cash in, and did with the Yankees, and now he hates his bigger stage. But neither was told ahead of time. Neither was given the same respect Gonzo was, and the credit for that goes to Jeff Moorad and Josh Byrnes and (gulp) Ken Kendrick. The Diamondbacks treated Gonzo as fairly as one can in a business, and they deserve credit for that, just as Gonzo deserves credit for everything he's done.
There is a place for Gonzo in the D'Backs organization when he finally decides to hang 'em up. When he is ready to quit playing he can return to Arizona and take his place in the front office. I think he will, I hope he will. I want Gonzo here, want his number retired, want his face plastered on the left field wall. I want Gonzo to be actively involved, and I wouldn't be shocked if at some point in time he became a hitting coach, maybe even a manager. His presence has always been one of stability, of consistency, of an even keel.
And here's the great thing. It will continue to be. Want to know why, listen to Gonzo himself.
"It's going to take a while for these young players to develop. But they want to bring them up. I'm not going to bash those guys, though, because they've given me a great opportunity. I want to move on, too."
He knows that baseball is a game, and that games are played by kids. Does Gonzo have a couple of years left? Maybe, but Quentin and Young have a couple of decades left. Now, if they're smart, those two are hanging on every word, watching every minute detail. Learning everything they can about how to do things the right way. That's what Gonzo did, when he was hot, when he was slumping, when it was just your average day, he did things the right way. Maybe Josh Byrnes and the rest of the front office learned something from Gonzo, because they did this the right way too.