Marwin Gonzalez followed a breakout 2017 (.303/.377/.530) with a solid season in '18, posting a .733 OPS to go with 25 doubles and 16 home runs in a career-high 552 plate appearances. That and the 29-year-old's ability to play strong defense at multiple positions, including shortstop, second base and left field, make him an intriguing option for any number of clubs.
Below is a rundown of the latest news and rumors surrounding the versatile veteran.
Among remaining free agents, Gonzalez is 'Mr. Versatility'
Jan. 20: In baseball today, versatility is value. Baseball executives, managers and coaches are seeking out players who can cover multiple positions, thus allowing more roster flexibility. The poster boy for this? Marwin Gonzalez.
Not only can the veteran free agent play just about anywhere on the field -- from first base to shortstop to second base to left field -- he does so at capable or better level. Oh, and his bat is pretty good, too, so the 29-year-old isn't merely a defensive specialist.
In a look at which remaining players on the open market possess the best skills in various categories (i.e., most power, most swing-and-miss ability), MLB.com's Andrew Simon names Gonzalez as the player with the most versatility.
"Gonzalez is the only player who spent at least 20 games apiece last season at first base, second base, shortstop and left field," Simon writes. "He and Sean Rodriguez are the only two active players with at least 90 career games at those four positions, plus third base. Gonzalez doesn't just have a lot of gloves -- he is adept at using them, posting roughly average or better Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) scores at each spot."
So the versatility is legitimate, and the defense is good. What about Gonzalez's offense?
He did drop off in 2018 (.247/.324/.409) after a breakout '17 with the bat (.303/.377/.530), but his second half of last season was quite good (.275/.352/.492). And as Simon points out: "With a 111 OPS+ over the past five seasons, Gonzalez has a good enough bat to play just about every day, even if he's constantly moving around the field."
Which teams might be in play for Gonzalez?
Jan. 16: Marwin Gonzalez has made a career of flying somewhat under the radar despite being a valuable player who can cut it at just about any position on the diamond. As a free agent, his market has been much the same -- quiet -- but that doesn't mean he's not highly sought-after for what he brings.
In a rundown of seven of the top remaining free agents other than Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, MLB.com's Richard Justice ranks Gonzalez No. 4 and writes: "[He] is an extremely valuable super-utility player who started games at every infield position over the last two seasons in addition to 103 starts in left field. He has played all of them credibly while producing a 4.0 fWAR in 2017 and hitting the biggest home run in Astros history in Game 2 of that World Series."
So which club could Gonzalez wind up with? Justice points out the Indians, Braves, Brewers and Rays. The first two teams, presumably, would be eyeing Gonzalez in the outfield, where Cleveland and Atlanta have the bigger holes. Milwaukee has a need at second base, specifically, and Tampa Bay likely could continue to utilize Gonzalez all over.
That said, Gonzalez's versatility allows him to fit on just about any roster, and while he's one of the better free agents still available, the 29-year-old isn't likely to require contract that would price him out of most teams' budgets, either.
What kind of contract is Gonzalez seeking?
Jan. 15: Because of his recent offensive production in 2017-18 and status as a supremely versatile defender, a number of teams are interested in and good fits for Marwin Gonzalez. One thing that hasn't been made clear to this point in the offseason, however, is what type of deal the veteran free agent may be trying to land.
Part of the reason for that is Gonzalez is not among the very top tier of players available on the open market, so there's been less speculation surrounding him. Another reason is there are fewer past free agents to compare him to because of what he brings to the table on defense.
One similar name that could provide a glimpse at what Gonzalez is seeking? Ben Zobrist, as MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal writes in a story for The Athletic (subscription required).
"Gonzalez, who turns 30 on March 14 ... likely wants to approach if not exceed the four-year, $56 million contract Ben Zobrist received from the Cubs at age 34 in December 2015," Rosenthal notes. "If that is indeed Gonzalez's goal, he might continue to linger on the market. One rival executive predicts [agent Scott] Boras will not 'capitulate' to a lesser deal until absolutely necessary."
Between Gonzalez's age, production and ability to play all over the diamond, it would seem reasonable that he should aim for something in that range. Granted, the free-agent market has seen a number of veterans settle for shorter-term deals than perhaps had been expected, but one big factor in Gonzalez's favor is that the sport as a whole is increasingly valuing versatility -- and there's simply no other free agent quite like him.
Is Marwin in the cards for St. Louis?
Jan. 12: Marwin Gonzalez is the most versatile player on the free-agent market, and perhaps the most versatile player in baseball. So it stands to reason that virtually every club could use him. With the infield market suddenly hot, there's been much speculation that Gonzalez could reach a deal somewhere soon. Could the Cardinals, a team that Gonzalez really hasn't been linked with this offseason, be the club to land him?
MLB.com's Jenifer Langosch answered that question in her latest Cardinals inbox, suggesting a Gonzalez signing would make a lot of sense for the club, but not as much for the player.
"Not only can Gonzalez play just about anywhere on the field (including shortstop), but he'd offer a switch-hitting presence off the bench," writes Langosch. "That would instantly help balance the Cardinals' offense.
"The issue, though, isn't so much the Cardinals' interest in Gonzalez, but rather what his interest would be in them. He's accrued 500-plus plate appearances in each of the last three seasons and averaged 125 starts per year during that span. He's looking to land somewhere where he can match that playing time, and the Cards don't have it to offer."
Gonzalez, who turns 30 in March, had a breakout season in 2017 for the Astros, slashing .303/.377/.530 with 23 home runs in 134 games while playing every infield position and both corner outfield positions. He took a step back on offense last season, seeing his OPS+ drop from 146 to 103. Nevertheless, his capability offensively and defensively makes him a very attractive candidate, especially in today's game, in which positional flexibility is valued highly.
With second basemen suddenly flying off the board, is Marwin next?
Jan. 11: The second-base market, which looked so robust a couple days ago, has suddenly thinned out significantly, with Brian Dozier (Nationals), Jed Lowrie (Mets) and DJ LeMahieu (Yankees) all finding new homes. Is Marwin Gonzalez next?
Gonzalez is arguably the best remaining free agent with second-base experience, and it helps his value that he can play all four infield positions as well as the two corner outfield spots. So while there are now fewer teams in need of a second baseman, the signings shouldn't impact Gonzalez as much as they would a player who solely mans the keystone.
The focus now shifts to the Brewers, who are "in heavy pursuit" of an infielder who can play second or third base, according to ESPN's Jeff Passan. Gonzalez would appear to be an ideal candidate (yes, he's an ideal candidate for virtually every club), as he can play both, which would give the Brewers flexibility. Travis Shaw moved from third base to second when Milwaukee acquired Mike Moustakas last July.
Gonzalez, 29, had a breakout season in 2017 for the Astros, hitting .303/.377/.530 with 23 home runs in 134 games. He did that while playing every position on the field except center field, pitcher and catcher. Though his performance at the plate dipped last season, when he slashed .247/.324/.409 with 16 homers in 145 games, MLB.com's Andrew Simon notes that Gonzalez had a resurgent second half. After the All-Star break, he hit .275/.352/.492 (134 weighted runs created plus). And perhaps even more impressively, his hard-hit rate according to Statcast™ was 52.7 percent, one of the highest in baseball in the second half, after a 33.9 percent mark in the first half. Even in his breakout '17 campaign, his hard-hit rate was far lower than that, at 36.6 percent.
So there is much to be positive about when looking at Gonzalez's resume. Milwaukee is the only remaining club in what was a "big three" of teams looking for a second baseman, as the Nats and Mets have made their moves. Will the Brewers make another big move after reaching a one-year, $18.25 million agreement with free-agent catcher Yasmani Grandal on Wednesday? Or will another club swoop in for Gonzalez and utilize him at a host of other positions?
Gonzalez remains available despite versatility
Jan. 8: Although Marwin Gonzalez is far from the only player who has found the free-agent market to be slow moving, it's still surprising that he remains available.
As MLB.com's Andrew Simon wrote Monday, Gonzalez offers "almost unparalleled defensive versatility," which means he could fit with virtually every Major League team.
Perhaps Gonzalez's lackluster offensive production a year ago -- especially compared to his breakout at the plate in 2017 -- is a concern, but as Simon points out, his 2018 second-half numbers were close to what he put up the previous season. Raising his hard-hit rate to 52.7 percent after the All-Star break (33.9 percent in the first half), Gonzalez posted a second-half slash line of .275/.352/.492 with a 134 wRC+. In 2017, Gonzalez slashed .303/.377/.530 with a 144 wRC+.
The Mets were reportedly looking at Gonzalez for a utility role in early December, according to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman in an article for Fancred Sports, but the team added outfield and infield depth by trading for Keon Broxton and J.D. Davis last week.
With the club's roster mostly in place and extension talks with Jacob deGrom soon to come, New York is not expected to spend substantially on any other players this offseason, Mike Puma of the New York Post reports.
That means New York is almost certainly out of the running for Gonzalez and A.J. Pollock.
The Mets will count on Juan Lagares and Broxton to handle center field, while Davis should be a depth piece at first and third base. New York could still add a shortstop to back up Amed Rosario and potentially sign another reliever, but it doesn't appear as if the club plans to make any more major moves.