How Marwin became the FA every team needs

November 18th, 2018

appears to be a hot commodity in this free-agent market, and the people who have watched him play or called him a teammate these last seven seasons with the Astros couldn't be happier about that. They're not happy that he may have played his last game for Houston, but they're thrilled for Gonzalez, who has made himself a terrific player with hard work and smarts and a relentless will to succeed.

In Houston, Gonzalez is about as beloved as almost any player during a four-year run that has produced three postseason appearances and a World Series trophy in 2017. He's that player you tell your kid he or she ought to emulate -- the one who puts the team first, the consummate pro, the good teammate.

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Gonzalez's enduring Astros legacy will be that he hit the most important home run in the 57 seasons the franchise has been in business. That was on Oct. 25, 2017, in the top of the ninth inning of Game 2 of the World Series.

With the Astros a strike away from going down, 0-2, in the Fall Classic, Gonzalez hit a fastball over the center-field wall to tie a game his team would win in 11 innings. Without it, there's probably no World Series parade in Houston a few days later.

In this free-agent market, some fans will wonder where Gonzalez fits with their favorite team. Sure, they like the guy and appreciate how important he has been to the Astros. They just see their own lineup as set enough that there may not be enough playing time for Gonzalez.

And that's the thing about Gonzalez. At this time of the year, we try to figure out where the best free agents might fit, from Manny Machado playing shortstop for the Phillies to in left for the Cardinals.

That's impossible to do with Gonzalez. He fits everywhere. He makes every team better.

Need an outfielder? Gonzalez can cover you there. Second base? Shortstop? First? He can check those boxes, too. As his best friend, , told MLB.com's Brian McTaggart last week, "You have a problem, you call Marwin."

Or as Astros pitcher , said last summer, "You can make the case he's one of the best players in the league."

Or as his manager the last four seasons, AJ Hinch, said, "That's so valuable to have a guy who can play anywhere."

And Gonzalez is willing to do that. And he understands that part of his value is his versatility and his ability to produce regardless of where he's playing. Last season, he started 65 games in left field, 29 at shortstop, 21 at first base, 19 at second and two at third.

Historical context: Gonzalez is the first player in Major League history to have four seasons with at least 10 games at four positions; left, short, first and second.

Offensively, Gonzalez is one of the best. In 2017, he was sixth in the American League in OPS (.907) and wOBA (.382) and 18th in wRC+ (144).

Gonzalez had a tough first half in 2018. But in the second half, he bounced back and was 14th in the AL in wRC+ (134), 17th in wOBA (.362) and 19th in OPS (.844). He then hit .333 with two doubles, two home runs and nine RBIs in eight postseason games.

Gonzalez has a voracious appetite to get better, picking the brains of a string of teammates, from Carlos Beltran in 2017 to Altuve and others in '18.

Another part of Gonzalez's legacy is that the best stretch of baseball the Astros have had began with the purchase of the team by Houston businessman Jim Crane in 2011 and Crane's hiring of Jeff Luhnow to run baseball operations.

Luhnow had been on the job only a couple of days when he made his first transaction: acquiring Gonzalez, a Rule 5 Draft choice, from the Red Sox for pitcher Marco Duarte.

Gonzalez was 22 at the time, and he would be with the Astros for every step of their rebuild, from back-to-back 100-loss seasons in 2011-12 to 100-win seasons in 2017-18.

Now, both sides seem prepared to move on. The Astros acquired infielder from the Blue Jays on Saturday to be their super utility player as Luhnow attempts the balancing act of keeping his team competitive while maintaining payroll flexibility.

We all become accustomed to seeing players change teams. For plenty of Astros fans, the first time they see Gonzalez wearing a different uniform is going to be a jolt to the system. They view him as one of their own. And isn't that the greatest compliment a player can receive?