Mindful of future, Gio ready to roll in 2018

Nats starter accepts possibility this could be his last season with Washington

February 17th, 2018

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- arrived to Washington in 2012, the same year the Nationals became postseason contenders. He has progressed from ace to a solid and reliable starter, so perhaps that is why his contributions to this entire run of success -- four division titles in six seasons -- have gone underrated.

Since the start of the 2012 season, only two players have produced a higher Wins Above Replacement total for the Nationals than Gonzalez's 21.2 -- (27.7) and (24.7).

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As Gonzalez prepares for his seventh season with the Nationals, he is considering the idea that this could be his last year in Washington. His contract will expire after the year, and he is set to become a free agent for the first time in his career.

"I've been here for seven years. To me, this is home," Gonzalez said. "That being said, I have to do my part."

Gonzalez said he did not have any conversations with the Nationals this winter about a contract extension; he knows his future is uncertain. He will turn 33 in September with a fastball velocity that averaged around 89.9 mph in 2017 and a strikeout percentage that has been virtually the same for three seasons (22.3 percent in 2015, 22.4 in '16 and 22.7 in '17) even as strikeouts have increased throughout the Majors.

However, Gonzalez is also coming off one of the most productive seasons of his career. He threw 201 innings, his first time eclipsing the 200 mark since 2011 when he was the A's, and posted a 2.96 ERA and a 3.3 WAR. Even if some of his peripherals, such as a 3.93 FIP, project some regression, he was effective for the Nats a year ago.

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"It shows I still got it," he said. "That's a good feeling to know that you can still go out there and play with the best of them."

But the prospects of free agency are not particularly enticing these days. Gonzalez was shocked as he listed the names and examined the resumes of some free agents who remain unsigned. For someone who could enter the open market for the first time at age 33, to see players still without teams is a little discouraging.

"I'm just hoping it works itself out," Gonzalez said. "I'm a small voice in a big world. I'm just trying to be optimistic and hope for the best. To see these guys get a team, it would make you feel a little more comfortable, a little more safe."

But first, Gonzalez must face what could be his final season with the Nationals.

He feels like he has grown up in this organization, which he has been a part of since the team acquired him from Oakland after the 2011 season. There have been few players who have lived in the middle of the heartbreak of the Nats' playoff losses like Gonzalez has. Twice, he has been the starting pitcher for Game 5 of the National League Division Series and both times -- in 2012 and 17 -- the Nationals lost the elimination game at Nationals Park.

October's 9-8 loss to the Cubs stung Gonzalez. He lasted just three innings and surrendered three runs that game during a performance that lingered with him in the offseason.

"It was hard to turn the page," he said. "I wanted to get back [on the mound]. I had to literally clear my head for a while. I just had to get out. I was really down. There was a little moment where I didn't want to be talked to. I didn't want to deal with anybody. It was just very emotional. I wish I could have done a lot more."

Gonzalez surrounded himself with family this offseason and increased the intensity of his offseason workouts to hit Spring Training running. After watching Gonzalez's bullpen session Saturday, Nationals manager Dave Martinez said his curveball looked as sharp as he would expect it to be in July.

"When I came in here, I came to Spring Training like I want to enjoy it more, because you never know, this could be my last," Gonzalez said. "I mean, who knows. I could be the guy sitting on the sidelines waiting. So that's why I want to enjoy it."