Last night’s Braves/Mariners trade saw Jarred Kelenic, Marco Gonzales and Evan White go from Seattle to Atlanta, but it seems Gonzales’ stay with the Braves will be brief. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports that the Braves aren’t planning to keep Gonzales and expect to move him in another trade. Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times adds that Gonzales himself expected as much to happen after being informed he’d been traded to Atlanta. It’s not yet clear if there’s an imminent trade involving Gonzales or if he’s being shopped around at present, but it’s a notable revelation with regard to the Braves’ rotation outlook all the same.
Gonzales, 32 in February, is due to earn $12MM this season in the final season of a four-year, $30MM extension he signed back in 2020. The contract also contains a $15MM club option for the 2025 season, which does not come with a buyout.
The soft-tossing Gonzales was a quality member of the Seattle rotation from 2018-22, pitching 765 2/3 innings of 3.94 ERA ball along the way. He became quite homer-prone in 2021, however, and saw an already below-average strikeout rate dip to concerning levels in 2022. Gonzales still posted a solid earned run average over those two seasons, but the home run and strikeout trends were noted red flags.
While the lefty managed to cut back on the homers he allowed in 2023, Gonzales was still tagged for a grim 5.22 ERA in 50 innings. His 15.8% strikeout rate was one of the lowest in the game and the second-worst of his Mariners tenure. His 8.4% walk rate was the worst of his career. Three of his ten starts last year were actually quite serviceable, but Gonzales was clobbered for eight runs on two occasions and also served up four runs through five innings in his first outing of the year. Ultimately, a left forearm strain ended his season in late May.
For the Braves, it’s sensible to see them look to move Gonzales elsewhere. He’d at best have been a fifth starter candidate in a team that boasts Spencer Strider, Max Fried, Charlie Morton and Bryce Elder in the top four spots on the staff. His $12MM salary also pushed the Braves into the second tier of luxury penalization.
The Associated Press reports that Seattle is set to send $4.5MM to Atlanta to cover part of that $12MM sum — $12.25MM, if counting the $250K assignment bonus Gonzales received as part of being traded. As such, the Braves would only owe Gonzales about $7.75MM in actual salary, but he’s still cost them a bit more than $10MM once factoring in the penalties the team would’ve incurred under the competitive balance tax.
That’s probably more than the Braves care to spend on a back-of-the-rotation candidate who’s not clearly a superior option to in-house candidates like AJ Smith-Shawver and Dylan Dodd, and it might even more than Gonzales could expect to command on the open market after an injury-marred season. Presumably, if and when Gonzales changes hands a second time, those cost-savings will be redirected to his new team.
While Gonzales perhaps isn’t a fit for a win-now Braves club with at least four healthier and better options in the rotation ahead of him, that doesn’t mean he can’t help another club. There are several teams throughout the league — Royals, A’s, Rockies, White Sox, Padres, Nationals to name a few — who are simply looking for innings to round out the starting staff. Gonzales’ 50 frames last year don’t paint the picture of an innings eater, but he’d averaged 30 starts and 174 frames over his past four 162-game seasons prior to 2023 (plus 11 starts and 69 2/3 innings in the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign). If Gonzales’ medicals show that the forearm strain which ended his season is in the rearview mirror, another club might feel it can comfortably rely on him for 150ish innings this coming season. And if the Mariners are footing roughly a third of the bill regardless of where Gonzales lands, he could be viewed as a relatively affordable source of those innings at a time when veteran free agents in their late 30s (i.e. Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson) are commanding $12-13MM for similar roles.