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Should the Astros offer Marwin Gonzalez a Qualifying Offer?

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One of the consistent debates on TCB recently has been in regards to Marwin Gonzalez’s upcoming Free Agency. Lots of questions of potential replacements, estimated contract value, and lastly if the Astros should offer him a Qualified Offer. (Link explains the QO process for those who are not familiar)

For today’s discussion – HH will present the argument for offering the QO, and WMT will provide the argument against it. Give it a read and let us know your thoughts!

HEBREWHAMMAH

Indispensable – (adjective) - absolutely necessary.

Marwin Gonzalez, the most indispensable member of our team. Don’t believe me? Here’s MLB.com’s article on him.

That’s right, on a team that has a trophy cabinet full of stars such as MVP Jose Altuve, MVP-candidate Alex Bregman, All Stars like Carlos Correa, George Springer, Cy Youngs – Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel, not to mention all the others, Marwin is the most indispensable.

So what makes him so Indispensable? Well, he plays every position – and plays them fairly well. He has been the gap fill when an injury hits, filling in for days off for players, and somehow looked respectable doing it? All leading him to a 19th place finish in the MVP race!!

Let’s take a look at Mr. Clutch, since as much as I love the fact that he ruined the Ranger’s perfect game, hit the game winner against the Dodgers in the World Series, or threw out Bird at the plate in the ALDS against the Yanks, we need more!

PapercityMag.com

Defensively:

Marwin has played every position for the Astros minus pitcher and catcher. Teammate needs an day off? Marwin. Someone got hurt? Marwin. Need a decent pinch hitter? Marwin. Need a clutch hit but don’t want to sacrifice defense? Marwin

Offensively

As a Switch Hitter, Marwin continues to provide unlimited versatility. Providing more options, especially with a lineup lacking in some left handers at times.

For his career, Marwin has a 103 wRC+, meaning he has been an above average hitter for his entire career (even when you add in the 2 seasons before he should have been in the MLB due to Rule 5).

To emphasize that, in a full year in 2017, there were 17 Designated Hitters who got 300+ PA, over half of them had a wRC+ of under 100! If he just DH’d he’d be the 7th best in MLB. All while playing anywhere he’s needed on the field.

Contract Value

Just hours after Luhnow was hired, he made one of his best acquisitions – Marwin Gonzalez. As far as contract value, Marwin Gonzalez came to us as a Rule 5 pick, never being a high money guy, but the Astros gave him $5,125,000 at the end of his arb-eligible years.

You’re talking the most indispensable member of the star-studded Astros, hiring Scott Boras, a year after his 4+ WAR year, you have to expect he’s going for the money.

There are not a ton of great comparable contract when it comes to Utility Players and their previous contracts. Why? Well most utility players are not good enough to be starters. And generally are defensive experts not batters.

Scott Boras will make the easiest comparison for one of the best utility players in recent years – Ben Zobrist – which came in at 4 years / $56 Million. Although other than last year, Marwin is not in the same league as Zobrist. Although there is a skill difference, the price per WAR has gone up, and Marwin is 4 years younger while signing this contract.

Howie Kendrick’s previous contracts (4/33.5 in 2012 and 2/20 in 2016)

Martin Prado – 3 years, $40 Million

Phone a Friend:

During the FanGraphs chats – I got the question through a few times:

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Marwin Gonzalez – How Much do you think I will get in FA? Would you offer me a QO if you were the Astros?

Justin Mason - “ I think he may get the QO and take it.”

Marwin Gonzalez - “Do I get the QO? Who are the best utility players to compare me to contract wise?

Jay Jaffe - “Gonzalez was a 4-win player by our measures as recently as last year, and is at 1.4 WAR this year. He’s not really a very good SS anymore (-8 DRS/-6 UZR in 522 innings over the past two seasons), be he’s a useful player to have around, albeit probably not ~$18 million a year useful. I generally would tend to err on the side of issuing a QO, but here I think it’s a stretch. That said, I wouldn’t at all be surprised if the Astros work to come up with a 2- or 3-year deal for him to keep him around.”

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But what about his teammates?

McCullers – “I think Marwin can be in the conversation among the best players in the league.”

Hinch – “He’s an absolute dream for a manager” “As far as the versatile, all-everything, Swiss Army knife, whenever I have a question on what I should do, the answer is usually, ‘Marwin can do it’. And I’ve used him accordingly”

Luhnow – “To me he’s the best utility guy in baseball. You can’t even consider him a utility guy because he’s getting as many plate appearances as an every day player”.

Closing

Marwin has a 127 OPS+ over the past 2 years. For comparison, Evan Gattis has never hit that well in his entire career, and his only job is to hit. Marwin does that, plus plays every position on the field without being a liability. THAT IS INDISPENSIBLE!

WILLY McGEE’s TWIN

Marwin’s excellent defense
(Photo by Stan Grossfeld/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Perhaps you’ve heard of the following player, who will be a free agent in 2019. He’s a 29-year-old Venezuelan switch-hitting utility player, adequate defensively at SS, 2B, 3B, and LF. Though initially more of a slap-hitting middle infielder, in recent seasons he has grown into a genuine power threat. Over the last two years, in just under 1100 PAs, he has ~40 HRs, ~160 RBIs, a ~20% K rate, a ~.200 ISO, and a ~.475 SLG %. And he’s a great teammate, too.

Given what you know about this player, do you give him a Qualifying Offer worth ~$17.5 million to play for your team in 2019?

If so, congratulations, you just gave a QO to Eduardo Escobar.

Of course, the Astros can’t give a QO to Eduardo Escobar, but if they could, would you want them to? Marwin Gonzalez and Eduardo Escobar are uncannily-similar players and are thus market substitutes in free agency. Whatever contract you imagine Marwin Gonzalez might get is also a contract that Escobar would arguably command. Indeed, because Escobar was traded during the 2018 season, he cannot receive a QO, and therefore no team will be penalized one or more draft picks for signing him, unlike Marwin (at least in HebrewHammah’s world).

What should be considered in making the Astros’ QO determination?

Truth be told, whether the Astros should give a player a QO requires a more exhaustive analysis than can reasonably be done here. Such an analysis would go far beyond a rote $/WAR analysis, much less the empty-headed “MLB Free Agent” propaganda pieces pushed on various outlets.

At a minimum, here are a few relevant considerations:

· What’s the Astros’ budget for the 2019 major league roster?

· What is the estimated $/win for all market alternatives for the Astros (free agency, trade market, internal options)?

· What is the Astros’ estimation of Marwin’s value to the Astros next year?

· What is the Astros’ estimation of the market’s value for Marwin, assuming he’s offered a QO?

· What is the Astros’ estimation of the value of draft pick compensation the Astros would receive (one pick after the 2nd Rd) if Marwin declines the QO and signs elsewhere?

In general, the Astros would make a QO to Marwin under two sets of circumstances. In the first, the Astros would make a QO if:

1. His estimated value to the Astros next year exceeds ~$17.5MM;

2. The Astros’ estimated value for alternative options for wins (whether internal, in free agency, or in trade) is less than Marwin’s estimated value;

3. The budget, given other commitments, allows for Marwin’s acceptance of the QO; and

4. Marwin and the team can’t otherwise agree on a contract more beneficial to the team than the QO.

Unless every condition above is met, the Astros don’t make the offer. Conversely, if every condition is met, then the Astros “hope” Marwin accepts.

In the second circumstance, no matter the considerations above, if the Astros estimate that the market (or Marwin himself) values Marwin at a level where Marwin will definitively decline the QO, then the Astros will offer the QO so the team will receive draft pick compensation when Marwin signs elsewhere. In this circumstance, obviously, the Astros hope Marwin declines the QO.

Ultimately, I don’t think the Astros will make a QO to Marwin, nor should they. Marwin is a solid fielder at several positions, but I think he has lost a step at his most valuable one, SS. He’s never been a plus baserunner, and he’s not getting any faster. Going into this year, ZiPS pegged Marwin for a 106 wRC+, and lo and behold that’s Marwin’s current level. ZiPS currently projects him for a .324 wOBA going forward this year. Here are some other utility players who also have a rest-of-season wOBA in this same range: Wilmer Flores (.324), Brian Dozier (.324), Neil Walker (.324), Daniel Descalso (.324), Ian Kinsler (.324), Starlin Castro (.319), Enrique Hernandez (.319). Even if you put Marwin at the head of this group, do any of these guys seem worthy of a QO, if it were possible to give them one? Here is another grouping of Marwin’s market competition (available in trade or on the free agent market to fill a similar role):

A 500-PA season will likely have Marwin producing in the ~2 WAR range next year. What is a 30 year-old, 2-WAR utility player worth in the free agent market, the least-efficient market in which to buy talent? It was not kind to a player like Neil Walker last season. Even a player like Zack Cozart, coming off a 5.0 WAR year and seen as a plus defender at SS, was not given a QO. He subsequently signed a 3yr/$38MM deal, which would have been less had he been saddled with a QO. Perhaps a team might see Marwin as a starter at 2B, but that is the position at which he has the most free-agent competition, along with options like DJ LeMahieu, Brian Dozier, Asdrubel Cabera, Jed Lowrie, Escobar, and Daniel Murphy also available.

Moreover, I think the Astros have in-house talent available to replace Marwin’s production and role, for much less than ~$17.5MM, which will allow that money to be used elsewhere (including a potential Gerrit Cole extension). Between Kyle Tucker (LF), Tyler White (1B), Yuli (1B/2B/3B), Bregman (backup SS), Tony Kemp (LF/2B), and JD Davis (3B/1B), the team has ample positional flexibility to cover for Marwin’s departure.

In the end, my sense (without having done a comprehensive analysis), is that Marwin will sign a 2-3 year deal in the $16-24MM range. Thanks for the memories, Marwin.

Let us know your thoughts – Do the Astros offer a QO? What would you offer him contractually? Let us know why!

Poll

Should the Astros offer Marwin a QO?

This poll is closed

  • 46%
    Yes
    (319 votes)
  • 53%
    No
    (365 votes)
684 votes total Vote Now