When a move is made, whether we like it or not, we can typically suss out the thought process behind it. Today’s move, albeit in the early stages of its disclosure, is a head-scratcher.
Mariners agree to deal with Marco Gonzales. 2 years, $1.9M. Interesting deal for player who isn’t yet arb eligible, seems quite good for Marco.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) November 1, 2018
Now, this is good for Marco Gonzales, who deserves a raise based on his production. But the timing is uncommon in MLB extensions. Gonzales has two more seasons before he is eligible for arbitration, after which he’ll have three more years of his salary escalating based on his performance, before finally reaching free agency, in his case around age-32. Teams have often worked out extensions that eat into the arbitration years of a player’s contract, or even extend beyond them, offering a higher floor of payment and the security of guaranteed pay in exchange for a lowered max payday.
That’s... not what happened here, so far as we can tell.
Instead, the Mariners have offered to pay Gonzales around $900k each of the next two seasons instead of the league minimum, which is roughly $550k. That is a bit of extra security for a guy who missed a few years of development time due to injury. It’s an admirable move from the organization to take care of a player who they bet big on when they traded for him in 2017, but the rarity of this sort of deal makes it a slight head-scratcher.
Potentially this deal will engender goodwill between Gonzales and the Mariners, and lead to a future extension opportunity. It could also be seen as an effort by the organization to demonstrate the player-friendly way they operate, as seen in their choices to allow players like Stefen Romero, Ariel Miranda, Andrew Albers, and Seth Frankoff out of their contracts to pursue more highly-paying careers in Asia. Such benefits would be difficult to track, however, so as a fan the lone praise that can be heaped on this slight raise is that it is kind to Gonzales himself.
UPDATE: 4:25 PM
A lot of folks were shocked by how high the Marco Gonzales deal is since he is not arbitration eligible until after 2020. Via club sources, the 1.9K figure is partly explainable by Gonzales having a previous grievance pending over the timing of a demotion while with the cardinals— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) November 1, 2018
Ignoring the error in Heyman’s tweet (sky remains blue, $1.9 million, not $1.9k), this offers a much better framework, albeit raising questions of its own. The important details here are a tad legalezey, so I’ve broken them into bullet points:
- Marco Gonzales filed a grievance under the CBA, pertaining to the Cardinals choice to demote him late in Spring Training of 2016, while he was deliberating the choice of whether or not to undergo Tommy John surgery.
- That matters because as a minor league player on the 40-man roster, while Gonzales could have been placed on the 60-day DL, the Cardinals instead chose to demote him and then let him occupy a 40-man roster spot while recovering from surgery all of 2016.
- Importantly, this meant that not only was Gonzales paid a far lower salary in 2016, he also did not accrue service time. This is, notably, the same thing the Mariners have done, essentially, with RHP Max Povse in 2018.
- The difference is, Gonzales was a legitimate contender for a roster spot in 2016, and therefore felt it was an intentional move by the Cardinals to suppress his salary and playing time, and thus lengthen their control of his contract. For that reason, Gonzales has seemingly filed a grievance.
- How does this impact the Mariners? If Gonzales wins his grievance, he will be awarded one extra year of service towards free agency, meaning 2019 would be his final year before arbitration. In such a scenario, the Mariners would be paying Gonzales slightly more this year, but almost assuredly less in his first Arb-eligible season for a pitcher of his quality.
- It is also possible, though unknown, that the terms of this deal included an agreement by Gonzales to drop his grievance, and is effectively a settlement deal. THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED
In short, this was, unsurprisingly, not so much a good faith gesture as it was a hedging of bets by Seattle, albeit one rectifying a wrong to a player. It will be interesting to see if, should Gonzales’ grievance continue and be affirmed, the Cardinals suffer any repercussions, or if the Mariners receive anything in return for bearing the negative results for St. Louis’ shady dealings. Dare to dream.