With the trade deadline four days away, rumors continue to swirl about the injury-plagued Yankees moving to shore up their pitching depth. The club has reportedly been in contact with the Seattle Mariners about one-time top prospect and pending free agent Taijuan Walker. But perhaps another Mariners hurler is worth considering: Marco Gonzales.
The lefty has put up some impressive numbers this year. In six starts totaling 34.2 innings, Gonzales has tallied a 3.63 ERA (3.67 FIP) with a 1.01 WHIP. A miserly 2.1% walk rate more than compensates for his fairly pedestrian 22% strikeout rate. A southpaw who can offer innings and throw strikes doesn’t sound too bad, right?
The 28-year-old came up through the Cardinals system and had brief major league stints before being traded to Seattle in 2017. He broke through as a full-time MLB starter in 2018, throwing 166.2 innings to the tune of a 4.00 ERA (3.43 FIP). He followed that up with a workhorse-like 2019, tossing 203 innings with a 3.99 ERA (4.15 FIP). Not earth-shattering numbers by any means, but he’s established himself a reliable above-average starter over the last few years.
The Mariners rewarded him with a four-year, $30 million extension in February that will kick in after this season (they’re buying out his three arbitration years, plus one free agent season). The club also holds a $15 million option in 2025. The team-friendly deal may complicate a potential deal, as the Mariners have little incentive to trade him, but there’s a reason general manager Jerry Dipoto is known as “Trader Jerry,” so you never know.
So let’s assess his virtues and foibles, shall we?
He’s got a four-pitch mix: Gonzales sports a sinker, which he throws 44% of the time; a cutter (23.6%); a curve (17.1%); and a changeup (15.3%). His cutter has been his best swing-and-miss pitch this year, with a whiff rate of 22.9% (though last year, his changeup was tops in that department). A plot of his cutter placement gives a good indication of what makes him successful: the ability to place pitches on the edges of the strike zone and avoid the middle of the plate.
But he doesn’t really have much raw stuff to speak of… like at all: Here’s a quick rundown of where Gonzales ranks among pitchers in key “stuff”-measuring metrics: he’s in the bottom 4% in average fastball velocity (88.4 mph); bottom 7% in overall whiff rate; bottom 29% in fastball spin rate; and bottom 17% in curveball spin rate.
Yet that doesn’t really seem to be harming him: Despite those deficiencies in “stuff,” Gonzales is above average in some key results indicators: he’s in the 73rd percentile in both exit velocity against and hard hit rate; 62nd percentile in expected WOBA; and 61st percentile in expected batting average.
These numbers point to a pitcher who has successfully relied on deception and control to get results.
So should the Yankees be interested? Gonzales certainly doesn’t fit the recent profile of Yankees power arms, so it might be a tough sell for the front office to pay for the pleasure of sending him out every fifth day to effectively perform a high-wire act. But you can’t argue with the fact that he’s been a solid starter for two-plus seasons who seems to have a real idea of what he’s doing. And given the four years of club control at a very reasonable average annual value of $7.5M, you could do far worse for a fourth or fifth starter.
Those years of control, though, make it less likely for Seattle to deal him, unless a suitor is willing paying a premium. I doubt that will be the Yankees, but we’ll see what their level of desperation is in four days.