added 10/27/2015 by Greg Thurston
After a 2015 season that saw them become surprise contenders, the Houston Astros will be facing some difficult player personnel decisions this winter. One of the most important decisions, in my opinion, is making sure Marwin Gonzalez stays on the roster. Last winter the Astros avoided arbitration by signing Gonzalez to a 1-year deal worth $1.0625 million. Now entering his second year of arbitration eligibility, Marwin will be due a substantial raise.
Gonzalez, who turns 27 in March, is coming off his best season as a pro. Known primarily for his defense, Gonzalez established career highs in almost every offensive category in 2015 -- including games played (120), home runs (12), batting average (.279), and slugging percentage (.442) -- just to name a few. Marwin's wRC+ of 108 was fifth best on the club, trailing only Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, George Springer, and Colby Rasmus.
Not blessed with the speed of Jonathan Villar or the power of Luis Valbuena, Gonzalez has, in my opinion, honed his all-around game well enough to forge ahead of both men in the competition for the Astros utility role in 2016. Appearing in at least 15 games at five different positions last season, the versatile Venezuelan offers A.J. Hinch a great deal of roster flexibility. Additionally, Marwin's (b)WAR of 1.8 ranked seventh among Astros position players, placing him well ahead of one-dimensional regulars Evan Gattis and Chris Carter.
Gattis, entering his first year of arbitration eligibility, will be somewhat affordable and is likely to return as Houston's primary DH. However, Carter and Valbuena are entering their second and fourth years of arbitration respectively and will both command salaries upward of $5 million. Signing Gonzalez would allow the Astros to dangle both Carter and Valbuena as trade bait, freeing up payroll dollars as well as much-needed roster space for up-and-coming prospects who would otherwise be exposed to the Rule 5 Draft. (Remember Delino DeShields)
Exactly how much will it cost the Astros to keep Gonzalez? That remains to be seen. Using Valbuena as a measuring stick, I suspect a salary somewhere in the low $2 millions is in order. Coming off a 95 OPS+ season in 2013, Valbuena garnered a salary of $1.71 million in his second year of arbitration. Taking inflation into account, and the fact that Gonzalez had a 106 OPS+ last season, a bump to slightly over $2 million seems almost certain. Even if the price were to rise into the $3 million neighborhood, I'd still consider it a bargain.
Gonzalez has continued to show improvement since joining the Astros as a Rule 5 draftee prior to the 2012 season. Always a reliable defender, Marwin has also established himself as a threat from both sides of the plate. Injuries have been an issue at times but his ability to play hurt should also be taken into account. Despite a late season wrist problem that precluded him from batting left-handed, Marwin continued to answer the bell as the Astros made their playoff push. That's the type of player contending teams need. Wouldn't you agree?