The Wheel can be a fickle beast. Mostly, she bestows upon a wise and prudent off-season target. But occasionally, she likes to throw us a curveball and today we have to handle that pitch. So today, we talk about Marwin Gonzalez and the Seattle Mariners.
Thus far, the focus of the Wheel has been on pitching, particularly bullpen pieces. And since Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto has already called that a priority, it makes all the sense in the world. Dipoto wants to raise the floor of his young Mariners team and improve their awful bullpen is the best way to do that without blocking any big-time prospects. But while pitching should be the priority, there are other areas that Seattle can improve, and on the offensive side, that position is the utility spot.
But the utility spot is kind of a vague description of what Seattle can look for. When you say the phrase “utility man” to a Mariners fan, who is the first person they think of? Most people will probably tell you either Willie Bloomquist or Mark McLemore. Both are technically correct. But only one has real value.
Bloomquist is a fan favorite you carved out a 14-year big league career, but to simplify this, Bloomquist was a dime a dozen so far as MLB players go. Look at the utility types the Mariners trotted out in 2020. Both Tim Lopes and Sam Haggerty could do everything Bloomquist could do and can probably do it better than he ever could. But are either of those players “everyday guys” like McLemore was? No.
An easier way to think of the modern utility man might be as more of a “10th man”. Not somebody whose a bench player, but somebody who is in the lineup 4-5 times a week that may play 2-3 different positions in the same week. These players are extremely valuable, especially in an era that values versatility. Which brings us to Marwin Gonzalez. Which role does he land in?
When he was in Houston, Gonzalez was much more a 10th man than he was the 25th man. From 2014-2018, Gonzalez averaged 129 games played and 453 PAs a season while getting time at every position on the field except for pitcher and catcher. During that stretch, Gonzalez hit .271/.328/.438 and averaged 14 home runs and 24 doubles, all on his way to racking up 11.3 rWAR.
Gonzalez was a good player who could manage at seven different positions. This versatility helped him land a two-year contract with the Minnesota Twins worth $21 million. In 2019, Gonzalez was exactly what the Twins paid for, slashing .264/.322/.414 and playing 114 games. But the abrupt 2020 season was not kind to Gonzalez and though he played in 53 of the 60 games, he hit just .211/.286/.320. Gonzalez also only logged defensive innings in four positions.
While he was still solid defensively, the offense output of 2020 along with his age (32 in March), make him a bit of a tough fit for the Mariners. He’s no longer capable of playing up the middle and as a result, there is more pressure on his bat to be something he’s never been. He’s a solid player who can help the bench of an established contender, but the Mariners may be better offer looking for some higher upside plays in this arena.