According to a report in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Phillies are close to reaching an agreement with free agent infielder Alex S. Gonzalez, who spent last season with Tampa Bay and played 98 games at third base.
Gonzalez, a right-handed hitter, hit .269 last season, with 9 homers and a .410 slugging percentage. Known for good defense, he is a high-strikeout guy like the other Alex Gonzalez, fanning 74 times in 349 at bats last season, but has found good success as a mid-level power hitter, mashing as many as 20 in a season.
His signing would bring the total number of utility infielders on the 40-man roster to five, a list that includes incumbent Tomas Perez, free agent addition Abraham Nunez, Matt Kata and minor leaguer Danny Sandoval.
Gonzalez, a Miami-native, saw most of his action at third base with the D-Rays, and if the season were to begin with Gonzalez on the roster, would appear to be the statistical favorite to win that position considering offense alone. His .733 OPS is better than both Bell (.671) and Nunez (.704), and he is also a smooth fielder.
Gonzalez, who will turn 33 this season, could also mean the end for Perez, who’s spent six seasons as the team’s primary utility threat. In addition, if Bell can be unloaded at this point, he will be. This signing would also indicate the team may not have as much faith in minor leaguer Danny Sandoval as some would think in looking at his stat line. Kata, who was listed by GM Pat Gillick as someone worth keeping an eye on to make the club, would also appear to be partially blocked.
One can only speculate how Gonzalez will be used on a team that features two switch-hitting bench players in Nunez and Shane Victorino, and two infielders in Chase Utley and Ryan Howard both poor against left-handed pitching. I am not looking forward to seeing how Charlie Manuel will handle this many options, but there is a way to maximize it all and balance a powerful lineup without sacrificing defense.
Gonzalez is worth a good look at third base, and a very good look at getting into the lineup on days against tough left-handers. Over his career, Gonzalez is a .256 hitter with a .408 slugging percentage against southpaws, though most of his power last season was generated against right-handed pitching.
Overall, Hardball Times Win Shares has Gonzalez as the 16th-best third baseman in the American League in 2005. He is known for good defense across the board, including a strong, accurate throw and good range.
But the big benefit for the Phillies is having a guy with decent home-run potential playing half his games at Citizen’s Bank Park and filling out a bench that is thin on right-handed power. He swings for the fences and has had some success at it, posting a career-high 20 homers in 2003 and 137 of them over his career. He is a Charlie Manuel-type hitter.
Look for the Phillies to throw out a very different lineup against left-handers this season, including the possibility of an infield that features Gonzalez at third, Jimmy Rollins at short, Nunez or Utley at second, Pat Burrell at first or some other mix. Manuel likes platooning, and also indicated his desire to improve the lineup against left-handers.
Done correctly, the Phillies have the potential to field one of the most productive infields in baseball.
|Alex S. Gonzalez|
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