At least there is one. A 20-game winner in the majors this season. Thank you, Gio Gonzalez. With the way starting pitchers have been devalued in recent years, being shifted from a four-man to a five-man rotation, coping with imposed pitch counts, and having complete games virtually eliminated as a goal, it might almost be argued that 20 is the new 30. Almost. Maybe the new 25.
Right now the Washington Nationals’ right-hander is the only 20-game winner in the big leagues. One or two more might follow depending on how the last week or so of the season plays out (and yes, we do mean you, R.A. Dickey). I’ve been hearing about how great Gonzalez was going to be since 2004, but it was always in the context of a team shipping him out in a trade. Good for Gonzalez that he proved the original scouting prognosis accurate, even if it did take the accumulation of thousands of frequent flyer miles to show it.
Gonzalez is of Cuban heritage and he grew up in Hialeah, Florida. The Chicago White Sox made him a No. 1 draft pick in 2004, but traded him to the Philadelphia Phillies in 2005 in the trade that brought Jim Thome to the team. Can’t complain about that deal, especially when the White Sox, who apparently never fell out of love with Gonzalez, reacquired him. The Sox got Gonzalez and Gavin Floyd for Freddy Garcia. Very nice trade. In 2007, Gonzalez led the minors in strikeouts. Publications such as Baseball America raved about him.
By 2008, Gonzalez was considered the No. 1 minor-league prospect in the White Sox’ farm system. So what do the Sox do? They trade him again, along with Ryan Sweeney and Fautino De Los Santos to the Oakland A’s for Nick Swisher. That is one trade the Sox want to forget about.
Gonzalez made his Major League debut in 2009 and was an All-Star for the A’s in 2011 and he won 16 games. So what do the A’s do? They trade Gonzalez to Washington along with Robert Gilliam for Brad Peacock, Tom Milone, Derek Norris, and A.J. Cole. What’s a guy got to do to stick with a team? The Nationals seem likely to keep him since it’s quite possible he will win the National League Cy Young Award this season. In some quarters winning 20, the age-old benchmark of baseball success, still matters. He is not the only contender, but he is right at the top of the list of likely choices.
After all of the wheeling and dealing Gonzalez is 27 years old and is exactly where he was projected to be–a suberb pitcher who is one of the best in the game.
It was quite the odyssey for Gonzalez to reach this point. Everyone loved his potential from the start. He had no major physical setbacks. He was coveted by several teams and yet he was shuffled around like a hot potato. Hard to understand the arc of his career. Team after team appeared not to believe the scouting reports.
Now every team, including those who never got a sniff of Gonzalez’s contract, wishes it had him. As we all know, 20-game winners are a rare commodity.