Adrian Gonzalez is most definitely the model of consistency within the Dodgers lineup. As Vin Scully would say, he’s their “butter-and-egg man.” He is a lifetime .290 hitter and averages around 28 home runs a season. Throw in four Gold Glove Awards and you’ve found yourself a model employee in Gonzalez.
Over the past couple seasons, Gonzalez has seen a bit of a dip in his offensive production, most notably his RBI totals. In 2015 and 2016, he totaled exactly 90 RBI, which is nothing to scoff at. It’s worth stating, though, this is the same player who led the league in RBIs in 2014 with a whopping 116. His average with the Dodgers has hovered just over .280, but where his game does appear to be suffering is on the base paths.
Gonzalez’s slugging percentage is one indication that his tremendous lack of speed is hurting his offensive contributions to the lineup. In 2015, he slugged .480 which put him in 32nd place among major leaguers. Last season, his slugging percentage dropped to .435, his lowest slugging percentage since first years with Texas. There were a total of 91 major leaguers with better slugging percentages in 2016. Lastly, his WAR in 2016 was 2.1, putting him in 123th among the rest of the league.
Now, the latest discrepancies in his numbers would easily be adjusted had he hit more home runs in 2016. The man who has been averaging close to 30 home runs a season hit a snag last year, hitting an uncharacteristic 18 dingers. His lack of power left him with only 247 total bases, down from 274 in 2015 and 285 in ’14.
This hurts the Dodgers. Gonzalez is easily one of the slowest runners in the league. The Dodgers away from Gonzalez have a lineup that lends itself towards creating runs along the base paths. Guys like Joc Pederson, Andrew Toles and Yasiel Puig have the sort of speed around the bases. The kind of speed that leads to more aggressive decisions like taking an extra base on a ball in the gap and scoring from second to home on a batted ball.
Gonzalez is a prototypical middle of the order batter. He knows how to drive the ball into the gaps and has defenses playing heavy shifts, even with runners on base. His run production does take a hit when he singles and walks at the beginning of innings, however. Seldom can he advance from first to third or from second to home and he also impedes the base runners that reach base behind him. Fans needn’t look further than the 2016 NLCS versus the Cubs and the play that stood as called when Gonzalez was thrown out at home. A base runner like this strips the team’s ability to put plays on while at bat and with runners on.
The point I’m making is without his average 28 homers a year, Gonzalez can really hamper the Dodgers’ ability to score in some cases.
Granted this is all mostly theory, but it is an interesting enough angle to garner at least a brief glimpse. Is Gonzalez having trouble hitting for power in Dodger Stadium? Could he have an easier time hitting home runs in another ballpark? We have seen the current Dodgers management make a shocking move in favor of more functionality throughout the lineup. Just look back at the Winter in 2014 when the Dodgers traded all-star second baseman Dee Gordon in order to add both Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick to the Dodger infield. It was a polarizing move, but it was made in order to put more runners on for guys like Gonzalez to drive in.
Obviously, the Dodgers want to make sure they have a seasoned pro at first base to ease the transition that will eventually lead to top prospect Cody Bellinger taking the reins. Does it have to be Gonzalez though? Possibly; yes and no. Gonzalez is a fan favorite and is a source of guidance in the Dodger clubhouse. He would be sorely missed should the Dodgers ever decide to deal him.
Just like when A.J. Ellis was dealt in 2016 in favor of more offense versus lefties, receiving catcher Carlos Ruiz in the deal. Not only was the move hard on fans, but it also told us that the Dodgers’ upper-management values numbers before character or any other intangible.
There is no reason to think that Gonzalez wouldn’t fetch the Dodgers a lot in return, either. He is turning 35 next year and plays a position keen to players who are older than most. As a first baseman, he could have one more contract waiting for him at the other end of his deal that expires after 2018. He would certainly be valuable to an American League team. Perhaps a few that missed out on Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Mark Trumbo this offseason.
It’s a long shot, but there are certain logical parameters that are being fulfilled, (Speaking theoretically, of course.) Alternatives exist at first base for the Dodgers. Scott Van Slyke is an alternative, though he’s coming off of two straight seasons of injury and decreased offensive production. The Dodgers have also been rumored to have had discussions with multiple teams during the Winter Meetings weeks ago, even I can’t imagine a deal like this being ironed out in a matter of weeks.
No, I would more safely (if there is such a thing) suggest that the Dodgers may find themselves in a position by late-July in which they may have to get incredibly creative to get them through the dog days in August and September. It’s entirely safe to assume that Gonzalez will be a Dodger at least until 2018, but stranger things have happened. We’ve seen the Dodgers make big moves before in recent years. Perhaps 2017 could be such a year.