Orioles make it official with Gonzalez
Club inks lefty reliever; Atkins to take physical next week
BALTIMORE -- Credit Mike Gonzalez with his first appearance at Camden Yards. Baltimore's newest reliever met the media on Friday, a mere matter of hours after the results of his physical examination were reviewed. Gonzalez, who signed a two-year contract worth $12 million, will take over the vacant closer's role and seems excited about his newest assignment.
"I obviously wanted the opportunity to close," Gonzalez said. "There were a few factors there, and more than anything, I felt like this was a team that was looking to improve. You're going to see some stars. You haven't seen them yet, [but] you've seen flashes of what these young guys have done. When these guys put it together, you're talking about a team that can do what Tampa [Bay] did a couple years ago. I think they're that good. It's just they've been overshadowed a little bit by the Yankees and the Red Sox."
Gonzalez will be paid a base salary of $6 million in each of the next two years, but his 2011 wage can increase by $1 million if he's Baltimore's team leader in the Rolaids relief standings. Gonzalez can also earn $50,000 in incentives for being an All-Star and $100,000 for being named the Cy Young Award winner (and $50,000 for second or third place). Gonzalez also has $50,000 in incentives for winning a Gold Glove or being the Most Valuable Player in the League Championship Series or the World Series.
Gonzalez, who missed virtually all of the 2008 season, knows a little bit about that shifting spotlight. The left-handed reliever was drafted and developed by the Pirates and established himself as one of the league's dominant matchup relievers over his first few seasons. Gonzalez spent the past three years with Atlanta, two of which were shortened by an elbow injury.
The southpaw underwent Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery in 2007 and proved that he was back for good last season, when he set career highs in appearances (80), innings pitched (74 1/3) and strikeouts (90). Gonzalez has held opposing hitters to a .209 batting average for his career and has averaged 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings, which puts him in the league's top tier.
Andy MacPhail, Baltimore's president of baseball operations, said that Gonzalez was the team's top relief target this winter.
"We're very fortunate in this organization," said MacPhail. "Recently, there has been a lot of talk about the young talent that's been accruing in this organization over the last couple years. Our mission this offseason was to augment and surround that young talent with as many quality Major League players as we possibly could in key spots. We paid -- and continue to pay -- particular attention to those players that are not only quality contributors on the field, but are really quality character people that can help make our young players understand what it takes to compete and win in the American League."
Gonzalez, a National League fixture for his entire career, said he doesn't think he'll have much problems in adjusting to a new league. The former 30th-round draftee said that pitching in the AL East was a big draw, and he also said that Baltimore was on his radar all winter and that he regards the team's talent base as up-and-coming.
"Obviously, everyone knows that this is the toughest division in baseball. To be able to face those lineups, I take it as a challenge," Gonzalez said of New York and Boston. "Sometimes they get a little overshadowed just because of the other teams -- the Yankees and the Red Sox -- but this is a very good ballclub and these guys are only going to get better. When they went out and got [Kevin] Millwood, it also made it a little easier for me. ... Those were kind of the deciding factors for me."
Baltimore manager Dave Trembley addressed the move in a conference call with the local media, and he said that Gonzalez would go a long way toward filling the gap left by George Sherrill's departure. Sherrill served as the Orioles' closer for a season and a half before he was traded to the Dodgers last summer in exchange for third baseman Josh Bell.
"George was a special talent," said Trembley. "But I think there are similarities in that both of them are very competitive. Both of them are very good against left-handed hitters and both of them want the ball. ... George was obviously outstanding for us and continued that when he got to Los Angeles. That was a tremendous void that we had when we lost him. We feel like we've made a lot of progress improving our club by adding Mike."
Baltimore has had a busy winter, first adding Millwood at the Winter Meetings and then reaching agreements with Gonzalez and third baseman Garrett Atkins. That last deal is still considered unofficial pending a physical examination. Baltimore may not be done upgrading its bullpen, and MacPhail referenced former Orioles pitcher Mark Hendrickson as part of Friday's remarks.
MacPhail said that he still has left-handed relief on his mind but that he doubted he'd make another significant move soon.
"We're always looking to improve the team," MacPhail said. "It's possible we could continue to look there, but I would be surprised if we did a lot real soon. I think we're at the point where we did those things early that we thought needed to be done early. I think we're in a position now where we can kind of let the market percolate a little and see what's available to us."
"It gives us an opportunity to be a much improved ballclub," added Trembley. "I think the key thing that it does is it allows us to slot some players in situations and put them in positions for them to utilize their strengths as best we can. I like what we've done. I don't think Andy's done yet. And I think it makes the holiday season a little bit brighter for all of us."
The Orioles fully expect Gonzalez to win the closer's job in Spring Training, but they're saying that he has to win it in a competition at the moment. Baltimore should also have setup man Jim Johnson and former starter Koji Uehara available in the late innings, a cast of characters that should allow the Orioles to have a little more stability when they need it most.
"I'm also a big proponent that you need to win the games you're supposed to win," said MacPhail. "Whether that's 70, 80 or 90, it doesn't matter. There's nothing more dispiriting to a team than getting in a circumstance where you're losing games that you really should be winning. We're very confident that Mike -- along with Jimmy Johnson and Koji Uehara if he ends up in the 'pen -- can really lock down the back end of that bullpen and reward our young starters with those games they should be winning."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.