Cleveland Indians: Tribe sign Carlos Gonzalez to Minor League Contract

In the process of trying to fill voids in the outfield, the Cleveland Indians have signed veteran free agent Carlos Gonzalez to a minor league deal.

The Cleveland Indians addressed their inexperienced outfield on Saturday by signing 33-year-old free agent Carlos Gonzalez to a Minor League contract.  The three-time All-Star and Gold Glove Award Winner will make $2 million if he makes the Opening Day Roster and an additional $1 million in incentives, according to MLB Network Insider Jon Heyman.

Gonzalez debuted with Oakland in 2008 before being traded that offseason with right-handed pitcher Huston Street and left-handed pitcher Greg Smith to the Rockies for outfielder Matt Holiday.  He spent his next ten seasons in Colorado, compiling a slash line of .287/.347/.512 during that span while also helping the Rockies to three postseason appearances during that span.

The veteran outfielder began to attract attention across the major leagues in 2010, a year in which he captured the National League Batting Title with a .336 average, earning him third in NL MVP voting.  Gonzalez also received his first Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards in that same season.

Gonzalez was selected to his first All-Star Game in 2012 when he posted a .303 batting average with 22 home runs and 85 runs batted in.  A year later, he returned to the mid-summer classic and finished the season with 26 homers 70 runs driven in.

In 2014, the Rockies’ outfielder appeared in just 70 games before undergoing season-ending knee surgery to repair a left patella tendon tear.  A year later, he missed only nine games and hit 40 home runs, just two shy of the NL leader that season, teammate Nolan Arenado.  And in 2016, he was once again named an All-Star, posting a .298 average with 25 home runs and even 100 runs batted in.

Though his offensive statistics have declined over the last two seasons, Gonzalez is a valuable asset at the major league level, an asset the Indians could certainly use.  According to an MLB.com projection published on March 17, Jake Bauers, Leonys Martin, and Tyler Naquin are expected to be the Opening Day outfielders for manager Terry Francona in Minnesota on March 28 at Target Field.  Gonzalez’s slash line of .276/.329/.467 a season ago is higher than the combined slash line of .240/.311/.388 from Bauers, Martin, and Naquin in 2018.  In addition, Gonzalez provides defensive versatility to an Indians outfield that nearly requires it; Martin, Greg Allen and injured outfielder Bradley Zimmer are all primary center fielders who, at some point, will likely all be on the major league roster together.  But because Gonzalez played left field in the early years of his career and has only played right field defensively since 2015, the Indians will have the benefit of being able to pencil him in at either of the corner outfield spots.

The signing not only adds stability to the Indians outfield at the moment but also provides Gonzalez with an opportunity to reinvent himself at the major league level.  At the seasoned age of 33, he likely has a few more seasons left before he decides to retire.  And because his contract is a minor league deal with a veteran minimum included, Gonzalez will surely be looking to produce better offensive numbers in 2019 in order to improve his free agency stock for 2020 and onward.

Gonzalez is projected to hit .267 with 16 home runs and 62 runs batted in in 2019 according to Baseball Reference.  Though no one can be certain of what he will truly produce, his projections do show more promise than that of Jordan Luplow, an outfielder acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates in the offseason, who’s only posted a .185 batting average in 64 career major league games.  Luplow is a likely candidate to platoon in the Indians outfield with Bauers and possibly Naquin.

With just ten days remaining before Cleveland begins the campaign in Minneapolis, it is uncertain whether Gonzalez will be in uniform come first pitch.  But one thing is certain: The Indians now have much more outfield versatility with Carlos Gonzalez in their organization.