Despite the common reaction, the Milwaukee Brewers franchise did not spontaneously burst into flames upon Francisco Rodriguez’s acceptance of arbitration Wednesday night. Instead, the Brewers sprung to action, filling their hole at shortstop with arguably the best option available on the market, Alex Gonzalez. Gonzalez signed to a one-year deal with a vesting option for 2013 (terms undisclosed as of this writing) as the Winter Meetings closed Thursday.
For the blind or the lazy, this deal may hardly seem like an upgrade over Yuniesky Betancourt. The two are indeed very similar hitters, and Brewer fans may get as incensed by Gonzalez’s out-making ways as they did by Betancourt. Gonzalez hit .242/.270/.372 in 2011, disturbingly similar to Betancourt’s .252/.271/.381 performance with Milwaukee last season.
Any other comparison between the two players dies as soon as we peer beneath the surface. Yuniesky Betancourt graded out acceptably by most defensive metrics, but the Brewers employed drastic shifts in many cases to cover the middle of the field and he still appeared to be one of the worst shortstops in baseball. Alex Gonzalez may not have had the UZR last season (-0.3), but his defense is widely regarded as top-tier among shortstops/
Gonzalez by no means makes the shortstop position an offensive plus for the Brewers, but his power is legitimate and possibly better than Betancourt’s. Only Troy Tulowitzki has hit more home runs in the past two seasons than Gonzalez’s
38, and his 69 doubles from 2010-2011 leads all shortstops. His power by no means negates his 244 strikeouts over that same time frame — second just to Ian Desmond among shortstops — but Gonzalez is not an offensive zero. Couple a competent offensive player with a good glove at shortstop, and the result is around a league average player. The 2011 Milwaukee Brewers would have done unspeakable things for a league average shortstop.
The move from Atlanta to Milwaukee should only help things. As a pull-power right-handed batter, Turner Field is about the worst possible place he could be playing. The park factors on right-handed doubles and home runs sit at 91 and 92 respectively according to StatCorner (100 is average, below is unfavorable for hitters, above is favorable). In Milwaukee, those numbers raise by 11 points each, to 102 and 103 respectively. That is, Miller Park is about 10% more favorable for Gonzalez than his previous home, and that should only increase his value to the Brewers.
The money the Brewers had to spend isn’t known yet, but chances are this deal has a minimal impact on Mark Attanasio’s pocketbooks (he is, after all, the 1%). The Brewers needed a cheap, solidly productive option at shortstop, and Alex Gonzalez was precisely the player on the market who filled that need. Doug Melvin did a fantastic job to lock on to the player he needed and acquire him for the 2012 season.