After the 1998 season the Arizona Diamondbacks front office decided to accelerate the plans they had for creating a winning franchise. They waded into the free agent pool to sign several players who would become critical pieces of the 2001 World Series championship team. The Diamondbacks weren’t just focused on free agents. They also made several personnel changes through trades. Most of these trades were fairly even but there was one in particular that may go down in Diamondbacks history as the most lop-sided trade every made.
Going into the 1998 inaugural season Arizona had high hopes for a young outfielder they selected in the expansion draft. Karim Garcia had a cannon for an arm and scouts everywhere raved about his power. During the season Garcia’s stock dropped among the Diamondbacks brass and by season’s end he was definitely on the trading block. On December 28, 1998 the Diamondbacks made a trade with the Tigers that sent Karim Garcia to Detroit. In exchange Arizona received journeyman outfielder Luis Gonzalez and cash. Garcia would never live up to expectations and would bounce from team to team while Gonzalez blossomed in the desert and would have his most successful times while a member of the Diamondbacks culminating with the game-winning hit in Game 7 of the World Series to win Arizona’s first world championship.
Luis Gonzalez would become the face of the franchise from his humble beginnings in 1999 through his final appearance in a Diamondbacks uniform in 2006. The team was not always squarely in Gonzo’s corner. Before the 1999 season Arizona left Luis Gonzalez off their list of nominees for the all-star game because they had planned on trading him prior to the beginning of the season. Unfortunately or in this case fortunately they could not find a taker and had to settle keeping him. They anticipated he would be the fourth outfielder that year playing behind Bernard Gilkey. No one included Luis anticipated that his production would take such a jump as to make him the starter and begin his meteoric rise to stardom.
Gonzo conducted himself in a very admirable way both on the field and off. He made countless appearances and was always approachable even during the dark years of 2004 when the team lost 111 games. By the end of the 2006 season Gonzalez had begun to lose a step and the organization had decided to dedicate themselves to a youth movement. In a well publicized manner General Manager Josh Byrnes met with Gonzalez over breakfast to tell him that not only was the team going to decline his contract option but that they had no intention of re-signing him no matter what the price.
From that moment Luis Gonzalez became a former Diamondbacks player as far as the team was concerned. He took the news very personally and vowed to sign with another team in 2007 to show the Diamondbacks the error in their ways. He signed with the rival Los Angeles Dodgers just to have to opportunity to play the Diamondbacks 18 times. Unfortunately things did not work out well for Gonzo in LA and after that season he was non-tendered and once again became a free agent. Still thinking he had something to offer Luis signed a contract before the 2008 season to play for the Florida Marlins. During his tenure this past season Gonzo played left and right field but was predominately used as a pinch hitter. He had a fairly productive year and by season’s end he had accumulated 596 career doubles a mere 4 away from a major milestone.
Now we are hearing from various news organizations in Phoenix that Luis Gonzalez is interested in returning to the Arizona Diamondbacks to finish his career. He has accepted that his role would be one of a pinch hitter and spot starter but Luis believes that he still has a lot to offer a team and at the top of his list is Arizona. This news quickly spread with Diamondbacks fans clamoring for the team to re-sign the most beloved player in franchise history. The question is does it make sense?
Currently the Diamondbacks have a plethora of outfielders on their roster. Current starters Chris Young and Justin Upton return next season. Left-fielder Eric Byrnes believes he will be at 100 percent when spring training starts. Add to this the fact that Conor Jackson played well in the outfield and seemed more comfortable than he did at first base. The Diamondbacks are still very high on Alex Romero who played well in the spot situations he was given last season. Jeff Salazar also factored into the fray late in the season. So far that is six outfielders for three spots. Clearly this is not a position where the Diamondbacks are lacking.
Pinch hitter and team leader Tony Clark will be a free agent so there may be an opening on the roster. Although Clark had a down year last season, you cannot discount the leadership qualities he provided in the clubhouse with these young players. It was almost like having another coach assisting these young kids. Regardless of Tony’s offensive numbers, his defense was outstanding and provided Bob Melvin with a late inning defensive replacement. Add to that fact that Clark is a switch hitter and that provides additional flexibility.
Gonzalez likewise was characterized as a clubhouse leader and mentor for the Marlins this past season. He provided assistance to several of the younger players helping them to find their way in the major leagues. That is somewhat different than how it was when Gonzo left Arizona. There were reports that several of the young players found Gonzalez difficult to approach.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Hopefully Josh Byrnes and his staff will look at this scenario with an objective eye and do what is best for the team regardless of the sentimental value. No one is discounting the fact that Luis Gonzalez was an important piece of the Diamondbacks and that he may go down as one of the most beloved members of this franchise. But this isn’t 2001 and no one should expect the same player who hit that final single in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series. This is a new team with new players and it just might not be a good fit. Fans need to understand that and move on.
We shouldn’t feel too sorry for Luis Gonzalez. He has had a tremendous career and accomplished many things not just on the field. And after his one year with the Los Angeles Dodgers he may just be branching out to other industries as well. Gonzo along with other Major League Baseball players started in the music video for “I Can’t Dance” from High School Musical 2. From the looks of his dance steps and dialog he may be on to something. We’ll have to wait and see if he can use that to launch a lucrative career of cameo appearances on Disney videos.