Adrian Gonzalez hit 18 home runs in 2016. He tied for the Dodgers team lead in runs batted in. He finished the season with a .784 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. In the not so distant past, he was a productive major-league hitter.
This history appears ancient after the 2017 season. Gonzalez spent time on the disabled list for the first time in his career. His OPS plunged to a career-worst .642. As Cody Bellinger shined at first base, Gonzalez became a ghost. He was not with the team during the first two rounds of the playoffs, and some teammates complained when he returned to the clubhouse during the World Series.
As the Dodgers ponder how to retool their roster for 2018, determining a place for Gonzalez is not a high priority. Andrew Friedman, the president of baseball operations, has indicated the team expects Gonzalez to be healthy and able to contribute by next spring. Gonzalez will be owed $22.4 million in the final year of his contract.
"There's value to letting things play out," general manager Farhan Zaidi said at the general managers meetings at the Waldorf Astoria on Tuesday. "Guys can bounce back. He's been a really, really good player for us."
The flexibility of Bellinger, who can play all three outfield position, makes it easier for the Dodgers to keep Gonzalez. But the organization already has a variety of outfielders, including Yasiel Puig, Chris Taylor, Joc Pederson, Enrique Hernandez and Andrew Toles. And Gonzalez may not be interested in coming off the bench for the entire season.
So the Dodgers must consider moving Gonzalez. Finding a suitor will not be simple. Few teams would rush to add a 10-figure salary for a player approaching his 36th birthday coming off his least-productive big-league season. Even dumping a portion of the salary invites complications.
Gonzalez controls much of the situation. His contract contains a full no-trade clause. That limits the flexibility if the Dodgers intend to deal him. It could lead to the Dodgers releasing Gonzalez, if they value an open spot on the 40-man roster over his potential performance.
That decision may be made before spring training. Or the Dodgers could hold on to Gonzalez, as insurance against an injury elsewhere on the roster, before making a move.
Bellinger exceeded expectations in his rookie of the year season. He was expected to arrive in the majors by September. He beat that projection by more than four months, buoying the offense after his promotion in April. Called up to play the outfield, Bellinger never left the majors.
Gonzalez played a role in Bellinger's rise . In May, as the Dodgers pondered demoting Bellinger to make room for Pederson's return from the disabled list, Gonzalez volunteered to go on the DL to keep Bellinger with the team. Gonzalez hoped the time off could help heal injuries to his back and elbow.
Gonzalez spent two stints on the DL. Neither awakened his bat. When the Dodgers informed him in late September that he would not be on the playoff roster, Gonzalez responded by requesting permission to spend the early portion of October helping his wife and family settle into accommodations in Italy, where his wife was beginning a study program. The Dodgers granted Gonzalez permission to leave.
His absence became more noticeable upon his return during the World Series. Gonzalez worked out in uniform with the team before Games 2 and 3 against Houston, which upset some of his teammates, according to people familiar with the situation. Before Game 4, manager Dave Roberts asked Gonzalez to watch the rest of the series from a stadium suite.
Dodgers officials insisted the awkward ending would not cloud their thinking about Gonzalez's place on the roster. Even if the road may lead to a release, the Dodgers do not intend to rush down the path.
"It's important to let things play out," Zaidi said, "and not get colored by the recent past."