Drayer: Mariners found what they wanted in Marco Gonzales, and he’s found a home

Feb 4, 2020, 6:55 PM | Updated: 6:56 pm
Mariners LHP Marco Gonzales...
After three seasons with the Mariners, Marco Gonzales has a new long-term contract. (AP)

It is generally a good day in the life of a big leaguer if you are required to put on a suit in the offseason and take to the podium. At T-Mobile Park Tuesday afternoon, Mariners starting pitcher Marco Gonzales did just that.

Mariners sign Marco Gonzales to four-year extension through 2024

With his general manager sitting to his right, his No. 7 jersey hanging behind him, and his family and representation sitting in front of him, Gonzales thanked those who helped get him to his four-year contract extension and professed his love and commitment to his adopted hometown of Seattle.

“I think we found our home,” Gonzales said while looking out at his wife Monica, who grew up in Redmond. “We truly believe that the reason why I am so competitive and passionate here is because this is our home city. This is the place that we are going to defend and make it our home stadium. When teams come in here you can understand why I’m a little fiery and feisty sometimes, and I am sorry about that. Actually I am sorry for not being sorry.”

The fieriness is nothing new. From calling out the Red Sox in 2018 for sign-stealing shenanigans to his indignation expressed so colorfully over Blue Jays fans taking over Safeco Field later that year, the fieriness has been on display almost from Day 1 of Gonzales’ Mariners tenure, even if it was tough to identify early on. To call out teams or fans in your first full season in the big leagues is something you don’t see every day in this game. To stand post-game in the middle of a cramped visiting clubhouse at Fenway Park and state that “everybody knows” what the Red Sox do in just his 30th big league game actually prompted a quiet chuckle from me and a thought of “OK, kid.”

It turns out that Marco was right. It also turns out that was Marco Gonzales. Age and experience be damned, his mindset was different. It was also something he had to get back to after injury.

When he joined the Mariners in 2017 just 90 innings separated from Tommy John Surgery, there appeared to be doubt. In a pregame interview less than a month into his return to the big leagues after his recovery, he told me, “Right now I am in the business of conserving my bullets. I feel like I am pitching on borrowed time a little bit.”

In 2017, Gonzales made eight starts, completing five innings just once. The thought that he might just be a two-times-through-the-lineup pitcher entered into the heads of many. For Gonzales, however, he saw what he needed to in those outings, and in 36 innings he found his way back to the mindset we have seen since.

“I did a lot of battling with myself to try and get back to the first-rounder that I was,” said Gonzales, who was drafted 19th overall out of Gonzaga in 2013 by St. Louis. “Just learning how to be patient with understanding the process of being great, and that doesn’t happen overnight. I guess I learned how to trust that process, and really just how much of a warrior I could be in the face of adversity, and when people doubted me in the past, proving them wrong.”

Fuel for fire, Gonzales will gladly take it. There appears to be plenty as Gonzales is a starter who goes largely overlooked by the league in large part because there is not any one thing he does that stands out. It is in the sum of the parts where his value is found, according to Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto.

“Marco does so many things that fly under the radar,” Dipoto said. “I think he is one of the best command pitchers in the league. He’s proven to be durable and frankly his consistency, what he delivers every start, you expect when you get to the sixth, seventh inning, Marco is still standing out there. It’s the guy that generally flies under the radar, and when you pull it up and sort by fWAR and it shows he is 9th in the league, and everyone ahead of him has been All-Stars or has posters on kids’ walls, it makes you wonder why everyone is missing out on Marco. We think he’s really good.”

A year ago Dipoto spoke of Gonzales as a young veteran on his team that could be leaned on to lead. It’s a role that Gonzales has embraced and has now been rewarded for with the extension. The deal according to Dipoto represents more than bought-out arbitration and free-agent years.

“It is a sign that we are putting our money where our mouth is,” he said. “We want to be about this young group of players. We want to make sure that this group understands they are here and our fan base understands these are the Mariners. So much of what we are doing is we are investing in the people. It’s about the people, do they want to be here, are they high character integrity guys? Do they lead, they are going to be here for a long time and we are betting on the person. We’ve had a three-year interview with Marco. We did the same thing with Evan (White, who was also signed to an extension this offseason). We know who these guys are and we trust them.”

Gonzales has earned that trust from his teammates, organization and hopefully the fan base. Pitching in Seattle means something to the former Zag who moved here while still in the Cardinals organization.

“To the fans, I want to say thank you for welcoming me with open arms and appreciating the pitcher that I am, the athlete I am,” Gonzales said. “I just hope to pay that back and pay it forward with all my teammates. The young guys we have coming up, I know I have the serious role of a leadership on this team. I don’t take that lightly. All I want to do is win and I think you know what you are going to get from me every fifth day.”

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Drayer: Mariners found what they wanted in Marco Gonzales, and he’s found a home