Does a .247 average and five RBIs in 119 at-bats warrant a raise? In the case of Nationals utility infielder Alberto Gonzalez, the answer may well be yes.
The 27-year-old Gonzalez was among 20 players deemed to have achieved "Super Two" status, effectively giving him an extra year of arbitration. Gonzalez's two years, 135 days of major league service easily beat the new cutoff of two years, 122 days. Previously, no player with fewer than two years, 130 days of service time was awarded the Super Two designation.
Basically, Super Twos go to arbitration four times instead of three, and some Super Twos - think Cincinnati slugger Jay Bruce - hammer out multiyear deals that effectively buy out their arbitration years and lock players under team control for more reasonable prices. Most Super Twos make more money than other players with between two and three years of service time because it's more lucrative to go to arbitration four times than have a contract renewed once and go to arbitration three times. However, Super Twos don't become eligible for free agency any faster; they still need six years of service time, like everyone else.
Gonzalez, who earned $416,000 in 2009, presents an interesting case. His stats don't look that impressive, but he has some things going in his favor. Gonzalez played five positions - all four infield spots plus right field - and he made most of the starts at third base after a late-season injury sidelined Ryan Zimmerman. His most frequent position was second base, where he played 28 games, including 10 starts. He was used most often as a pinch hitter, going 7-for-37 with an RBI and four walks in that capacity.
Nationals manager Jim Riggleman likes Gonzalez's versatility and the fact that he keeps himself ready. He's tailor-made for Riggleman's propensity for double switches. Sure, Gonzalez basically whiffed when given a chance to start regularly at shortstop early in 2009. Yes, the organization would like more production out of Gonzalez. But when you're a backup middle infielder with a good glove, any offense is a bonus. In Venezuela, where he is playing winter ball, Gonzalez told a newspaper last month that he would like more playing time, but don't all players?
With Washington declining its option on second baseman Adam Kennedy, Gonzalez's ability to play first base could help his cause for a roster spot in 2011. Kennedy was the routine defensive replacement for first baseman Adam Dunn late in games in which the Nationals had a lead. If Dunn re-signs, Gonzalez is a candidate to assume that role.
Riggleman was quick to point out several times last year that Gonzalez was a victim of a glut of infielders - including Kennedy, Cristian Guzman and Ian Desmond - fighting for playing time. But Gonzalez did hit .265 with a home run and 33 RBIs in 2009; in his other three major league seasons, Gonzalez is 73-for-301 (.242) with a homer and 16 RBIs.
Assuming Danny Espinosa takes over at second base in 2011, and Desmond remains at shortstop, there will again be little playing time for Gonzalez. But the Nationals could do worse than an affordable - with a small raise - backup infielder who can play multiple positions.