SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Outfielder Carlos Gonzalez sat at a table in the corner of the Rockies’ clubhouse, staring at his cards as five teammates looked on. Gonzalez revealed no nuance, no hint of leverage. It raised an interesting question: Is this the hand Gonzalez expected to be dealt when he signed an historic contract in 2010?
It seems so long ago when CarGo oozed swag from his flashy sunglasses, commercial-ready smile and fast cars. He hit .588 in 17 at-bats in the 2009 National League Division Series. At age 23 with 633 career at-bats, he signed a seven-year, $80 million contract, the most ever for a payer with his service time. His contract became official five weeks after shortstop Troy Tulowitzki agreed to a seven-year, $134.5 million deal.
The Rockies' future burned retinas with its brightness. Then something weird happened. Nothing. No more postseasons. No more meaningful games in September, only a swirl of disappointment and trade rumors. The Rockies shipped Tulowitzki out in 2015. Will CarGo be next? He enters the final season of his contract eager, if not hopeful, of guiding the Rockies back to the playoffs as uncertainty about his future bubbles beneath the surface.
“Nothing has changed. It’s the same. I know this is the last year of my deal. But the No. 1 thing is that I show up everyday to win. It’s easy to say that. I am trying to tell the guys that we need to expect to win everyday,” Gonzalez told Denver7 in a sitdown interview at Salt River Fields. “It’s not about putting pressure on my shoulders or thinking, ‘Oh this is the final year of my deal, I have to put up big numbers.’ I have to relax, expect to do well and make us expect to win. It’s as simple as that.”
Nothing, though, comes easily for the Rockies. They have not contended since the final two weeks of the 2010 season when reliever Manny Delcarmen’s loss at Los Angeles triggered 13 losses in 14 games. Gonzalez, however, has produced. He boasts three All-Star berths, a trio of Gold Gloves, and a third-place finish in the 2010 MVP voting. Finally healthy the past two seasons, CarGo delivered a career-best 40 home runs in 2015 and 69 extra-base hits a year ago.
At 31, he can still see his prime, but the sunset is no longer a speck in the distance. This sets up as a crossroads season for CarGo. Help push the Rockies back to relevance or potentially become a trading chip to upgrade the rotation or bullpen.
What makes this spring different with Monday’s season-opener at Milwaukee approaching? Hope is no longer a four-letter word.
Black is the first Rockies manager with a pitching background. He believes in his reshaped relief corps, but admitted the rotation will require contributions from kids, possibly two, following the indefinite absence of Chad Bettis to undergo chemotherapy treatments. Black likes the potential of his arms. But let’s be honest, the Rockies need to start hot offensively to provide time for the starters to settle in and settle down.
An alteration is what Gonzalez now seeks. He loves Denver, as do his wife and three children. But he can't hold onto 2009 forever. He wants new memories that stretch beyond his personal statistics.
“My No. 1 goal is to be myself, to continue to be a good player and work hard to stay at this level. I want to be an all-star, a guy my teammates look up to, a guy that makes his family proud,” Gonzalez said. “I am not looking at any specific numbers. I am a looking at this as a great opportunity to help us win.”