The Phillies, a source confirmed, will pay Gonzalez a guaranteed $48 million over six years. The deal could be worth as much as $59 million with a seventh-year option, Yahoo Sports reported. That would make it the largest deal ever for an international free agent.
No one can formally talk about the pitcher, who was suspended for two seasons in Cuba for attempting to defect, until he reaches the United States for a physical examination. A source said he was awaiting visa approval, so the announcement could be delayed for some time.
Phillies assistant general manager Scott Proefrock would not acknowledge Gonzalez.
"I'm not going to discuss that," he said. Gonzalez's agent, Jaime Torres, declined comment when reached by phone.
The international scouting community is divided on Gonzalez. Some believe he is a top-flight starter. Others question his ability and foresee his ceiling as a middle reliever. The Boston Red Sox, believed to be the runner-up for his services, reportedly had concerns about Gonzalez's elbow.
The 6-foot-2 pitcher throws in the low- to mid-90s. His fastball velocity has increased in recent starts, according to one scout who watched Gonzalez. The international scouting director for a team that did not pursue Gonzalez said his scouts wondered about the effectiveness of Gonzalez's secondary pitches.
"They don't doubt that he is a big-leaguer at all," the scouting director said. "He can slide into a rotation somewhere. They just don't know what will strike people out, whether the splitter or slider is good enough to be that pitch."
The money spent on Gonzalez represents a seismic shift in how the Phillies do business. Their previous high for an international deal was $1.2 million in 2001 for a Korean pitcher named Seung Lee. They outbid traditional international market mainstays in Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
The reason is the declining value of free agency. More and more teams are extending their players to long-term deals before they reach the open market. Ruben Amaro Jr. has traded away most of the Phillies' top prospects, so the team can't afford further loss of young talent.
If the Phillies want to upgrade this winter through free agency, the options are slim. Robinson Cano is the top available player, although a reunion with New York is expected. Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo are Scott Boras clients. Brian McCann is an aging catcher. Carlos Beltran will turn 37.
The pitching market is just as barren. Matt Garza, Hiroki Kuroda, Ervin Santana, Josh Johnson, and A.J. Burnett are the top arms. All of them will be 30 or older in 2014. They are considered mid-rotation arms, and given the lack of supply and probable high demand, their prices could match Gonzalez's.
"Our plan is to be competitive and in the mix on an annual basis," Proefrock said. "All of the different options we have considered and talked about internally have been geared toward just that. We owe that to our fans and we have the wherewithal to be in the mix to do that."
The money the Phillies spent on an enigmatic Cuban pitcher proves that intention.
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