This player preview was written by Jack Dein, who posts here as jack dein.
Opening the 2009 season as our closer will be Mike Gonzalez. This will be his third season with the Braves after being acquired from the Pirates in January of 2007. After appearing in 54 games for the Pirates in 2006, Gonzalez has appeared in just 54 games in two seasons with the Braves. He will enter this offseason with little competition for the closer job, his only competition being Rafael Soriano who is coming off an injury filled season.
When he was acquired it was thought that Gonzalez could be our closer of the future, but thanks to Tommy John surgery he was limited to just 18 games that year and only 2 saves. He returned on June 18th of last year and pitched in 36 games the rest of the season, totaling 14 saves and a 4.28 ERA while striking out 44 in 33.2 innings.
This is a big season for both Gonzalez and the Braves. The Braves and Gonzalez were able to agree on a contract earlier this off-season that will pay Gonzalez $3.45 million for the 2009 season which is his last before hitting free agency in 2010. It is a big season for the Braves because they need to know which of the two, Gonzalez or Soriano, who is also a free agent after 2009, can be the team's closer in the years to come.
The keys to success for Gonzalez in 2009 are to stay healthy and recapture the form which led him to not blow a single save for three years. Certainly Gonzalez' injury woes seem to be behind him, but he must prove that he can handle the workload of a full major league season. Gonzalez will also be tested by being the man in the ninth inning for a team that is expected to win -- added pressure over being a closer for the Pirates.
If he stays healthy there is no reason why he shouldn’t be considered one of the top closers in the National League. As any Braves fan knows we have lacked a consistent closer since John Smoltz left the bullpen for the rotation after the 2004 season. If Gonzalez proves healthy and as good as we hope then he could be in for a big payday. Hopefully he is able to remain a Brave for many years to come.
Thanks to Jack for a great preview of our closer.