© 2011 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
DENVER -- Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez has been one of baseball's most productive players since he landed in the big leagues to close the 2009 season. But he never forgot how it felt to be dealt away by two teams before that.
Having found success and comfort in a winning environment, Gonzalez made official his seven-year, $80 million contract with the Rockies on Tuesday. Gonzalez, 25, finished third in National League Most Valuable Player voting last season and was rewarded with the largest contract in history for a player with only two years of service time in the Majors.
Gonzalez could have chosen to wait until free agency, most likely after the 2013 season, and potentially dwarf this deal. But he could not forget the uncertainty of being dealt by the D-backs after 2008 and by the Athletics the following offseason before getting a chance to establish himself as a player.
The money in this deal is not exactly pocket change. One of his plans is to move his entire family to the U.S. from Venezuela. Still, he ultimately chose security with a club he believes can win over the chance at even more staggering dollars in future years had he waited.
"It's over, and I'm really happy with everything that I got and the opportunity that I have," Gonzalez said. "I'm not the kind of person who will think, 'I could've done this.' I do what my heart tells me to do and what's best for me.
"This is fair enough for me, and I'm really happy. I just play baseball. You don't know if you're going to feel comfortable with anybody else or waiting. Right now, I feel really comfortable with the Rockies."
The contract calls for Gonzalez to receive a $3 million signing bonus and a $1 million salary in 2011. After that, his yearly salaries are $5 million, $7.5 million, $10.5 million, $16 million, $17 million and, in 2017, $20 million.
Gonzalez became the second young Rockies star to sign a mega contract this winter. Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, also a long way from free agency, signed a seven-year, $134 million extension that will keep him in purple pinstripes through 2020.
After a third-place finish in the NL West in 2010, the Rockies have made several splashes even though they'll maintain a mid-market payroll. The club and longtime star first baseman Todd Helton agreed to a restructuring of his deal that not only put the team in position to take care of Tulowitzki and Gonzalez, but also re-sign left-handed pitcher Jorge De La Rosa to a deal that should net him $32.5 million over three years and bring in key right-handed-hitting free agent Ty Wigginton for two years and $8 million.
Gonzalez's contract comes as a greater surprise than Tulowitzki's.
The Rockies drafted and developed Tulowitzki, and did a six-year, $31 million deal with him after the 2007 season. Gonzalez was the key player the Rockies received when they dealt star outfielder Matt Holliday to the Athletics after the 2008 season -- when he struggled with strikeouts (81 in 85 games) in his first Major League action. Also, Holliday and Gonzalez share the same high-powered agent, Scott Boras, whose clients tend to sign huge deals in free agency.
Negotiations with Holliday after the Rockies' surprising 2007 World Series appearance turned contentious, the team struggled in 2008, and a sense developed that the Rockies weren't going to be competitive going forward. Gonzalez's arrival was a major factor in making sure the Rockies would be a factor.
After struggling when first called up in 2009, Gonzalez hit .320 with 12 of his 13 home runs after the All-Star break of that season, and knocked on the door of national prominence by going 10-for-17 in the Rockies' four-game loss to the Phillies in the NL Division Series.
In 2010, Gonzalez led the NL with a .336 batting average, 197 hits and 351 total bases and set career highs with 34 home runs and 117 RBIs. The Rockies fell short of the playoffs with a collapse in the season's final two weeks, but Gonzalez established himself as a big part of the team's future.
After the Tulowitzki deal, it became clear Gonzalez wanted to put his future in writing.
"Tulo is a really good young player, too, and we're growing together, learning together how to play this game," Gonzalez said. "We have the same purpose, too. We want to win the World Series."
Gonzalez revealed the discussions of a seven-year contract during an interview in Venezuela in early December.
After the Winter Meetings, Gonzalez, who was in the U.S. to tape a television commercial, met Boras in Miami and told him he wanted a deal done for his comfort and security and for his family. The presence of his family is big. Gonzalez noted that he hit 11 home runs -- and hit for the cycle against the Cubs on Aug. 31 -- with his family in tow.
Boras provided him with information, such as actuary tables that would show Gonzalez's earning power if he would stay healthy and productive. But the player made the final decision.
"The question always comes, are they comfortable where they're at, are they really going to have an opportunity to win, and also their chances of being around people that allow them to succeed and continue to perform to execute the contract," Boras said. "When you have players such as CarGo, it really isn't about just one contract. It's about a lot of things."
Gonzalez said it's not the first time he has left potential money on the table.
"When I signed a professional baseball contract with Arizona [in 2002, the year he turned 17], I only got $150,000 when everybody said I could have waited a little longer and got $1 million, but I took the opportunity," Gonzalez said. "Now, I'm taking the opportunity. The only concern I have is to play the game, play hard every day.
"You can eliminate everything. You just have to concentrate on playing the game."
Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd noted that it wasn't a discount deal, given that most players at Gonzalez's service time level are just one step above the Major League minimum salary. He sees Gonzalez and Tulowitzki as leaders who are able to handle the pressure that may come with a large contract.
The Rockies' payroll model will not change. The majority of players will continue to either be young or homegrown players signed to club-friendly deals, and the team will stay away from competing on the open market for free agents.
"We have to scout and develop well and we have to win," O'Dowd said. "We have to be competitive."
The next move for the Rockies likely will not take place this winter. Ace pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez, who went 19-8 in 2010, has two years left on a four-year contract, and the club has options for '13 and '14. O'Dowd said he has reached out to Jimenez and would address his situation in the future.
Gonzalez is happy he has addressed his contract.
"What you need to think about is baseball, and that's what I'm going to do," Gonzalez said. "When I think about baseball, I do well."