Interest rising for Oakland’s Gonzalez

Unless you’re a fantasy baseball fanatic, you’ve probably never heard of southpaw pitching ace Giovany Gonzalez.

Gio Gonzalez is a young star in the A's rotation. Are the Yankees gazing? (Ben Margot/AP)

That’s because he plays for the Oakland Athletics, a small-market team housed in an aging stadium. The A’s haven’t been in the spotlight since Charlie Finley dressed his team in white shoes and tried to introduce the orange baseball.

But Gio, as he is known, has been quietly doing great things since arriving in Oakland after a trade involving the Chicago White Sox, the team that drafted him out of a Hialeah, FL, high school in 2004. The Cuban American hurler has shed his “bad boy” image and has matured on the mound, taking dumb calls and miscues in stride. Indeed, Gonzalez, 27, had a breakout year in 2010, finishing with a 15-9 record and a 3.23 ERA. He led the A’s with 33 team starts and 171 strikeouts.

Oakland is in the news again because it employs one of the best young pitching staffs in Major League Baseball. And Gonzalez, who makes a mere $420,000 per season with club options through 2015, has many teams knocking at the door for his services. The A’s ring-wise GM, Billy Beane, listens to all trade offers with interest, including those from the New York Yankees. Contrary to popular belief, the Yanks have a stockpile of young prospects that would be attractive to Oakland’s budget.

Meanwhile, Gonzalez continues to turn heads by polishing his pitches and public profile. Gio was lucky to get drafted after ugly incidents with his parents and the high school coach. Then there have been tabloid-type headlines about his personal life and alleged playboy behavior. But Gonzalez shrugs off all that stuff and prefers to talk about his pitching performances and improved temperament.

“I just have to slow it down sometimes and take a deep breath,” he explains.

Gio’s battery mate, Kurt Suzuki, agrees.

“He makes adjustments and gets locked in,” says the catcher. When Gio does that, he’s unbeatable.”

Gonzalez is also “locked in” off the field. In Oakland, he’s a member of the A’s “Amigo Program”, and participates in numerous charities. In South Florida, Gio works with with prep pitchers at his old school and organizes clinics that involve other major league players who live in the area.

There’s another left-handed pitcher in New York who also does a lot of charity work. His name is CC Sabathia, and Gonzalez is the solid player and person who Yankees GM Cashman would love to have join his flock. Cashman and Oakland GM Beane are close friends. So is there a deal in the works?

Gonzalez doesn’t have a say in the matter, but has made his feelings known. He’s happy playing with the A’s, and Beane is famous for awarding his young stars with long-term security.

“It would be great to get an (contract) extension,” says Gio. “I would be very happy about that.”

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