Originally posted on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 1/17/12

The Nationals have not been shy about their dealings with Gio Gonzalez. First, they dealt three of their top 10 prospects — including two of their top three — for the 26-year-old hurler. Then, over the weekend, the Nationals completed the bond, signing the lefty to a contract extension worth $42 million over the next five years. The contract also includes two club options for a combined $23 million.

The deal covers the Nationals’ last four years of control of Gonzalez (including his Super Two season this year) and buys out one year of free agency. Judging by similar deals we’ve seen in recent years, the Nationals don’t just see Gonzalez as a decent number-two starter. They think he’s an ace.

Specifically, there have been three five-year contracts handed out to starting pitchers with four seasons of team control remaining. Two of them went to pitchers who have already taken up the mantle as their team’s ace — Ricky Romero in Toronto and Jon Lester in Boston. The third went to a pitcher who would be his team’s ace if not for the acquisition of Zack GreinkeYovani Gallardo in Milwaukee. Gonzalez’s performance, particularly over the two years prior to signing the contract extension, was pretty much right in line with what Lester, Romero and Gallardo did to convince their bosses to commit over the long term:

Although it is a simplistic analysis — it ignores how the four pitchers arrive at their results and the inevitable discussion on Gonzalez’s walks — based on ERA- and FIP-, Gonzalez measures up well with his contemporaries who have received similar contracts, at least in terms of length. But where his peers received either $30 million or $30.1 million, Gonzalez walks away with $42 million.

Part of this disparity definitely results from Gonzalez’s Super Two status, something the other trio didn’t possess. Inflation could be a possibility as well — Lester signed his deal prior to the 2009 season, Gallardo prior to 2010, and Romero prior to 2011, although the economy has somewhat suppressed salary growth prior to this season. Even with these adjustments, it would seem the value of Gonzalez’s contract is even higher than those of the other three pitchers mentioned here. It partly goes to show the bargains these teams have earned with their young pitchers, particularly the Red Sox with Lester. It also goes to show how much hype was behind Gonzalez this offseason — as good as he’s looked in Oakland, I would never have thought of him as above Lester or Romero, and probably not above Gallardo either.

Despite his wildness — he led the majors in walks last season — Gonzalez was a very good pitcher in Oakland, and what he’s done prior to his age 26 season is impressive. It remains to be seen if Gonzalez will be able to rein in his control and take the final step towards truly becoming an elite pitcher, and the hype over his strikeouts and shiny, Coliseum-aided ERA may have inflated his cost a touch. Still, the Nationals have locked up a good, young starting pitcher, and Gonzalez has more than enough room to grow to justify the money.

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