Age on Opening Day 2016: 30
How acquired: Trade with Athletics, Dec. 2011
2016 salary: $12 million
2015 stats: 31 GS, 3.79 ERA, 106 ERA+, 175.2 IP, 181 H, 79 R, 74 ER, 8 HR, 69 BB, 169 SO, 11-8, 3.05 FIP, 1.423 WHIP, 8.7 SO/9, 2.45 SO/BB
2016 storyline: For as much that is being made about Stephen Strasburg's contract year, and to a lesser extent that of Wilson Ramos, Gio Gonzalez also faces a level of uncertainty beyond 2016. Gio is due to make $12 million each year through 2018, but after this season he has a team option. The Nationals could buy Gio out for $500,000 instead of keeping him under contract for 2017 and beyond.
Given Gonzalez is a lefty, is still an effective pitcher, and given the contract numbers starters are getting these days, it may be unlikely they exercise that option. But, the Nationals will technically have a choice to make on Gio's future after this year.
Gonzalez heads into this year after an inconsistent 2015 season. His numbers overall were solid, but it was a year of dramatic ups and downs. For example, he had a 5.46 ERA in six August starts before holding a 2.38 mark in September. Maybe his strong finish to 2015 can carry over into this year.
Best-case scenario: How about a repeat of Gio's first year in Washington? It was not long ago that Gonzalez finished third in NL Cy Young voting, when he was a dominant ace for the Nats. He went 21-8 with a 2.89 ERA and 207 strikeouts in 199 1/3 innings in 2012. That was the best year of his career and his numbers have steadily dropped off since then.
Exactly what it would take for Gio to regain that form is not easy to decipher, beyond saying he can simply cut down on his walks. Perhaps a more realistic goal for him is to be closer to what he was in his second season with the Nats, in 2013 when he went 11-8 with a 3.36 ERA in 32 starts.
Worst-case scenario: Gio was inconsistent in 2015, but still posted a solid 3.79 ERA in 31 starts. Many teams would take that from a No. 3 or No. 4 starter.
But what could be concerning is that it marked the third straight year Gio's ERA has gone up. He also posted his worst strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2015 since he joined the Nationals.
Another equivalent step back for Gio could push him over the 4.00 ERA mark, which isn't as impressive in MLB as it used to be. He still posted a 2.8 WAR in 2015, however, which goes to show how much value he can still provide despite those numbers trending in the wrong direction.
Most-likely scenario: It doesn't seem likely that Gio will be able to turn back the clocks to 2012, but he is likely to be better this season than he was last year. Perhaps an ERA in the mid-3.00s is a good expectation.
Interestingly enough, both Baseball Reference and FanGraphs project Gio to be about the same guy he was in 2015, with an ERA slightly north of 3.70. That type of season won't dramatically change the Nats' outlook, but it could be serviceable for a mid-rotation starter, especially if someone like Joe Ross surprises with a breakout season.