Gonzalez unlikely to return to D-Backs

Gonzalez unlikely to return to D-Backs

PHOENIX -- Luis Gonzalez's tenure in a Diamondbacks uniform will come to an end Oct. 1 when the club closes out the 2006 season against the Padres at Chase Field.

"We met with Luis Gonzalez this morning and informed him that this will be his final year with the Diamondbacks," general manager Josh Byrnes said Thursday.

Gonzalez did not return a phone call seeking comment, but is expected to address the media prior to Friday's game against the Rockies.

Gonzalez is in the final year of his contract with the club holding a $10 million option for next season. The veteran, who has become the face of the franchise over his eight years in the desert, had asked the team to clarify his position before the end of the season if possible.

With young outfielders ready for the big leagues, the D-Backs decided that it would not make sense to bring Gonzalez back even if he agreed to a reduction in salary.

Whether or not he would was never talked about during Thursday's meeting, which according to one person familiar with the discussion took Gonzalez by surprise.

"This wasn't a negotiation," Byrnes said. "It evolved into a yes or no. We really didn't operate in the gray area too much."

While salary may have been negotiable for Gonzalez, playing time didn't seem to be. Gonzalez had previously made it clear both verbally and with his play on the field this year, that he was not ready to accept a non-starting or reduced playing role.

Entering Thursday's action, Gonzalez was tied with Cleveland's Grady Sizemore for the Major League lead in doubles with 50, and on Tuesday he became the oldest player (at 39 years, 9 days) to reach the 50-double mark. He has a .277 batting average with 15 home runs and is tied for the team lead with 71 RBIs.

"Our intention was to deal with it early in the offseason to the extent we're doing it now was at Gonzo's suggestion," Byrnes said. "I think Gonzo's still a very productive player. At this point I think we feel like it's a difficult time, it's a fairly appropriate time to make the transition if for no other reason than I think the nucleus of the next wave of Diamondbacks are here and performing well. We can now kind of turn the club over to them and know that the standard that Gonzo has set is very high."

The next crop of players includes right fielder Carlos Quentin and center fielder Chris Young, who will be in the starting lineup next year. Left field will belong to Eric Byrnes, who was signed as a free agent last winter and is eligible for salary arbitration, but not free agency this offseason.

"It's going to be Eric Byrnes as the primary guy," Josh Byrnes (no relation) said. "Jeff DaVanon will be back and again there are other candidates as always, Scott Hairston as we know."

Gonzalez came to the D-Backs along with cash from the Tigers prior to the 1999 season in exchange for journeyman outfielder Karim Garcia. It didn't take Gonzalez long to make his impact felt. He led the National League with 206 hits and collected 45 doubles, 26 homers and 111 RBIs, while helping the D-Backs to the NL West title with a 100-62 record.

After smacking 47 doubles and 31 homers in 2000, Gonzalez had a season for the ages in 2001. He hit 57 homers and drove in 142 runs that year, but the hit he'll always be remembered for is a bloop single to shallow left field in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series. The hit scored Jay Bell with the game-winning run and gave the state its first major sports championship.

During Spring Training in 2003, Gonzalez signed a three-year, $30 million contract extension that ran through this season, with a club option for 2007 at $10 million. Jeff Moorad, who is now the Diamondbacks general partner, was Gonzalez's agent at the time and worked out the deal with then-managing general partner Jerry Colangelo.

"We'll miss Luis more than we can really express in words and yet he'll be part of our family and will always be in some respects," Moorad said. "And we hope he'll be back here formally some time in the future."

Indeed, while the D-Backs made it clear within the first 10 minutes of the 90-minute meeting that they didn't intend on having him back as a player, they did express a strong desire to have Gonzalez back upon his retirement in some capacity. Whether that would be as a broadcaster, an instructor, or front office member is an open question.

"It's not an easy thing to end a relationship and yet we hope this is an ending that has a new beginning some time out in the future," Moorad said. "We made it clear to Luis this morning that there would be nothing better in our view for him to come back to us at the end of his playing career whenever that might be and to be part of our organization for the long time."

The D-Backs are still formalizing plans to honor Gonzalez during the final weekend of the regular season.

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.