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A-Gone: Gonzalez Hangs 'Em Up

Maybe it was his terrible 2006 performance (4-36, .111/.158./.111.269). Maybe it was an inability to adjust to reserve duties. Or maybe it was the existential crisis of facing The Other Alex Gonzalez in this weekend's series against the Red Sox. But whatever the reason, Phillies infielder Alex S. Gonzalez announced his retirement today.

Gonzalez informed the team and general manager Pat Gillick of his decision early Sunday, and quietly left the team without comment. The Phillies called up catcher/infielder Chris Coste from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to take his spot. Coste's first plate appearance will be his Major League debut.

"I have decided to open a new chapter in my life," said Gonzalez in a statement. "It has been an excellent ride through the years, and I would like to thank the fans who have supported me throughout my career. There are many things I will miss about the game, including the competition at the highest level and the camaraderie with my teammates."

The veteran admittedly was having a difficult time adjusting to bench life, after spending his career as a starter. He was batting .111 with one RBI in 36 at-bats over 20 games. He looked particularly upset after grounding into a double play in Thursday's loss at Milwaukee.

"It's been a tough month-and-a-half," Gonzalez said after that game. "That's the battles of a baseball player. There's times when you're in a funk and you feel a lot of pressure to make something happen. That's when it becomes more difficult. I have to relax."

"He had been a regular player for a long period of time, and making the adjustment from a regular player to a role player is difficult," Gillick said. "Some people can take that transition and accept their role, and other people aren't really happy in it. No matter what line of work you're in, it's important to be happy. The last couple months, he hasn't been a real happy camper."

The piece also notes that GM Pat Gillick had tried to deal Gonzalez to another club in recent weeks, to no avail. The relationship between player and GM goes back to 1991, when Gillick's Blue Jays drafted Gonzalez in the 14th round of the amateur draft.

I admit that I liked this signing at the time, and expected Gonzalez to take a large share of the playing time at third base. But the re-emergence of "Even Year" David Bell--the one who doesn't suck--and the team's unfortunate commitment to Abraham Nunez, plus Gonzalez's wretched play through the early going this year, ensured this wasn't to be.

His replacement, Chris Coste, was the last player cut from the 25-man roster at the end of spring training. A 33 year-old corner infielder/catcher who is enjoying his first taste of major-league living today, Coste tore it up in Florida: 19 for 41 (.463), 5 doubles, 3 homers, a 1.305 OPS. For his minor-league career, he's a .309 hitter. His early 2006 performance at triple-A, however, has been just a shade better than what Gonzalez had done in the majors: .177 average, .508 OPS.

Coste's ability to catch makes him a potentially valuable strategic tool for Charlie Manuel, allowing him to PH Sal Fasano against lefty relievers and more readily pinch-run for either catcher. If he hits at all, expect Coste to stick and Carlos Ruiz to return to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre when Mike Lieberthal comes off the DL.