The end of an era came quietly, during coffee and breakfast Thursday morning, when the Diamondbacks told Luis Gonzalez that he would not return next season.
Not only did the D-Backs decline Gonzalez’s $10 million option for 2007, there were no negotiations about bringing him back at a lower price, general manager Josh Byrnes said at a hastily called news conference late Thursday afternoon.
In his desire to remain with the D-Backs, Gonzalez offered to rework his contract in order to keep money from becoming an impediment, but the D-Backs said their decision was more about a changing of the guard.
“This wasn’t a financial decision. I made the point directly in our meeting,” said Jeff Moorad, Gonzalez’s former agent and the man who negotiated the contract that is paying Gonzalez $11.5 million this year.
“This was a decision about the long-term success of our ball club and the fact that Josh and his staff have a plan to mold this club into a perennial contender.”
Gonzalez, a five-time All-Star who is considered the best position player in franchise history, has been the face of the organization since he arrived in a trade with Detroit for Karim Garcia before the 1999 season.
Gonzalez, 39, hit the game-winning single in the 2001 World Series, capping a year in which he joined Babe Ruth as the only players in major league history to hit .320 with 50 home runs, 120 RBIs, 120 runs, 100 walks, 100 extra-base hits and 400 total bases in the same season.
Last Saturday, he became the oldest player in major league history to hit 50 doubles in a season, and he ranks 20th in baseball history in doubles.
The move has been anticipated since the franchise’s financial restructuring that included a tightening of the bottom line two years ago, although the D-Backs never addressed it publicly this season.
Moorad, Byrnes and assistant general manager Peter Woodfork met with Gonzalez and his two agents Thursday, when the D-Backs told Gonzalez they would welcome his return to the organization after he retires. Gonzalez did not attend the press conference.
“Looking at a player of this magnitude and how and when he parts ways with a franchise, there aren’t many stories of a smooth transition,” said Byrnes, who was in the Boston front office when the decision to let Pedro Martinez go after 2004 was made.
“At this point . . . it’s a fairly appropriate time to make the transition, if for no other reason than I think a lot of the nucleus of the next wave of Diamondbacks is here and performing well.
“Unfortunately at this crossroads, we are going without ‘Gonzo,’ and it is with a great deal of gratitude for what he did here.”
Eric Byrnes will play left field — the spot occupied by Gonzalez the last eight seasons — next year, with rookies Chris Young in center field and Carlos Quentin in right, Byrnes said.
The D-Backs consider energetic Eric Byrnes to be a candidate to inherit Gonzalez’s role as the people’s choice, and Josh Byrnes said he expects leadership to come from such players as Orlando Hudson, Brandon Webb and Chad Tracy and well as Eric Byrnes.
The franchise considers itself very deep in the outfield, with minor leaguers Scott Hairston, Carlos Gonzalez and Justin Upton figuring in future plans.
Gonzalez has 2,361 hits and has said he hopes to reach 3,000.
“I know he has goals, and statistical goals, and I hope he achieves them all,” Moorad said.
“I think it’s fair to say ‘Gonzo’ considers himself an everyday player, and I hope that’s what he will be with some other club next year.”