July 28, 2014

DONE DEAL: Nationals acquire Gio Gonzalez from A’s

PEACOCK, MILONE, NORRIS, COLE SENT TO OAKLAND TO COMPLETE BLOCKBUSTER DEAL

According to multiple reports, the Washington Nationals have acquired left-handed starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez from the Oakland A’s in exchange for RHP Brad Peacock, LHP Tom Milone, catcher Derek Norris and RHP A.J. Cole.  Peacock and Milone both made their Major League debuts last season after the rosters expanded in September.

Gonzalez, 26, was an American League All-Star last season, a campaign where he finished 16-12 with a 3.12 ERA, 1.317 WHIP, 197 strikeouts and 91 walks, which led the junior circuit.  That followed his 2010 season where he posted a 15-9 record with a 3.23 ERA and 1.311 WHIP.  For his career, he’s average 8.6 K/9 while walking 4.4 per nine.  For a more elaborate analysis of his career statistics, please click here

Gonzalez joins Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann to form a formidable, young, cost-controlled top of the Nats rotation, to be followed in some order by Chien-Ming Wang and John Lannan, with Ross Detwiler — who is out of options — competing for a role.

The Nationals paid a steep price for a classic, left-handed power pitcher.  Peacock (3), Cole (4) and Norris (9) were among the Nats top five prospects, according to Baseball America, with Milone in the second ten among Nats top minor league players. 

Peacock rose fast in the Nats system, showing a plus fastball and nasty knuckle-curve, but has yet to develop a consistent third pitch that would seem necessary to thrive as a starter in the big leagues.  Milone is a soft-tossing control specialist from the left side.  The lack of velocity on his fastball seems to limit his prospect status, but all he ever does when he goes up a level is succeed.  Norris has tremendous plate discipline (.403 career MiLB OBP) and power from the catching position, but sometimes has trouble making consistent contact, as his career minor league .249 batting average would attest to.

Cole, 20 on Jan. 5, is a heralded starting prospect with the highest ceiling of any of the players traded.  A fourth round pick in the 2010 draft, he slipped due to a college commitment, but the Nats got him signed and into their system.  He went 4-7 with a 4.04 ERA and 1.247 WHIP for Low-A Hagerstown last year, but struck out 10.9 per nine innings while walking just 2.4 per nine.

This move, sacrificing much of the Nationals MLB starting pitching depth and two of their top minor league prospects, signals a “go for it” attitude from GM Mike Rizzo.  The Nats had been very quiet on the Hot Stove League up until today, bidding for Mark Buerhle and losing to division rival Miami, and staying out of the Yu Darvish bidding altogether.

It’s a testament to the job Rizzo and his staff have done in recent drafts, to have the number and quality of prospects to pull off a trade of this magnitude.  All-Star pitchers don’t get traded every day (though Gonzalez joins Mat Latos this week in changing addresses for similar prospect packages), and Rizzo has built one of the strongest, youngest rotations in the National League.  Time will tell how much it really cost him and his team, but the Nats now have a pitching staff that should be strong enough to contend for a wild card spot this season.

The trade does not come without risk though.  As noted in my analysis Wednesday, Gonzalez has one of the highest walk rates of any active starter and has benefitted from pitching in the most pitcher-friendly ballpark in the big leagues in Oakland.  He also has an unusually high strand rate and unusually low extra-base hit rate, which could raise a red flag once ballpark factors are considered.  But he misses a lot of bats, has a tremendous breaking ball, and does it all from the left side, particularly important when facing some of the lineups in the N. L. East.

The move leaves open speculation that Rizzo might not be done.  In trading some of his top prospects, he might consider going “all in” and going after free agent 1B Prince Fielder, which would only cost the team some of the Lerner’s money.  Signing a legitimate clean-up hitter to round out the batting order to go along with the talented young pitching staff could vault the Nats from Wild Card possibilities to legitimate contender status.

Stay tuned Nats fans.  There might be Happy Holidays in Natstown yet.

Comments

  1. Why in the world would we go after Fielder? Are we going to keep both him and LaRoche at exorbitant salaries? That makes NO sense at all.

    How would this move fulfill Rizzo’s self-admitted goals of getting a leadoff hitter and a legit starting CF?

    He has made enough risky moves for one day. Leave Fielder alone and fill the needs you said you were going to fill, Rizzo. We made a big splash with Werth last year and look where that got us.

    • Dave Nichols says:

      There’s no guarantee LaRoche will even be ready for opening day. Besides, Fielder is twice the hitter LaRoche is. He’s a legitimate clean-up hitter. LaRoche is a below-average hitter for first base. LaRoche’s salary of $8 isn’t so exorbinent either. My guess is Werth will play center field, as he did much of the last third of last season, with Harper in right field either opening day or soon thereafter.

      • I agree with you about LaRoche. So, if the Nats acquire Fielder, do they let LaRoche earn $8M by sitting on the bench? They can’t trade him until they prove he can play and hit again, so they’d be stuck with him, it seems, which is absurd.

        Nats had a good 1st baseman in Morse, but forced him back to the outfield where he’s not comfortable, ostensibly to make room for LaRoche next year. So, if they get Fielder, that was all a bunch of malarkey. Let Morse play first base – he’s a better fielder there than Prince. And get a legit CF. Harper can play left and Werth stays in right.

        Again, how does Fielder address Rizzo’s stated needs of a legit CF and leadoff hitter? No way will Desmond prove to be that illusive good leadoff hitter, IMO. And Werth is only an average fielding CF, at best, and he was horrible at the plate last year. What guarantees do the Nats have that Werth’s hitting will improve next year? None.

        • The Herndon Kid says:

          Fielder would help Rizzo’s stated goal of winning baseball games. And that’s what matters.

        • Dave Nichols says:

          Fielder doesn’t address Rizzo’s stated need of a CF and leadoff hitter, but those type of pursuits change all the time. Rizzo has also proven to say one thing in the media and do another, or more likely operate on “stealth mode” like he did with Werth. There are no guarantees of anyone’s performance improving, but that’s kinda the point. The Nats were near the bottom of the NL in offense last season. Fielder is a very good offensive baseball player. QED.

        • Rizzo addressed CF based on Davey Johnson’s recommendations and desires:
          1. Jayson Werth
          2. Mike Cameron
          3. Roger Bernadina
          4. Corey Brown

          If Werth can come close to repeating his 2010 offensive stats he would almost certainly
          give the Nats far more offense than any free agent CF or Bourne. You have to go to
          Pittsburg and get their CF McCutchen to do better. And that would cost another bushel of prospects like the Gonzalez trade. With a .383 wOBA and a bRAA of 36.8 McCutchen was only surpassed by one Nat: Morse. Rizzo clearly picked a LHSP over CF. Period end of
          story.

          Fielder is the next logical, almost “must-have” move for the Nats. If they can bring the number of years down and keep the figure around 20-25 million per year including incentives. He would instantly transform an offense that was not even close to average last year.

          Placing LaRoche on the bench next to Davey Johnson as a veteran left-handed power bat improves the bench offensively significantly. Sure, its a tad expensive but they were likely going to trade him at the deadline (and still could) anyway. The deal is almost a complete loss for the Nats just like Marquis who is pitching for the Twins for 3 million less than half what the Nats anted up for him. Next year LaRoche will likely get 1-2 million to sign as a free agent at most. If he isn’t offered a minor league contract. Yes, he has fallen that far due to his injury and the fact that his offensive stats were right about average before that. Kind of 0.00 WAR kind of player. I suspect as a bench player that WAR might jump quite a bit higher.

          So, it only makes sense to sign Fielder … if the terms aren’t egregious slanted in terms of number of years.

        • Actually Morse is not a better defensive firstbaseman than Fielder, in fact last year he was far worse. And there are even less guarantees that Morse can be an impact bat.

          If you have a shot at an impact bat you take it. Letting Fielder go by b/c of Morse, Marrero and Moore would be completely irresponsible.

          As for CF I think there are some decent 2nd and 3rd tier guys out there that you could trade for an maybe platoon to get the best value. My top choice would be the Rockies Charlie Blackmon.

  2. Seems like they gave up allot but as you said only time will tell. I like the Fielder idea. It still leaves a hole at the lead-off position but hopefully Desmond hits like he did in the 2nd half of the season.

    Have a great Holiday!

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