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.