November 23, 2014

Washington Nationals: Mortgage or jeopardize future for shot at Zack Greinke?

Earlier this week, Jason Reid of the The Washington Post wrote a column advocating the Washington Nationals trading for soon-to-be free agent Zack Greinke, currently pitching for the Milwaukee Brewers. Friday, Jon Morosi of FoxSports.com published an interview with Nats owner Mark Lerner indicating the Nats “could be in the market for a starting pitcher” at the trade deadline since the team plans to shut down Stephen Strasburg when he reaches their internal innings limit in his first full season after returning from Tommy John surgery, just as they did with Jordan Zimmermann last year.

The Nats might like to kick the tires on Greinke, or Matt Garza, or any of the rest of the free agent pitchers that might be available at the trading deadline at the end of the month. But they’re going to find it tough to make a deal out of their minor league system with all the injuries that have piled up to the top ten prospects.

Here are Baseball America’s Nats’ Top Ten (post-Gio Gonzalez trade) and current status:

1) Bryce Harper: Untouchable demigod.
2) Anthony Rendon: Ankle injury. Six plate appearances in ‘12.
3) Brian Goodwin: .326/.450/.520 (6 HR, 31 RBI) at Low-A Hagerstown.
4) Alex Meyer: 6-4, 3.32, 1.167, 10.5 K/9 at Low-A Hagerstown.
5) Matt Purke: 15.1 IP (5.87 ERA) at Low-A Hagerstown before flare-up of shoulder injury.
6) Sammy Solis: Out all year with TJ disease.
7) Steve Lombardozzi: Limited-ceiling MLB utility player (.263/.327/.341 in 200 PAs).
8) Destin Hood: .228/.306/.323 (2/28) in 216 PAs for AA Harrisburg.
9) Chris Marrero: .241/.362/.276 in 69 PAs (yes, .276 SLG, not a typo) for AAA Syracuse, recovering from badly torn hamstring.
10) Michael Taylor: .231/.317/.333 (0/26) in 312 PAs for High-A Potomac. Toolsy OF hasn’t been able to translate to results yet.

There’s talent there of course. But with Rendon, Purke and Solis all out for most — if not all — of the 2012 season and virtually untradable, it severely limits GM Mike Rizzo in making a deal for a rental player. Further complicating the matter is that Rendon and Purke obviously have injury histories, which is why the Nats were able to draft them with the sixth pick in the draft and in the third round, respectively. As for Hood, Marrero and Taylor, they just don’t look like MLB regulars at this point in their careers.

Another complicating factor in making a deal for a rental player is that under the new CBA, the team that trades for an impending free agent no longer receives draft pick compensation when that player signs a free agent contract with a new team in the off-season. The Brewers are reportedly interested in getting the equivalent of a high first round draft pick and another quality prospect. Do the Nats then clear out Meyer and Goodwin (and probably a Lombardozzi-type off the MLB roster) for two months of Zack Greinke?

We know the type of package it took to get Gio Gonzalez during the off-season: Tommy Milone (in the A’s rotation all season), Brad Peacock, Derek Norris (just made his MLB debut last week) and A.J. Cole. Peacock and Cole have struggled mightily this season in the minors, but that was four of the Nats top 15 prospects at the time. Gonzalez wasn’t an impending free agent as Greinke will be, but Greinke also has a better resume than Gio did at the time of the trade, having a Cy Young Trophy to boast about.

The last time Greinke was traded, it took a package of four players. I’ll let The Post’s Adam Kilgore give you the run-down:

The Brewers, who have a deeper system, were content to part with [Alcides] Escobar, a rookie in 2010 who is basically their version of Ian Desmond – he’s not as good of a hitter at this point but is more polished in the field.

The Brewers’ farm system is deep, and the haul they gave up was impressive. Jeremy Jeffress has a fastball that can hit 100 mph, Jake Ordorizzi was a first-round pick out of high school in 2008 and Lorenzo Cain had an .830 OPS in 148 plate appearances during a call-up last year.

Escobar is Kansas City’s starting shortstop, hitting .309 and playing flawless defense. Cain was slated to be their starting CF before getting hurt this spring. Odorizzi is the Royals No. 4 prospect, according to Baseball America. Jeffress is striking out 8.9 per nine in Triple-A.

The other complicating factor is that it is almost assured that Greinke will test the free agent market. He’s already turned down one potential trade to the Nats in 2010, as Mr. Reid properly cited.  He’ll be entering his age 29 season. He wants years and a ceiling contract. Even if Rizzo wanted to sign the player long-term, he’d then be jeopardizing the nucleus of the team that he’s build the last couple of seasons which is just now blossoming into a contender.

The Lerner family has plenty of money and is willing to increase payroll, but everyone has limitations. Do you tie up Greinke for six or seven years at $20 million per at the expense of losing Jordan Zimmermann? Even more, at some point you’ll have to pay the two No. 1s: Strasburg and Harper. But again, I’d be shocked if Greinke didn’t hit the market regardless what team he might get traded to.

It’s fun to speculate on what your favorite team might do at the trade deadline to make themselves better. When columnists write about it, it sells papers (or whatever they sell on the internet). But the speculation should be grounded in realism. It’s going to take more than “multiple solid prospects” to land Greinke. And even then, that would wipe out the Nats top ten due to injuries with the rest.

There are a lot of complicating factors in the Nats making a trade for Greinke — or any big-name impending free agent pitcher. The Nats appear on the cusp of seriously being a factor down the stretch and potentially into the playoffs. But do they mortgage the future and jeopardize the present team to trade for a player that will walk away for nothing when the season comes to a conclusion? Does it justify that sacrifice if that conclusion is a World Series trip?

About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP

Comments

  1. You’re forgetting the other tradeable talent in the Nats system: Jeff Kobernus, Corey Brown, Zach Walters, Danny Rosenbaum, Eury Perez. All of those guys are within a year of so of being MLB ready. I’ll also give you another name I wouldn’t be surprised to see as the centerpiece of a trade package: Ross Detwiler. He’s under team control for four more years and has already shown that he can be an effective starter who will be relatively cheap for a non-contending team looking to save cash.

    One guy I suspect they may be looking at given Lerner’s stated willingness to trade for someone who already has a big contract is Felix Hernandez. He’s due about 48 million in salary through 2014 for a Seattle team that not only will not contend before then but probably wouldn’t be able to resign him. Make THAT trade and you only have to pay King Felix until the year before Zimmermann’s free agency year. A win-win all around.

    • Dave Nichols says:

      Not forgetting. Just don’t think any of those players highlight a package for Greinke. Any of them could be “third guy” in a deal. Maybe I’m underselling? I do read a lot of the prospect analysts and their projections.

      As for Detwiler, how do the Nats trade one of their starters if they are already short one? You’re upgrading on the talent, sure, but the hole you’re trading to fill is still there.

      I don’t see the Mariners trading Felix. They’ve had chances before and balked. Plus, he’d cost even more than Greinke.

      Thanks for the comment. Good thoughts.

      • I think Greinke will be too expensive for the Nats but I don’t think the Brewers will get anything close to what they gave up. They traded for 2 years of Zach, not 2 months. A better match may be Liriano. He would be cheaper, and is left-handed. He’s got better stuff than numbers but switching leagues should help. If he does well, maybe you give him a 2 or 3 year deal. But he would have more upside than than anyone else in his price range.

  2. Trading Detwiler for Greinke or Felix is a win this year move. I just don’t like their chances in the playoffs without a 3rd ace in the hole. Felix would cost them a boatload in prospects plus Detwiler if they could get it done, but he would be worth it. Anyway, I was reading into Lerner’s comments and could not think of who else might fit the description of a top starting pitcher with a big contract who might actually be available.

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