Thursday, the Nationals acquired one of the best remaining available starting pitchers of the offseason, trading for Oakland's Gio Gonzalez. In return, the Nationals sent a bursting package of prospects to the A's, right-handers AJ Cole and Brad Peacock, lefty Tom Milone and personal favorite top catching prospect Derek Norris. Without further gilding the lily, let's get into the meat and potatoes, shall we?
What do the Nationals Get?
The Nationals gave up a package of prospects for a reason, and that reason is that Gonzalez effectively plugs a hole in their roster. The rotation presumably consisted of exciting youngsters Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, and venerable innings-eaters John Lannan and Chien-Ming Wang. Gonzalez adds a fifth quality arm to the equation, ensuring that the Nationals will have a chance to win every game they play in 2012.
Gonzalez is a highly talented pitcher. He has good stuff, featuring a plus mid-90s fastball with some lateral movement as well as a wipeout curveball that was one of the best breaking pitches in the American League. He can be wild at times, but has found pretty good success for his age (he will be 26 in 2012), posting a 129 ERA+ the last two seasons, as well as a 3.64 FIP, 3.73 xFIP, and a 3.78 SIERA in 2011. He isn't a stud, but he is an effective, young, cost-controlled (he isn't free agent-eligible until after the 2015 season) pitcher that should post reliable innings totals (402 IP in the last two seasons) for years to come.
What do the Athletics Get?
The Athletics get a surprising haul of prospects, and, for the sake of sanity, I'll simply list them here, case-by-case.
AJ Cole is an exciting young pitcher. Just 19 at Single-A Hagerstown in 2011, he posted a 10.9 K/9 and a 4.50 K/BB in 89 innings. He is very young, but is quite advanced, and his stuff makes him look like a future very good pitcher in the major leagues. He features easy, repeatable low-mid-90s heat, a power curve that draws comparisons to Matt Garza, and a simplistic delivery that has scouts raving about his health outlook as well as his control.
Brad Peacock will be 24 in 2012, and is probably as MLB-ready as he is going to get. He has been clocked as high as 97 with the fastball, which has been described as flat, and compliments it with a decent curveball. He has solid control, with an ever-declining walk rate, and a 3.1 BB/9 in the minors, and showed an ability to attack major league hitters during a September callup in 2011. He profiles as a back-end starter or reliever, which is probably his most appropriate destination, as he does not feature an impressive third pitch.
Tom Milone is that guy who gets outs despite a fastball in the 80s and a curveball that will not buckle many knees. He has off-the-charts control, posting a 9.69 K/BB in 148 Triple-A innings in 2011. He will be 25 in 2012, and is definitely MLB-ready. All that remains to be seen is how well his stuff will play at the Major-league level.
Derek Norris is a monster. If you clicked the link above, you'll know what he can do, and that is basically, so far in his minor league career, get on base at a .400 clip, hit 20+ home runs, and throw out 40% of attempted base stealers. He will be 23 in 2012, probably at Triple-A, and should be regarded as a top catching prospect.
Altogether, the Athletics get two pitchers who could contribute at the major-league level, and a very good pitching and catching prospect, a pair of very valuable assets.
Oakland, without a doubt. The package of prospects is impressive, and Peacock and Milone by themselves should replace the majority of the value that Gonzalez took with him to Washington, to say nothing of Norris and Cole, who could be major league stars one day. I think Oakland pulled a fast one on Washington here, gathering one of the biggest packages of prospects we've seen in a while, and not even for an elite talent.
Washington lost this one. Gonzalez is a quality arm, and has posted a pair of good seasons, but everything about him comes with a heavy dose of salt: Yes, he strikes guys out, but he's also led the AL in walks against over the last two years. Yes, he is cost-controlled for four more seasons, but that is not synonymous with 'cheap'. He's due for a raise to what MLB Trade Rumors is speculating to be $4.2 MM in 2012, and that will only go up in future years. The Nationals had some very good arms in their rotation, and really only needed some innings, innings that they had in guys like Peacock, Milone, Ross Detwiler, or readily and cheaply available in names like Livan Hernandez or Joe Saunders. It looks like they succeeded in making a splash -- but I believe they paid too much for it.
Robert Gilliam: is a guy. He was included in the deal, sent with Gonzalez to Washington. Here are some things about him.
The Bottom Line:
The Nationals appear to have traded for a top-end starter, and got a guy more resembling a middle-of-the-rotation guy. I'm afraid they may look up this time next year and realize that they paid as much for the Oakland Coliseum effect as anything.
Postscript: Beyond the Box Score takes a look at the trade and finds a similar conclusion to mine; that the collection of prospects should provide more value than Gonzalez in coming years.