Well, the Nats went ahead and pulled the trigger on a big trade today, and it was a doozy. They got their #3 pitcher, and he’s a pretty good one, so let’s start with that. They got Gio Gonzalez from the A’s, a lefty starter that can strike people out. He is also under control for 4 more years, and will be 26 years old next season. That’s a pretty strong add for the rotation – here are some numbers.
What They’re Getting
He’s been a full time starter for two full seasons now with the A’s, and he’s compiled some interesting stats. The first thing that probably stands out are the Ks – he’s compiled 368 in the last two seasons over 402 2/3 IP for a K/9 of 8.2. That is pretty damn good, and it should go up with the move to the NL. His ERA+ has been 129, also very good, and keep in mind that even though its a pitchers park, ERA+ factors that in, so he’s doing very well with respect to the rest of league. His ERA over this period is a 3.17, and he helps out with more than just numbers. He fits the Nats need for a lefty in the rotation, and he also has good stuff, with a very strong breaking ball. This may help him out in the NL, as he gets to face not only a weaker number 9 hitter in the pitcher, but often a weak #8 hitter in the NL as well.
On the negative side is first and foremost the walks. He led the league last year with 91, had 92 the prior year, and has had a BB/9 of 4.1 the last two seasons. That puts his K/BB at a pretty pedestrian 2.01. He also has played in front of very good defense which has probably inflated his numbers somewhat. And he’s a fly ball pitcher that was helped out by his home park, so his home/road splits are pretty pronounced. In 2011 his ERA was 2.70 at home and 3.62 on the road. His Ks were higher at home, his walks were lower. But he wasn’t a BAD pitcher away, just mediocre away and GREAT at home. I’m not saying he’ll be bad, but he’s probably not more than a #3 starter. Still, that gives the Nats a solid rotation top to bottom now, with a solid back end and a strong front end.
What They’re Giving Up
In exchange, they gave a slew of prospects to Oakland – right away, you see they got Brad Peacock and Tom Milone, two guys you probably recognize since they played on the Nats last year. Both started, but I think both aren’t destined to be major league starters. Milone had spectacular numbers in the minors, but major league hitters didn’t seem to have that much trouble with him. Although his ERA wasn’t terrible, he didn’t strike anyone out, and probably won’t last several times through a lineup. Peacock has a good fastball, and had a great season in the minors, but has an issue with his curve – it really curves. After they’ve seen it once or twice, hitters at the major league level seem to be able to lay off it and sit on the fastball. He might have a strong future as a setup man, but I have serious doubts in his ability to start. So I don’t mind losing either one of those guys.
They also gave up Derek Norris who, on the other hand, could be somebody. He’s had his issue with batting average for sure, but he walks a ton and hits for power. At almost any other position you’d worry that he might not hit enough once people come at him more, but for a catcher, the power and the eye are probably enough. If he develops, he could be a very good starting catcher. Still, I expected he’d be the price that the Nats would have to pay to make a move. After all, they have a great young catcher already, so Norris really is a trade chip. And they used him appropriately, so good for them.
But there is one more piece that made my shoulder’s slump a bit when I read it. In addition to those three guys, the gave up A.J. Cole. Cole’s name hasn’t been as prevalent for Nats fans, because he’s young and he’s pitching in the low minors, but he’s a talent. But last year, at age 19, he managed 108 Ks and 24 BBs in 89 IP. Striking out more than a guy per inning at that age and level is real nice. He’s got ace potential, and I think the A’s are probably more excited about him than anyone else. He alone would have been a big price to pay.
Well, the Nats have a rotation now, right? Over the next few seasons, they’ll have a better #1 in Strasburg and a better #2 in Zimmermann than most teams. If Gonzalez can succeed outside of Oakland, without that A’s defense in front of him, than the 200+ Ks means they’ll have a good #3 pitcher. John Lannan, Chien-Ming Wang and maybe Ross Detwiler round out a rotation that looks pretty damn good. And next year, if they went out and bought a free agent front line pitcher, it’d be downright scary. This is a move for now, not years down the road, but Gonzalez is young enough that its not necessarily for NOW now. It works for 2013 and 2014 as well, which is good, because nobody knows how much Harper we’re getting this year, and we know Strasburg will be limited.
Still, I can’t help but thinking Cole was alot to give up. In 3 years or so, when he’s pitching effectively in the majors, that’s just when I expect the Nats to be contending for championships, and really needing a guy like him. What kind of pitcher will Gio Gonzalez be then? Hopefully someone that can make us forget AJ Cole was once part of the future here. Meanwhile, forgetting about AJ Cole for a minute – the rest of what they gave up was probably a long shot to add much to this team. And Gonzalez definitely gives them something right now, and for the next 4 years at least. The bottom line is, whatever they gave up isn’t helping now, and the rotation just got alot stronger.