The Washington Nationals apparently wanted a companion for young aces Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg in their rotation, and ESPN's Keith Law is reporting on Twitter that they've gotten their man: Gio Gonzalez of the Oakland Athletics. The price for Gonzalez is steep, as the Nationals have given up prospects AJ Cole, Derek Norris, Brad Peacock, and Tom Milone. On Mark's ranking of the top ten Nationals prospects, Cole and Norris were in the "outstanding" category, while Peacock was listed as "good". It's a fantastic haul for the A's, and a questionable overpay for the Nationals.
Gonzalez has eclipsed 200 innings in each of the last two years, and had fantastic ERAs in each: 3.23 in 2010 and 3.12 in 2011. Gonzalez upped his strikeout rate from 7.67 in 2010 to 8.78 in 2011, but his walk rate remained relatively consistent, and high: 4.13 in 2010 and 4.05 in 2011. Gonzalez's home run rate also slightly increased, going from 0.67 to 0.76. Gonzalez was more effective in his cozy home park in Oakland in 2011, posting a 2.70 ERA and 0.65 homer rate at home in comparison to a 3.62 ERA and 0.88 homer rate on the road. Nationals Park plays roughly neutral towards hitters and pitchers.
The price seems hefty for Gonzalez, who's career high in fWAR is 3.5. He'll be playing the 2012 season as a 26 year old, and is under team control for four more seasons, entering his first year of arbitration this offseason.
Now, a brief look at the prospects. AJ Cole spent the 2011 season as a 19 year old with Hagerstown of the Sally League. He was a victim of terrible luck, posting a 4.04 ERA in 89 innings while allowing six home runs, 24 walks, and 108 strikeouts. His 2.46 FIP is much more indicative of his abilities than that ugly ERA. Norris is a 22 year old catcher who spent the year in AA Harrisburg, my hometown team. He was blocked long-term in Washington by Wilson Ramos, and looked to be expendable. In 2011, Norris had just a .210 batting average, but had a .367 OBP and a .446 slugging percentage. He had 20 homers, 77 walks, and 13 stolen bases (just for the hell of it). His arrival could put Kurt Suzuki on the block next offseason. Suzuki is under contract until 2013, with an option for 2014.
Peacock and Milone have lower ceilings than Cole and Norris, but are both pretty decently regarded. Peacock split his year between Harrisburg and AAA Syracuse, while getting a cup of coffee in the majors to close out the season. In the minors for the season, the 23 year old Peacock had a 2.39 ERA in 146 2/3 innings, allowing nine homers, 47 walks, and striking out 177. He could probably slot right into the A's rotation in 2012. Milone is another guy who can probably slot right into Oakland's 2012 rotation, and he spent his 2011 in Syracuse as a 24 year old. Milone showed impeccable control, striking out 155 while walking just 16 hitters in 148 1/3 innings and allowing nine home runs. In a 26 inning stint in the majors to close out the season, Milone walked four and struck out 15 in 26 innings, posting a 3.81 ERA.
I love the deal for the A's. They strengthened their farm system and also added a pair of guys that they can slot right into their 2012 rotation. Meanwhile, they shed Gonzalez and the first year of increased salary he'll earn this year. On Washington's side, I'm not sure if this move is really going to move them into the top half of the rotations in the NL East. Every team but the Mets has a loaded rotation, and while this will help them compete, it won't necessarily make them compete. At least they gave up the haul for four years of control for Gonzalez, instead of just renting him.
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