Did the Nationals Lose Too Much for Gio Gonzalez?

The Washington Nationals and Oakland Athletics are finalizing a four for one deal that would send Gio Gonzalez to the Nats in exchange for right-handers Brad Peacock and AJ Cole, lefty Tom Milone and catcher Derek Norris.

Having spent his entire four-year career with the A’s, Gonzalez had a breakout season in 2010 and continued his success in 2011 compiling a 31-21 W-L record with a 3.17 ERA in those two years. Not bad if you’re looking for a solid #3 starter like the Nationals were, but considering Washington gave up three of the organizations top ten prospects, it’s only appropriate to dig deeper and see if GM Mike Rizzo’s risk is worth the reward.

The scouting report on Gonzalez is that he has a fastball in the low nineties with a solid change up and wicked curveball, but like most pitchers with strong curves, control is a big issue with the newly acquired left-hander. In 2010 Gonzalez issued 92 walks only to lead all of baseball with 91 walks in 2011, that’s a 4.1 BB/9 ratio. This immediately raises a red flag to me, as it should to any Nationals fan. There is nothing worse than giving away free runs by issuing walks that ultimately could ruin your confidence and make the defense behind you lazy.

Washington gave up talent that could have greatly benefited them long-term, which is a clear message that the future is now for the Nats. So let’s take a look at the players that Oakland got in return.

Brad Peacock had an impressive showing with the Nats in September with a nice fastball and knuckle curve as well as a developing changeup. Scouts say that he may be ready to be a full time major leaguer as soon as this year and will be a solid #3 or #4 starter.

A.J. Cole is arguably the most difficult prospect to gauge because he is the youngest of the four headed to Oakland. The tall and lanky right-hander is said to have poise on the mound with a great fastball and a developing changeup and slurve. Cole also has the most upside out of the bunch and is said to be about four years away from being major league ready.

Tommy Milone, like Peacock, made the most of his September call up as Washington won all five of the games he started. This left-hander is usually very accurate and pounds the zone with terrific command of his fastball, cutter, curveball and arguably his best pitch, the change up.

Most Washington fans are familiar with Derek Norris, who just couldn’t seem to catch a break in the Nationals organization. Norris fought for time with Wilson Ramos and Jesus Flores as the three vied for the title of “catcher of the future” with Ramos coming out on top in the end. At this point Norris really had no place with the Nationals and will have a great opportunity to revive his career with the Athletics. A power hitter who doesn’t hit for average is a tough combination for a catcher, especially for one who has a history of injuries. The ninth ranked player in the Nationals system has a high ceiling if he can stay healthy.

Overall, the deal is a big risk for both teams. For the first time in franchise history the Nationals are not building for the future but are finalizing a roster to win now, while the Athletics are doing the opposite collecting as much young talent as they can trying to contend with the idea of relocating to the Santa Clara area with a new stadium.

Essentially the Nationals gave away three tremendous young pitchers and a catcher with a huge upside for a guy whose only “proven” himself to be a solid #3 starter (at best) with control issues…hate to say it, but Gonzalez sounds like the second coming of Oliver Perez. I don’t know about you, but that’s not a risk I’d be willing to take. In my mind, Peacock would have done an admirable job as the fourth or fifth starter with someone like John Lannan, Jason Marquis or Livan Hernandez filling in the other voids. I can’t see Gonzalez being a consistent 13-15 game winner for the next five or so years, but then again I guess the only way we are truly going to be able to grade this swap is when the four Oakland prospects are fully developed, a process which could take up to five or six years. Only time will tell.

What do you guys think? Did Rizzo make the right call?  If you disagree, Joe will be along later this morning with a more optimistic view of the Gonzalez trade.

Joe Drugan

About Joe Drugan

Joe is the Managing Editor of The Nats Blog and host of the Nats Talk On The Go podcast. He's been blogging about the Nationals since 2010 and with The Nats Blog since 2011.

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