Thursday, December 22, 2011

Nationals Acquire Gonzalez

Keith Law had it first.
Gio Gonzalez to the Nationals for AJ Cole, Derek Norris, Brad Peacock, and Tom Milone.

Big cost, but Nats have a 1-2-3 of Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann all under control for at least 4 more years.

I was in the middle of doing my Nats top 10 prospects, but after trading 33% of them in this deal I guess I'm going to have to re-work that now. I will update this later with some more in depth analysis, but looks like a win-win for both clubs. The remaining question is how do they fill that CF void without the trade pieces they just gave up?

The real prize for the A's in this deal is AJ Cole, he is the pick I begged the Orioles to make. The Nationals turned the$2m bonus they paid him into a key piece for boosting their rotation. Let's take a closer look at the pieces the Nationals gave up in this deal:

Brad Peacock: Some see him as the centerpiece of this deal, I don't agree personally, but I can see where some would say that. He's got a plus fastball that sits 94-95, however, there is little movement on it, it's pretty flat. He's also got a knuckle curve that is a plus pitch, think Mike Mussina level, it's a hard power curve, and he will use it both as a chase pitch and a break-over-the-plate pitch. He tends to reach back and overthrow the FB leaving it high, which sometimes results in strikeouts, but could be a risk against ML pitching, and the curve he likes to throw in the dirt when ahead in the count, so I hope the catchers have all their gear on. Brad's change is pretty weak, I'd be stretching if I called it an average pitch right now, but some improvement on that pitch could really take him into all-star starter territory. The problem is without that pitch, he's a two-pitch, power pitcher which screams RP. I think he has the tools to start with a little more refinement, and worst case is you could be looking an elite closer, but I'm on the fence which way he falls.

AJ Cole: This is the guy I think is the key to this deal. Cole sits comfortably around 92 and can dial it up to 94 when he needs to with his FB, it's got good movement, flashing plus at time, mostly running in on RHP and away from LHP. He's also got a slurve that has good differential from the FB, coming in around 78, that's almost a 15mph change of pace. He uses it as a chase pitch when he's ahead, and not so much when he's behind. His change is average, but still in better shape than Peacock's, so with two above-avg. to plus pitches and another average pitch, he's in very good shape at only 20 years old (in 2 weeks). With a long way to go, there is some improvement you could still see, and right now he's a darn good pitcher. This is the guy I could see being better than Gio out of the deal.

Derek Norris: Norris has good power, and plate discipline, he's a walk machine and looks to be a decent catcher with a good arm, but he's always struggled to hit for average, and could face a problem as he moves further up the ladder and sees less and less mistakes from opposing pitchers. It's easy to lay off really bad pitches, it's not as easy to lay off pitches that are right on the edge of the zone. He tends to step towards the baseline instead of the pitcher, which makes him vulnerable on the outside part of the plate. Still, with catchers being so hard to come by, Norris' power and batting eye make him an intriguing prospect. Especially for teams like OAK with such a high value on OBP.

Tom Milone: He was the guy OAK was holding out for, I'm not sure I would let him become a deal breaker in any deal, which is why WAS ultimately gave him up, but that's not to say he won't be a decent player. Milone is a softer tossing LHP with great control, that in itself can be very helpful on a ML staff, and he is ready for the big leagues. I guess OAK wanted him to fill one of the spots in the rotation on the short term. He's got a high 80's FB which is pretty average, but added a cutter this past season which has been pretty successful when used correctly. His curve has good separation from his FB in the mid 70's and great control of this too, but his real bread and butter is his change up. Milone has plus command with almost all of his pitches, and his change looks above average/plus itself. Pitchers with great command are hard to find, and tend to last a long time in this league, but when you are a soft tossing LHP with great control, it makes your pitches always around the plate, and hittable. He looks to be a serviceable starter, but he's going to have to work very hard on spotting his pitches and keeping them out of danger areas.

All in all, it was a lot of potential to give up for a pitcher, but when that pitcher is a LHP SP with proven success at the ML level, and under control for 4 more years, it looks like a win for both sides.

The improvement in the rotation weighs against the hole in CF with the offseason winding down. If WAS were to go out and sign Cespedes on top of getting Gio, there is more talent in the minors, and this team could be gearing up to take the NL East, not just for the next couple years, but for the long term.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Nationals in on Gio Gonzalez

Word all day around baseball has been that the Nationals are closing in on a trade with the Athletics for Gio Gonzalez. This would be that home run move that I've been waiting for all offseason. Gio is a young lefty under control for 4 more seasons (like Mat Latos, you might have heard of him, he was just traded for a small country worth of talent). Gio would slot in perfectly in between Strasburg and Zimmermann breaking up the righty duo, and giving the Nats a top 3 that could compete with most in baseball.

With those three at the top of the order, and Wang and Lannan to round out the group, the Nationals should have a rotation built to get to and win in the playoffs.

What would it take to close the deal?

After the Latos trade, you would think half of your farm system, however, I think that trade will be seen as the exception, not the rule, and you'll see a more reasonable return for Gio. Now that return would still be steep as young controllable lefties don't grow on trees, actually now that I mention of it, they don't often grow anywhere, good ones especially are pretty rare. Any conversation will probably start with Detweiller, or Peacock and one of their young catchers. A proposed 4-1 deal was being discussed according to Ken Rosenthal, but no names were for sure. I would have to say, a deal with Detweiller AND Peacock and a young catcher might be enough to get things going. Since Strasburg, Zimmermann and Gio would all be under control for at least 4 more years, I'd have to say they can afford to trade that pitching depth.

The Braves are out shopping, looking for OF offense. The Phillies are getting old, but re-signed Rollins this week. The Marlins are making splashes left and right and are looking hungry. The Mets...well, they are just a mess, but the rest of the division isn't going to sit by and just let the Nationals walk by, so it's going to take a couple key moves, and this is a perfect move to make.

Looking At The Starting Rotation

The Washington Nationals have been in the market for an innings-eating type starting pitcher since the offseason began. Today, they’re still looking for that workhorse guy but are also beginning to accept the fact that they may begin the regular season with the same group they finished last season with. Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, Chien-Ming Wang, John Lannan and fifth-starter candidates Ross Detwiler and 2008 10th round pick Tommy Milone.
The biggest issue facing the Nationals with their rotation though is that there isn’t a single starter in that group who can be counted on for 200 or more innings in 2012. The team’s pitching staff as a whole finished the 2011 season 7th in all of baseball with a 3.58 ERA and just 14th in total innings pitched with 1449.1. However, the alarming statistic in that the starting pitchers only accounted for 928.2 innings of that work, which was only good for 28th in all of baseball. The starters’ ERA on the season was 3.80 and they were 24th in baseball with just 79 quality starts.
Stephen Strasburg, the team’s de facto ace, only pitched 24 innings last season after coming back from Tommy John Surgery. The team would be extremely fortunate if they were able to get 150 to 160 innings of work out of him next year, without risking further injury to their superstar.
 Jordan Zimmerman, the team’s obvious number two starter, only pitched 161.1 innings last season and will be two years removed from Tommy John Surgery in 2012. I really don’t see the team pushing Zimmerman past 180 to 185 innings next year, as to avoid higher injury risk for the young star.
“We feel we have in-house candidates for the No. 2 starter behind (Strasburg). Jordan Zimmermann had a terrific year last year, really a breakthrough year for him. We expect bigger and better things—it will be his first full season off of Tommy John surgery—so we’re excited for big things from him. We’re always looking to improve the rotation. You can never have enough good, quality starting pitching in this division, so we’re always in the market for that.”—Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, discussing the team’s starting rotation in a Q-and-A with the team’s website.
John Lannan is likely the team’s number three starter and while he pitched 184.2 innings last year, he walks way too many batters to be counted on for 200 innings. He walked 3.7 batters per nine innings pitched last season and if it wasn’t for the ground balls he was able to induce at a 54.1% rate his ERA wouldn’t have been sitting at a ‘decent’ 3.70 by seasons end.
Their likely number four starter is Chien-Ming Wang and he won’t be coming close to 200 innings either because he only pitched 62.1 innings last year. Wang was certainly effective for most of those innings, especially coming back from almost 2 ½ years of injuries, but the team won’t be pushing him very far either. He will likely finish the season with around 160 to 170 innings of work as long as he stays effective over the course of a full season.
As far as their number five starter goes – well, if it were up to me then I’d choose to throw rookie Tommy Milone in that spot. This guy had a 3.22 ERA in Triple-A Syracuse over 148.1 innings of work and then got called up to the Nationals and posted a 3.81 ERA over 26 innings of work. That’s 174.1 total innings of work for him in 2011, which means that he’s the best candidate to get close to 200 + innings in 2012 if he’s in the rotation.
Every team aspires to land a workhorse starting pitcher in the offseason because let’s face it, every team could use one. And while not landing that guy this offseason certainly doesn’t help the Nationals cause of winning their division, and the World Series, in 2012 – they still have a top ten starting rotation if they aren’t decimated with injuries and three out of the five can get you close to 200 innings.
I would definitely look for the Nationals to become a serious wild-card contender next season, even if the division title is still slightly out of reach.