Gio Gonzalez Traded to Washington Nationals: Ranking All 30 Starting Rotations

Matt TruebloodSenior Analyst IDecember 23, 2011

Gio Gonzalez Traded to Washington Nationals: Ranking All 30 Starting Rotations

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    Gio Gonzalez will join the starting rotation of the 2012 Washington Nationals, and that's a scary proposition. The Nats acquired Gonzalez in a trade from the Oakland Athletics Thursday, adding him to Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann in a rotation now only slightly less daunting than those of the Philadelphia Phillies, Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Angels.

    The Nationals absolutely overpaid for their newest co-ace, but it may just be worth it to boost their rotation into the league's top echelon.

    Here are power rankings of all 30 MLB rotations in the wake of this major deal.

30. Baltimore Orioles

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    Something is terribly wrong in Baltimore. The Orioles have acquired (via both trades and the draft) several very solid pitching prospects over the past five years. Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton all fall into that category. Yet as each reached the big leagues over the past two years, they inexplicably imploded.

    It's hardly too late for any of those men to reach their potential. Matusz flashed his in 2010; Britton was good in stretches in 2011. It's not too early, however, to ask whether the Orioles are doing something very wrong when it comes to developing pitchers.

    They're under new management now and have an absolute potential ace in Dylan Bundy, so it will be interesting to see how they perform in coming years.

29. San Diego Padres

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    Cory Luebke had a true breakout in 2011. Edinson Volquez offers upside, especially if pitching in cavernous PETCO Park lends him the confidence to simply pour in his electric stuff and not walk one out of every eight batters he faces. The farm system will soon deliver Casey Kelly, Joe Wieland and Robbie Erlin, guys without elite stuff but with repeatable, safe deliveries who will play very well in San Diego.

    That's all well and good. For the first few months of 2012, though, things are going to be ugly. Unless San Diego makes a trade for Matt Garza or a similar hurler, they will send Luebke on Opening Day—then follow him with Volquez, Dustin Moseley, Tim Stauffer and Clayton Richard.

    The numbers will probably look fine, but that crew is not the starting rotation for a winning team unless that team has a great offense. The Padres do not.

28. Kansas City Royals

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    Like San Diego, Kansas City is a team with a good deal of upside. Felipe Paulino is already, secretly, a stud. Danny Duffy and Aaron Crow will compete for one spot, in all likelihood, and the winner should be an asset. Jonathan Sanchez is the newcomer with the sexy strikeout numbers, and Bruce Chen is the grizzled, crafty veteran.

    If the Royals' pitching prospects come along as hoped this season, and if the team goes bold with the addition of another starter, they could jump 10 spots on this ranking. Edwin Jackson, Roy Oswalt, Matt Garza and Hiroki Kuroda all make sense for the Royals.

27. Pittsburgh Pirates

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    I still see upside in James McDonald's arm. Jeff Karstens has excellent control. Charlie Morton has an excellent cutter. Erik Bedard was a terrific addition on a low-risk, potentially high-yield deal.

    All that is good news. The bad news is, there isn't anything more than a mid-rotation starter in that bunch, and even then, Kevin Correia needs to make 30 starts. Karstens has control but allows tons of home runs. McDonald lacks both control and command. Morton doesn't miss bats and does walk people, so when he doesn't have his cutter slicing nastily, he's eminently hittable. Bedard should be great, for all 100 innings he pitches.

    The Pirates have Jameson Taillon, Gerrit Cole and some other high-ceiling talent en route to the big leagues, but for now, their rotation is going to stifle any run at the NL Central early again.

26. New York Mets

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    Johan Santana is the wild card in the Mets' pitching equation. He could turn a lackluster rotation into a relatively sturdy one by pitching even 150 innings of Santana-like ball in 2012.

    It's not going to happen.

    With Santana a complete question mark, ace duty falls once again (by default) onto Dillon Gee, Jon Niese and R.A. Dickey. The Mets aren't just going to finish last in the NL East next season; they could be to the NL as the Orioles are to the AL.

25. Houston Astros

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    It's all about what Houston can get from Jordan Lyles and Kyle Weiland, and when.

    Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers are not long for the organization; they'll both be gone by July, if not much sooner. Bud Norris may yet have unrealized upside, and J.A. Happ has a weird career path but still a chance to be a decent back-end guy.

    That, however, is hardly enough.

    The Astros need Weiland and Lyles to step up and become solid pieces, thereby making Rodriguez and Myers more expendable and giving the team a steady core over which to build a truly competitive rotation.

24. Colorado Rockies

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    If every team needed eight starting pitchers, this would be a more impressive unit. In Drew Pomeranz, Alex White, Juan Nicasio and Tyler Chatwood, they have young hurlers with very limited big-league experience and some upside. In Jorge De La Rosa and Kevin Slowey, they have some veteran savvy.

    The only guy with real front-line upside, though, is Jhoulys Chacin. He's already the established ace, and the Rockies need him to be dominant in order to have a strong rotation.

    The rest of that corps is vastly overrated.

23. Oakland Athletics

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    Brandon McCarthy's control suddenly went from good to elite in 2011, making him into a fine facsimile of an ace and making both Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill expendable this winter. The skeleton of the rotation left behind, though, is not exactly inspiring.

    That's not to say there is no room for optimism. Dallas Braden has a perfect game under his belt, for crying out loud. Brett Anderson is young yet and has electric stuff, despite repeated injury problems.

    The real question, though, is how quickly Oakland can install the pieces it got in return for Gonzalez and Cahill. Jarrod Parker could be in the rotation by Opening Day; ditto Tom Milone.

    Brad Peacock, though, is probably a year away, making this rotation less than sparkling.

22. Minnesota Twins

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    They're still a bunch of pitch-to-contact innings-eaters without special anything, but with the addition of Jason Marquis, the Twins at least assured themselves of some depth. Francisco Liriano and Scott Baker are underrated. Marquis, Carl Pavano and Nick Blackburn should accrue value simply by volume.

    If a team must field a rotation like this, it could hardly happen in a better place. Target Field is huge, and the infield defense figures to be substantially better in 2012 than it was in 2011. 

21. Toronto Blue Jays

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    The Blue Jays will almost certainly add a starting pitcher yet this winter, be it through a trade or free agency. When they do, they will move up a long way on this list.

    In the meantime, though, it's the hard truth that they fall this far. After Ricky Romero (who is totally legitimate as a top guy), they have too many inconsistent or unproven players. Brandon Morrow can be great; he can also be terrible. Brett Cecil and Dustin McGowan are good pitchers, but injury-prone ones.

    Henderson Alvarez is the one complementary piece with serious upside risk in the short term.

20. Chicago Cubs

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    While it's going to get worse before the season starts, this rotation isn't all that bad, at the moment. Alongside ace Matt Garza, the Cubs have two very well-rounded veterans in Ryan Dempster and Carlos Zambrano; a brand-new southpaw in Travis Wood; relief convert candidate Jeff Samardzija; and complete enigmas Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner.

    Cashner might end up in the bullpen, simply because it's his best role, but the rest of that group still has a chance to be a good corps. By April, though, expect the team to have dealt at least one of the front three, and possibly all of them.

    In their stead will stand a currently available, unexciting free agent a la Paul Maholm or Jeff Francis. That group might rank in the bottom five rotations in baseball.

19. New York Yankees

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    A.J. Burnett will turn 35 in January. He might keep eating innings for the Yankees, but his production is not about to recover from the nose-dive it has taken the past two years. Phil Hughes looks like his stuff might never be quite the same after he inexplicably lost everything on his pitches last spring and struggled to rediscover even 80 percent of his former form through the summer and autumn. Ivan Nova had a fairly fluky rookie campaign, and Freddy Garcia had an even flukier 2011 revival.

    Aside from CC Sabathia, then, this is just not a good starting rotation. The other elements of this team will allow them to remain competitive, but in order to beat any of a handful of AL teams in the playoffs, the Yankees need serious starting pitching help.

18. Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Having the reigning Cy Young winner counts for something, but the Dodgers made a mistake in letting Hiroki Kuroda move on. Along with Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers have the aged Ted Lilly, the apparently gassed Chad Billingsley and two free-agent additions who artificially built value in 2011 by pitching in cavernous parks, in Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano. 

    Ned Colletti is a terrible GM, so no benefit of the doubt is due here. Those were bad signings, and they will probably come back to haunt the Dodgers in a big way.

17. Miami Marlins

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    Promise me Josh Johnson will stay healthy in 2012, and the Marlins rise near the top 10. In reality, however, I have Johnson penciled in for roughly 100 innings next season, meaning that Miami is going to struggle again to fill those innings. Alex Sanabia is a decent prospect and fine fill-in starter, but they don't go deeper than that.

    Meanwhile, Anibal Sanchez and Ricky Nolasco each have huge potential, but each has battled nagging injuries and occasional problems with leaving the ball up in the zone.

    Mark Buehrle was a bad investment; he's one or two years of fading velocity from being utterly unable to get big-league hitters out.

16. Seattle Mariners

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    This ranking is predicated on the assumption that Danny Hultzen will be in the big leagues really soon, possibly by Opening Day. He certainly impressed in the Arizona Fall League, and should get a fair shake during the spring thanks to having gotten a big-league deal as a draftee this summer.

    Felix Hernandez isn't going anywhere. He and Michael Pineda make a great duo at the front of the rotation. Jason Vargas doesn't really work as a three, though, so it's up to Hultzen to make him a four.

15. Chicago White Sox

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    Earlier this month, Sox GM Kenny Williams traded closer Sergio Santos and pledged to rebuild the team from the ground up. Two weeks into that program, it appears he may have been bluffing.

    John Danks just signed a five-year extension with the Sox, hardly the sort of thing a rebuilding team would normally do. In fact, trading Danks was a critical part of the blueprint for overhauling this roster and farm system.

    It may be an odd choice, but the Danks extension does solidify the team's rotation for 2012 and beyond. Gavin Floyd might yet be trade bait, but assuming that he stays (and Jake Peavy stays even moderately healthy), Chicago should have a solid staff.

14. Boston Red Sox

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    Admittedly, the Red Sox are thin through the back end of the rotation. Right now, they almost have to rely on Andrew Miller and Daniel Bard as starters, which calls their bullpen depth into question.

    The front of that rotation, though, remains solid and sturdy. Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz make up as good a front-end trio as any in the AL East.

    They're certainly better off than the Yankees.

13. Cleveland Indians

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    Call me crazy, but I like Ubaldo Jimenez to bounce back and have a very strong, rotation-leading 2012. He'll also have Justin Masterson at his side in that endeavor. Between those two, Derek Lowe and Fausto Carmona, the Indians are going to be better than any other team in baseball at keeping the ball on the ground.

    For this rotation to hold up and make the team competitive in 2012, Jimenez needs to be himself. After a season during which he arguably was never at full strength, perhaps he has a second breakout in him.

12. Cincinnati Reds

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    The acquisition of Mat Latos gave Cincinnati the confidence to deal Travis Wood, even after they included Edinson Volquez in the Latos deal itself. Since the Reds last had a true ace in the time of Jose Rijo, though, their enthusiasm is understandable.

    Add Johnny Cueto to Latos and you get a solid pair of aces. Homer Bailey, Mike Leake, Bronson Arroyo and Aroldis Chapman will have to pick up the slack from there. If Chapman develops quickly as a starter, look out, world. 

11. St. Louis Cardinals

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    Chris Carpenter bore a workload heavier than any pitcher had in a decade in order to make the Cardinals World Series champions in 2011. He isn't going to hold up well, or return a ton of value, in 2012.

    Still, the Cards will have a top-tier rotation.

    That's thanks to Adam Wainwright and Shelby Miller. Wainwright missed all of last season after Tommy John surgery, but he'll be 14 months clear of it by Opening Day and should be back to full strength. Miller, meanwhile, reached Double-A at age 20, struck out 170 in fewer than 140 innings and posted a 2.77 ERA last year. He could be in St. Louis for good by the All-Star break.

    Along with that group, the Cardinals have veterans Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook, and the undersold Jaime Garcia as a supporting cast. That's going to make the loss of Albert Pujols a lot easier to take.

10. Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Daniel Hudson is way underrated; Trevor Cahill and Ian Kennedy are a tad overrated. No matter, the Diamondbacks have depth and a broad spectrum of skills throughout their rotation.

    The league is going to figure out Josh Collmenter soon, and Wade Miley is a fringy starter, but Trevor Bauer is but six or eight more weeks of minor-league ball from being big league-ready. If he or Tyler Skaggs can come up and have an immediate impact on this rotation, the Diamondbacks are going to be scary.

9. Milwaukee Brewers

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    However miserable their positional outlook might be in 2012, the Brewers still have a top-shelf starting rotation.

    Zack Greinke is the ace, but Yovani Gallardo is not far behind, and even if you don't believe in the long-term viability of Randy Wolf or Shaun Marcum, Wily Peralta is on his way.

    The Crew must stay healthy, because they lack pitching depth, but the top six or seven guys to whom they can hand the ball remain a very good group.

8. Detroit Tigers

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    He didn't deserve the AL MVP, but Justin Verlander is a true ace, and a hell of a pitcher. He should hurl another 230-plus innings in 2012, taking a good deal of pressure off some of his teammates.

    The rest of the rotation has a lot of interesting, but no especially comforting names. Max Scherzer remains susceptible to wildness; Doug Fister remains plain old overrated. Rick Porcello is a decent pitcher, once one accepts that he is never going to reach what was once a cathedral-high ceiling.

    It comes down, then, to the contributions of one or two rookie pitchers. Jacob Turner looked ready for his big break in 2011, and should get first crack at the job. Andy Oliver, however, is a sound alternative.

7. Texas Rangers

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    I love the Rangers rotation, and would love to pump them up even more. Objectively, though, there is risk here than can't be ignored.

    Neftali Feliz will make the move from closer to starter in 2012, and while he has the stuff and repeatable, easy delivery to do it, that's a tough transition. So is the transition from Nippon Professional Baseball to MLB, and while Yu Darvish is a generational Japanese talent, he may not be a true ace Stateside.

    Derek Holland is inconsistent, to be kind. Matt Harrison gains and loses his slider as the tides move. Colby Lewis regressed in 2011, but not in any undue way. He was, to some modest extent, smoke and mirrors in 2010. There are a lot of questions here, and no clear ace.

6. Atlanta Braves

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    Flat rotations are fine, especially when they run as deep as the Braves' does. On a team with a terrible offense and without the ability to consistently avoid injuries, though, that roster construction is less valuable.

    Tommy Hanson, Brandon Beachy and Tim Hudson all are legitimate front-end starters. None, however, is an ace. Jair Jurrjens and Mike Minor are more like quality back-end pieces than true studs, and Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado and Arodys Vizcaino are all a year or two from their peak value. Each will be a fine contributor, but the Braves lack a true ace right now and injury risk hangs stormily over at least three of these names.

    That said, what a treasure trove of talent. If they stay healthy and the young guys mature ahead of schedule, this is a top-three rotation.

5. Washington Nationals

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    This is the main attraction, in light of recent events.

    Stephen Strasburg will not get much past 150 innings this year, but they should be some really exciting innings. Gonzalez must corral his command now that he is pitching in a non-football stadium, but his potential value to the staff is clear. He will miss bats, a lot of them.

    Jordan Zimmermann might be the secret ace of this group. He will rack up 200-plus innings, and with his command, they could be magic. He's one of the superstars no one knows about yet.

4. Tampa Bay Rays

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    Matt Moore, meanwhile, is no secret. He is the toast of Tampa Bay, the man who shut out the Rangers over seven innings in his playoff debut and who signed a contract that should keep him with the Rays through 2019.

    He may or may not be an immediate ace; my money is on yes. Even if he struggles, though, the Rays will have David Price, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson and whichever of Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann are not dealt to pick up the slack.

    That's a really impressive corps, and based on their recent history, they should be able to maximize the value of those assets.

3. San Francisco Giants

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    How quickly the world forgot the 2010 World Series champions.

    Tim Lincecum is still in business. Matt Cain had his best year ever in 2011, though no one noticed. Even so, the Giants leader in pitching WAR was the very young, utterly dominant Madison Bumgarner.

    Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong don't make up an entirely reassuring back end of the rotation, but it may be that this is the best top trio in the game, so it doesn't matter much. 

2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

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    Few people on Earth demurred C.J. Wilson's free-agent value to the extent that I did, so this ranking should tell you a bit about my confidence in both Dan Haren and Jered Weaver.

    Haren was a quietly brilliant get for ousted GM Tony Reagins, though he gave up two solid pitchers in the process. After years of struggling with home-run vulnerability, Haren has leveraged a roomy home park in Anaheim into some of the best raw numbers of his career. He and Weaver are each extreme fly-ball types, but they couldn't take that tack in a better place.

    Not only does the park work to their advantage, but the Angels' insanely athletic outfield makes a lot of well-hit flies into outs.

1. Philadelphia Phillies

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    Roy Halladay. Cliff Lee. Cole Hamels. It doesn't matter much what comes after that. The Phillies did not need Roy Oswalt in order to retain the right to be called "best rotation in baseball," so they let him go.

    It would come as no surprise if Ruben Amaro made a starting pitching addition yet this winter, though of course it would be minor. Even if he lets this be, a rotation featuring that top three, plus rookie sensation Vance Worley and Joe Blanton, would hardly be shaky.