Since 2009, there is always one team we hear in on every big free agent. Whether it be Mark Teixeira, Cliff Lee, or C.J. Wilson, they were in on them. Whether it was a $100 million contract, or a 10-year contract, they were throwing them out there.
But, time after time, they were rejected, spurned and beat down.
That team was the Washington Nationals.
It seems bizarre, doesn't it? Granted, they are a small-market team that has had their issues, but they are also a team with one of the best third basemen in the game in Ryan Zimmerman. They are a team with one of the most highly-touted pair of prospects in decades in Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. And who can forget the bullpen? They might have one of the best 8-9 combos in baseball in Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen.
Now that we're heading into 2012, it seems the Nationals have finally had enough. I can only imagine Mike Rizzo is saying, "You know what MLB? Bring it!"
And so, if you can't beat them, outsmart them.
And that's exactly what Rizzo did today, as it was announced that the Oakland Athletics will be trading Gio Gonzalez to the Washington Nationals. In return, the A's land A.J. Cole, Brad Peacock, Tom Milone and Derek Norris. This is nothing short of a win for the Washington Nationals.
Just look at what the Nats have landed. Gio Gonzalez, a left-handed work horse who was not short on suitors this winter. Gonzalez finished last season 16-12 with a 3.12 ERA in 202 innings. Control issues were there for Gonzalez, evident by his 4.05 BB/9, but sometimes a little wild is okay.
Gonzalez also benefited from pitching his home games in a pitchers' park. At home, he had a 2.70 ERA, contrasted by a 3.62 ERA away. FIP/xFIP say that his ERA should have been closer to a 3.60-3.70 range.
Who cares? Mike Rizzo doesn't. So, Gonzalez benefited from pitching in a pitchers' park. Well, now he gets to move from a hitter's league to a pitchers' league. Even more so, he is moving to the NL East. Besides the revamped Miami Marlins, and his new team the Washington Nationals, there's no team in the NL East with a worthwhile lineup. One could make an argument for the Philadelphia Phillies, but who knows what happens with Ryan Howard, and that offensive core isn't getting any younger.
With the addition of Gonzalez, not only do the Nationals feature a solid lineup, but finally have a rotation they can brag about. We all know Stephen Strasburg is going to be amazing, especially now that he's healthy. Jordan Zimmermann exploded onto the scene last season, posting a 3.18 ERA and a 4.00 K/BB. Now they add Gio Gonzalez into the mix; good golly Miss Molly!
With all of this said and done, the biggest win for the Nationals is what they had to give up. Granted, they traded two MLB-ready arms in Peacock and Milone, but neither were ready for Gonzalez-like numbers in 2012. They also turned over A.J. Cole, who is a touted arm, but has a long way to go. The final piece in the deal, Derek Norris, had struggled mightily the last two seasons (.813 OPS in 2011 at Double-A).
Cole has high upside, but in 2011 the Nationals drafted TCU ace Matt Purke. Purke has a power arm and will make it to the majors sooner than Cole. Derek Norris has high-power upside, but he was blocked by Wilson Ramos, who is the more superior and complete player.
Oakland certainly received a great haul in the trade, but the Nationals' drafting over the years insures there's still some great depth in the farm. Even better is they got to keep their two aces, Strasburg and Zimmermann, as well as powerhouse Bryce Harper.
With Harper shooting through the system, Washington could be on the verge of taking over the NL East. The offensive clout is there, and now they finally have the complete rotation they've been desperately seeking.
Kudos to you, Mike Rizzo; you never gave up and have finally acquired your man. National League watch out, the Nationals are on the rise!