Not too long after John Danks was given a five-year extension, Oakland Athletics starter Gio Gonzalez was shipped to the Washington Nationals for four prospects. He was always primed to be over-valued on the trade market, and the four prospects are really too much for a No. 2 starter who is about a 3-3.5 WAR pitcher at this point. Gio is just 26 and has upside, but I don’t think he’s worth as much as A.J. Cole, Brad Peacock, Derek Norris, and Tom Milone.
Cole is the best prospect in this deal and has a chance of being as good as Gonzalez, and he was one of the best three prospects in the Nationals farm system before this trade. In a few years, Cole should have an absolutely amazing fastball and at least a solid curve, but he could really take it to the next level if he’s able to work on his changeup. Cole’s change is nothing special at this point, but he could have a real trifecta of pitches if he can effectively build it into at least a plus pitch. This is a pitcher who has a legitimate shot at becoming a No. 1 starter one day, and I can definitely see his curveball becoming a very good pitch for him. However, a lot hinges on that changeup; he should be able to develop at least a decent change.
Brad Peacock is another high-line pitching prospect, but nobody is sure if he’ll end up as a starter or reliever in the Majors. He doesn’t have the best control out there and might not end up being a very durable pitcher, but Peacock does have a strong fastball. Most people aren’t sold on his knucklecurve yet, and his changeup needs a lot of work before it becomes anything resembling a threat to hitters. He will probably end up being a set-up man, but that’s not bad for a guy who was an afterthought before a breakout 2011. Peacock was a 41st rounder, and it should be noted that his smaller frame and significantly higher velocity in shorter outings make him better suited for a move as a high-leverage reliever (SU).
Catching prospect Derek Norris may not be a catcher for much longer, as his defense is still inadequate for the position despite improvements made defensively. That being said, Norris is the kind of prospect that has been synonymous with Athletics hitting prospects over the years. He draws a ton of walks and has never had an OBP under .360 during the last five stints. Norris has quite a bit of power, a .237 ISO last season, but it should be noted that his lowest K% over the last three stints was 23.6% in 2010 (a career-high 27.7% last year).
It seems like Norris took a step backwards last season, as his 129 wRC+ was his lowest in his last four seasons of minor league ball. However, it should be noted that he a .251 BABIP and had his best season in terms of power. As stated earlier, Norris struck out more than usual last season as well. He needs to have a better 2012 season, because he was a slight disappointment in 2011; next year will go a long way in predicting his future.
The worst prospect in this deal is Tom Milone, and he isn’t even a poor prospect at that; just an overrated one. While it is true that he has great command, that doesn’t really mean much when his fastball rarely ever hits 90. Milone does keep hitters off-balance, but I don’t think he can go very far with that. That said, he isn’t exactly a bad prospect and should end up as a back-of-the-rotation starter or above-average middle reliever. There isn’t much to like about Milone, but his cutter and change should help him have some success in the MLB. He’s got three above-average pitches to go with an underwhelming fastball, but he really doesn’t have much upside.
Now the real pitcher in this deal is Gio Gonzalez, and the lefty (who bats righty) was worth 3.5 WAR last season after a 3.2 WAR 2010 season. 26 fans on FanGraphs believe that he is a 3.1 WAR pitcher, although it should be noted that Bill James projects him to have a slightly worse FIP. However, he would be a 3 WAR pitcher under both models, and that’s really his value at this point. But of course, Gonzalez is just 26 and should be a 4 WAR pitcher one day.
The Nationals will be able to have Gonzalez under team control for four seasons, so they will be able to trot him out there while he’s still in his prime. That’s definitely important when looking at a No. 2 starter, and it somewhat justifies all the prospects that the Nats parted ways with. Gonzalez needs to work on his control and isn’t nearly as good as the basic stats indicate, but he’s a good pitcher who will greatly boost a poor Nationals rotation.
I can see where this deal makes sense for the Nats, and it lies in the prospects they gave away. The Nats didn’t have much use for Derek Norris, and they felt that trading A.J. Cole and two pitchers who will likely be relievers in the future was fair value for an established starter. Not only that, but Gio Gonzalez should be worth somewhere around 16 WAR over four seasons. Gonzalez is now the staff ace in a rotation that previously only had two quality starters in Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann.
Billy Beane received a great haul for Gonzalez, and the A’s are obviously looking to stock their farm system with high-end talent. They received more than Gonzalez’s overall value, and that’s really what counts for the A’s. Four quality prospects, including one elite pitching prospect in A.J. Cole and a Beane-favorite in Norris, is enough to make me like this deal for the A’s. The Nats gave up too much talent, but they were able to add that No. 2 starter they coveted.
Be sure to check out all of Call to the Pen’s transaction breakdowns for the 2011-12 offseason.