Gonzalez is proven, in his prime, and under team control for the next four seasons. By 2013, will Stephen Strasburg (then able to pitch a full season), Jordan Zimmermann and Gonzalez be as dominant as any trio in baseball? Pitchers break — sometimes your heart. But it’s a sensible discussion.
The last two seasons combined, Gonzalez, Wilson and Price all had 31 wins with respective ERAs of 3.17, 3.14 and 3.12, plus nearly a strikeout-an-inning in a pair of 200-inning years. The others did it on winners. Gio did it with the Athletics, 14 games under .500. Gonzalez was on fire in September, 2.20 ERA, fanned 11 in his last start and has a southpaw curve as good as any.
Out of Gio, Jordan and “Jesus,” only Strasburg, the most gifted, could be called unproven. Last year, Gonzalez and Zimmermann were 10th in their respective leagues in ERA.
Best case: With good health, think Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito from 2001 through ’04 in Oakland: 198-99. Worst case: Some blow out, everybody cries, the universal nightmare. But the Nats are now 100 percent in the fight. And, with their payroll not increased by the deal, which was made official on Friday — they got Gonzalez for four prospects — the Nats should not be finished this winter.
We may never know exactly what happened inside the Nationals in the days leading up to a mega-trade that, quite soon, may be seen as the moment D.C.’s franchise went from competence to contending. But we know plenty.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the industry outside the D.C. area was buzzing: When are the Nats going to pull the trigger — on anything? It’s always like this with them. Why build a good farm system if, just once, you won’t do a prospects-for-star trade with a poor team? The Nats baseball people are “anguished and distraught” they can’t get a big deal approved.
This familiar pattern, with half the offseason already gone and a four-for-one trade (with a throw-in minor leaguer from Oakland) probably floundering, precipitated my column Thursday. When the Gonzalez deal was done the next day, I shook my head. And grinned.
Has Ted Lerner figured out how to laugh last? For 21
2 years, he said “no” to almost everything and paid a high price. All the losses in 2008 and ’09 changed his view. Does he now use the world around him as an indicator of when to act, like “blood in the streets” for stocks? If enough execs, scouts, stat folk, ex-star consultants, agents, media and fans reach for their pitchforks, does he say, “Time for a ‘value guy’ to act”? Or does he learn from his mistakes, but only when he’s reminded of them?
Maybe it doesn’t matter. Whatever the method, the Lerners have risked $126 million on one free agent, paid over slot in three straight drafts to stock their system, and risked four prospects for one all-star lefty.