In exchange for Gonzalez, a 26-year-old who has won 15-plus games and thrown 200-plus innings in each of the past two seasons, the Nationals are giving up three pitching prospects — right-handers Brad Peacock and A.J. Cole, and lefty Tommy Milone — plus catching prospect Derek Norris. Peacock, Cole and Norris ranked third, fourth and ninth, respectively, in Baseball America’s recent list of the Nationals’ top prospects.
The package was less than the one the Nationals were willing to send to the Royals for Greinke a year ago: That deal would have cost the Nationals at least one from a group that included Zimmermann, closer Drew Storen or second baseman Danny Espinosa, plus additional prospects.
At the same time, Gonzalez, a first-time all-star in 2011, is not without flaws. A power arm who ranked fourth in the American League in 2011 with 8.78 strikeouts per nine innings, he also led the league in walks, with 91, a year after finishing second with 90. It also appears he benefited from pitching in Oakland’s cavernous Coliseum the past four seasons, recording a career ERA of 3.56 at home versus 4.32 on the road.
The trade was the fourth of Gonzalez’s career since the Chicago White Sox drafted him as a sandwich-round pick (38th overall) in 2004.
Still, the Nationals, whose offseason to this point had been marked by high-profile misses and low-profile hits, suddenly have taken a major step in their quest to contend for a playoff spot as soon as 2012. With Strasburg, Zimmermann and Gonzalez atop their rotation, the Nationals have three young, controllable power arms that could form the nucleus of a formidable pitching staff for the next four-plus years. (Gonzalez doesn’t become arbitration-eligible until 2013 and is under team control until 2015.)
“Whatever team is willing to . . . put me in their rotation,” Gonzalez said Wednesday in an appearance on MLB Network Radio, regarding a possible trade, “I’d be more than happy to shine like a star there.”
The Nationals reportedly also are receiving a throw-in, pitching prospect Rob Gilliam, in the trade. A 24-year-old right-hander, Gilliam went 12-7 with a 5.04 ERA for high-Class A Stockton (Calif.) in 2011.
The trade, which cost the Nationals dearly in prospects but relatively little in dollars, is certain to renew speculation that the Nationals will make a run at free agent first baseman Prince Fielder, whose price tag could hit $25 million per year for seven or more years, in an all-out effort to contend next season with Philadelphia, Atlanta and Florida in the suddenly ultra-competitive NL East division.