Could the Nationals have trumped the Cubs' offer for Matt Garza? Probably not.

Adam Kilgore
Copyright 2011
Sunday, January 9, 2011; 8:42 PM

The Chicago Cubs and Tampa Bay Rays have apparently agreed upon a framework for a trade that would send Matt Garza to Chicago and four Cubs prospects to Tampa Bay, according to a report by the Daily Herald of suburban Chicago. The potential would strike something of a minor blow to the Nationals, who were interested in a trade for Garza. The Rays have six starting pitchers and are trying to slash payroll, which made Garza, who is eligible for arbitration this season and under team control through 2013, available. He may have been the last, best shot for General Manager Mike Rizzo to add a legitimate frontline starter for the start of the 2011 season. But considering the reported offer, the Nationals likely didn't stand much of a chance. Baseball America's Jim Callis, a foremost authority on minor league prospects, said it would have been difficult - and not worth it - for the Nationals to match the Cubs' offer. Per the Daily Herald's report, the Cubs will send Chris Archer (a top pitcher), Hak-Ju Lee (a middle infielder), Brandon Guyer (an outfielder) and Robinson Chirinos (a catcher). Archer, Lee and Guyer all rank among the Cubs' top prospects. "If the Cubs are willing to give that up, it would be hard for the Nationals to match," Callis said. "They'd probably be better off not matching." While the Nationals were interested in a trade with Garza, it is not known how much engagement they had with the Rays. But for the Nationals to offer a package of similar value, Callis said, they would need to include infielder Danny Espinosa, catcher Derek Norris and Jordan Zimmermann - their projected starting second baseman, a catcher who is regarded as their third-best position player prospect and a pitcher who could emerge as their best starter this season. One issue for the Nationals, when they attempt to trade prospects for an elite major leaguer, is that their farm system "is not real deep," Callis said, particularly in regard to starting pitching. The Nationals have some potential major league starters, such as Tom Milone, Brad Peacock and Danny Rosenbaum, but leading experts, Callis among them, don't project them as stars. The Nationals' most recent draft could change that - left-hander Sammy Solis and right-hander A.J. Cole are both highly regarded, Callis said. (Cole ranked fourth on this year's top 10 list of Nationals prospects, with Solis sixth.) But because they were selected in the 2010 draft, neither is eligible to be traded (not that the Nationals would be quick to dangle them if they were). At the moment, the Nationals' trading several of their best young players would likely open as large of a hole as the spot the fill.Rizzo has done well to improve the farm system on his watch; it's deeper now than it has been in the past and includes some massive potential at the top with Bryce Harper. But they have not yet reached the point where they can trade away key pieces of their farm system and still be content with its condition.

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