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Gio Gonzalez is 31-21 with a 3.17 ERA (and 183 walks) the last two seasons.
The Nationals, to no one's surprise, are interested. General manager Mike Rizzo checked in with counterpart Billy Beane during the Winter Meetings, though came away at the time feeling like Beane's asking price -- three or four top prospects -- was far too high.
Two weeks later, has that price come down? Or is Rizzo willing to give up more now than he was then? Or are the two sides not nearly as close to completing a trade as it might appear?
We should have an answer to all of those questions in the near future, but for now let's talk about the real issue in this matter: What is an appropriate package of prospects to send the A's in exchange for Gonzalez?
That first depends on what kind of pitcher we believe Gonzalez will be over the next several years. We know what he was the last two seasons: 31-21 with a sparkling 3.17 ERA, having made 32-33 starts while racking up 200-202 innings. That's pretty solid, and because he's been virtually the same exact pitcher two years in a row, it's probably safe to say this wasn't a fluke.
On the other hand, there are a few red flags that need to be pointed out, most notably Gonzalez's struggles to find the strike zone. Do you know what pitcher leads the majors in total walks issued the last two seasons? Yep, Gio Gonzalez with a staggering 183 free passes (13 more than anyone else in the business).
This stat obviously correlates to the last one, but it bears mentioning: Gonzalez throws only 60 percent of his pitches for strikes. That ranks dead-last among the 77 big-league starters who have qualified for the ERA title the last two seasons.
Now, to be fair, there are some stats on the other end of the ledger that support Gonzalez's status as a true front-line starter. For example, over the last two years he has surrendered only 7.7 hits per nine innings. That's a better rate than Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Tim Lincecum and CC Sabathia have posted.
And any discussion of Gonzalez's value has to include the fact he is under club control for four more seasons (he's arbitration-eligible this winter for the first time as a "Super-2" player).
So, knowing all that, what's an appropriate package of prospects to give up for the 26-year-old? The names being bandied about include the likes of Brad Peacock, Derek Norris and A.J. Cole. Peacock and Cole were listed third and fourth among all Nationals prospects this offseason, behind only Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon, according to Baseball America's annual rankings. Pretty steep price to include either, if not both, of those players.
Norris has fallen down the ladder a bit (BA listed him ninth in the system this winter) but that's more a reflection of the number of top draft picks the Nationals have stockpiled the last few years. He's still highly regarded inside and outside the organization, and after a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League still projects to most as a power-hitting, big-league catcher with a high on-base percentage.
Now, the Nationals do boast more depth at catcher than perhaps anywhere else in their system, and it doesn't look like anyone is going to supplant Wilson Ramos behind the plate at Nationals Park anytime soon. So Norris is expendable, if he's used to bring something of real significance back to D.C.
So what do you think? Would you trade Peacock, Cole and Norris (plus perhaps another minor leaguer) for Gonzalez? Seems like a really steep price. But Rizzo has consistently said one of the primary reasons for building up a deep farm system is the ability to deal away some of those players for a premier big leaguer who can help you right now.
That time may finally have come.