July 20, 2024

Shiny New Penny

December 30, 2011 by · 2 Comments 

Years ago such a small thing as finding a shiny new penny could brighten the day of a small child. Nationals fans are a mature lot, but the Nationals acquisition of Gio Gonzalez has added a little of that magic back into their new year’s equation.

There is real baseball value from adding the hard throwing Oakland left-hander who averaged almost a strikeout an inning last season. The Nationals rotation–fronting Strasburg, Gonzalez and Zimmermann–will feature the “K” this season like no DC team has since 2005. It was in that first year that Esteban Loaiza and John Patterson put up gaudy numbers, each approaching a strikeout an inning before their careers faded into sepia-toned memories.

Gio Gonzalez transforms the Nationals rotation from having just two of the best young arms in the National League: Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, into one of the deepest and most dangerous. As real as that value is, its importance compounds when stacked up against the moves of the NL East Florida Marlins. When they signed Jose Reyes and outbid the Nationals for Mark Buerhle, the value of adding Gonzalez became critical.

Playing eighteen games next year against NL East teams like the Phillies and Braves was daunting enough, but when Florida added Reyes to a lineup that boasts Hanley Ramirez and Mike Stanton, Washington’s standing as a team on the rise was suddenly in jeopardy. Gio Gonzalez was Mike Rizzo saying to the Marlins, “I see your Mark Buerhle and raise you a Gio Gonzalez.”  Mark Buerhle is one of the most consistent pitchers in the game today, but adding Gonzalez is a substantial raise indeed.

The Nationals finished third in the NL East last season, winning 21 more games than they did in their back-to-back, 100-loss seasons in 2009-2010. The true value of Jayson Werth for the 2011 Nationals cannot be calculated in his OPS or BPA, but rather comes from the validation he and Adam LaRoche gave to a young team searching for identity.

Gio Gonzalez has similar potential. He ranked in the top ten in strikeouts, wins, and ERA among all American League pitchers and is only 26, just entering the prime of his career. He has proven himself in ways that Zimmermann and Strasburg hope to do in 2012.

It is difficult to determine which of the two: Jordan Zimmermann or Stephen Strasburg, is more driven to succeed. Each has shown remarkable resilience in battling back from arm surgery in the shortest possible time. Halladay, Hamels and Lee are money in the bank, but Davey Johnson must feel pretty good about who he will slot into the lineup against the best in the NL and how dependable they will be.

Chien-Ming Wang pitched well at the end of the 2011 season, getting stronger every time he went out. He appeared to be reaching the form he had in his two 19-win seasons with the Yankees. There was enough there to hope that along with John Lannan and Ross Detwiler, the Nationals can throw some of the best arms in the NL East every game they play.

Most talent scouts believe the Nationals gave up more than they should have to get Gonzalez. It is a fair point that anyone who followed the emergence of Brad Peacock last season would readily concede. The four players Oakland received were all among the best in the Nationals vastly improved farm system.

But at some point you quit building for tomorrow and GM Mike Rizzo decided it is time to make the move for today.

Gonzalez is just one part of a Nationals payroll that will be considerably higher in 2012. When raises for other emerging stars like Michael Morse and Tyler Clippard are factored in, the total is likely to be in the $80 million range. Yet there is still plenty of room to add one more offensive weapon. The Nationals appear to be in the running for Yeonis Cespedes along with the ever pesky Marlins. Do the Fish have enough left in the bank for one more big signing?

Whether the Nationals get the Youtube wunderkind or not, they are likely to add a center fielder and someone who can run down fly balls in the out field expanse of Nationals Park. One thing that is certain, whoever Mike Rizzo signs, he will fit the very demanding mold Rizzo works from. The Nationals GM has been out bid when the numbers started to spiral out of control for C.J. Wilson and Buerhle, but he kept his chips for the right move when it came along.

He cannot trade away any more of the future talent. Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon are not going anywhere. But Rizzo has some coin left. The book is still out on Yeonis Cespedes. He hit 33 home runs in his last season in Cuba and has an exciting profile that comes largely from a power bat. But is he ready to play every day in the majors though? The answers to that question vary. However, there is one variable with less guess work. Anyone who has seen the videos know that Cespedes could add the same kind of electricity to the Nationals lineup that Strasburg did on the mound. That may well be worth the gamble.

So will the end game for Washington be to go all in on both Cespedes and Jorge Soler? Nationals scouts have watched Cespedes work out more than a dozen times and have invested nearly as much time in Soler. Are they the kind of players Rizzo wants? The answer will come early in 2012.

Regardless the verdict, Nationals fans are likely to walk through the gates this coming April with that magic feeling–the same one they had in March 2008 when Nationals Park opened for the first time and there was something shiny and new to explore. Gio Gonzalez may have cost a fortune in loot, but he could be worth the cost.  Adding him to this young Washington team says in bold letters, “Its going to be a very Happy New Year.”



2 Responses to “Shiny New Penny”
  1. Thanks for the tip of the hat.


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