Nats pay the price, get Gio Gonzalez from the A’s

Everyone thought Billy Beane was nuts when he asked the Yankees for Jesus Montero and top pitching prospects for Gio Gonzalez, but he stuck to his guns and ended up getting a monster haul for the walk prone left-hander. Keith Law reports that Gonzalez has been traded to the Nationals for four prospects: catcher Derek Norris and right-handers A.J. Cole, Brad Peacock, and Tom Milone. Peacock, Cole, and Norris were recently ranked as the numbers three, four, and nine prospects in Washington’s system by Baseball America.

Since I know so many of you will ask, a comparable Yankees package would have been something like Manny Banuelos, David Phelps, Adam Warren, and Austin Romine. I’m not Brad Peacock’s biggest fan, so chances are I’m underselling the comparable Yankees package a bit. There was a lot of speculation about Gio and the Yankees, but it was never much more than that. They never seemed hot on his trail, and I don’t blame them.

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The remaining pitching market

If the Yankees don’t make a move for a pitcher this off-season, it won’t be for lack of options. To this point we’ve seen two free agent signings, an NPB posting, and two trades involving pitchers who would represent an upgrade to the Yankees. Perhaps they think that the prices to acquire these pitchers does not match the upgrade they’d receive, but the opportunities are there nonetheless. Brian Cashman figures to have a few more chances to upgrade later this winter, as there are a number of actually or reportedly available pitchers.

Hiroki Kuroda

In terms of pure results, he’s the best available arm. His 3.31 ERA since 2009 ranks 23rd among all qualified starters. Even better, he’s reportedly seeking a one-year contract at a reasonable $12 or $13 million. The Yankees have been frequently connected to Kuroda, and it stands to reason that they’ll remain involved until he does sign somewhere.

While he does have the top results, there are some downsides to Kuroda. For instance, the hitters on the Rays, Orioles, Red Sox, and Blue Jays are better than those on the Padres, Rockies, Giants, and Diamondbacks. The AL East also features more hitter-friendly parks than the NL West. Then there’s Kuroda’s age, 37. A one-year deal helps limit some of that risk, but if he shows decline in 2012 he might not present much of an upgrade.

Wandy Rodriguez

Not far behind Kuroda in terms of results is Wandy Rodriguez. The Astros shopped him at last year’s trade deadline, but the Yankees weren’t interested unless Houston paid a significant portion of his remaining salary. He’s owed $36 million for the next three years, because his 2014 option becomes a player option if traded. That makes him much less attractive, meaning Houston will have to kick in some cash if they want to trade him. While they showed reluctance earlier in the off-season, they now appear willing to make that trade-off.

Not only does the NL Central have a number of top-flight hitters, but none of them actually play for the Astros. That is, Rodriguez has the burden of facing all of these elite hitters. The closest they ever had was Hunter Pence, but he wasn’t even a top-five hitter in the division. That does make him look a bit more attractive. He also has fewer pitchers’ parks in the division. Yet the Yankees appear not at all interested. That’s probably because of the commitment length. Were Rodriguez signed only through 2013 they might be more on board. But three years to a pitcher you’re not totally sold on? While Rodriguez might help, it’s understandable why the Yankees are shying away.

Roy Oswalt

In the last three years, despite multiple bouts with lower back injuries, Oswalt has accumulated a 3.46 ERA in 531 innings. All told that’s a pretty solid accomplishment. Since we just discussed Oswalt yesterday there’s no need to elaborate further. He remains a tantalizing yet risky option.

Gio Gonzalez

There has been no shortage of Gio Gonzalez news this winter. The A’s seem pretty intent on trading him, and judging by how slowly they’re moving they’re also trying to extract every last drop of value from another team. This makes complete sense. Gonzalez ranks 39th in ERA among all starters from 2009-2011, despite his horrible 2009 showing. He’s been among the best in terms of results the last two seasons. Even when you look at only his away stats, he still fares pretty well: 3.96 ERA in 238.2 innings since 2009. That takes away some of the concern that he’s the product of a large ballpark.

The Nationals were rumored to be pushing hard for Gonzalez, offering up a four-for-one trade that will involve prospects Brad Peacock and Derek Norris, among others. Still, four-for-one deals can get complicated, since they typically lack top-end quality. Today on ESPN.com, Jim Bowden suggested a few trades for Gonzalez (subscription required). For the Yankees he suggests Dellin Betances, David Phelps, and Austin Romine. Since Gonzalez has four years remaining of team control, this could work out for the Yankees. The only catch: Oakland might find a better package, and one that fits their needs better, elsewhere.

Matt Garza

Garza represents an interesting option, if only because he’s experienced success in the AL East. But the Cubs are apparently asking for a lot. Would the Yankees be willing to trade Banuelos and at least one other top-five prospect (Gary Sanchez or Mason Williams), plus other pieces, to get the last two years of Garza’s pre-free agency years? It seems unlikely. While he’s been good, he might be a bit more expensive than other pitchers. If he costs more than Gonzalez, he certainly isn’t worth it.

John Danks

You can check out our large and growing John Danks archive for various takes on the 27-year-old left-hander. He’s an enticing option for a few reasons. He’s been solid for the last four years, he has AL experience and in a hitters’ park no less, and he is conceivably someone the Yanks could sign long-term after the 2012 season. The issue, as with Garza, is that the White Sox are asking the moon for him. It’s simply not worth a top-five prospect for a player who will reach free agency after this season. At a price more commensurate with his overall value, Danks could be the best target on the board.

Edwin Jackson

A free agent, Jackson requires just one resource to acquire: money. The Yankees have that in abundance, though they’re seemingly not throwing it around this off-season. They might also be reluctant to sign Jackson for four years. As with Oswalt, we covered Edwin Jackson recently, so there’s no need to dive any deeper into his case. He’s there for the taking and could represent an upgrade in the Yanks rotation.

That brings us to a dozen candidates who could have upgraded, or still might upgrade, the Yanks rotation in 2012. All of the candidates, save for Darvish, have sported ERAs under 4.00 since 2009. They’ve all thrown a good number of innings, and everyone on the list, save for Oswalt and maybe Latos, has been relatively healthy. If the Yankees are serious about upgrading their rotation, they’ll connect on one of these 12 options, even though there are just seven remaining.

Report: A’s wanted Montero and top pitching prospects for Gio

Via Andy Martino, the Athletics asked the Yankees for Jesus Montero and “top pitching prospects” when they inquired about left-baller Gio Gonzalez earlier this winter. A few weeks ago we heard that the A’s wanted young, high-end outfielders in return for the 26-year-old, but the Yankees don’t have any of those to offer and it was before Oakland got Collin Cowgill in the Trevor Cahill deal. Considering that Mat Latos just got traded for something less than Montero plus “top pitching prospects,” this was probably an easy no for the braintrust.

Resizing the market for Danks and Gonzalez

As the Yankees scour the market for upgrades to the starting rotation, two names appear more frequently than the rest: John Danks and Gio Gonzalez. Both are reportedly available, and both fit well into the Yankees rotation. The major obstacle, as is the case in all trade negotiations, is the price. The White Sox reportedly want Jesus Montero and Manny Banuelos for Danks, and the A’s want young, high-end outfielders for Gonzalez. The Yankees don’t want to surrender one of Montero and Banuelos for Danks, and they don’t have young, high-end outfielders to trade for Gonzalez. This might seemingly rule them out on both, but a recent trade might have changed the market a bit.

This weekend the A’s moved one pitcher out of their rotation, sending Trevor Cahill to the Diamondbacks. In return they received prospects Jarrod Parker, Collin Cowgill, and Ryan Cook. Despite the void Cahill leaves in the A’s rotation, it’s reported that they’ll continue listening to offers for Gonzalez. The equation has changed a bit, given the return they got for Cahill. While that in some ways might benefit the Yankees’ pursuit of Gonzalez, or even Danks, it hurts it in other ways.

The A’s Needs

As Mike mentioned last week, the A’s desire for young, high-end outfielders complicates things for the Yanks from the get-go. They really have none in the high levels of the system. If the A’s wouldn’t settle for other high-end prospects, the Yankees would need a third team to facilitate a trade. That adds another level of complexity, which decreases the chances of a deal happening. That is, the more moving parts the harder it is to find a match that works for everyone.

The A’s did acquire an outfielder in the Cahill deal, but he’s not exactly high-end or even that young. Cowgill turns 26 in May, and his minor league track record isn’t overly impressive. He did hit .354/.430/.554 last season, but that was as a 25-year-old in the hitters’ haven known as the Pacific Coast League. My favorite example to put the PCL in perspective: Bubba Crosby hit .361/.410/.635 in the PCL before the Yankees acquired him in 2003. That is, he’s more of a throw-in than anything. That leaves the A’s still seeking outfielders, which continues to hurt the Yankees’ chances of acquiring Gonzalez.

Comparing Cahill and Gonzalez

Even though the the Yankees, as far as we know, were never in on Cahill, we can still look to this deal as a guide. First, let’s take a look at Gonzalez and Cahill. Both have over 500 major league innings, and they have nearly identical ERAs in that span (3.93 for Gonzalez, 3.91 for Cahill). Yet this is where their similarities end. They’re quite different pitchers in style, in age, and in contract.

Cahill is more of a ground ball guy, with a 53.3 percent career ground ball rate. He doesn’t strike out many, though he did in the minors and his numbers are rising. There’s still some projectability with Cahill, since he’ll turn just 24 years old in March. At the same time, he’s already locked up through 2015 at least, for a total of $30.5 million. That includes his first year of free agency eligibility for $12 million, and then two options, for $13 and $13.5 million, after that. That gets him through his age-29 season for $56.2 million, with the option to cut it short at $30.5 million if he gets hurt. It is, in other words, an incredibly team-friendly deal.

Gonzalez is more of a strikeout guy, fanning 8.59 per nine in his major league career. He also generates a decent number of ground balls, a 47.5 percent career rate. Yet when it comes to age and contract he’s a bit less valuable than Cahill. He just turned 26, and is a Super Two this off-season, meaning he’ll go through the arbitration process four times. While that can be a blessing in some cases, for a team acquiring him it can be a burden. MLB Trade Rumors estimates Gonzalez’s first-year arbitration number at $3.6 million, which is right in line with Cahill’s salary. But unlike Cahill’s salary, Gonzalez’s is not controlled. With quality performance she could perhaps beat the numbers on Cahill for the following three years: $5.5, $7.7, and $12 million.

To a team such as the Yankees this might not matter, but to other teams it does. That is to say that Cahill is quite a bit more valuable than Gonzalez. The cost-controlled aspect helps, as does Cahill’s age. For $56.2 million a team potentially gets him for his best seasons. Look at it this way, then. On Saturday Mike looked at a comparable Yankees package for Cahill. It included Manny Banuelos, Brandon Laird, and George Kontos. If that’s what the A’s got for Cahill, more or less, then they can’t really expect that for Gonzalez. Perhaps, then, there is a deal to be made here after all.

(Though, again, the A’s desire for, and the Yankees lack of, outfield prospects could mean there’s no match between them.)

Back to Danks

With the A’s needs hindering their chances of trading Gonzalez to the Yankees, our attention turns back to Danks. In his most recent update, CBS’s Jon Heyman notes an amended asking price: two of Banuelos, Montero, and Dellin Betances. Of course, this hardly changes things from before. It merely allows the Yankees to swap Betances for one of Montero or Banuelos. As before, there is zero doubt that the Yankees have rejected this idea out of hand. But that doesn’t mean the price will always remain this high.

The Cahill trade does give us some idea of the trade market, though it isn’t a precise barometer. That is, the White Sox aren’t necessarily influenced by Oakland’s return for Cahill. It does, however, set a bit of precedent. The White Sox asking price for Danks is surely better than what the A’s got for Cahill. If the Yankees wanted to add a starter and were willing to pay that price, why wouldn’t they have just turned to Oakland and their younger, more valuable starter?

As mentioned last week, the Yankees won’t give up Montero or Banuelos in a trade for Danks. The Cahill trade just reinforces that. The A’s got one blue chip pitching prospect back for their proven, young, and cheap starter. The White Sox cannot expect anything remotely comparable for their relatively expensive starter who hits free agency after the 2012 season. Even Betances might seem a stretch. After all, he was just 10 spots behind Parker in the 2011 Baseball America Top 100, and they had comparable seasons (both ending in the bigs).

Where this leaves the Yankees

This is where Brian Cashman‘s discretion comes into play. He talks about how the rotation doesn’t need help, or only needs help at the back end. While it’s nice to speak so highly of his players, to stick with the current guys is a difficult proposition. It assumes a rebound from Phil Hughes and that Freddy Garcia can continue fooling opponents with an array of junk. The Yankees would certainly do well to add a starter by any means possible.

Chances are, however, that not much will happen this week. Bids on Yu Darvish are due on Wednesday, and we won’t learn the winner until Sunday or Monday. The Yankees likely won’t make a move until they know where they stand on Darvish. After that, they’ll likely refocus on Hiroki Kuroda, who is reportedly seeking a one-year deal for $12 or $13 million. After that, Danks and Gonzalez become possibilities again. But given their current asking prices, it’s not hard to understand why they might have moved down the priority list for the moment.

The price for Gio Gonzalez

We already know what the White Sox are seeking for John Danks (though that may change given their imminent rebuild), and today Joel Sherman fills us in on what the Athletics want in exchange for Gio Gonzalez: young, high-end outfielders. Oakland is hilariously thin in the outfield, but so are the Yankees, at least at the Double-A and Triple-A levels. That means they’d likely have to swing a three-team swap to make everyone happy, except me of course. Gio has gotten pretty overrated over the last few weeks, something the hot stove is guilty of doing time and time again. Do not want.