January 18, 2011
Trading Gorzo the Magnificent
Signed OF-R Reed Johnson to a minor-league contract with a non-roster spring training invite. [1/12]
Hendry probably won't get that much more credit for salvaging Gorzo's career after getting him tossed into the otherwise needless deal to get John Grabow. However, just as Hendry got Carlos Silva when his value was at its nadir, and he got something worthwhile to show for it, he'd also managed to fish Gorzo out of a Pirates organization desperately short of starting pitching, and salvaging something of a career for the power lefty.
That done, though, Hendry is gunning for upgrades, and not settling for salvage success. Having added Matt Garza to the top of the rotation at the expense of a package of prospects, he's now dealt from the bottom of his deck to re-add talent to the organization, swapping out Gorzo to get an interesting bat in Burgess and a pair of live arms, and also clearing out another spot on his 40-man roster in the process.
The immediate impact will be at the major-league level. Assuming that Silva is fully healthy, he should have the inside track on the fifth slot, but he's a veteran who can be beaten out by one of the kids during the course of the season, or perhaps one kid in particular. Among the right-handed alternatives, courtesy mentions of Casey Coleman and Jeff Samardzija aside, the really interesting alternative is Andrew Cashner. Now the talk of moving Cashner back to the rotation can be seen as more than just that, although I'm still partial to a plan that puts him in the pen, because the Cubs lack depth there, even after signing.
However, Gorzo was also the rotation's token southpaw, which lends some credibility to the idea that James Russell--another southpaw with a 19 percent strikeout rate last year--or Sean Marshall could get consideration. Losing either from the ranks of the relievers would create its own ripple effect, but with Scott Maine as ready as he's going to get, and John Gaub due to show something or get shown to the wire, the Cubs have lefties to pick from in the pen beyond Grabow. Still, if Silva shows up healthy, there really isn't much to talk about. Like any good skipper, Mike Quade is setting challenges for his charges, and if they make their best case possible, maybe then things get interesting. That's about 10 weeks away.
As far as the kids received, Hendry got a good swag, one that helps re-stock the system after the trade with the Rays. None of the three have had to be added to the 40-man yet. What's worth noting is that, in the same way that Chris Archer was the surprise impact pickup from the DeRosa deal, I wouldn't discard the suggestion that any or all of the three Nats farmhands prospects prove useful.
Burgess is particularly interesting, rating good enough to rank seventh in the Nats' pre-season Top 11. Although a bit on the slow-developing side for a high pick from 2007 from Hillsborough High--the same school that gave us Doc Gooden, Gary Sheffield, Carl Everett, and Elijah Dukes--he is just 22 years old, and prepped for his step up to the Southern League. If he succeeds there, he'll belong on anybody's prospect map.
A stocky corner outfielder who bats left, Burgess has the arm for right and the power potential to make it to the majors. If he builds on last year's brief season-ending cameo in Double-A, he could make the Nats look bad in fairly short order; just because Jayson Werth owns one corner and Bryce Harper figures to wind up in the other did not make Burgess disposable. The worst negatives are that he might become too bulky as he matures to move around well in the outfield, and that his power may not blossom.
The arms are both interesting. A.J. Morris was a 2009 fourth-rounder out of the Kansas State. Initially tasked with starting, a late-season conversion to the pen could propel him onto the fast track for the majors. His low-90s sinker/slider combo was sharp enough to generate twice as many ground-ball outs as caught flies. Hicks is a stringy high-school lefty picked in the same round, but in 2008. A few weeks shy of turning 21, he touches 90 with his fastball, and while you can hope he'll pick that up a tick or two as he fills out, he's sufficiently raw that you can set aside expectations for the next couple of years.
Finally, while I'm generally leaving non-roster guys for a later conversation in February about who is and who isn't likely to actually factor into making Opening Day rosters, Johnson is worth noting now because he's on his way back to Wrigleyville, having become briefly beloved there, if perhaps misunderstood. Briefly mistaken for a speed guy, a center fielder, and an everyday player, he turned out to be the player the Blue Jays lacked the conviction to make him into: the short side of a corner platoon, because an outfielder who hits .262/.321/.376 against right-handers simply shouldn't be in the daily lineup, especially if he doesn't play center well. Johnson will get the opportunity to earn a job as the outfield's extra right-handed bat, but barring a trade that dispatches Kosuke Fukudome somewhere, he'll be stuck fighting an asymmetric battle against speedster Fernando Perez for the last spot on the bench.
Acquired LHP Tom Gorzelanny from the Cubs for RHP A.J. Morris, LHP Graham Hicks, and OF-L Michael Burgess; agreed to terms with LHP John Lannan on a one-year, $2.75 million contract, avoiding arbitration; signed INF-L Alex Cora to a minor-league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/17]
A nicely done deal, to be sure. By surrendering a trio of interesting but far from excellent prospects, Mike Rizzo brought the Nats a decent lefty for the rotation at below-market pricing. It's also noteworthy that all three players dealt came into the organization since Rizzo's arrival; this wasn't ditching the previous regime's non-developers, it was a case of trading a pair of fourth-round arms with the stuff to make the majors and an outfielder selected in the supplemental first round.
Generating stuff attractive enough to package makes for a nice development in the Nats' brief history, because it's a reflection of the hard work that Rizzo and his staff have put in to flesh out an organization that had been bled dry during its days as a ward of the industry. It's also noteworthy that this really was about trading talent for a big-leaguer; given Gorzo's modest compensation, it's anything but a salary dump. Gorzelanny drew just $800,000 in pay last year, and doesn't figure to become an eight-figure arbi-baby in the next two.
That said, the Nats do only get Gorzo the Magnificent for two seasons of cheap rotation adequacy, and there is the question of whether he can manage a full season in a big-league rotation. Between the majors and minors combined, in the last three seasons since his needless abuse by the Pirates in 2007 he has pitched 150, 134, and 136
The thing is, there seems to be this expectation that, because of that strikeout rate, Gorzo's magnificence might be the beginning of something more. As I noted last week in the comments, I'm more inclined to see him as a latter-day Glendon Rusch type, hard-pressed to handle regular rotation chores, but a useful swing lefty and an asset if he's your fourth or fifth guy. Rusch was similarly overrated by many in sabermetric circles during his 2000-2001 run, when his strikeout rate made it up toward 20 percent as well. That led to the expectation that Rusch was about to turn some corner, but he wasn't; more properly, he already had, in 2000. It was downhill from there, but for a couple of years people fixated on Rusch's strikeout rates without noting that everything else about him didn't suggest unrecognized greatness: he gave up homers and hits by the fistful, and struggled to post a SNWP above .500 after his career year in 2000. His subsequent success in a swing role with the Cubs wasn't surprising--it was what he was genuinely good for, but in the rusch to discover the next big thing, he'd been discovered after there were no more steps forward coming.
For the Nats, I'd suggest they exercise care. Adding more arms to their rotation mix is a good idea, because this lot isn't going to come up with five 30-game starters pitching 180 innings apiece. With Gorzo, they might want to play mix and match to line him up against his best possible opponents, hook him quickly at the first sign of trouble, and perhaps you can nurse him through a full season to good effect.
How does that fit in with the rest of their rotation? Even if Lannan and Jason Marquis return to 30-start durability to join Livan Hernandez as innings-eaters, Jim Riggleman will need to be careful with the rest of the crew. Jordan Zimmermann's workload in his first full season back from TJS will need to be monitored, Luis Atilano and Chien-Ming Wang have been injured repeatedly and can't really been penciled in as reliable regulars, and Yunesky Maya might just prove to be much ado about the latest Cuban cipher. There should be plenty of opportunity for Gorzo, but also plenty of cause to bump him into the pen now and again.
The thing I hope we don't see is forcing the close-mouthed Gorzo to follow in the footsteps of Jason Marquis and Adam LaRoche, in order to issue some bold pronouncement about how the Nationals are going places. Well, of course they are, because for this organization there really is nowhere to go but up. But c'mon, these things go over about as convincingly as Nikita Khrushchev announcing, "We will bury you!" Sure, sure, whatever, news flash to the rest of the NL East, quake in your cleats, etc. Take a step back and think about it. Are two-year rental veterans of doubtful notoriety and negligible SportsCenter profile really the faces that you want associated with franchise messaging? Admittedly, it can't be easy, marketing a team without tradition to a market with no active memory of Walter Johnson or Goose Goslin or Joe Judge or Firpo Marberry--or any real need for one. But after Marquis' initial bold talk and subsequent near-total absence in 2009, why not just skip the noisily irrelevant propaganda?