Why this trade is a good gamble
The early reaction to the trade was, of course, negative — “Seems like an awful lot to give up”, “We’re trading young for old?!” and my personal favorite “Two top four picks for a fifth starter?”
Some phrased it in the form of a question: “Would you trade John Lannan for Michael Burgess and A.J. Morris?” Let me repeat my answer:
Yes. Neither name so far has been a player that’s likely to play at Syracuse, much less Washington in 2011
This, of course, was written before we knew who the third player was (Graham Hicks) but all sources were indicating that the last player would be either very young or very old for a prospect. Now, I realize the Syracuse line seems a little harsh, but thus far Rizzo has not shown a proclivity to rush his pitchers, no matter how old or how promising (e.g. Adam Carr, Cole Kimball).
Since I have the resource of some astute commenters, let me quote Souldrummer at length before adding on:
To me, it’s a crapshoot between two GM’s prospect evaluation skills. Rizzo has to be shrewd enough to evaluate which of the many faces of Gorzelanny (real good Pirates pitcher, absolute disaster pitcher, replacement-level pitcher, serviceable swingman) will show up based on his scouts’ assessments. The Cubs have to assess whether there’s any juice in Morris and the two meh prospects. I think that we have a deep enough pool of C+ prospects where we can risk guys who won’t pan out before 2012.
One the constant complaints in the Natmosphere is how we can’t or won’t make trades unless it’s considered a cost-saving maneuver. As we saw from the Garza and Greinke postmortems, virtually every move seemed to involve the likes of the guys that we’re already counting on for 2011 and beyond — Zimmermann, Espinosa, Norris, etc. As I’ve stated before, we don’t have the depth in those areas to replace those prospects.
This trade, however, represents a trade in two places in the Nats where Washington does have some depth: outfielders and right-handed relievers (my apologies on the latter to the newbies, but I made the page live to make my point; it’ll be filled in later when the scouting books start to come in).
Morris had been seventh on our watchlist for right-handed relievers, which isn’t a depth chart per se, but note that there are also seven more relievers behind him. It nearly goes without saying that Bryce Harper had been breathing down Burgess’s neck after outshining him in the AFL. Hicks had been sixth on our watchlist for left-handed starters but with fewer behind him and only one younger. He may very well be the hidden gem in this trade, but as Souldrummer said, he was not on the immediate horizon.
Left unsaid until now was what this trade represents: insurance. Rizzo has acquired a serviceable left-handed pitcher without significant injury or performance issues — unlike Jordan Zimmermann, Chien-Mien Wang, Ross Detwiler, Jason Marquis and Yunesky Maya. Trading three prospects with significant questions is not too much to give, not when you have it to spare.