Defending The Gorzelanny Trade

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.

Author: Luke Erickson

Since 2009, Luke Erickson has been chief writer, editor, and bottle-washer of Potomac is his home base as a season-ticket holder, but he has visited every affiliate north of Florida at least once, with multiple trips to Hagerstown and Harrisburg.

38 thoughts on “Defending The Gorzelanny Trade”

  1. I’m with you on assessing the deal

    Rizzo moves Bowden’s Lucky Charms signing, a potential middle reliever, and a slight lefthander who has yet to put on weight as expected for a couple of years of Gorzelanny

    I mentioned this on Twitter but given the Nats inability to sign a free agent SP this winter, the only other option was to make a deal like this.

    1. I appreciate the vote of confidence. It will be interesting when Rizzo has to start trading his own acquisitions, but it certainly does seem like he’s more than willing to part with his predecessor’s picks.

    2. Correct me if I’m wrong, but A.J. Morris was considered starting material. He had lingering injury issues that made 2010 look dicey, but when finally healthy he was lights out in the instructional league and poised to have a breakout 2011.
      I’m in total agreement on Burgess; he was always going to be blocked by Harper and the Cubs system is apparently barren so maybe he can move up much more easily.
      With Hicks, he was still way too much Ichabod Crane to move vey quickly anywhere.

      1. @Mark L – Morris had been converted to relief and all indications were that he’d still be a reliever in 2011.

  2. I am excited about this trade, and confused by the naysayers. The FanGraphs assessment which showed that Gorz had a better year than Garza last year really puts it in perspective, too. I had already started to give up on Burgess, and am glad that I don’t have to wait for him to improve anymore.

    1. Folks,
      1/2 Street has a point. The FanGraphs assessmant on Gorzelanny makes a good case for him; everybody should check it out.
      Losing Morris might still hurt for some time.

  3. I’ve been “done” with Burgess for a while….glad he’s going to another team where maybe he’ll not strike out?? But trading Morris might sting a little.

  4. Reminds me a little bit of the two “prospects” we included in the Willingham/Olsen trade, Smolinksi and Dean. Both were low level guys who had started out looking promising. Since then Smolinksi has not progressed beyond A Ball and Dean has not pitched at all.

    Three years of a serviceable and still fairly young lefty for what we gave up? I’ll take it.

    1. Amen on this one. Of course, Gorzelanny is closer to the Scott Olsen part of that deal than the Josh Willingham part. But it’s a similar move, trade for arb eligible guys that other teams don’t want to pay for with your depth.

  5. I’m not the biggest Gorzelanny fan, but I think this was a deal that needed to be made. Burgess has a cannon for an arm and unbelievable power but has gaping holes in his swing and is one of the last guys you want up if you need a big hit or even just the ball put into play.

  6. I’m not strong for or against this trade, but one question that has been on my mind is what is our evaluation process for our own minor leaguers?

    I know the coaches all send in status reports, but besides the front office occasionally eye-balling the youngsters, do we ever send in our own scouts to do independent evaluations? Or is the front office viewpoint the main one. I mean if we are going to acquire guys based on scouts reports, shouldn’t we have them do the same for our own guys? What sort of brought this up was there was a note that a trade wasn’t made because Rizzo hadn’t seen one prospect himself. Shouldn’t he delegate? How much input do scouts and others in the org. have? It all seems so “black box”.

    1. I don’t know the answer on this, and I’ll assume that Sue will weigh in later on. To me, Rizzo is a scout first. He’s invested dinero and personal capital in a major upgrade of the scouting staff. I would imagine that he’s got internal and external scouts handling things. To me, Espinosa’s promotion is a good indicator on this. Espinosa was really promoted quickly at the end of last year. I bet part of that was not only his scouts assessments but candid assessments by his managers as well as to his makeup and his ability to handle the challenges of his promotions. I doubt that Rizzo would have much tolerance for anybody in the organization who consistently misses on assessing prospects. What I still have questions about is how skillfully we *develop* prospects. Have we ever had a high school arm hit? Have we ever developed these high schoolers that we draft outside of Derek Norris and the never ending saga of Ian Desmond who we cost at least a year in development by promoting him too quickly? Yes, high schoolers are harder to draft and most of the failure here is with Bowden’s assessments. But some of it may be that we haven’t had the guys to develop the prospects.

      Ray and Cole will be the first high school guys that Rizzo’s had the opportunity

    2. The coaches at each level fill out a scouting report on each player on a weekly (sometimes more often) basis. There are also reports from area scouts and minor league coordinators (e.g. Spin Williams for pitching). The scouts who are looking at other teams’ players are also looking at the Nats players. All of these reports are compiled by the Nationals and decisions are made on who may need promotion/demotion/release; if a player needs to be approached about a hole in their game; etc

      Trust me, the Nationals do PLENTY of scouting of their own guys.

      1. Thanks for dropping by. Nats had the decency to make this trade the day before a snowstorm! Hope you’re enjoying a likely day off and things are going well with your teaching.

      2. Thanksk Brian, didn’t know the extent of how they self-evaluate. I know under Bowden I was afraid knowing the other teams knew more about our own players than we did, but that was under MLB guidelines.

        Now if they could only get over “Smiley” remorse and jump start their Caribbean signings. Oh well, always next year (a Cubbie refrain after a Cubbie trade)..

  7. I agree with you and Souldrummer. In fact I don’t know how you don’t make this trade? I guess this might be the first Nat’s trade that sent minor league players with higher potential for an everyday player or pitcher in this case.

    Being new on the job Rizzo needs to improve the product on the field or he won’t be able to entice free agents to come play for the Nats. It is more difficult and it takes a lot longer to build a competitive team only building through the draft.

    Good trade for where the Nats are now even if the other players meet their potential.

  8. This is not the Clon deal in 2002, BUT Burgess surely would have been a nice bat off the bench in seveal years. Trading AJ???? Hicks is truly a work in progress…as Julius Caeser would extend his thums down for the kill in the arena…this is a bad trade. three sharp kids for the prototype pitcher which has kept PITT in last place for 14 years. plus….Burgess will hit nice in Wrigley and fill in for the free agent Japanese outfielder.
    What this trade does say is that Bryce will come quick or Ankiel will hang around another year.
    Still, I would have told rizzo to stand pat…if Gorzy is 4-10 by July…the Redskins fans who are warmed up this winter from boo-ing wil be in good frm to begin the WASH wail….
    ironic that Burgess was a pick via Soriani signing with Cubs…
    once more. BOOO. Rizzo is on crack or too much holiday sweets!

  9. I flew all night down to Brazil so the news was a bit of a shock, but not the shock value of Mark Langston for Randy Johnson, brian holman and gene harris or the one which still makes my stomach crawl- CLE 2002.
    On second wind evaluation- Rizzo must really like Brown from the A’s. If Hicks becomes even half the pitchers Johnson and Lee became…alka seltzer will be a steady thing during the baseball season.
    why make a trade for a guy because the jury is still out on Detweiler, …this is like the Scott Olson trade but a few notches up….whyb cant the Nats think like the expos did where you stockpile THEN evaluate after the RF off Sens drinks his first cup of coffee off RIGGS bench. Ron Santo is clicking his spikes in heaven.
    Gorzy better win 15 games the next two years then command a nice return or this is Rizzo first real stinker.
    question? who patrols RF for Harrisburg in the time period it takes for harper to hump up to Harrisburg??? Valdez, Gilbert, Curran,,,,,,poor Beasley..he may get stuck playing Rhinehart in RF…I am sure Beasley was looking forward to St. Michael in RFhitting balls off City Isle.
    This June draft better include the stud from IU then since we are down a bat- Dickerson!!
    Lerner money for Morris and he ends up a Cub…that does not makes sense.
    Rizzo was bit desperate this winter ending up with this PLEAZZZZZE cry to hendry.
    how many more pirates will end up in nats chain?????
    RogBern better elevate his game with Ankiel rootingpushing him along…
    oh well….toss out the balls and bats 2-13.

  10. who patrols RF for Harrisburg in the time period it takes for harper to hump up to Harrisburg???

    Dare I even breathe it? Given how he easily outperformed Burgess (and probably ensured Burgess sudden exit) 19 year old Bryce Harper?

    Its certainly a big risk. You don’t want to have demote a prospect of Harper’s caliber.
    He might have enough just starting in Potomac?

    Other than that … Curran seems more the CF. Van Every? Boomer Whiting? He likely won’t be needed in Syracuse this year? Or a TBD from a trade.

  11. prototype pitcher which has kept PITT in last place for 14 years. plus….Burgess will hit nice in Wrigley and fill in for the free agent Japanese outfielder.

    Show me how many starters the Nats have that finished with a 3.92 FIP and 6.9K’s/9? If that’s what Pittsburgh has its better than what the Nats are putting in their rotation. Guess we’ll find out from watching both Gorzelanny and Barthmaier? Maybe they’ll pleasantly surprise for once …

  12. souldrummer brings up a good point: the back field instructors to teach the techniques sure had
    a down shift between Montreal and Washington. Burgess seemed to get along with Gary Sheffield and pick up some tidbits.
    FYI: I have been writing from 4 time zones away and some major jetlag with a headcold.
    lets hope Burgess just turns out to be a nice Dave May off the bench. the other guys sure are just farm feed toosed aside.
    alex dickerson, Rizzo!

  13. Give a raise to whoever is updating the Big Board.
    Man… Hairston, Gorzo, Coffey, Cora.
    My head’s spinning.

  14. Alex Cora should be an instructor in several years if Rizzo wants a heady salty veteran who knows the game.
    Hairston should come in handy during the dog days of summer along the Big A river.
    No doubt a LH bat will be drafted in June to make us forget the power potential in Burgess.
    Maybe Moldenhauer will do the honors @ Hagerstown.
    the kids are alright- the bullpen.

  15. With all the roster-churning in WSH over the last 48 hours (Gorzelanny, Cora [minors], Hairston, Coffey), the probable assignments to SYR & HAR suddenly get ‘fuzzy’. Taking available options into consideration as well (RIzzo ‘punted’ JD Martin, who I think had an option remaining, while both Detwiler & Martis are ‘tapped out’ and Broderick & Ramirez both are Rule 5), is making my head hurt at this point. I hope the fog lifts a little once the 40-man roster becomes stable again…

  16. I think Detwiller has one more option year but I am not positive on that. I also think we can keep the rule 5 guys by making some sort of trade with their original teams so that could also happen. I realize Balestar pitched well at the end of last year but I would not mind seeing him sent to Syracuse to see if he can handle the closer role. If no one claims Martin, I wonder if he will accept assignment?

    1. sjm: You might be right on Detwiler – Tracking minor-league options is troublesome, at best. And regarding the Rule5 players, you’re absolutely correct – the players can be acquired via trade from their parent club, but if they are already ‘out of options’ (there’s that bugaboo again), they would need to be exposed to waivers to move them off the 40-man roster to the minors.

      Net result is surrendering a player (via trade), then risk losing the acquired player via waivers; Not the best solution.

  17. I think JD Martin was unconditionally released … not designated for assignment.

    I suspect that may have to do with how he reacted to the rapidity of placing him on the DL when Marquis seemed ready …

    I don’t think he’ll be back. The Nats gave him his shot at the majors … something that wasn’t going to happen in his first organization.

    I still can’t help believing that another pitcher is in the offing. The Nats need one more solid guy and they should have a decent rotation. If they don’t end up giving up too much that one move could nudge them to .500+ in the NL East.

    But, really the most important thing in having that one additional pitcher (since Marquis was an almost complete flop and disaster last year and Livo is a year older … and Wang who might be out beyond May again … ) would take the pressure to perform off of Jordan Zimmermann as he continues his recover … also Detwiler and Maya.

    Not only would everyone fit in the right slot in the rotation, but also they would finally have a healthy progression from minor league prospect to bonafide major league starter.

  18. Minor unrelated rant here. Saw Boswell article: “Bryce Harper, at 18, hit .343 against major-league-ready prospects in the Arizona Fall League”. And all the talking heads generally say the same thing, how “top notch” the AFL is. Riles me up. It is good, but has its failings, too.

    Are all the prospects in the AFL “major-league-ready”??? Umm no.. The AFL serves 2 purposes, give some more work to prospects, and to further evaluate guys before the Rule 5 draft to see if they get put on 40 man or not. Those are VERY fringy guys, who mostly never see a whiff of the ML. At least a third of guys in the AFL fit in that category, who are 24, 25, 26.

    Only got stuff on who the Nats sent to the AFL, let’s look at these ML ready pitchers of the Nats Arizona teams:

    2k6: Felfoldi, Foli, Perrault, Perrin (none of these guys came close)
    2k7: Adam Carr, Garrett Mock, Zech Zinicola (all “prospect-y”, only Mock made it next year)
    2k8 – Carr, Ross Detwiler, Cory VanAllen, Zech Zinicola (Ross made 15 ML starts the next year, but other 3 now dropping)
    2k9 – Jeff Mandel, Drew Storen, Strasburg, Josh Wilkie – middle 2 – great, other 2 no chance, Wilkie a Rule 5 evaluate.
    2k10 – Adam Carr, Cole Kimball, Brad Peacock, Sammy Solis – again, 2 prospects, 2 Rule 5 potentials with minimal chance of majors. But prospects have little chance of being in ML this year.

    So only Mock, Storen, and Strasburg were “Major League ready” (i.e. pitched in ML following year), when they pitched in the AFL. The AFL is a known as a hitting league, for the very reason there are a good number of fringe prospects pitching in it. Hell, we claimed an AFL guy in the Rule 5, Broderick. The Cards decided he wasn’t good enougth to be put on their 40 man.

    Adam Carr is the official US Winter League King, 3 trips to Arizona preceded by a stint with the Waikiki Beach Boys in the now dead Hawaiian Winter League.

    1. Vladi: A fair rant, and not without justification. The AFL can be more like a final exam for AA-level players than a league crammed full of MLB-ready ‘studs’. Boz can get caught up in the “hype” just as easily as anybody else, apparently.

      I knew Zinicola was a “double-dipper”, but was suprised to see Carr as a three-timer.

    2. The flip side of this argument is that we haven’t had college prospects who need work to send to the AFL before this year. Solis is a good example of some of the higher end AFL guys. A college guy who projects to MLB who needs work to revitalize for the offseason. I think other squads may have had more of these types of players than we did in past years because we had one of the worst farm systems in the major leagues.

      I’ve always thought that we view the AFL as AA for upside prospects. Harper’s AFL puts any level from Hagerstown to Harrisburg as a potential starting destination for Harper depending on how he does in spring training.

  19. Just to clear up a few things JD Martin has cleared waivers and been resigned to the organization. Gorzelanny is not viewed as insurance but as the #2 or #4 starter. Morris is 24 years old and has never pitched at AA or above. His place in the organization was shaky at best. With 3 picks in the top 34 of a talent laden draft we will certainly be able to draft 3 high ceiling prospects. This team is far better than it was a week ago.

Comments are closed.