Oakland’s Gio Haul: A Cynic’s View

What a difference two weeks can make.

I posted Oakland’s 2011-12 Top 15 prospects list on Dec. 6 and have been forced to revise the ranking twice in the last 16 days. The first move sent young starter Trevor Cahill to the Arizona Diamondbacks, while the second – and most recent – deal flipped Gio Gonzalez (and an inconsequential minor league arm) to the Washington Nationals for four prospects.

There have been a lot of kudos over social media outlets for Oakland General Manager Billy Beane but, honestly, I don’t get the love. My personal reaction upon reading the news was: “Really, that’s it?”

I know Gonzalez is not the end-all-and-be-all of starting pitchers but I can see him becoming a reliable No. 2 starter in the Washington Nationals starting rotation for quite a few seasons. There has been a lot made about the positive impact of his home park, as well as Oakland’s defense behind him, but let’s consider his road FIP (4.40) is not terrible by any means and he’ll be facing weaker lineups in the National League.

Three of the four players acquired by Oakland in the deal made my 2011-12 Washington Nationals Top 15 prospects list. The best player is starter A.J. Cole, who was a 2010 fourth round draft pick out of a Florida high school. I ranked him as the third-best prospect on the list behind outfield stud Bryce Harper and infielder Anthony Rendon. Here is an excerpt from my report on Cole:

Cole has the potential for a very good pitcher’s frame (6’4” 180 lbs). His fastball reaches the mid-90s already and there may be more in the tank. His secondary pitches include a potentially-plus curveball and developing changeup… Cole has the chance to be a No. 1 or 2 starter if everything breaks right for him – and his changeup improves. He may even add a few ticks to his fastball if he continues to add muscle to his slender frame.

Cole suddenly becomes the second best pitching prospect in the organization behind recently-acquired Jarrod Parker, and right in front of 2011 first rounder Sonny Gray. Both Parker and Gray will likely reach Oakland before Cole, but the former Nats prospect could land in the Majors at some point in 2013.

After Gray on the pitching depth chart in Oakland you’ll find the second prospect in this deal Brad Peacock, a right-handed starter. He could potentially become a No. 3 starter if he sticks in the starting rotation but he could just as easily end up as a high-leverage reliever. Peacock is an arm-strength guy with a fastball that sits in the low-90s and occasionally hits 96-97 mph. His curveball shows flashes on plus potential and his changeup has a chance to be average. I had him ranked as the seventh best prospect in the system and said this:

He’s still working on the consistency of his changeup and his fastball command comes and goes. He doesn’t have the strongest frame so durability could be a bit of a question mark once he hits the 180-inning mark… Control and command will be the biggest things to keep an eye on in 2012.

Peacock pitched 48 innings at triple-A and 12 more at the MLB level in 2011 so he’s a near lock to make A’s depleted starting rotation in 2012. I like the right-hander as a prospect, but I’m not 100% convinced his long term big league role with be a starter.

The third best prospect in the deal is catcher Derek Norris, perhaps the most “classic Oakland-like player” in the deal. An on-base fiend, the former fourth round draft pick hits for massive power (.237 ISO) but he’s struggled to hit for average over the past two seasons and strikes out at an alarming rate (27.7% in 2011). The problem with Norris, whom I ranked as the ninth-best prospect in Washington’s system, is that he’s a bat-first catcher who may or may not stick behind the dish – although he has shown improvement. Here is what I recently wrote about him:

Quite honestly, Norris’ development is headed in the wrong direction and he’s in danger of falling out of the spotlight when it comes to the organization’s top prospects. He’ll have to have a bounce-back year while repeating double-A if he’s going to get any traction in his question to become the Nationals’ backstop of the future. Expect the organization to slow his development down.

Norris jumps to the front of Oakland’s minor league catching depth ahead of Max Stassi, whom I ranked as the ninth best prospect in the system after the Parker trade. He should be a decent replacement for currently big league starting catcher Kurt Suzuki who should be expendable (too expensive) any day now.

Tom Milone is the fourth prospect and I don’t get the love for the soft-tossing left-hander. Yeah, velocity isn’t everything when you have pinpoint control but there isn’t much margin for error when you have a fastball that ranges from 85-89 mph. On the plus side he has deception and a four-pitch mix that he uses to keep hitters off balance. Still, I spent my early days of prospect watching pining for the likes of Craig Anderson and John Stephens. I’ve learned my lesson to never overrate this type of pitcher.

Overall this is not a bad deal for Oakland but I’m surprised that it’s the best that Beane could do and it strikes me as quantity over quality. If I’m a Washington Nationals fan, I’m absolutely thrilled with this deal and the new-look starting rotation that includes Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, and Gonzalez.

Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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Brad Johnson
12 years ago

Glad to see this. I have the same take on the prospects. However, I don’t think Gonzalez is much more than a good, mid-rotation workhorse, so the deal seems pretty reasonable to me.

Ultimately, I think this move is a lot less exciting than it’s being made out to be.

12 years ago
Reply to  Brad Johnson

Pitch/FX provides an alarming clue that suggests Gio Gonzalez will be anything but a workhorse in the immediate future. There are four pitchers whose curveballs are nearly identical in terms of Magnus (spin angle / rpm / mph), curveball/fastball mph differential, and % thrown:

Erik Bedard
Dana Eveland
Jason Isringhausen
Gio Gonzalez

One of those pitchers is unlike the others (so far…) and I’m not talking about Isringhausen’s handedness. The A’s will never admit to it, but there is a good chance this was their primary motivation.

12 years ago
Reply to  Choo

How do we know if that’s predictive? To me, that sounds about as legitimate as comparing heights and weights.

12 years ago
Reply to  Choo

It can’t be predictive, but it can be precautionary. Every pitch contains a measurable component of force and stress. This very specific style of curve ball might simply be too much for the human arm to handle over time.

The necessary data only goes back to the start of the 2009 season, but if I shrink the sample size for pitches thrown, we get more pitchers with similar pasts, either pre-2009 or while in the minor leagues: Boof Bonser, Cedrick Bowers, Rich Thompson. Brian Bass and David Robertson (healthy past but as a short reliever) are just outside the bubble.