I have focused many of my recent blogs on the impact of losing four top prospects in the trade with the Oakland A’s for Gio Gonzalez and a minor league player.
Brad Peacock, A.J. Cole, Tom Milone and Derek Norris are all close, or already have major league experience. They can help Oakland now.
But the importance of what an experienced left-handed starter can mean to a still young Nationals pitching staff cannot be overstated.
The 5-foot-11, 185-lb. southpaw Gonzalez has credentials that jump off the page, especially considering he is only 26.
Since making his major league debut in 2008, Gonzalez has won 38 games in 89 starts, plus six other appearances. Consider it took Nationals left-hander John Lannan 128 games to reach 38 victories. The other big names in the Nationals rotation - Stephen Strasburg (six wins in 17 games) and Jordan Zimmermann (12 wins) - are just getting their feet wet.
Gonzalez really fills two major holes in the Nationals’ starting rotation: a successful No. 2 or No. 3 starter who can lead by example, but also a starter who is still young enough to be a long-term solution to what Mike Rizzo has been searching for since he took over as general manager.
Are we talking John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux? Does this top three have the potential to be in the same neighborhood as those perennial post season pitchers? Maybe or maybe not. But it is not out of the question.
Chien-Ming Wang has 59 wins in his career, with four of those coming with the Nationals. Ross Detwiler, also young in his career, has six major league victories.
Gonzalez has 31 wins the last two seasons with 368 strikeouts in 402 2/3 innings. He has 511 punchouts in those 95 career contests.
Strasburg has an innings limit, but imagine the scenario where you get 200-plus innings from four starters (Strasburg, Zimmermann, Gonzalez and Lannan) in 2013. Lannan desperately wanted to get there this season, falling just a bit short (184 2/3).
Another important element is how Gonzalez finished so strong in September. Gonzalez went 7-3 his last 10 games down the stretch. Although the Athletics were out of the race, this speaks to the potential for the Nationals’ starters to be pitching their best when it matters most: where they want to be, a September stretch drive.
The Nationals may now have the starters in place for the next few years to be able to keep the scores low in the season’s final days.