Is Rizzo honing in on deal for A’s Gio Gonzalez?

The posting portion of the Yu Darvish sweepstakes is over and the Texas Rangers were the winner, with a reported record bid of $51.7 million. That gets them 30 days to negotiate with the Japanese right-hander in hopes of knocking out a long-term contract that’s expected to push their total investment in Darvish well over $100 million. Is it just me, or do you sometimes feel like baseball executives are playing with Monopoly money?

The Nationals didn’t place a bid on Darvish, despite significant interest in him. Looks like the Lerner family and general manager Mike Rizzo figured there were less expensive ways to solve their quixotic quest for a top starting pitcher. The Blue Jays, rumored to badly want Darvish, whiffed, too. And that development means the Nats and Jays are suddenly both focused on the same pitcher as a consolation prize: A’s lefty Gio Gonzalez.

As we discussed over the weekend, the price for pitching went up substantially with the Reds’ acquisition of starting pitcher Mat Latos for a package of right-hander Edinson Volquez and three former first-round draft picks. The scuttlebutt around the hot stove this morning indicates that it’ll take a similar four-for-one deal if the Nats want to pry Gonzalez away from the A’s.

Is that a price Rizzo is willing to pay?

Oakland GM Billy Beane isn’t exactly playing “Moneyball” in this potential transaction, though he prefers young players with lots of upside. Gonzalez, who is only 26, has plenty of that - he’s 31-21 over the last two seasons, has topped 200 innings in each campaign and is under team control through 2015. But the cash-strapped A’s, still hoping to move to a new stadium in San Jose, can’t afford Gonzalez - he’s in line for a raise to $4.2 million in his first crack at arbitration and when you increase that salary over the next four years, you’ve got a figure that won’t fit with the frugal A’s payroll.

What can the Nationals offer? Expect names like Ian Desmond, Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard to be brought up. This deal will take at least one guy with major league experience. Desmond has his detractors in NatsTown, but other teams keep asking about him, and that speaks volumes. Storen’s value may never be higher after a 43-save season in his first run as a full-time closer. It would hurt to part with Storen, but you know the old adage: You have to give something to get something. Clippard is affordable and durable, two qualities that fit well in Oakland.

Beyond an established major leaguer, you can pretty much guarantee the A’s would want someone like top pitching prospects Tommy Milone or Brad Peacock - maybe both. If Desmond is in the package, infield prospect Steve Lombardozzi probably won’t be. But with a collection of promising catchers - Derek Norris, Jhonatan Solano, Sandy Leon - in the pipeline, a backstop might be in play. Chris Marrero, Tyler Moore, Eury Perez, Sammy Solis, Pat Lehman, Danny Rosenbaum - any could be included. You might see the Nats turn a four-for-one into a five-for-one, adding in an extra guy to fatten the deal.

Who’s not on the block? Bryce Harper isn’t going anywhere, aside from Double-A Harrisburg or Triple-A Syracuse. Guys taken in the 2011 draft - top pick Anthony Rendon, first-rounders Alex Meyer and Brian Goodwin, third-rounder Matt Purke - aren’t eligible to be dealt until next year, but could be included as a player to be named. Doubtful, but we’ll see.

Rizzo is patient and methodical, but it’s doubtful he can move at a deliberate pace if he’s serious in his pursuit of Gonzalez. It’s likely that talks have been ongoing since the Winter Meetings, maybe before that. If Rizzo wants to make a big splash this offseason, when he’s mostly disappointed fans eager for a big acquisition, this is his opportunity.

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