The ability to pay the price

On the day after Christmas in 1995, the Orioles traded outfielder Curtis Goodwin and minor league outfield prospect Trovin Valdez to the Reds for 32-year-old lefty pitcher David Wells.

Wells had just gone 16-8 with a 3.24 ERA in a season split between Detroit and Cincinnati. Goodwin was 23 and had just hit .263 with no power - and 22 steals - in 87 games as a rookie. He played sparingly for the Reds over two years, was traded to Colorado and later spent time with the Cubs and Blue Jays before his big league career was over at 26. Valdez never made it to the major leagues.

Wells pitched just a single year for Baltimore, but lasted another 12 years until he finally hung ‘em up at age 44 with 239 big league wins over 21 seasons.

Why am I bringing this up? Simple. The repercussions of what the Nationals sent to Oakland for Gio Gonzalez continue to reverberate. Yes, surrendering both Brad Peacock and Tommy Milone, along with prospects A.J. Cole and Derek Norris for Gonzalez and pitching prospect Robert Gilliam was a huge price to pay for a starting pitcher many national baseball writers are calling “good but not great.”

It’s the cost of doing business these days.

When the Orioles traded for Wells, he had just one year to go on his contract before becoming a free agent. His walk year in Baltimore was not particularly memorable: 11 wins, 14 losses and 5.14 ERA. The Orioles weren’t looking for a staff leader - they wanted a guy who could eat 200-plus innings. If he did great, they’d try to resign him; he didn’t and they let him walk. He was 33, and no one could have projected he’d last another decade given his less-than-athletic body. What the Reds got for him then was likely the best offer they had, and, at the time, Goodwin was projected to be an everyday big time base stealing centerfield leadoff guy.

The Nationals don’t see Gonzalez as a staff ace; they see him as a fairly reliable - and experienced - lefty starter who can give them 200 innings and a sub-4.00 ERA. They may slot him between Strasburg and Zimmermann, or they may opt to have back-to-back lefties in the rotation with Gonzalez and either John Lannan or Ross Detwiler.

The high price for Gonzalez was based more on the fact that he’s under team control through 2015 - four more years. If he’s only the pitcher he’s been in Oakland the past two years - and during his tenure the Nats reach postseason play - the cost will be worth it. I think any general manager in baseball would agree with that.

If Peacock and Milone become big winners in Oakland (or San Jose), good for them. Nats GM Mike Rizzo believes the Nationals time to contend has arrived, and that Gonzalez gives them an extra device in the toolbox. He’s proven himself on the big league level, and the players surrendered are still prospects.

The Nationals have the kind of organizational depth that allows them to do things like this, which is the mark of winning franchises. That’s something you couldn’t say with a straight face before now.