There's been a lot of chatter already this offseason about blockbuster trade possibilities, with White Sox ace Chris Sale at the top of the list and the Nationals among the clubs widely speculated to be contemplating a deal for the left-hander.
It's a long and winding path, of course, to get from the kind of preliminary chatter we've heard so far to an actual trade taking place. The same applies to any other possible big-name players the Nats may or may not be intrigued by this winter, such as Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen.
It takes an awful lot to get a trade done these days, especially a trade involving premier talent like Sale or McCutchen. It begins with the selling team's motivation (or lack thereof) to make something happen. Are the White Sox and/or Pirates really committed to trading away their stars, or are they simply dipping their toes in the water to gauge how hot or cold it is?
And then there's the critical question of what a potential acquiring team is willing to give up for a player of that magnitude. If you're one of those who thinks the Nationals can just package Danny Espinosa, Gio Gonzalez and Michael A. Taylor together to bring Sale to D.C. ... just stop right now and go back to whatever more important thing you were doing with your life.
It doesn't happen like that. It requires multiple, top-tier talented players to acquire an All-Star with several years of affordable club control.
And so you really have to ask this: How much are the Nationals willing to give up for a player like Sale or McCutchen?
Make no mistake, the selling clubs are going to shoot for the moon. They're going to want Trea Turner. And they're going to want Lucas Giolito or Reynaldo Lopez. And they're going to want Victor Robles or Erick Fedde. That's the kind of package we're talking about here.
If you're Nats general manager Mike Rizzo, are you really going to do that?
There's a case to be made that the Nationals should be willing to give up at least one of their top pitching prospects, Giolito or Lopez, especially if they're getting an elite starting pitcher back in the deal. This is where the organization is deepest in talent at the moment. And with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Tanner Roark and Joe Ross all either signed or under club control through at least 2019, there aren't going to be many rotation openings for a while anyway.
Robles and Fedde, meanwhile, are the kind of younger prospects who are highly touted and may well become stars someday, but remain quite unproven and still face a long road simply to reach the majors, let alone thrive at that level. Again, if you're getting back a proven big-league All-Star, you're probably willing to give up a prospect who hasn't played above Single-A.
But the real sticking point is going to be Turner. Everybody's going to want him. And Rizzo's not going to want to give him up, for good reason. Why would he want to trade away a 23-year-old runner-up for National League Rookie of the Year who put up MVP-caliber stats over half a season, is under club control for another six years and might well turn out to be the team's best all-around player for years to come?
That seems to be where Rizzo would draw a line in the sand. If teams want to talk about Giolito, Lopez, Robles, Fedde and others, there's a productive conversation to be had. But the first mention of Turner might well leave Rizzo hanging up his phone and looking elsewhere to improve his roster.
And it would be awfully difficult to fault him for doing just that.