Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo just finished a conference call with the local media to make official what we’ve known for the past couple of days: The Nationals have dealt outfielder Steven Souza Jr. and minor league left-hander Travis Ott to the Padres for right-handed pitching prospect Joe Ross and a player to be named. Souza and Ott are then going from the Padres to the Rays as part of the deal that will bring 2013 American League Rookie of the Year Wil Myers to San Diego.
Rizzo’s main points were three-fold: The Nats have long been interested in Ross; they hated to give up Souza; and they won’t be discussing the player to be named.
That future piece is likely to be speedy shortstop Trea Turner, the 13th overall pick in June’s First-Year Player Draft, but Major League Baseball rules preclude Turner from joining the Nats until the one-year anniversary of his June 13 contract signing.
Ross, 21, is the younger brother of Padres pitcher Tyson Ross, and was someone the Nationals scouted as an amateur before San Diego took him with the 25th overall selection in the 2011 draft out of Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland, Calif. The 6-foot-4 205-lb. Ross features a fastball that rises into the mid-90s, a decent curve and an improving changeup that Rizzo thinks will help him reach his full potential. Ross profiles as a No. 2 or No. 3 starter.
“You’ve got a big, physical, 21-year-old pitcher who’s pitched in Double-A successfully and that can really command three pitches, and that we think is going to be a good performer for us in the near future,” Rizzo said of Ross.
To get him, the Nationals had to part with Souza. At the Winter Meetings, interest was high in the reigning International League Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year after he hit .350 with 18 homers, 75 RBIs and 26 stolen bases for Triple-A Syracuse. The Nationals didn’t have room for Souza in the starting outfield, and though they would have kept him as a reserve outfielder, Rizzo jumped at the opportunity to turn him into two decent additions to the farm system.
“It’s never easy trading one of your own, and this is a guy who we drafted, signed, developed and grew with us,” Rizzo said “We had a lot of trials and tributlations with him, saw the kid grow up ... not only physically and mentally but psychologically in his career with us. It was a tough guy to make the phone call (to). When we told him he was traded, it was a very emotional phone call between Steven and I because we’ve gone through a lot of things together. I’m just excited about the opportunity he’s going to get. Tampa Bay’s getting a very good young player with a great attitude and a lot of talent.”
The Nats didn’t want to trade Souza, but figured the return was worth the risk. The rapid development of outfielder Michael A. Taylor, who Rizzo said was “a half-year” behind Souza, made it easier for the Nationals to pull the trigger on the trade.
“We kind of held to our guns that we weren’t going to move him, but you always have to be open-minded and we feel that we got a package of players that we think are not only good for us in the long term but in the near term,” Rizzo said.
Rizzo was predictably coy when the subject of the player to be named - that’s how we’ll refer to Turner for the time being - came up. The GM said that the Nats will choose from a list of players provided by the Padres to complete the deal at a future date, but seemed to indicate that there was one guy who most intested the Nationals.
As for how the Nationals will monitor Turner - er, the player to be named - until he can officially become their property (something I wrote extensively about earlier this morning), Rizzo had this to say:
“We’re going to take a player from the list from the Padres and we’re going to watch him. There’s some trust factor that’s involved with us and the Padres. It’s something, like I said, that’s a unique situation that’s never been done before. I’ve never done it before and I’ve been doing this thing for a long time. We’re going to trust each other and do what’s right by the player and we’ll monitor that player quite closely. We trust that the Padres will do right by him and do the right thing.”
Pressed about the curious arrangement where the Padres will have control over the development of a player that they know won’t stay in their system past mid-season, and whether the Nationals could select a different player should something happen to Turner, Rizzo said: “There’s a list we’ll choose a player from - let’s leave it at that.”
Rizzo said the Nationals got involved in what had been a traditional two-team swap between the Padres and Rays. The Nationals had engaged the Padres at both the GM Meetings in Phoenix in November and the Winter Meetings in San Diego last week, with multiple proposals being exchanged. But Rizzo was also talking with the Rays.
“When we discussed some things with Tampa Bay, we felt that there was a framework for a bigger deal to get all three teams what they were looking for,” Rizzo said. “It was a deal that was fairly complicated. It was something that has not been done many times in the history of baseball and something that we had to really think through. By the end of this thing, all three teams were really satisfied with the returns that they got.”