“There is no such thing as a pitching prospect.”
So said Joe Sheehan, more than 13 years ago on Baseball Prospectus.
Well, the Nationals just traded three very, very good pitching prospects for one very good outfielder in a move that was shocking to baseball insiders, let alone Nats fans.
In case you’re not sure what we’re talking about: Nats acquired Adam Eaton, he of the 6-win 2016 season and his ridiculously team-friendly contract (he’s signed with options through 2021 for just a measly $38.4M). In return we gave up three of our four best starting pitching prospects in the form of Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and 2016 1st rounder Dane Dunning.
To put things in a different way: we just acquired 5 years of Eaton for a combined potential of nearly *twenty* years of rotation pieces for the south siders. We likely made their rotation for the next decade with this move, even if you take an entirely pessimistic viewpoint of the ceilings of all three of these players.
For me; it was too much to pay (in case you couldn’t tell how I felt from the title of the post). The Nats just traded away literally all their near-to-the-majors starter depth in a complete win-now move that, while I’ve been advocating for it, seemed like an overpay. I could see/make the argument for Giolito and Dunning, or Lopez+Dunning, but all three seems gratuitous. Ironic because i’ve just beek talking about not over-valuing your prospects.
The best case scenario for these three arms is a #1, #2 and #5 starter for years to come. But since best case is never going to happen, lets take some worst-case scenarios for these three guys we just traded. I know Giolito’s critics are large here, but bear with me:
- Giolito never harnesses his control and turns into essentially Alex Meyers.
- Lopez never develops a secondary pitch and is turned into a late-inning 100-mph reliever
- Dunning’s craftiness only takes him as far as a 5th starter or middle-relief guy for a middling team.
Still, that’s three major league arms, cost controlled first round talents with their bonus money already paid for. The reality will be somewhere in the middle.
What this deal says is the high price of a good contract. Eaton is getting paid absolute peanuts compared to the value he’s producing, he plays (or can play) a valuable position, and that’s really what the cost was all about. If Eaton was on a $18M/year contract he’s only costing one of those three arms in return.
The last time the Nats did this big of a prospects-for-players deal it was the Gio Gonzalez move. And at the time I wasn’t nearly as negative towards the price as I am for this one.
Fallout/other observations from this deal:
- The White Sox have now gone from having a farm system ranked in the 22-23 range to inarguably the #1 farm system in the game. In like two days.
- Lots of head scratching amongst baseball insiders, MLB.tv announcers, prospect guys.
- Interesting that literally as soon as this trade occurred, you started seeing people “in the know” talking about how the Nationals had “soured” on Giolito. I’m sure we’ll hear more about it soon; whispers about work ethic and approach. Where were these comments yesterday?
- Get ready for spot-starts from A.J. Cole and Austin Voth; you don’t get through modern baseball seasons on 5 starters anymore, and we don’t exactly have the most reliable rotation.
- I suspect Danny Espinosa (who is now patently surplus to requirements) gets flipped for hopefully an optionable starter to give us some more depth. I like Voth and am excited to see what he can do … but i’m not trusting him to give this team 4-5 starts and compete.
- Our respectable farm system is now gutted: no matter what you think of these three arms heading the other way, they were #1, #3 and #6 prospects in our system. We have mortgaged the future for the present in a large way.
Nats new Lineup: Eaton (CF), Turner (SS), Harper (RF), Murphy (2B), Rendon (3B), Werth (LF), Zimmerman (1B), Norris (C). Decent lefty-righty balance which could be stretched a bit if you broke up Harper & Murphy. Eaton makes a bit more sense at leadoff since Turner has proven to have a bit more power than we thought, and Eaton is a lefty, but I could see them switched and then going Harper-Rendon-Murphy or something like that so you don’t have 3 lefties in a row. But this is now a pretty fast lineup at the top.
So, what say you?