The Nationals pulled off a blockbuster trade Thursday afternoon, sending right-handed pitchers Brad Peacock and A.J. Cole, along with catcher Derek Norris and left-hander Tommy Milone to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for left-handed starter Gio Gonzalez.
Gonzalez, who is a proven rotation stalwart and has thrown 200 innings in each of the past two seasons, is under team control through the 2015 season, solidifying the top three in the Nationals rotation (Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gonzalez) for the next four years. But we’ll get to Gonzalez.
Let’s talk about the impressive haul that the Nationals had to give up in order to bring the Miami-native to Washington — it required three of their top-ranked prospect and two players expected to compete for rotation or bullpen spots on the major league roster this spring.
RHP Brad Peacock: A 22-year-old right-hander, Peacock burst onto the scene in 2011. Peacock was a draft-and-follow from the 2006 draft — taken in the 41st round he didn’t sign with the Nationals until after the following spring. He’d thrown just a handful of pitches as a high school third baseman but his arm was live and the potential was obvious. Peacock is considered a key piece of the deal after he was 15-3 with a 2.39 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A in 2011. In three major league appearance in September, Peacock allowed just one earned run in 12 innings and that only run came in his debut — a rushed appearance in relief of Doug Slaten on a rainy night at Nationals Park. In his starts he was very impressive, displaying a power arm and shutting down both the New York Mets and the Philadelphia Phillies — the Phillies in a 5 2/3-inning one-hit performance in September.
A down-to-earth guy, Peacock was well-liked among his teammates and his father, Jerry, quickly became a fan favorite after the story of their relationship and the ritual Brad had of throwing his final warm-up toss to his father from the bullpen surfaced.He’s also considered a high-upside player who’s yet to fully reach his potential as a pitcher.
LHP Tommy Milone: The crafty left-hander certainly stole the headlines when he was called up to start for the Nationals on Sept. 3 and he came out to retire the first six hitters he faced and then blasted a three-run homer into the Nationals bullpen in right field. His major league stint with the Nationals didn’t really tail off after that, either. Milone was 1-0 in five starts with a 3.81 ERA, his season hitting a crescendo with a six-inning, four-hit performance against the Phillies on Sept. 20.
Milone doesn’t throw hard — he rarely breaks 89 with his fastball — but he’s a command pitcher with a fastball, curveball, cutter and changeup. His curveball and changeup are his two best pitches — the changeup being named the best in the organization by Baseball America — and he displayed plenty of that control during his big league stint. A Southern California kid, Milone will be pitching closer to home now.
C Derek Norris: Considered an advanced hitter with impressive strike zone knowledge, Norris was one of the Nationals prized prospects at catcher — but he was also one of several. Catcher was easily the deepest position in the Nationals organization with Wilson Ramos and Jesus Flores at the MLB level and Ramos solidifying himself at the No. 1 spot with no plans of going anywhere any time soon. Norris hit just .210 this season at Double-A but he’s always been an on-base percentage and slugging percentage guy — and those numbers were good. He slugged 20 home runs for Harrisburg with a .367 OBP and the Nationals promoted him to the 40-man roster earlier this offseason to protect him from the Rule 5 draft.
Norris put on a strong performance in the Arizona Fall League this season and was ranked by BA as the No. 9 prospect in the Nationals organization. Many feel he’ll evolve into a starting major league catcher easily. His receiving skills continued to improve in 2011, especially with the help of former bench coach Pat Corrales and assistant GM Bob Boone.
RHP A.J. Cole: Considered by many to be the gem of the deal, Cole is a 19-year-old right-hander who signed for a well-over-slot $2 million in 2010 as a fourth-round draft pick. Cole was ranked as the No. 4 prospect in the organization this offseason by Baseball America — behind only Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon and Brad Peacock — after a 4-7 season with a 4.04 ERA at Single-A Hagerstown but those numbers don’t belie his strengths: he racked up 108 strikeouts in 89 innings and walked just 24. He’s considered still to be at least a few years away from the major leagues but his potential is extremely high.
— ESPN’s Keith Law, who broke the news of the trade via twitter, reviewed the A’s haul this way: “Oakland gets a future ace (Cole), a starting catcher (Norris), a strong reliever who might be a back-end starter (Peacock), and an up-and-down arm (Milone).”