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Royals vs. Nationals Game Preview: Misreading the Trade Market

The Nats and Royals each made blockbuster moves for pitchers in successive winters. One got it right, the other got it wrong. I'l let you guess which is which.

After the 2011 season, the Washington Nationals, coming off an 80-81 season, decided to make a bold move. They had just enjoyed their first season with big free agent slugger Jayson Werth, were hoping to get Stephen Strasburg back from Tommy John Surgery in 2012, and were anticipating the debut of uber-prospect Bryce Harper. It seemed like a wise time to make a bold move, and they did, trading four prospects to Oakland for left-handed starter Gio Gonzalez.

Gonzalez, just 25 at the time, had just come off his second straight 4 WAR season with Oakland, as well as his first All-Star season. Although he led the American League in walks, he struck out nearly a hitter per inning with an ERA of 3.12. He had four years left of club control and was one of the most coveted pitchers on the market.

To obtain him, the Nats had to pay a heavy price. The traded three of their top ten prospects, according to Baseball America, as well as left-handed starter Tom Milone. Pitcher Brad Peacock (#3), pitcher A.J. Cole (#4) and catcher Derek Norris (#9) were all shipped to Oakland. Peacock would be ranked the 36th best prospect in baseball by BA a few months later, while Cole would be named 57th. While the trade ended up being quite good for Oakland, Gonzalez would continue to thrive in Washington, winning a league-high 21 games in 2012 as the Nationals won the division title.

Contrast this with our own plucky Royals. Kansas City was coming off a 72-win season in 2012, but had some promising hitters entering the prime of their careers. They traded for a very good pitcher, but a pitcher who has only has two 4 WAR seasons in his six full seasons in the big leagues, and was downright awful as recently as 2010. Shelds also ahd just two years of control left, and was on the wrong side of 30. To acquire him, the Royals traded two of their top ten prospects, including the 4th and the 92nd prospect in baseball. They also traded a former Top 100 prospect in Mike Montgomery, and a lottery ticket in Patrick Leonard, while absorbing the contract of disappointing starting pitcher Wade Davis.

I can get on board the "all-in" argument, really I can. The Royals have floundered for so long, they could use a bold move to turn the franchise around. Really Myers should be a part of that, but if you are going to trade him, at least trade him for market value. Had the Royals pursued Gio at the time, they could have put together a package of Myers (who was coming off a disappointing 2011 season), Odorizzi, Chris Dwyer, and I don't know Will Smith, and it would be a tough trade, but at least you'd have Gio Gonzalez for four years, rather than James Shields for two. As I said in my piece at the time, a trade for Myers should land "a 2-3 WAR player, that has at least three, and probably four controllable years left". But instead, they overpaid the following winter for a pitcher that made less sense for them, another exhibit in the voluminous display of evidence that Dayton Moore is incapable of reading the trade market correctly.

And that is why the Royals limp into tonight with a record that I'm sure makes Dayton giddy at all the progress he has made, but which would be perceived as a major disappointment by a team that has actual standards, like say, the Washington Nationals.