Feb 14, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT
VIERA, Fla. — Brad Peacock and A.J. Cole were the Nationals’ top two ranked pitching prospects entering 2012. Both were traded to Oakland in the deal that brought Gio Gonzalez to Washington.
Alex Meyer likely would have been the Nationals’ second-ranked pitching prospect entering 2013, before he was traded to Minnesota for Denard Span.
Robbie Ray and Nate Karns ranked high on the Nationals’ prospect list this winter. Until Ray was part of the trade that brought Doug Fister to Washington, and Karns was dealt yesterday to Tampa Bay for catcher Jose Lobaton and two minor-leaguers.
That’s five highly rated pitching prospects traded away in the last 26 months. And a window into general manager Mike Rizzo’s mindset when it comes to building a franchise that can win both now and down the road.
In each of these cases, the young pitchers were dealt in exchange for major-league talent, players who would have an immediate impact on the Nationals’ fortunes. And because every member of Washington’s big-league rotation is under club control for at least two more seasons, Rizzo has felt comfortable making these trades, knowing those prospects were blocked on the depth chart.
“Because of the young, controllable rotation that you have in the big leagues, it allows you to move some younger prospect pitchers,” he said yesterday after announcing the Karns move.
The theory goes even deeper than that, though. In trading away some of his best young pitchers, Rizzo has also made an effort to acquire even younger pitchers, prospects who are a year or two farther from reaching D.C. but now will be ready to debut around the same time some members of the current rotation will become free agents.
If Fister and/or Jordan Zimmermann depart via free agency after the 2015 season, a wave of pitching prospects that includes Cole (who was re-acquired last winter in the Michael Morse trade), Sammy Solis, Felipe Rivero (acquired yesterday from the Rays) and perhaps No. 1 prospect Lucas Giolito should be ready to take their place.
“You go from a 26-year-old prospect in Karns to a 22-year-old prospect in Rivero,” Rizzo explained. “It kind of spaces out the waves of pitchers coming. … So there’s a little break there. It staggers our prospects and their ETAs to the big leagues.”
So, the organization has to be mindful of the different tiers of prospects it’s trying to stockpile throughout its farm system?
“Definitely,” Rizzo said. “You have a certain amount of control. Guys run out of options. If you have a group of guys running out of options at the same times … it’s [better] to have them tiered and separated. That kind of fell into our plans and our strategy in this trade.”
Just another reminder how much is involved with every transaction an organization makes, and the effect it can have not only for the upcoming season but for many seasons to come.
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