If you haven't been paying attention, the Washington Nationals have spent most of the offseason trying to find ways to upgrade their rotation going into next season. They whiffed on free agents like Cliff Lee and Jorge De La Rosa, and couldn't manage to find a deal for Zack Greinke or Matt Garza.
But in failing to land Garza, they saw an entirely new option come to the surface in the newly acquired Tom Gorzelanny. Adding Garza gave the Cubs an abundance of rotation options going into next season, although nobody assumed that they would look to move some of that excess because of how rarely teams can last an entire season on five, or even six, starting pitchers. But Chicago's front office is apparently confident that the club can find solid No. 5 starter performance from the likes of Carlos Silva, Thomas Diamond, Casey Coleman, and possibly Andrew Cashner and Jeff Samardzija.
Now, let's be honest here: this deal isn't likely to drastically change either team's future. Gorzelanny's a 28-year-old enigmatic left-hander that's been remarkably inconsistent over the years, and while he turned in a solid season in 2010 he's just as likely to regress as he is to sustain performance. Yet, on the other hand, Washington didn't exactly give up much in terms of talent; none of the prospects acquired by Chicago ranked among the team's top ten prospects according to Baseball America.
With that said, I think this is a reasonable deal for both clubs. The Cubs didn't land any of Washington's very best prospects for the former Pirate, but they did find some value and did so at a time when Gorzelanny's value hasn't really been much higher. When the Cubs acquired Gorzelanny in 2009, he was one of the secondary pieces in a trade headlined by John Grabow and Kevin Hart. But after a year-and-a-half of solid, cheap performance, the Cubs cashed in Gorzelanny's ticket for a couple of intriguing prospects that could actually make an impact in Chicago one day.
For Washington, the motivation appears to be based more in 2012 and 2013 than 2011. Gorzelanny is under control through 2013 after qualifying for Super Two status. As Eno Sarris noted over at FanGraphs, the Nationals presumably are targeting contention in 2012, when, "the team gets back [Stephen Strasburg] to join a more seasoned and healthy Jordan Zimmermann at the front of the rotation."
Gorzelanny's unlikely to put up an ERA near the 3.92 FIP mark he posted in 2010, but if he can eat innings with a mid-4's ERA he should provide a solid upgrade over what the team would've tossed out in the No. 5 spot in the rotation. The club's shown a willingness to spend money on upgrades, too, so don't be surprised if the Nationals add another guy to their rotation before 2012 actually comes around. With a base of Strasburg, Zimmermann and Gorzelanny for the 2012 rotation, the club shouldn't have as much difficulty finding quality options to fill out the rotation.
Like I said before, this deal isn't likely to be a franchise-changer. Gorzelanny might be able to give the Nationals a relatively cheap mid-rotation starter for the next three seasons, but we've seen the lefty completely fall apart before so we can't write off the possibility that it happens again. The Cubs didn't land any impact prospects, but they did acquire outfielder Michael Burgess. Both Kevin Goldstein and John Sickels ranked the 22-year-old outfielder as Washington's seventh-best prospect, noting his impressive tools and improving skills. His tendency to strikeout frequently likely limits his long-term potential, but it's entirely reasonable to wonder if he's the second-best outfield prospect in that system now after Brett Jackson. A.J. Morris and Graham Hicks aren't likely to be more than minor league fodder, but Morris still ranked among the Nationals' top-20 prospects and pitched decently in the Carolina League in 2010.
In the end, this just seems like a deal that can't really be judged immediately. Most people either liked or disliked the Garza trade from Chicago's perspective, with it all really coming down to what one thought of the former Ray. But I don't think that things are so clear-cut here. There are people out there that like Gorzelanny a lot, but he doesn't really have a strong track record to fall on like Garza. And if you can't get over how difficult it is to project Gorzelanny going forward, then you're probably wondering why the Nationals gave up two top-20 prospects for the guy. In the end, Burgess might come back to bite Mike Rizzo in the butt if he can improve his contact skills, but you have to be intrigued by how this deal could improve the Nats come 2012.