It’s been awhile since we looked back and examined one of the trades completed since the Washington Nationals came into existence. I started this series off with a look at the lone trade completed under Jim Bowden’s regime and we’ve since moved through a handful of Mike Rizzo’s deals. Initially these were being addressed in chronological order, but after realizing that I had missed a few trades when I came up with my initial list, I’ve decided to jump around a little.
Next up, the end of the Christian Guzman era in Washington.
As the 2010 July trade deadline approached, the Texas Rangers sat comfortably atop the AL West. The organization’s lead was steadily growing and on the morning of Friday, July 30th they found themselves 8.5 games ahead of the 2nd place Angels. The Rangers had been receiving very typical production from their middle infield duo, but there was a clear need for some additional depth within the organization as they approached their first potential playoff birth in years.
Second baseman Ian Kinsler was having trouble staying on the field for the first time in his career, missing the final three weeks of Spring Training and nearly the entire month of April due to a high ankle sprain and then hitting the DL again on July 27th due to a strained groin that would keep him out until September. At the time of this latest injury he was batting .298/.387/.418 on the season. Meanwhile, his double play partner, Elvis Andrus, was in the midst of his second professional season and was producing just as the team had come to expect. Andrus, who had just participated in his first All Star Game a few weeks earlier, was batting a modest .268/.352/.309 at the time. Both Kinsler and Andrus were mired in power droughts on the season as well, at least with respect to their career averages.
With Kinsler’s latest injury, the Rangers were faced with filling the hole in their lineup with a combination of Andres Blanco and Joaquin Arias. Neither played had been providing much at the plate in 2010 – or for most of their careers, to be frank – but were reliable defensively. But the Rangers were trying to win the division and at the time of the injury there was initially some concern over just how much time Kinsler would miss, and how effective he’d be when he returned. With the trade deadline quickly approaching, their window to find a suitable option was closing.
On July 30th they managed to fill that hole, agreeing to a trade with the Washington Nationals.
The Rangers would receive Guzman.
Guzman had originally been signed as an International Free Agent by the New York Yankees in 1994. He was quietly starting to become one of the better shortstop prospects in the minor leagues when the Yankees included him in a package of players to obtain Chuck Knoblauch from the Minnesota Twins just before the 1998 season.
After spending another year in the minor leagues, Guzman appeared on Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospect list (#68 overall) prior to the 2009 season. He’d spent the whole year with the Twins, batting .226/.267/.276 with a home run and 26 RBI in 456 plate appearances. Over his six years in Minnesota he batted a combined .266/.303/.382 with 39 HR, 289 RBI, and 102 stolen bases.
Guzman reached free agency for the first time after the 2004 season and signed a four year, $16.8 Million contract with the Washington Nationals. Guzman was one of the original members of the organization. He was the man who would get the first hit and scored the first run in Nationals Park history. Over the course of his Nationals career he had appeared in 550 games, batting a combined .282/.317/.389 with 23 HR, 177 RBI, and just 23 stolen bases.
Entering the final season of a two year extension that he had signed with the organization in July 2008, in the team’s first 89 games he had accumulated 346 plate appearances, batting .282/.327/.361 with 2 HR and 25 RBI. He was playing second base mostly, after having spent the bulk of his career at shortstop. By July the Nationals were already out of the race in the NL East and there seemed to be little hope for Guzman to resign with the team after the season concluded. There wasn’t a true heir to second base in waiting, but there was some hope within the organization that minor leaguer Danny Espinosa could potentially make the leap and play the position in 2011. Washington elected to trade Guzman for a pair of minor leaguers rather than simply watch him leave the coming winter.
With Texas, Guzman’s role seemed clear. He’d play second on most days, filling in for the injured Kinsler, and then ultimately shifting into a utility role once he returned, but receiving limited playing time. Guzman struggled with the Rangers, batting just .152/.204/.174 with a single RBI in 50 plate appearances over 15 games. Texas hoped he’d provide them enough depth to withstand Kinsler’s injury and reach the playoffs, and Guzman did, despite being largely disappointing.
He reached free agency after the 2010 season and appeared to receive minimal interest. There were reportedly at least two teams who were interested in bringing him into Spring Training but Guzman instead elected to handle a personal family concern back in his native Dominican Republic. At the time he stated he’d miss at least the first half of the season. There hasn’t been word on whether he still may attempt to come back to playing baseball. He’ll be 34 in March, so the possibility – while unlikely – is not completely out of the question.
While a pair of minor league pitchers may not necessarily appear to be a big prize, the fact remains that Guzman no longer provided the same value to the Nationals at the time of the trade. And two arms, even if their only positive trait is their potential, would prove to be of more use in the coming years.
Tatusko, a 6’5″ right-hander had been a 2007 Draft pick by the Rangers. By 2010 he had worked his way up to Double-A and was producing respectable results. In 24 games (13 starts) in 2010, he was 9-2 with a 2.97 ERA in 100.0 innings. He didn’t dominate in any one area and needed to develop his secondary pitches in order to have any continued success as a pitcher.
Upon coming to Washington, Tatusko has seen mixed results while bouncing between the bullpen and rotation. He’s improved his strikeout rates but also walks more batters. In 2011 he went a combined 5-8 with a 5.30 ERA in 35 appearances (11 starts). Tatusko will likely be in the mix in Triple-A in 2012, potentially in a long reliever role with the occasional spot start.
Roark, meanwhile, was a 2008 Draft pick and he too had been producing good results as he progressed through the minor leagues. However, like Tatusko he was continuing to bounce between the bullpen and rotation – an indication that he didn’t necessarily stand out in either role. Leading up to the deal, he had been 10-5 with a 4.20 ERA in 22 appearances (17 games).
He’s remained in the starting rotation since joining the Nationals organization, making 27 starts since coming over in the this trade. He’s 10-10 over that span with a 4.17 ERA. He’s spent the past season and a half in Double-A. It’s unclear if he is going to repeat the level again in 2012 or if a decent Spring will earn him consideration for a spot in Triple-A.
The Final Verdict
The one is actually a closer call than you might think, but for now I’d have to say that things swing in Texas’ favor. Guzman’s production for the Rangers over the two months he spent with the team was dreadful offensively, but he was brought in to serve a purpose while the team managed through an injury. He accomplished his purpose, so to speak, and considering the Rangers would go on to reach their first of two consecutive World Series, I’d say that makes this deal worthwhile.
The jury is still out on both Tatusko and Roark. One or both of them could breakout in 2012. Tatusko may have a better shot at impressing enough to warrant a shot in Washington at some point late in the season, depending on the team’s needs as the season progresses.