Over the offseason here at DoD we set out to examine each of the trades completed by the Washington Nationals organization. It has now been a little under two months since we last took a look back at one of these deals. But today we are going to examine the deal that brought Tom Gorzelanny to Washington just prior to the 2011 season.
The Cubs were (and still are) a club whose playoff chances going into the season were not very high. Though their roster had a number of impact players – such as Aramis Ramirez, Starlin Castro, and Carlos Pena – they were not even close to competing with anyone in their division, with the exception of the Astros of course, who lacked any production from a player not named Hunter Pence or Wandy Rodriguez. And in the offseason, transactions work like American wealth: the poor stay poor, the rich get richer (or for our purposes, stay richer than the poor).
The Brewers were, as OneRepublic would describe it, making “All the right moves in all the right places.” They had bolstered their rotation with the likes of Shaun Marcum, and, more notably, Zack Greinke. They had gone out and acquired fourth outfielder Nyjer Morgan, who later became a huge steal. They were ready to make some noise, and were easily better than the Cubs.
The Reds, though not extremely active in the offseason, had a roster that would dominate Chicago any day of the week. They had NL MVP Joey Votto and power hitting Jay Bruce both coming off career seasons, Brandon Phillips ready to play in a contract year, and Drew Stubbs ready to emerge as an elite center fielder. They had all the pieces needed to finish ahead of Chicago.
The Cardinals were ready to make the playoffs, after watching them from the couch in 2010. They were prepared to boast a top-notch rotation, headlined with aces Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter, along with the emerging youngster Jaime Garcia. And then of course, they had gone out and signed Lance Berkman to a one-year deal, hoping he could rediscover the magic he had for so many years in Houston. He would bat fifth in a lineup that already contained the legendary Albert Pujols, as well as four-time All-Star Matt Holliday. They were ready to rumble.
The offseason had been one of little activity for the Chicago Cubs. Interim manager Mike Quade had been named permanent boss, but beyond that, the transaction chart was the size of a pencil tip at best. Why was the offseason so boring? Quite simply because everyone knew about the Cubs, that cursed team that suffered year-in and year-out.
But on January 8, General Manager Jim Hendry forced someone to come to his miserable team. The Cubs went out and acquired starting pitcher Matt Garza (along with outfielder Fernando Perez and lefty Zachary Rosscup) from the Rays in exchange for right-handed pitcher Chris Archer, shortstop Hak-Ju Lee, catcher Robinson Chirinos, and outfielders Brandon Guyer and Sam Fuld.
Garza was to become the third starter of the Cubs’ staff, shifting down Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner to the fourth and fifth spots, and leaving former fifth starter Tom Gorzelanny without a rotation spot.
So on January 19, the Cubs used their pitching depth to make a trade with the Washington Nationals.
The Nationals would receive Gorzelanny.
Only one top ten organizational prospect was moved in this deal, and that was outfielder Michael Burgess. Burgess had originally been drafted by the Nationals 49th overall in the 2007 amateur draft, and was listed at the time as the 8th best prospect in the organization. After a dominant first season split between Potomac and Vermont (low minors) where he hit a combined .318, Burgess saw his average and power gradually decline. Burgess would never see his season average get to above .265, and saw his home runs totals drop from 24 to 19 to 18. He would also never get above AA Harrisburg.
A.J. Morris, another top 20 organizational prospect at the time (17th best), was originally drafted in the 4th round of the 2009 amateur draft. He impressed early on during his career, posting a 3.38 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP in his first professional season split between the GCL Nationals and Hagerstown Suns. He saw his numbers dip a bit in 2010, where he saw his ERA rise to 3.77 and his K/9 rate drop from 8.4 to 7.4.
Graham Hicks was the throw-in in this deal. He was not a top 20 prospect, but that also had to do with the fact that he was 20 years old. Hicks had been originally drafted by the Nationals in the fourth round of the 2008 amateur draft straight out of high school, and was yet to show much production in the minor leagues. Throughout his 3-year stint with the Nationals organization, Hicks never got passed Hagerstown (low minors), and never saw (with the exception of his 2-game season in 2008) his combined ERA finish below 5.02.
Tom Gorzelanny had originally been drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the second round of the 2003 amateur draft out of Kansas. Before 2006, Baseball America ranked him as the 95th best prospect in all of baseball, and Sickel’s ranked him third in the Pirates organization (below current big league second baseman Neil Walker and superstar Andrew McCutchen). He saw his first big league season in 2006, where he posted a 3.79 ERA in 11 starts, while recording a 1.31 WHIP and 5.8 K/9 rate. Gorzelanny followed up his solid rookie campaign with a 14-10 record the following season, recording a 3.88 ERA in 201 innings pitched, while posting a 1.39 WHIP and 6.0 K/9 rate.
However, Gorzelanny saw his numbers falter over the course of the next two seasons. In 2008, he posted an ERA of 6.66, which led to questions about whether or not he would stay a Pirate. However, he did return the following season, though he did not reward the Pirates on their decision. Though he did improve, his ERA still stood at 5.19 halfway through the season, which eventually led to his being traded to the Cubs at the 2009 trade deadline. He would be sent to the Chicago Cubs along with reliever John Grabow in exchange for pitchers Kevin Hart and Jose Ascaino.
Gorzelanny was not able to find the strength he had in ’05 and ’06 in the second half of 2009. Chicago had taken a chance on him, and once again, he failed to reward. In 13 appearances (7 starts), he posted a 5.63 ERA, giving up 6 home runs in only 38.1 innings pitched. At season’s end he finished with a combined 7-3 record, which even though it looks pretty, came with a 5.63 ERA.
However, Gorzelanny was able to recover from a rocky few years in 2010. He regained a rotation spot for much of the year, and was finally able to reward management for giving him that role. In 29 appearances (23 starts), Gorzelanny record a 4.09 ERA, which was a 1.54 improvement from 2009. Though he did he his K/9 rate go down (9.0 to 7.9) and his BB/9 rate go up (3.1 to 4.5), Gorzelanny became more of a pitcher, and less of a thrower. He finished the season with a 7-9 record splitting his time between the rotation and bullpen.
First, let’s check in and see where the prospects of this deal are now.
Burgess, now 23, played for the Daytona Cubs (A+) last year, batting .225 with 20 homeruns and 1 stolen base. Based solely on those numbers, I’m not upset that we moved him. He showed power, but for a 4-year minor leaguer, I expected him to be higher than A+ ball by now. No complaints regarding the home runs, the man has power, but he shouldn’t be hitting .225, and for an outfielder, 1 stolen base means he lacks the speed to hunt down balls in the field, which doesn’t help his case.
Morris, now 25, did not pitch in 2011 due to a slow recovery from shoulder surgery. Hard to analyze him anymore than I already did due to lack of playing time. The fact that he’s 25 and not likely to be on the radar for potential call-ups next year does make it hard to say he was worth acquiring for the Cubs though. Perhaps a late bloomer? They can only hope.
Hicks did nothing to impress me last season. Though he wasn’t a big piece being sent to Chicago in the first place, he should still be higher than the low minors since he was a high school draftee. Hicks is still on the A-ball Peoria Cubs (along with fellow tradee Morris). He has had three full seasons to make something of himself and hasn’t really gotten anywhere. Highly unlikely you read his name anywhere after finishing this article.
Now let’s see what Gorzelanny did for the Nationals last year.
He made 30 appearances split evenly between the rotation and the bullpen in 2011. He had a 4.46 ERA as a starter and a 2.42 ERA out of the pen (stat breakdown courtesy of natsbaseball.blogspot.com), so if you are going to judge him solely on his relief performances, obviously he’s considered lights out. As a starter, he’s not going to win 20 games, but considering the quality of the players the Nationals traded to get him, this move looks like a huge steal.