Since the World Series came to a conclusion in October, there have been so many words written here at DoD about the team’s need and pursuit of a center field solution that it probably isn’t worth counting them. In fact, until a long term solution is actually found there are likely to be just as many more written around these parts. However, Tuesday afternoon another option seemingly came off the board when the Houston Astros dealt Jason Bourgeois to the Kansas City Royals along with catcher Humberto Quintero.
Washington has been linked to Bourgeois in recent weeks, though it has been reported that the team has inquired about his availability multiple times since December’s Winter Meetings. Earlier this month, I took a closer look at Bourgeois and the potential value he could offer should the Nationals get into serious discussions to acquire him. While he’s a player that would certainly offer some degree of value (strong defensive versatility, speed on the base paths, under team control for four more seasons), I concluded that ultimately he was your typical 4-A player who wouldn’t necessarily be better than the team’s current in-house options.
The role that Bourgeois fills in Kansas City remains unclear – as the Royals were expected to give Lorenzo Cain an opportunity to fill the center field void on an everyday basis. But his role with the Royals is really of no concern to the Nationals at this point. It’s the cost to acquire him that seems most relevant.
According to MLB Trade Rumors on Tuesday afternoon, the Astros will receive left-hander Kevin Chapman and a player to be named later from the Royals in exchange for Bourgeois and Quintero. Chapman was a 4th Round pick in the 2010 Draft (he had been drafted twice before, but didn’t sign, which I always find interesting) and has moved relatively quickly through Kansas City’s minor league system. In 2011 he split his time between High-A and Double-A, totaling a 1-4 record, 4.94 ERA, and a 13.1 K/9 in 62.0 relief innings.
Baseball America ranked Chapman as the 18th best prospect in Kansas City’s system, projecting he’ll continue on his fast track to the Majors. Chapman was a reliever through his collegiate career, making the transition to professional baseball a little easier in some regards. Nathaniel Stoltz at Seedlings to Stars published a scouting report on Chapman Tuesday evening, a solid read for those unfamiliar with the lefty, and described his motion pretty clearly:
"A tall southpaw, Chapman has a deceptive motion that includes a high set position and leg kick with a low three-quarters arm slot. It’s sort of a less dramatic version of the motion that made former Yankees reliever Jeff Nelson a devastating middle man in the 1990s."
Chapman could prove to be a solid acquisition for Houston, a team in the beginning stages of a major rebuilding project. However, reports late Tuesday seem to indicate that the PTBNL is ultimately going to be the big piece of this deal. Houston’s GM, Jeff Luhnow, told reporters that the PTBNL will be the “key component of the deal” but it seems that “it will be awhile before the player is named”. Many have already publicly speculated on whether someone from last June’s Draft could be involved – as any player drafted last year cannot officially be named in a trade until one year from the date they signed their first contract.
After learning a little about Chapman, I started to wonder what a comparable piece would have been had the Nationals been the ones on the other side of this trade. While it’s not always the perfect comparison, this led me to BA’s Top 30 Nationals prospects and to Daniel Rosenbaum.
Rosenbaum checks in at #22 on BA’s list, though it’s worth noting that this year’s Prospect Handbook was sent to the publishers before the Gio Gonzalez trade was completed (which, again, cost the organization four top prospects). He’s a left-hander who was the team’s 22nd Round pick in the 2009 Draft, who like Chapman, has moved quickly through the team’s minor league system. He split 2011 between High-A and Double-A, posting a 9-6 record with a 2.52 ERA in 171.1 innings (25 starts, 1 relief appearance). His peripheral numbers aren’t quite as strong as Chapmans (only a 7.1 K/9) but they are still respectable (1.121 WHIP). But Rosenbaum is also being utilized primarily as a starter, not out of the bullpen. Positional value is relevant here, so perhaps Rosenbaum could be considered the superior prospect by comparison.
But, it’s a starting point and a worthwhile place to ask the question – if Bourgeois cost the Nationals a player of Rosenbaum’s caliber, would the deal be worth making?
The short answer is no. Given the current state of the Nationals organization, quality starting pitching depth is of more value right now than a player that may prove to be nothing more than a quality bench option. Of course, the deal with Kansas City does involve another player on each side of the equation (Quintero and the PTBNL) so there are extra considerations we’re not exactly taking into account here. If you asked me if a Rosenbaum plus a lesser prospect package could have landed the Nationals Bourgeois and another non-Quintero piece then maybe my view on the possibility would have been different. It all depends what those other pieces turn out to be.
Bottom line, Bourgeois was never a viable option for the Nationals in their quest to address center field. Had the team further pursued acquiring him from Houston, it’s possible the price would have ultimately been too much to swallow. But the price that Kansas City paid to acquire him is worth noting. Should Washington solve the center field problem via a trade, understanding what it cost to acquire an option of Bourgeois’ caliber may help predict what it may eventually take to land a true resolution.