Recently crowned King of All Nationals, Mike Rizzo has made it clear. He wants a #1 starter. He thinks he can get one in a trade. Whether you think it's possible or not (and me along with other bloggers would lean toward the latter), we have to believe he has the green light to try. Maybe what he thinks the term "#1 starter" means doesn't match up with what we think it means, but for now let's think that he thinks what we think. Zack Greinke is a #1 starter available for trade. How can the Nats get him?
The Nats can get Greinke in three ways. They can: (A) Trade Strasburg; (B) Trade Bryce, or (C) Try to put together an appealing package. This has been talked about before sure, but we've been dismissive in all the options. We can't believe the Nats would do A or B, and we don't think they have enough to do C. Let's have the discussion this time, though, where Greinke sits in for any #1 starter. Let's see if we're being overly dismissive. We'll start with the "Nats would never do this" scenarios.
(A) Trade Strasburg.
Why the Nats would do it: Strasburg, for all the talent he brings, is now damaged goods. It's conceivable he won't even pitch until late 2012, making the next two years wasted time. Greinke would give them numbers that they wanted from Strasburg over that time. I'd say there's a good chance he'd be even better. Even when Strasburg does come back there's not telling how well he'll pitch and if he can stay healthy. Very early indications are that Strasburg is a CA boy and wants to get back there as soon as he's a free agent anyway.
Why the Nats wouldn't do it: It's two years of Greinke and that's probably it. Zack is mecurial enough that I wouldn't expect him to give the team that trades for him the inside track on resigning him. Strasburg has shown that he can be one of the best pitchers in the majors. It seems reasonable to believe that will be the case whenever he's healthy. It also seems reasonable to believe he'll recover from surgery. The prevailing thought process for the Nats so far is you pay for hitting (more reliable) and you develop pitching, having a controlled Strasburg would be key. Strasburg excited this town over baseball more than anything since the initial move. It isn't even close.
(B) Trade Bryce
Why the Nats would do it: Bryce has yet to face anyone out of the instructional league. He's still growing, both physically and mentally. Therefore he's the big unknown. He could be great, but he could be awful too. His attitude might be questionable. He's almost certainly a couple years from even appearing in the majors, let alone making an impact. Hitters, even great ones, can be replaced far easier than great pitchers.
Why the Nats wouldn't do it: The Greinke reasons cited above. Hitters are usually far more projectable than pitchers meaning that everyone is probably right and Bryce will at least have major league power and will play in the majors at some point. The history of #1 hitters selected is very good. Everyday hitters like Bryce make more of an impact to a team than pitchers, even great ones.
I don't think the Nats would never make these deals, but I do think it would take tremendous guts to do so. Strasburg showed signs he was, and is a good bet to be in the future, the most valuable commodity in baseball, the true #1. Bryce, is a good bet to be an impact offensive player. Now, baseball "good bets" are really like "there's a 50% chance of this happening" but still Rizzo would be lamabasted across time and space if he ended up on the short end of these deals. Really, though, what I think makes the difference is the 2 years left on Greinke's deal. That's not enough for a team as far from the playoffs as the Nats are.
(C) The Package
What kind of deal would it take? I think it STARTS with Storen, Desmond (could be Espinosa but let's go with Desmond for now), and Norris. STARTS. Some Nats fans would balk saying "that's a future closer, a starting shortstop, and a great young catcher" but that's your own team bias speaking. People on the outside see a untested relief pitcher, an average old-to-be-a-prospect shortstop and a guy with talent, but who's never gotten an at bat in the majors. So you're adding at least someone else to the deal. Zimmermann? Thompson? Willingham? Then maybe, maybe the conversation starts. Let's go with Zimmermann and see.
On the plus side:
For the Nats it's a big cut into the future but nothing they couldn't get over. Storen is just a reliever, Desmond's spot could be given to Espinosa, the Nats are deep at catcher so Norris' loss wouldn't be devestating. ZNN is coming off of injury and if he doesn't turn that corner to be a #2 type guy or better than he's replaceable. For the Royals, you are getting 3 guys that can be pencilled in to next years team. Storen could help you deal Soria. Desmond with even slight improvement after his rookie year would be a step up from Betancourt and they are thin in MI. They have a young catcher they like but it's always best not to pin your hopes on one guy with one good 1/3rd of a season in AA. Pitching is always nice, so of course you take ZNN.
On the minus side:
For the Nats, again - 2 years! While it doesn't kill the Nats in any specific way it kills what little depth they have. In this scenario you are betting real heavy on Espinosa and Ramos to come through because there is no good plan B if they don't. You just got the relief pitching in order and losing Storen may just help put it back in disarray. For the Royals, where's the star? You are getting depth for sure but the guy who's done the best so far in the group is a reliever who put up a 3.50 ERA in the NL. Huzzah. For Greinke you expect the best in return and this... it ain't the best.
If the Nats are to get a #1 pitcher through trade, I think the Nats are more likely to make one of these deals, flooding the offer with their "best" talent. Storen, a talented pitcher but a reliever nonetheless, and Norris, who in theory would be fighting with Ramos and Flores for the same position, would almost have to be part of any deal. They are both attractive and expendable. It builds from there, though, as that in itself is not enough. It seems reasonable that Desmond/Espinosa would be the next cog. Both appear good enough to play in the majors at positions where talent is usually harder to come by. Now we're getting close and the bartering would start.
At this point the talent level for Nats prospects is not all that great but still I think it's possible for the Nats to reach a deal for a #1, given the right combination of players added to the 3 mentioned. Given the Greinke example you can see it's no slam dunk for either side, but that's what trades are. You have to take a risk and lose something. You can't get something for nothing. The Greinke deal itself, while I would love to see the kid in DC, makes little sense for the Nats. Two guaranteed years just isn't enough. But are you ready to flood Tampa prospects for Garza?