Once the Washington Nationals were done with new $28 million dollar closer Rafael Soriano's introductory press conference at Nationals Park this afternoon, Nats' GM Mike Rizzo fielded questions from reporters about last night's three-team trade with the Seattle Mariners and Oakland A's that brought power right-handers A.J. Cole and Blake Treinen and a PTBNL to D.C. from the Athletics, with the A's getting backstop John Jaso from the M's, who ended up with 30-year-old now-former Nationals' slugger Michael Morse. Got all that?
Rizzo explained this afternoon that the trade was the end result of a conversation with Seattle that stalled until Oakland got involved.
"The talks began, really, we had some preliminary talks with several clubs as we were negotiating with [free agent first baseman] Adam LaRoche," Rizzo told reporters. "We couldn't do any specific discussions because we had to make sure that we had Adam or we didn't. So that took precedence. So, after we had Adam under contract the discussions got be more specific and the focus on teams became smaller. And we identified the type of player that we wanted in a deal and the candidates that we were going to trade Michael Morse to and with Seattle we couldn't find the right deal to do it with Seattle straight-up, so we identified another team that would have some interest in the players that we were talking about and we involved a third team to get the minor league prospect that we needed to complete the transaction."
That prospect, A.J. Cole, is, of course, the Nats' 2010 4th Round pick, a pitcher who was given a well-above slot $2M dollar deal to get him to sign when he had a commitment to the University of Miami. Cole was subsequently dealt to the A's as part of the package that brought Gio Gonzalez to Washington last winter and last night he was reacquired by the Nats.
"He was the toughest part for me of the package for Gio [Gonzalez]," Rizzo said, referring to the deal that sent Cole, lefty Tom Milone, righty Brad Peacock and catcher Derek Norris to the A's for Gonzalez and RHP Robert Gilliam last December. Though the Nats didn't necessarily plan on finding a way to get the 6'4'' right-hander back one day, circumstances were such that they found themselves in a position to get Cole back once the A's got involved. "It's just that in this particular situation, this was a key component of a trade that we could make. We were fortunate to involve Oakland, that they needed a player from Seattle that Seattle was willing to give up for them, and we demanded that the deal had to have A.J. Cole in it or there wasn't going to be a deal."
"We wanted to make sure we got the right deal," Rizzo said when asked if he considered waiting to see if a better trade came up later this winter or spring. "The right players had to be involved, or we wouldn't have made the deal, and once the right players were involved and players that we really wanted for a talented player like Michael, I didn't find any reason not to do the deal. So when A.J. became part of the deal and we got two others pieces, then that was the deal that I felt was the deal to pull the trigger on."
The 6'4'', 180 lb, 21-year-old Cole struggled, going (0-7) in eight starts and 38.0 IP with the High-A California League's Stockton Ports in Oakland's organization over which he had a 7.82 ERA, a 4.99 FIP, 10 walks (2.37 BB/9) and 31 Ks (7.34 K/9). In explaining Cole's tough time at High-A ball in the A's system, Rizzo said that they had watched Cole closely and were comfortable with what they saw. "We scouted him quite a bit this season and believe me," Rizzo said, "I have a lot of experience with that California League and that California League has made a mockery of a lot of good starting pitchers. His stuff was fine. His delivery wandered a little bit throughout the season. He righted the ship when they sent him to the Midwest League and dominated that league as a 20-year-old, so we feel that he's on course."
With the Midwest League's Burlington Bees, the A's low-A affiliate, Cole was (6-3) in 19 starts and 95.2 IP over which he walked 19 (1.79 BB/9) and K'd 102 (9.60 K/9).
"His developmental curve is on track," Rizzo continued, "and we're going to get him with our pitching people and kind of straighten out his delivery and I think that this guy will be a quick mover for us from this point forward. Stuff was great. He's in great shape. He's a big strong man now. And couple that with another couple of pieces that we got in the trade and we feel very fortunate to get the package that we did for one year of control of Michael Morse."
With Morse now gone, Rafael Soriano and Adam LaRoche signed and Denard Span acquired, the Nationals' major league roster, barring any injuries, setbacks, etc., is pretty much set for the upcoming season. Looking at what he's put together this winter after the flurry of moves in the past few weeks and a few other signings earlier this offseason, Rizzo said he thought he had made the necessary improvements the team wanted to this winter after a NL-best, 98-win season in 2012.
"I think we're a more well-rounded team this year," Rizzo said. "We're very balanced with our offensive lineup. We're going to get left-right or switch-right all the way up and down the lineup. I think we're better defensively in the outfield by getting a plus-defensive center fielder and [moving] Bryce [Harper] to one of the corners, that gives up three center-field-caliber players in all three outfield positions. Our infield defense will be as good if not better. Our catching situation will still be solid. Our rotation will have one more year experience and [be] lengthened out for one more year. And I think that we're more athletic, we'll be counting less on the three-run home run, we can manufacture runs a little bit more. We're going to steal more bases. We're going to be faster and more athletic than we've been in the past and our bullpen is going to be extremely difficult to deal with for other clubs."
While the Nationals did give up a player in Morse who had posted a .294/.343/.514 line over four seasons, 378 games and 1353 plate appearances with Washington in which he hit 68 games and 67 HRs, the Nationals' GM told reporters today that they had a younger player on the roster in 25-year-old slugger Tyler Moore, that they think can replace what Morse offered the organization. Moore hit 31 HRs in back-to-back seasons and 2010-11 and debuted in the majors last year, hitting nine doubles and 10 HRs in 75 games and 171 PAs coming off the bench for the NL East champs.
"They have very similar skill sets and to have two of them is almost redundant," Rizzo said comparing the two sluggers, "And Michael with one year left of control only, we felt that we had an ample substitute in a more-controllable Tyler Moore and we figured that with the outlay of prospects to get the club that we have, we felt that Mike would recoup some of those prospects for us. Especially with the trade of Alex Meyer to obtain Denard Span, we felt that A.J. Cole kind of replaces his spot in our minor league system."