Did you know that Ted Leonsis’ basketball team signed a 54 year old white guy? Because Mike Rizzo is a freaking wizard.
Almost universally, the Nats are seen as the big winner of yesterday’s trade. The headline of Keith Law’s wrap-up is “Nationals make out like bandits in trade”; he goes on to sum it up by saying: “The Nationals seem to make out particularly well here, trading a quality minor leaguer who doesn’t fit on their major league roster for two very good prospects who should help them in the long term.” Bow-tie enthusiast Ken Rosenthal quoted an anonymous executive as saying: “I think the Nats must have pics on TB and SD!! They are the clear winner. Not even close.” Jonah Keri of Grantland wrote in his recap“the Nationals might be the team that leapt into the ring, whacked the opposition with a steel chair, and snuck away with the championship belt.”
It’s rare to find players that satisfy the likes of both sabrmatricians and traditionalists. The Nats may have just found one of those in Trea Turner, part of the booty received from the three team, eleven player deal between the Nats, Padres, and Rays headlined by Wil Myers.
If things break right for Turner, he’s a perfect lead-off man in pretty much anyone’s opinion. He’s got insane speed, and has stolen bases at an excellent rate. He can hit for a high average, especially if he refrains from selling out for more power (again, if things break right). If you scout the stats, you have to like Turner’s college plate discipline (116 BB/94 walks). A lead-off man that is fast, hits for average, and gets on base? And he even has a little bit of pop (13 combined HR in 2014 between 54 games at NC State and 69 in the Padres’ system). He even hit well in his pro debut (.232/.406/.448). Sign me up.
None of this is to say that Turner is without flaws. There’s no debate about his elite speed (somewhere between 70-80 depending on who you ask). Opinions vary on his bat; Kiley McDaniels of FanGraphs grades it at a 20 present/50 future and mentions that his mechanics improved just before the draft and appear to have stuck in his pro debut; Ryan Sullivan of NatsGM scouted him in March and liked his approach, bat speed and balance. His Baseball America draft report noted that his uptick in power has caused mechanical problems in his speed, as he sometimes elongates his swing to try and crush the ball.
His ability to stick at SS is also up in the air. McDaniels is optimistic about his ability to play there, calling his hands and instincts at the position as average and rating his arm 55. Baseball America said he’s a true shortstop with the hands, range and arm sufficient to play there permanently. Law was a bit less optimistic, saying that his speed is the reason he could be average-to-above average at SS, but also says that “at worst, he’s probably an everyday center fielder.” That’s a pretty solid worst case scenario.
The deal would have been alright with me had it just been Souza and Travis Ott for Trea Turner, but somehow Rizzo grabbed 21 year old righty Joe Ross as well. We’ve seen Joe’s older brother Tyson Ross come into his own for the Padres over the last two years despite relying almost completely on his mid-90’s fastball (61% of his pitches in 2013, 55.1% in 2014) and mid-80’s slider (32.6% of his pitches in 2013, 41.2% of his pitches in 2014). Little brother Joe’s best-case upside has him with three above average pitches (Fastball, Slider, Change), but his medium-level upside puts him as a similar pitcher to his brother, supplementing his excellent fastball with either an average slider or change (but not both). Joe reportedly struggles with consistency and command, keeping him from missing as many bats as he would like to (career 2.7 BB/9, 7.2 K/9), but he does get a good number of ground balls to counteract the lack of a huge number of strikeouts. Even if he doesn’t turn out to be the #3 starter that some peg him to be, that’s still a good set-up man profile.
The elephant in the room is Ian Desmond. The Nats just traded for their shortstop of the future. There has been plenty of Twitter discussion on whether or not this means his days are numbered. I think that if anything, this deal helps the chances of Desmond re-signing with the Nats. Nothing has changed with regards to having a guy in the system that can start in the big leagues on Opening Day of 2016; Turner is simply not that guy. He’s likely at least three years away from being a ML player (and no matter the shine of a prospect, it’s never a guarantee that he makes it), so honestly it would make a lot of sense for the Nats to sign Desmond long-term and then deal with a potential logjam in 2017 or 2018 whether it be a trade or position change. Lots of things can happen in 3 years, and I think Mike Rizzo has proved time and time again that he’s smart enough to know that it’s always a good idea to horde elite talent.
The Nats accomplished one of their offseason goals, gathering assets beyond the 2015 season, without having to deal any major ML contributors. Mike Rizzo put himself in a fantastic position here. Trea Turner and Joe Ross are high-upside prospects that fill two positions of long-term need. He now has the flexibility to hold on to Jordan Zimmermann and/or Ian Desmond for the 2015 season, extend them beyond 2015, trade them, let them walk after the 2015, anything. And he did that with a guy who was pretty much never going to get a shot with the team, a 26 year old who had no ML track record. I’m still trying to wrap my head around why the Rays wanted to do this, but I am not complaining.