Billy Beane knew what he had in Gio Gonzalez: a young, durable, lefthanded strikeout artist. If Beane, the Oakland A's general manager, was going to deal him last winter -- even in the midst of a fire sale in which virtually every player on the A's roster, save second baseman Jemile Weeks, was available -- it would be for a return of the sort that would decimate most trading partners' farm systems.
In fact, just one organization might have had the wherewithal to pry Gonzalez away from Beane without crippling its future: the Washington Nationals.
Nationals GM Mike Rizzo didn't blanch when he heard what Beane wanted for Gonzalez. Rather, he pounced. Two days before Christmas, he sent to Oakland three prospects, each of whom has in the past two seasons been ranked among Baseball America's top 75 -- pitchers Brad Peacock and A.J. Cole and catcher Derek Norris -- and a fourth pitching prospect who was considered ready to immediately step into a major league rotation, Tom Milone. Gonzalez was his.