Originally posted on The Nats Blog old  |  Last updated 12/16/11

The Washington Nationals are still in search of their big pitching signing this offseason, and GM Mike Rizzo has officially turned to the trade market.

According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, the Nats have shown interest in the A's LHP Gio Gonzalez as their primary target.  The White Sox LHP John Danks looks to be their backup.  We'll start with a look at Gonzalez, their primary target.

Gio Gonzalez is just 26 years old, and he made his first All-Star Game in 2011.  In 4 seasons, the young lefty has posted a 3.93 ERA, a 1.41 WHIP, and a 38-32 record.  That record is no small potatoes, because he earned it while starting for the Oakland Athletics.  He reached the 200 inning mark in both the 2010 and 2011 seasons.  He's earned a combined 9.2 WAR in those years.  

Looking at Gonzalez's stats over his two strongest seasons (2010, 2011), it's easy to see why he's Rizzo's number one target.  He has thrown more than 400 innings, posted a 3.17 ERA in the American League with an outstanding 129 ERA+, and has gone 31-21 in seasons where his ballclub didn't break the .500 mark.  Perhaps his biggest value comes in his current contract.  Gonzalez won't be a free agent until after the 2015 season.  That leaves 4 full seasons of value in his services before having to look toward a massive payday and contract extension.

Should the Nats come up short on their negotiations for Gonzalez, Rosenthal says the team is looking at John Danks.  Danks, also just 26, has shown similar value to his ballclub.  Coming off a rough 2011 season, his value may be lower and a bit more cost effective in terms of prospects.  Last year, he posted a 4.33 ERA, a 1.339 WHIP, a below average 97 ERA+, a meager 2.2 WAR, and threw just 170.1 innings.

However, that rough season is an anomaly in an otherwise impressive young career.  Looking at Danks' best seasons (2008-10), the numbers look far more impressive.  He averages a 3.61 ERA, a 125 ERA+, 1.241 WHIP, 7 K/9, a 203 IP per season on average, and a cumulative 11.2 WAR over 3 years.  These numbers are exactly what the Nats are looking for in another lefty.  The biggest drawback is his contract.  Danks is only under his current deal through 2012, so the team would have to negotiate for an extension after just one season.

The reasons seem obvious from the start why Gonzalez is higher than Danks, but either player could prove extremely valuable for a team, like the Nationals, in need of another lefty starter.  It's a matter of prospects and MLB-ready players now, and my guess is it may be costly to pick up either of these pitchers.  The trade for Gonzalez may hurt a lot, but how much is too much?

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