If you'll recall, the signing of Jayson Werth to a seven-year $126 million deal was almost the second biggest move the Washington Nationals made last winter. The club had in place an agreement to acquire former Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke from the Kansas City Royals, a move that would solidify the team's rotation for years to come.
The Nationals had even reportedly offered Greinke a hefty long-term extension as part of the deal. Nats GM Mike Rizzo had just bet big on Werth, and was willing to bet even bigger on Greinke. As I'm sure you all know, Greinke used his no trade clause to reject that deal stating that for him it was all about winning. He later accepted a deal to the Milwaukee Brewers with no contract extension. In the short run, the deal paid off as the team made a playoff run last year, but now he faces free-agency this winter and is on a team that could, very realistically, not make it to October.
It was never publicly made known what the Nationals would have given the Royals for the right-hander, but some reports indicated that the package included Drew Storen, Danny Espinosa, AND Jordan Zimmermann. Had the deal gone through, the Nats would have had Greinke in their rotation, but the landscape of the franchise would be very different than it is today.
One year later the Nationals were able to finally complete a move to bring a front-line starting pitcher to Washington. Rizzo and Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane worked out a deal to send Gio Gonzalez to the Nats for four top prospects. You've seen the results thus far. Not only has Gonzalez been dominant in his last three starts, the team was also able to lock up the left-hander to a very reasonable contract extension. The Nationals now have the best rotation in baseball early on this season, and currently sit atop the National League standings.
To me it's amazing how a rejection as painful as the one Greinke slapped on the Nats has turned around into something so very positive in just one year. While Zimmermann and Gonzalez may never reach the level of output Geinke had in his Cy Young 2009 season, I would much rather take the both of them on my rotation than just the former Royals' star alone. Take a look at these numbers for the past three seasons:
Zimmermann 2010: 1-2, 4.94 ERA, 1.32 WHIP
Gonzalez 2010: 15-9, 3.23 ERA, 1.31 WHIP
Greinke 2010: 10-14, 4.17 ERA, 1.25 WHIP
Zimmermann 2011: 8-11, 3.18 ERA, 1.15 WHIP
Gonzalez 2011: 16-12, 3.12 ERA, 1.32 WHIP
Greinke 2011: 16-6, 3.83 ERA, 1.20 WHIP
Zimmermann 2012: 1-1, 1.33 ERA, 0.71 WHIP
Gonzalez 2012: 2-0, 1.52 ERA, 0.85 WHIP
Greinke 2012: 2-1, 4.56 ERA, 1.27 WHIP
So in review, the Gonzalez trade allowed the Nats to keep Zimmermann, Espinosa, and Drew Storen, while also having a lefty in their rotation. The Greinke trade would have left them without a front-line starter in Zimmermann, as well as their starting second baseman and closer. It also would have given them too many right-handed hurlers, and would have cost more with Greinke's monster extension.