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Cubs Cash in on Gorzelanny

When the Cubs acquired Tom Gorzelanny at the 2009 trade deadline he was little more than an afterthought. Their main target was lefty reliever John Grabow, who was in the midst of a decent season. But apparently the Pirates had seen enough of Gorzelanny’s inconsistency and made him part of the deal. Eighteen months and a quality season later, the Cubs have flipped Gorzelanny for a handsome profit.

In exchange for both Grabow and Gorzelanny, the Cubs sent Kevin Hart, Jose Ascanio, and Josh Harrison to the Pirates. None of these three players appeared to be significant contributors. Baseball America ranked Hart the Cubs’ No. 6 prospect in 2009, but by then had ticketed him for the bullpen. Ascanio, whom the Braves sent to the Cubs in the Omar Infante deal, was another reliever who had a smattering of major league experience. Harrison was a young utility player with little patience or power. But that’s the kind of return you might expect for a middle reliever and a pitcher who had been flat terrible for two and a half years.

Still, Gorzelanny had promise. Last year he mounted something of a comeback, posting a 4.09 ERA and 3.92 FIP in 136.1 innings, which included 23 starts. It amounted to a 2.3 WAR season, which, combined with the 0.5 WAR he produced in 2009 with the Cubs, gave him 2.8 WAR total. Hart and Ascanio provided the Pirates with 0.1 WAR each in 2009, but neither pitched in the majors in 2010. Hart is the most troubling case, as he missed most of the season recovering from shoulder labrum surgery. The deal might have made sense at the time — a middle reliever and a poor performer for three mid-grade, at best, prospects — but the Cubs clearly got the better portion of the results.

The Cubs also benefitted when they traded Gorzelanny to the Nationals for Graham Hicks, A.J. Morris, and Michael Burgess. With the Matt Garza trade the Cubs had depleted their farm depth, but built rotation depth. With this trade they used one to strengthen the other. The prospects they got back from Washington are, unsurprisingly, better than the ones they sent to Pittsburgh.

Burgess, a 2007 supplemental first rounder, came along slowly after the draft. He spent what amounts to two full seasons at A+ before moving up to AA at the end of last season. Kevin Goldstein ranked him the Nats’ No. 7 prospect, noting his strengths as power and on-base skills. Hicks appears to be more of a project, since he has little pro experience and will turn 21 in February. Morris ranks 17th on Goldstein’s list, with a note that his sinker/slider repertoire could be fit for a relief role.

Tom Gorzelanny has been nothing but a boon to Chicago. They acquired him for a pittance, and that’s not even considering that they also got Grabow, who was useful in the second half of 2009. They then got a good full season out of him, to the tune of 2.3 wins, and then flipped him for a package of prospects that, while not overwhelming, still contains one chip better than anything they sent to Pittsburgh. A lot of luck went into this, but it seemingly all broke Chicago’s way. The Nationals might have done well, but considering the sequence of events, Chicago has to be considered a winner in this.