How Mark Buehrle helped the Nationals land Gio Gonzalez

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals thought Mark Buehrle would be perfect for them.

Have to admit, I thought so, too.

And have to admit, now, that the best thing that could have happened to the Nationals last winter was for Buehrle to sign with the Marlins instead.

Nothing against Buehrle, who is a fine pitcher and would have been a fine influence on the Nationals' young rotation. But if the Nationals sign Buehrle, they don't trade for Gio Gonzalez.

If they don't trade for Gio, they don't have a 25-year-old left-hander so good that he has become nothing less than their No. 1-A starter, another ace to pair with Stephen Strasburg.

"One of the elite left-handers in baseball," Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo says.

If the Nationals don't trade for Gio, maybe they're not in first place in the National League East right now. If they don't trade for Gio, their future (while still bright) looks a little less bright than it does now.

Remember, if Buehrle says yes, the Nationals don't trade for Gio. Rizzo began the Gonzalez trade talks first, but put them on hold while chasing Buehrle, and says they wouldn't have restarted had Buehrle said yes.

As it turns out, what a shame that would have been, for the Nationals (who are understandably thrilled with Gonzalez), for the A's (who understandably love the strong package the Nationals gave up), and for Gio Gonzalez himself.

"I'm happy," he said Saturday morning. "I'm not going to lie."

Gonzalez was impressed that the Nationals moved to sign him long-term immediately after trading for him. He signed a five-year, $42 million deal just three weeks after the trade.

"The way I saw it [after that], I didn't want to let them down," Gonzalez said.

He hasn't. He's been so good that one rival major-league pitching coach said he'd take Gonzalez over Strasburg, if asked to pick.

"I would never pick," Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty said. "I love both of them. To get Gio made our staff. And then we got Edwin [Jackson], too."

The Nationals signed Jackson as a free agent, after getting Gonzalez. So if they could get Gonzalez and Jackson, couldn't they have gotten Gonzalez and Buehrle?

No they couldn't have, Rizzo insists. They signed Jackson only once he was willing to do a one-year deal (for $11 million); Buehrle signed for $58 million over four years with the Marlins.

Jackson, who starts Sunday against the Yankees, is 3-3 with a 3.02 ERA. The Nationals haven't yet tried to extend him, but one interested party believes they should.

"There's no hesitation, not in my mind," Gonzalez said. "Edwin should be coming back."

The Nationals can worry about that later. In Strasburg, Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman, they already have the top of the rotation they want.

Thanks to Mark Buehrle.

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