WASHINGTON -- Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo has kept his eye on Gio Gonzalez for the last decade or so. Now, the left-hander is a member of Rizzo's starting rotation.
Capping trade talks that began about a month ago, the Athletics and Nationals completed a six-player swap Friday that sends Gonzalez from Oakland to Washington, where he joins a promising pitching staff that already included right-handers Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann.
"I've known him since he was in high school in the Miami area. This is a guy I followed for years. I really like the way he competes," Rizzo said on a conference call. "I call him, in a good way, a sore loser."
Oakland gets four players in the deal: catcher Derek Norris, right-handers A.J. Cole and Brad Peacock, and left-hander Tommy Milone. The Nationals also received minor league right-hander Robert Gilliam, who went 12-7 with a 5.04 ERA and 156 strikeouts for Class-A Vancouver this year.
A's general manager Billy Beane said he nearly took another offer but in the end preferred the prospects Washington sent.
"I told everyone I spoke to, we'd leverage one team against the other," Beane said. "We were giving up a pitcher, and the ability to acquire three very good major league prospects who were pitchers swung it for us."
The 26-year-old Gonzalez went 16-12 last season -- a career high for wins -- with a 3.12 ERA in 32 starts and was selected to his first All-Star game. He has reached 200 innings the past two seasons.
"He brings a presence in our rotation. He's had success. He's been a workhorse. He's very, very young," Rizzo said. "Gives us a young core of starting pitchers at the major league level that really is in the realm of something we've never had here before."
Gonzalez will be slotted between Strasburg and Zimmermann, two hard throwers who have come back from reconstructive elbow surgery and are considered cornerstones of the Nationals' attempt to finally become contenders. After finishing last in the NL East in three consecutive seasons, Washington went 80-81 and wound up in third place in 2011.
"We think that we're vastly improved over last year," Rizzo said.
At season's end, the GM made clear his top priorities this offseason were adding a top-line starting pitcher and an outfielder. The Nationals are still in the market for a "long-term, permanent fit" in center field, Rizzo said.
After failing to land free-agent pitcher Mark Buehrle, who signed with the Miami Marlins, the Nationals "stepped up our efforts" to improve their rotation, Rizzo said, which led to trade talks with the A's.
Beane is in rebuilding mode, having previously dealt starter Trevor Cahill to Arizona to stockpile more talent in the farm system. The A's went 74-88 last season and haven't posted a winning record or earned a playoff berth since 2006.
Beane said he is making moves in hopes of being able to move into a new stadium in San Jose in a few years. He said he expects to hear soon from commissioner Bud Selig whether the team can build a new ballpark some 40 miles south in San Jose despite the San Francisco Giants owning the territorial rights to technology-rich Santa Clara County.
"For us to compete, we're going to have to have a new stadium," Beane said. "I don't think there was a move we could have made that would have put us in position to compete with Anaheim and Texas and what they have."
Gonzalez has been the subject of trade talks all offseason, with many teams interested in adding a proven starter.
"He's won a lot of games on a mediocre club," Rizzo said about Gonzalez. "Sixteen wins on the Oakland A's last year was quite a feat."
Peacock and Milone made their major league debuts in September, Norris hit 20 homers at Double-A Harrisburg, and the 19-year-old Cole went 4-7 with a 4.04 ERA at Class-A Hagerstown.
"To acquire a player like (Gonzalez), you need to give up some painful players in return, and we've done just that, four players that are near and dear to our hearts because we drafted them," Rizzo said.