Instead, general manager Mike Rizzo traded four young prospects -- some projected to be top major league prospects, but for now only have a resume of promise -- for a hard-throwing 26-year-old proven major league left-hander and former first-round pick whose best days are likely ahead of him and who is four years away from free agency.
Nats fans -- Mark Buehrle was a lump of coal.
Santa Rizzo instead has put Gio Gonzalez and his live arm under your tree.
And just like that, the Nationals have arguably the best combination of youth and talent in the first three spots of their pitching rotation in the National League East -- Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann.
The Phillies, with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, are still the defending champions. But their combined age is 94. Strasburg, Zimmermann and Gonzalez add up to a total of 74 years and a long time headache for opposing NL hitters.
Gonzalez has bounced around, primarily because of his value. Drafted in the first round in 2005 by the Chicago White Sox, Gonzalez was traded that year, along with Aaron Rowand, to the Phillies for Jim Thome.
Baseball America ranked him as the Phillies No. 2 pitching prospect -- behind Hamels. But in 2006, he was dealt back to Chicago with Gavin Floyd for veteran starter Freddy Garcia.
Two years later, the top pitching prospect in the White Sox organization was traded to Oakland, along with fellow minor leaguers Fautino De Los Santos and Ryan Sweeney for Nick Swisher.
Gonzalez finally got his major league opportunity in Oakland and made the most of it, going 15-9 in 2010 and last year finishing with a 16-12 record, 3.12 ERA, 197 strikeouts and a place on the American League All-Star team.
He is the goods.
The Nationals traded four young players, some or all could be the goods -- pitchers Brad Peacock, A.J. Cole and Tom Milone and catcher Derek Norris.
It's a hefty price tag of potential -- particularly the highly touted Peacock and Cole. But prospects can serve several purposes -- to bring up to your squad or to deal someplace else for proven talent, particularly at a time when you are ready to compete.
It is a gutsy move by Rizzo because prospects also serve another purpose in baseball -- job security for general managers. The promise of a prospect becoming a major league player buys time for general managers.
Rizzo moved up the clock to now.
They will still try to work a deal for a center fielder, which should be a priority, because any plan for Jayson Werth to be the center fielder flies in the face of a team like the Nationals built on strong pitching -- pitching that just got a lot stronger.