Trading Marquis should be a no-brainer. He's a free agent to be. He's performing above what would normally be expected of him. He's only been with the Nats for 2 seasons and most of the first one he was injured, forming minimal connection with the fans. And yet, if the comments here are any indication, the fans don't necessarily want to see him traded.
Everyone would be fine getting back a top tier Grade A prospect for Marquis (preferably in CF). That isn't in question. The question is would you make the deal for a Willingham like return - a sure thing with limited value and a question mark? Do you trade for something better but further down the road? Do you trade Marquis just to trade?
There are a lot of unknowns here, the biggest of which is what Marquis expects to get in a deal. This matters because if the Nats don't trade Marquis they HAVE to sign him. He's going to be a great trading chip for precisely the same reason he stands to make a good amount of money in the off-season. There are very few decent pitchers coming up in free agency. CJ Wilson, Mark Buerhle, and Roy Oswalt (all guys that won't be dealt mid-year) head the FA class with a precipitous drop off beyond these guys. Buerhle is expected to target only a few cities. Oswalt is mulling retirement and is expected to be picky if he does pitch in 2012. Wilson, if he doesn't re-sign, is probably the best target available to everyone but he only will have 2 full seasons of starting under his belt after this one.
What all this means is that if Jason will get his multi-year deal. He will easily be paid well for 2 years, and likely could get 3. More than 3 is iffy, as there have been very few 4+ year contracts for pitchers doled out in the past few years. Looking at the last two years of signings the "going rate" is around 8 million per. Given the market, the trending, etc. ... I'd like Marquis to get something close to 20 mill for 2 years. Something in the 25+ million neighborhood for 3. Are you willing to have the Nats go there, probably paying a little more to keep him from looking at free agency? Because once July 31st comes and goes without a contract extension or deal, Marquis will have all the bargaining power.
The other huge unknown is what the Nats will get back. Chances of a good young prospect just ready to burst out on the scene is more than unlikely. It's impossible. Sure Capps brought back Ramos but Ramos was blocked, and Capps is young with a year of team control left. (and it was a terrible trade made by the Twins) Marquis is at best a rental leading to a market singing of a good mid rotation starter. You don't trade potential star value away for that. More likely will be a struggling 26+ year old current player, or a decent prospect but one in Single A now that's looking at a likely 2014 call up. Even more likely is something not even that good. But we won't know until teams start kicking the tires.
Do the Nats even need Marquis? It's true that the Nats will need a starter to eat up innings next year. You can't rely on ZNN, Lannan, and an injury-returning Strasburg. Another round of Livan is possible but if you are looking to start making a push in 2012 and looking for a #2/#3 to help you do it, Livan is trending the wrong way. If you're going to try to sign a guy in FA anyway, and you aren't going to get that true star, maybe Marquis is a good bet.
But the 2013 pitching class is as deep as the 2012 one is shallow. The Nats could far more likely pick up an impact arm then, rather than overpay for Marquis now. Next year they could gamble on an injury recovery or sign a Jeff Francis type cheap just to kill innings. 2012 isn't the year for the Nats it's 2013. And Marquis, at 33 and a year removed from a serious injury, isn't without his own risk. As good as he's pitching now he's not a lights out starter, and will likely be a #3, sliding back in the rotation over the next 3 years.
It's not as cut and dried as it is for Nix, who because he's almost certainly performing at an unsustainable pace, and plays the position destined for Bryce, is in a gotsta go situation (you do realize he's going to want a multi-year deal to be a starter if he can keep up anything like this right?) You always need pitching. Marquis has a history of being... well ok. Not trading Marquis is defensible.
Still I think you do trade Marquis and it comes down to realizing the the team the Nats are, not the team the Nats want to be. As much as we all think 2012 will be a better year and that having a Marquis around could keep the Nats' heads above .500, that can't be counted on. What if Mike Morse is playing over his head? What if Strasburg takes longer than expected to come back? What if something is wrong with Werth? What if Ramos and Espinosa don't progress much past league average hitters? What if Zimmerman becomes injury prone? These aren't worst case scenario questions. These are legit questions. Things that should give you pause that the Nats are ready to make that next step right away. And if the Nats do have to look past 2013, wouldn't you rather have that decent prospect in Single A rather than a couple more wins today?
I don't mean to bring you down. I do think things are coming together. I do think in the next 2-3 years the Nats will be significantly mid 80s win better. I do think that we'll have to debate this more when we see what the Nats can get for him. But at a base level not trading Marquis to sign him is a win-now move. If he were younger or better it may be different, he might be a key to winning for several years to come. But as the pitcher he is this is a move you make to round out a rotation hoping to make the playoffs next year. The Nats aren't there just yet.