Nationals Rotation Options:
October 7, 2011 in Uncategorized
The Nationals will have a young rotation next year with John Lannan the 'veteran' of the group. Right now two other spots are set in Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, but beyond that there are three guys fighting for two spots. The problem is all three, Ross Detwiler, Brad Peacock, and Tom Milone, are young pitchers, whom the Nationals might not be able to count on. Not to mention all three of them (plus Zimmermann and Strasburg) will likely be on innings limits next year, and won't be able to make a full season's worth of starts. Which could really put a strain on the Nationals bullpen next year. Also, it would probably be good to have a quality veteran around to help be a sounding board for all these young pitchers.
Now some might point to resigning Livan Hernandez or putting Tom Gorzelanny back in the rotation, but neither option makes sense. Hernandez had a nice year for the Nationals, but Washington needs more if they want to take that next step to being a playoff team. While signing Hernandez might make sense for the bullpen, Washington needs an upgrade for their rotation. As for Gorzelanny, he is probably better served as either trade bait or a non-tender candidate.
So what options are available for the Nationals? Unfortunately not too many, but there are a couple intriguing choices in both free agency and through trades.
Roy Oswalt- Technically Oswalt isn't a free agent yet as the Phillies control a $16 million option on Oswalt, but they aren't expected to exercise it. Oswalt is 34 and missed some time this year (though still made 23 starts), but in the previous 7 seasons he started at least 30 games. His numbers were down a bit this year, but were still very impressive. In fact outside of Zimmermann no pitcher who started 10 or more games for the Nationals managed his type of numbers. The other benefit to Oswalt is that the Phillies aren't likely to offer him arbitration, since by accepting it they'd have to pay him probably more than the $16 million they would owe with the option, so he won't cost a draft pick. Now the real question becomes price and whether or not he would sign here. As for price I think it depends on how long he signs for. If it is just a year he might be able to squeeze out $13 million, but if it is 2 or 3 years, it will probably be more in the $10-11 million range. Now would he sign here is an interesting question. Oswalt is likely to prefer the National League, by all accounts, so that is a positive. But he's also wants to be on a contender. Washington obviously hasn't been that yet, but with a strong end to the season, and the return of Stephen Stasburg next year Oswalt could bite. Especially if the Nationals land another bigger name free agent.
Edwin Jackson- Jackson is making himself quite a payday after the season, as he has pitched well for St. Louis down the stretch and into the playoffs. He's a hard throwing righty who'd definitely be an upgrade for Washington. He's also under 30 giving him a big advantage on the free agent market. On the downside though, he is very erratic as a pitcher, and doesn't display a lot of consistency year-to-year. Jackson is also looking at a huge payday, probably in the neighborhood of $15 million a year over 5 years (if not more). Given the price, the lack of reliability and the fact the Nationals will need to give up a draft pick, I'd probably look to avoid him.
Wandy Rodriguez- The Astros declined to trade Rodriguez this summer, but I'm sure they will look to deal him this offseason to clear payroll. Rodriguez has turned himself into a quality lefty these past few years, and would slot in nicely in the number 3 role with the Nationals. His price tag, $36 million remaining over three years, is a bit steep, but not completely unreasonable. Rodriguez has also been quite healthy these last few years and is a good bet to reach 200 innings. Now the Nationals would need to deal for him, so they'd have to give up something. The exact value will be dependent on how much salary the Nationals have to take on. If Washington takes on all $36 million then a couple 2nd tier prospects should do the trick. Depending on what the Astros want in return, this could be a good deal for Washington.
Jeremy Guthrie- Guthrie has been a solid component of the Orioles rotation for the last few years. While his numbers don't jump out at you, he's pitched pretty well on a bad team, in the toughest division in baseball. If he survived the A.L. East, the N.L. East shouldn't be much of a problem. The Orioles are expected to go after a couple big name free agents, and would probably like to move Guthrie's salary off the books. Guthrie is in the final year of arbitration and is expected to make about $8.5 million next year. The bad news for the Nationals is he's only a one year fix (though if they truly believe in their young starters, that might be appealing), and could leave them in a market for a starter in 2013 as well. Despite only being under control for one year, the Orioles should be able to get at least 1-2 decent prospects for him, given his price. Guthrie comes a lot cheaper than most free agent pitchers, and a number of small market contenders could be interested.
Overview: Of the four options (and there are other lesser or less likely choices as well), I'd order my preference Oswalt, Rodriguez, Guthrie, and Jackson (I really don't like Jackson at all, but I get the feeling that the Nationals might like him). I'd really prefer to add a top 3 type of pitcher like Oswalt or Rodriguez, so that the Nationals aren't so overpowered when they face Philly or Atlanta. I'd offer Oswalt a strong 2 or 3 year contract, that is at the peak of what I suggested earlier ($12 million range), and really make a commitment to winning with him by adding some other pieces. Now that the Nationals have shown that they can be a .500 team, there is no reason for them to not act like it, and be aggressive in free agency.