August 2, 2011 in Uncategorized
With the July 31st trade deadline come and past, teams now have to have players clear waivers before they can deal them (or they can try to workout a trade with the claiming team), while normally a non-contender like the Nationals would only worry about selling, they should consider maybe buying if the right piece comes along. The player that I think makes the most sense for Washington is Houston Astros pitcher Wandy Rodriguez. Which is why when the Astros place him on waivers, Washington needs to make a claim.
The way wavier claims work is that the team with the lowest record in the same league as the original team, wins the claim (if no one in that league claims him, then it goes to the lowest record in the opposite league). Since Rodriguez is an Astro the Nationals would only need to beat out 4 other teams (none of which would even consider the idea), to be the team to get exclusive negotiating rights for him. While the rumor is that Rodriguez would pass through waivers, it is a risky move because it only takes just one team to claim him. And if he did pass through waivers (which is possible) the Nationals would have to compete with every other team that has an interest, giving Houston more leverage.
Now making a waiver claim doesn't come without risk. The Astros can simply pull the player back (the first time they put him on waivers), if they don't like the offer (or the team, i.e. a division rival), or they can simply let the player go for nothing if all they are looking for is salary relief (this is why it is figured that he might pass through waivers). While this can be a risk for small market teams, or teams with a large payroll going forward, but the Nationals are neither of those things. So the worst thing that can happen is that the Nationals get him for nothing (you can't control if the Astros pull him back), and they assume his contract, which really isn't as bad as most people think.
Rodriguez is 32 this year, and has three years and $36 million remaining on his deal after this season (plus an additional $2 million this season). While that seems pretty pricey, it really isn't more than market value. Especially when you consider, how dependable and good Rodriguez has been the last few years. He has started at least 25 games for each of the previous 4 seasons, and looks well on his way to match that feat this year. While his numbers are a bit down this year, they aren't dramatically so, and they are nearly identical to his numbers in 2007 and 2008, where he was just good and not great. Rodriguez gets lost in the shuffle given that the Astros are so bad this season, and his 7-7 record isn't exceptional. Most of his other numbers though are pretty impressive. Rodriguez's strikeout ratio is down this year, but he is still sitting down 7.82 batters per 9 innings, which is pretty good for a starting pitcher, especially considering that he still induces 45.7% ground balls when they do make contact. His walk rate and WHIP are higher than you'd like to see, but he makes up for it with an 80.1% left on-base ratio, which is top 10 in all of the majors. His ERA is just 3.47, and his home run vs. flyball ratio is a bit above norm, which raises his FIP (fielding independent pitching) to 3.87 (which is still pretty good). Overall, his numbers point to one conclusion, and that is Wandy Rodriguez is a good number 3 pitcher in this league (at least the NL).
The fact that Rodriguez is a number 3 pitcher is a good thing, because that is exactly what the Nationals need. Next season Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann are the Nationals top two pitchers, but beyond that it is a little murky. John Lannan fits somewhere in those other three spots, but he is probably more of a 4 or a 5. Tom Gorzelanny has the stuff to be a quality number 3 pitchers, but his consistency means he is on the fringe of making the rotation. The Nationals have a couple young pitchers in Ross Detwiler, Brad Peacock and Tom Milone, but none of them project to be stars, and there is no guarantee they will be ready next season. With so many young pitchers (even their stars) the Nationals will need a veteran workhorse to stabilize the rotation (and protect the bullpen, with everyone else on a strict pitch count), which is perfect for Rodriguez. Now some people might suggest that the Nationals resign Livan Hernandez, but they should shoot for someone a little higher for their rotation. If Livan still wants to pitch put him in the bullpen and have his 60 MPH stuff come in after Strasburg blows guys away for 6 innings. Instead the Nats need to add a viable veteran before next season.
Free agency is always an option, but the Nationals won't find next year's market too favorable. Most of the pitchers on the market next year who are in the same talent group as Rodriguez are either older and/or have a significant injury history. The only pitchers who really compare favorably and aren't older/injury risks, are CC Sabathia (if he opts out), C.J. Wilson, Edwin Jackson and Mark Buehrle. Sabathia would cost twice as much as Rodriguez (and would be signed for a lot longer), and while he could be an option it might make it tough to pursue the impact bat they are likely looking for. Wilson is two years younger, and maybe slightly better, but overall he compares very favorably. Given his age, and the fact that he's been on a winning team, and there for has more wins Wilson will probably get more money and years than Rodriguez. The same rings true for Edwin Jackson, who is the lone RH in this group. While Jackson's numbers aren't that much better, the fact that he is just 28 will land him a pretty big deal. Buehrle is the same age as Rodriguez and actually might be slightly worse. He's got more hype so my guess is he'd get at least the same amount, if not slightly more. While the Nationals could sign a lesser free agent like a Jason Marquis or Joel Pinero, they'd have to pay $8-10 million and not get as much production.
Given the numbers if the Astros just let Rodriguez walk, it wouldn't be a bad deal for Washington. Now if Houston does want to negotiate and is willing to pick up a little money, the Nationals can send back a minor prospect or two, but the rumor is that the Astros want to clear their books. So whether it is just them letting him walk, or kicking in a couple million to get some sort of return, the Nationals shouldn't have to pay much for Rodriguez. Obviously all of the Nationals top prospects should be off limits, and unless it is good money, most of their mid-tier ones should be off limits as well.
If the Nationals can pick up a pitcher like Rodriguez for just money or minimal prospects, I'd say that is a steal. Rodriguez would help shore up the rotation going forward, and could even help in the free agent pursuit of a big bat like Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols. A Nats rotation of Strasburg, Zimmermann, Rodriguez and Lannan, would probably inspire more confidence in them that the Nats are ready to make the jump to contending. And while it might not match the Phillies or the Braves pitcher for pitcher, it puts the Nats a closer to their level. It isn't a move devoid of risk, but I think it is well worth it for the Nats to get a quality pitcher for basically salary relief.