According to Nats.com, the Nationals offered contracts to five free agent pitchers: Tony Armas Jr., Ramon Ortiz, Steve Trachsel, Jorge Sosa, and Jerome Williams. The article notes the offers ranged from minor league deals to $3 million, which harmonizes with a recent Washington Post article strongly implying the Nats won't want to enter the $4 million range (or above) for free agent pitching. This would seem to indicate the focus of yesterday's discussion, Ryan Franklin, is currently looking for at least $4 million. Perhaps Armas, Ortiz, and Trachsel are too, but we are a bit more certain what the Nats' limit is.
I suppose we could divide the pitchers into two groups, "Innings-Eating Candidates" and "'Plan'-Furthering Candidates," with Armas, Ortiz, and Trachsel belonging to the first group, and Sosa and Williams belonging to the second group. The groupings are probably consistent with the offer ranges cited above.
Among the first group, Ortiz is the best candidate, since he seems the best bet out of the three to eat innings for the Nats in 2007. He pitched 190 innings for the Nats in '06 and has no major physical problems of recent note. This is no assurance he won't develop one next season, but there's of course no assurance of much of anything, except for routine assurances like taxes and Tom Boswell's opinion changing on the slightest whim. At any rate, Ortiz seems best suited to doing the job assigned by the Nats, which would be remain healthy, absorb innings, toss a good start in there once and awhile, and pitch just well enough overall to keep his slot in the rotation all season. Maybe he'll even pitch a bit better than in '06, when he wasn't much better than replacement-level. For $3 million, I'd take that---set it and forget it. Whether Ortiz would take $3 million is another matter---didn't his people tell Nats.com he'd be looking for $8 million in arbitration? (a good reason to decline!)---but we'll see. It's a slight raise over his '06 salary.
After Ortiz, I'd say Trachsel is the better bet. He does have a recent injury history, missing most of 2005, and ---
[editor's note, by Basil] Ah, the vagaries of the internets. I typed a bunch of stuff after this, but I lost it. I accidentally closed out the tab in Firefox or something. I don't know. This much was saved. At the risk of looking bush league, I'll summarize what I wrote thereafter
- Trachsel came back from a herniated disc in '06 and only logged 164 innings in 30 starts. That's not great innings-eating. His peripherals don't look all that great either (check out his strikeout rate, for one). But, after his postseason flameout, his perceived value seems low, and he's a decent bounce-back candidate. If he does bounce back, he'd probably bring back more in a trade than Ortiz, though nothing all that special.
- Armas isn't an innings-eater, and he's never been an efficient pitcher. It's getting too late to talk Armas' potential, and we've been through this song-and-dance before. Maybe he'll pick 2007 to break out, but really now, it's not even about the money---it's about the time wasted.
- Sosa will be 30 a few weeks after Opening Day, and his 2005 season sticks out like a skyscraper compared to the totality of his big league record. (2003 wasn't bad.) His '05 was driven by a low homer rate and a dip in his batting average on balls in play. His '06 homer rate rose sharply (30 in 118 innings), so high that maybe Randy St. Claire can find something correctable. Sosa's worth a look on the reasoning there's not much here to begin with. He can start and relieve. Just don't expect 2005. Maybe don't even expect an average between 2005-06.
- Williams is the better of the two "Plan"-oriented candidates, since he's five years younger than Sosa and is still rather projectable. He's battled arm and weight problems, and his performance has regressed. But if you're going to give Joel Hanrahan a minor league deal (intending no offense to Hanrahan), then giving one to Williams is a no-brainer. If he fulfills his potential, Williams really would be part of "The Plan," not just a temporary measure. I'd imagine he doesn't lack for suitors, although you never know---he seems to have developed a rep.