The Nationals head into the offseason without a fifth starter. The plan was for Joe Ross to be a member of the rotation for 2018 and years to come, but the is likely to be out for the season after Tommy John season. The next best in house option is AJ Cole. He is generally ineffective however. In addition, both of these pitchers’ struggles against left-handed hitters may indicate that they are better suited in relief. Eric Fedde is the best pitching prospect on the farm. Although he may be ready produce come June or July, it is probably better for his development for him to start the season on the farm, and then get called up when Strasburg inevitably has to sit out for a month.
The Nats have a good rotation headlined by Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, so there is no need to go after the best Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, or even mediocre options such as Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb. The Nats don’t need high quality innings; they need a high quantity of innings.
Even though Jayson Werth’s hundred-million-dollar contract is coming off the books this offseason, much of that money will be devoted to arbitration raises to Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon and Tanner Roark. The Nats will be searching for a cheap workhorse, and those don’t get exchanged in trades. Mike Rizzo will have to explore the free agent market to find 160 innings, and I would like to highlight a few candidates.
Chacin is quietly coming off a great year for a back of the rotation arm. He pitched 180 innings and managed to keep his ERA below 4. Behind that 3.89 ERA though was a 1.79 home ERA and a 6.53 away ERA. That may be off-putting to any non-Padre suitors, but there is no way that Chacin can be Clayton Kershaw at Petco Park and Anibal Sanchez everywhere else. Those two numbers are bound to converge somewhere around 4.0 in 2018. Plus, those splits may scare away a number of rivals for Chacin’s services, making his price palatable.
You may be initially repulsed at this name because he his ERA increased by a whole run this season, but the reality is that he will probably be too expensive for the Nats. He pitched 170 innings this season, and the last time he pitched less than 160 innings was 15 years ago. The quality of those innings decreased drastically, but the baseline for that comparison was his career ERA- of 109.
The knuckleballing vet continues to produce. He made good on his 1 year 8-million-dollar deal with the Braves by pitching 190 innings of roughly league average production. His FIP was right in line with that ERA. In addition, since velocity isn’t critical to his success, age shouldn’t and hasn’t rendered him ineffective. That being said, he could regress a bit and still produce 180 innings at around a 4.5 ERA next season. The caveat here is that the Braves has an option on him for this next season for the same price as 2017, so he might not reach free agency.
All of these players are probably in line for contracts like the one Bartolo Colon and Dickey received last offseason—one year, about ten million dollars. If Big Daddy Lerner wants to splash the cash, then the Nats can probably sign one of these players on a one-year deal. However, that is unlikely. If the Lerner’s don’t increase payroll, the Nats may be forced to truly scavenge the scrapheap.
Speaking of veterans… Colon may have been DFA worthy for the Braves last season, but I think he’s still got it. The manifestation of Jobba the Hutt on the pitcher’s mound rebounded with a 3.4 ERA in August with the Twins, and didn’t have the ominous drop in velocity that many veterans undergo. There is a worry that NL East hitters will have seen him enough to know how to destroy the 90 fastballs he could throw in a game, but given the drastic roster turnover in Philadelphia and New York over the past year, and the pending teardown in Miami, the only worry if Freddie Freeman, and he seems to destroy any pitcher wearing a curly W on his chest. The 44-year-old may able to squeeze a little more magic out of his arm.
I know. I know. The Orioles’ rotation was trash, so why would the Nats want to sign someone from the rivals just up 95? Jimenez could easily rebound from his disastrous 2017. His ERA was 6.8, but his 4.5 xFIP paints a different picture. His ERA was bloated because of an almost impossibly high 2.08 HR/9—well above the roughly HR/9 of 1 that he sported for most of his time in Baltimore. That number is bound to fall much closer to his career average, and a move from Camden Yards to Nats Park will only help that. In addition, both his strikeout and walk rates were better last season than his career averages. Maybe a reunion with Matt Wieters will cause Ubaldo to return to what he was from 2014-2016, an inconsistent, but capable, back of the rotation arm. If his price tag is low enough, he could be a steal.
Lets just pretend 2017 never happened. Tillman was the staff ace on a team that made the playoffs two out of the last three years. His 2017 season was ugly. Negative WAR ugly. However, that lackluster was likely due to the shoulder issues that forced him to miss half the season. Tillman proved from 2011 to 2016 that is a more than capable pitcher. His FIP- was basically league average every year during that span, and he cracked 200 innings twice and 170 on two other occasions. The Nats should take a peak at Chris Tillman.
Buchholz does not fit the mold I described in my introduction, but the Nats should be intrigued by his upside. He was a quality number two worth 3.2 WAR as recently as 2015, and provided 2.8 WAR to the Red Sox in 2013. Buchholz has been nothing but mediocre in his other seasons. He has the highest potential of any pitcher on this list, but he has proven NOT be durable. He hit 189 innings in 2014, and 170 in the preceding and following even years; however, for the most part, Buchholz has thrown between 100 and 150 innings per season for his career. He basically missed this entire passed season, but he is on track to be ready for spring training. If his right arm looks good, the Nats should give him a hard look.