“Starting pitching is king,” Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo told reporters at Winterfest this past weekend, when he was asked about pursuing another top of the rotation-type arm, left-hander Patrick Corbin, who visited the nation’s capital on a tour of interested East Coast teams the previous week.
“Our philosophy is pitching, defense, athleticism, and that’s how we’ve won,” Rizzo said.
“And we feel good about — when we put a guy on the mound each day that gives you a chance to win, and I think that you’ve created yourself a really good chance to have a good ballclub and play deep into October.”
Corbin and the Nationals agreed on a 6-year/$140M free agent deal on Tuesday, giving the Nats a top four that features the left-hander, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Tanner Roark.
Before that deal was signed, Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez too talked about the need for a strong starting rotation.
“Our best month we were [20-7],” Martinez said, referring to last May, one of the Nationals’ two winning months last season (not counting their 2-0 March).
“If you look at that month,” Martinez explained, “our starting pitchers were unbelievable, I mean they were going 6 2⁄3 innings, seven innings, eight innings, and we played really well, and we need that. I’ve said that before: starting pitching and defense wins a lot of games. I mean there’s going to be days where you don’t hit, you score two or three runs, if our starting pitching is pitching the way it’s capable of pitching, we’ll win those games. It’s very important. And we’re out there looking, and I’m sure Mike, he’ll get something done. Right now we’ve got three or four good starting pitchers. Yeah, we could add one more, maybe two, who knows, but I know Mike is working diligently to get another guy.”
Corbin, 29, was (11-7) over 33 starts in 2018, with a 3.15 ERA, a 2.47 FIP, 48 walks (2.76 BB/9), 246 Ks (11.07 K/9), and a .217/.270/.337 line against in 200 innings in a career-best 6.2 fWAR campaign for the Arizona Diamondbacks. He turned down a qualifying offer before hitting free agency, so he’ll cost the Nationals, who were over the luxury tax threshold in 2018, their 2nd and 5th-highest picks in this June’s Draft plus $1M in international bonus pool money.
This latest signing comes after the Nationals acquired Kyle Barraclough from Miami, signed Trevor Rosenthal to a free agent deal, signed Kurt Suzuki, and traded for Yan Gomes.
Adding the two catchers, in particular, Rizzo said, would likely appeal to free agent pitchers considering signing on in D.C.
“I think that the composition of your roster and your ballclub and your franchise has a lot to do with it,” the GM explained. “I think that’s why when you’re recruiting these elite free agents you lay out the whole situation to them, the whole franchise, and these guys are educated athletes and they want to know and they know a lot when they walk in there about what your farm system is about, what the community is about, and what the roster looks like.
“They’ve all played against us, so they know from the other side of the dugout what you’re looking for and how you conduct your business and I think that our organization is well-respected by players and I think this is a destination city that players like to come to.”
Rizzo came away from the meeting with the southpaw convinced that the Nationals had at least made a strong impression on Corbin.
We’ll have to wait to hear what convinced Corbin to sign on in Washington (other than the $140M he received).
Scherzer, who signed a 7-year/$210M deal with the Nationals in 2015, said last weekend he trusted Rizzo’s judgement in pursuing Corbin and the other upgrades to the roster the GM thought he needed to make this winter.
“Rizzo is the architect here,” Scherzer told reporters. “He puts together the team, and it takes ownership’s commitment with the resources to be able to go out there and bring in players that we need that he sees fit.
“In my time here, Rizzo has done a great job of identifying players, whether it’s signings or trades, and bringing up young guys that we’ve effectively continued to have winning ballclubs year in and year out. I know last year was a disappointment for all of us, but I think that gives Rizzo a little more motivation to go out there and find a way for our team to get better and to get us to where we need to be and that’s to try to win a World Series.
“Obviously if [the rotation is] the need that they feel needs to be addressed, I’m excited to see what happens this offseason and whoever we bring on hopefully that’s the piece that can get us there.”
Do the Nationals have what they need to get there now, or do they still need to add a starter to the back end?
Do you trust Roark, Joe Ross, Erick Fedde, and whichever other pitchers emerge from the system to fill out the back end behind Scherzer, Strasburg and Corbin?