The Stephen Strasburg innings dilemma continues to rage on as the stretch approaches and the postseason draws closer and closer. As the debate gains steam as to when Strasburg's season will end, the questions arise as to who will fill the void in the Washington Nationals' rotation.
Although Washington has a solid staff and a replacement to Strasburg in John Lannan, it would leave them a bit depleted when the playoffs begin. Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann are solid options in the playoffs, but having another ace could be the difference between simply making the playoffs and winning a World Series title.
There are plenty of pitching options at the deadline, some who are more reasonably priced replacements such as Matt Garza, and others whose contracts would cost significantly more. Either way, the addition of an ace would have the potential to bring a championship to D.C. in 2012.
The Nationals have never been afraid to spend money, and this year's deadline might be the perfect time to gamble with a contract in order to win.
The list of obtainable pitchers for the Nats begins with the most desirable but perhaps the toughest to bring to D.C. at the deadline, Cliff Lee.
Cliff Lee is familiar with being traded at the deadline. In 2009 he was dealt from Cleveland to the Phillies and in 2010 he went from Seattle to Texas. There is a slight chance that he is traded again this season, but would he be an option for the Nats?
The problem with Lee is that he is owed $87.5 million over the next three years of his contract. It would be a tremendous addition to the Nationals' rotation going down the stretch and entering the postseason.
Lee's 2.52 career postseason ERA could make the Nationals the favorites to win the World Series.
Are the Nats willing to fork up the money however for a premier pitcher like Lee?
Lee would not be a rental, therefore it would give the Nats' a staff that will start 2013 with three aces that could all win 20 games. Not a problem if they are willing to deal with the contract in the upcoming years.
Ryan Dempster is having the best season of his career and is being shopped by the Chicago Cubs. A deal to the Atlanta Braves fell through earlier in the week and Dempster appears to want to be traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Dempster's 10-and-5 rights allows him to reject potential trades, but it would not be a bad idea for the Nationals to try to get Dempster. He would become a free agent next season and would be a nice fit to the front of the rotation when Strasburg is shut down.
Dempster has pitched in the NL his entire career, since 1998, therefore making him very familiar with the league. He could be a great addition to the Nats' playoff run.
Josh Johnson is not having the season that he would have liked but at least he is staying healthy.
Johnson has a 6-7 record with 105 strikeouts in 119.2 innings while maintaining a 4.14 ERA. He has the talent to be a dominant asset to any team and has certainly shown glimpses of brilliance at times this season, especially in his last outing when he struck out nine while walking none and allowing only one hit in six innings.
He is a moderately priced option for the Nationals, being owed $13.75 million next season. Johnson is also an option since he has pitched in the NL East his entire career, making him familiar with the opponents that he will face down the stretch this season.
While Lee, Dempster and Johnson would all be nice additions to the Nationals, there are five guys who would fit into the Nationals' plans even better, beginning with Francisco Liriano.
Francisco Liriano is on the block for the Minnesota Twins but he is a risky investment for any team. Liriano has shown potential, but it has not panned out for the most part. He is a career 50-52 pitcher with a 4.33 ERA.
This season has not looked good for the most part either as he has a 3-10 record and a 5.31 ERA. He did however put together consecutive outings in July with a 15-strikeout performance followed by a 10-strikeout game before getting hammered for seven runs in 2.2 innings in his next outing.
That pretty much sums up Liriano's career and the risk that the Nats would be taking in acquiring him.
Liriano's wild card is the switch to the NL, however, which could pay off in a big way for Washington.
In 19 interleague games, Liriano has gone 9-5 with a 3.31 ERA and 126 strikeouts in 117 innings. If he can replicate these numbers for the Nats then he will successfully get the job done as a rental for the rest of the season while Strasburg takes a seat.
It is one of the riskiest scenarios for the Nats but still could turn out to be a positive acquisition if he continues his success against the NL as he has in interleague play.
Jason Vargas would be a nice addition to the Nationals and has been on a bit of a streak as of late. He has not allowed more than three runs in any of his last six starts. He is 11-7 this season with a 3.76 ERA for the Seattle Mariners this season.
Vargas is arbitration-eligible in the offseason but offers the Nationals a very solid option for a midseason pickup. He would likely make it a bit easier on the Nats in terms of pieces they would have to trade away and he would not cost as much to keep past this year.
He posses a lot of talent and could be a big help for the Nats in the fall.
Zack Greinke is likely going to be on the move before the deadline, according to MLB.com. He will be a free agent next season so it is unknown what his future would be for a team in the hunt for him this season.
He is a perfect fit however for the Nationals' purposes of winning this season and finding a formidable replacement for Strasburg.
Greinke's downside is his tendency to struggle in the postseason. Although he has only pitched in three postseason games, he has a 6.48 ERA while allowing 12.4 hits per nine innings. He only completed six innings in one of those three starts and allowed six runs in the process.
His dominance in the National League is unprecedented, however, in the regular season, putting together a 25-9 record in 49 starts for Milwaukee since 2011.
His immense talent and rental capability makes him the perfect gamble for the Nationals if they want to finish this remarkable season with a championship.
Greinke makes sense for the Nats and should be one of the top three pitchers on their radar at the deadline.
James Shields is coming off of a career year in 2011 when he threw 11 complete games and had a 2.82 ERA.
This season has been a bit of a snap back to reality for Shields as he has yet to complete a game and has a 4.52 ERA. He has had back-to-back 10-strikeout performances heading into the deadline, however.
In his contract year, Shields will be looking to prove down the stretch that he is a valuable commodity to a team. Shields' ability to strike out batters at an impressive rate along with his numbers pitching in the AL East will make him an impactful pickup for the Nationals.
His manageable $9 million club option in 2013 and $12 million club option in 2014 make him an even better target for the Nats to go after.
Shields would be a great fit for the Nationals since they would be in the position of having another ace down the stretch and into the playoffs. He has shown that he is capable of handling a lot of innings as well, pitching at least 200 in the last five seasons.
The contract and his skill level make him one of the best options the Nationals have going into the deadline.
Matt Garza is having another solid season for the Chicago Cubs and is on the market at the deadline. Garza's career 3.84 ERA is something that any team in the midst of a playoff push would desire. His 3.48 ERA in five career postseason starts is certainly a plus as well.
The Nationals would be a perfect fit for Garza and Garza would fit perfectly into their rotation.
He is a model of consistency and would fill out their rotation nicely for the rest of this season and potentially 2013. Garza is under contract through 2013 with a year left of salary arbitration before he can become a free agent.
He is a reasonably priced option for the Nats and gives them the best opportunity to really make a strong push deep into the playoffs without breaking the bank and being tied up for too many years to come.
Garza's background of competition in the AL East coupled with his more recent experience in the NL makes him the perfect option for the Nationals as they try to play late into October.