4 Starting Pitchers the Washington Nationals Must Pursue This Offseason
The Washington Nationals rode their pitching to the best record in the majors last season. Davey Johnson's young squad posted the second-best team ERA in baseball and had a starting five that rivaled some of the best in the game.
But with the likely departure of starter Edwin Jackson and the continuing development of the staff's other young arms, a new face would be a huge addition. The front end of the rotation is stellar—Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Jordan Zimmermann all posted ERA's under 3.20—but the back end is a bit shaky. Young fireballer Ross Detwiler will continue to grow, but there is still a hole in the lineup.
Luckily for the Nationals, D.C. has become a baseball town and a place where free agents will have plenty of incentive to play.
The Nats have established themselves as a team that is a player or two away from being a perennial contender, so a big arm in free agency could be what puts them over the top.
Zack Greinke is not only the most obvious choice for a quick-fix at pitcher, he's also the most sought-after free agent on the entire market. He's only 28 and has proven to be one of the more consistently good pitchers in the game.
While the right-hander hasn't been as dominant as he was at some points with the Kansas City Royals, there's no question that his overall talent is better than that of any other free agent on the market. The Nationals could find a lot of value in signing Greinke to a long-term deal.
That's the other important thing with Greinke—he's probably looking to settle down. He's been on the move from Kansas City to the Milwaukee Brewers to the Los Angeles Angels in the last two seasons and could be looking for some security so he can discontinue the trend of being nothing more than a trade deadline commodity.
The Nationals would be a perfect fit. Not only would Greinke thrive in an up-and-coming market, he'd be part of arguably the best young staff in all of major league baseball. He'd also be part of a team that is looking like it could contend for the next six to eight years.
If anyone needs a change of scenery, it's Dan Haren. After three years in an Angels uniform, it looked like he simply lost interest as last season went along. He had arguably the worst year of his 10-year career, finishing with an ERA over 4.00 for only the second time and posting his fewest strikeouts in a healthy season. Something just wasn't right with Haren, and he really dropped off the radar.
But don't write him off. Haren is still a quality pitcher and would still be considered a number two or three option in most staffs. On the Nationals he would likely be the fourth starter, which would take a lot of pressure off of him and allow him to settle in and perform like he has over his entire career. Remember: his career ERA is a very good 3.66, so we know he can still pitch.
Haren might make the most sense for the Nationals, because he's probably the best free agent they have a legitimate shot at. Greinke could still be an option but he'll be inundated with offers from several more clubs than Haren will. If the Nationals want to win a World Series in 2013, they could definitely use Haren's services. If Haren wants to win a World Series, D.C. is the place for him to go.
As far as underrated pitchers go, you can't find many like Anibal Sanchez. Playing his entire career for the Marlins is probably to blame, although he finally received some much-deserved notoriety when he suited up for the Detroit Tigers in the World Series this past year.
There are many reasons why the Nationals should pursue Sanchez, the first being that he'd be the perfect back-end starter. This is a guy who has had a ERA under 3.95 for six straight seasons. While he's only pitched 195.2 innings in the last two seasons, he should be able to transition back into a starting role once he gets the opportunity.
Another less-important reason why the Nats would love Sanchez on their staff is that they simply don't want to play against him—ever. Sanchez has been pretty good for most of his career but he owns Washington in every sense of the word. He's tormented the Nats to the tune of 19 starts and a 1.97 ERA. Yes, that's correct—Sanchez has a sub-2.00 ERA in about 20 starts against the Nationals franchise.
So while Sanchez is an excellent young talent, the Nats could sign him just to avoid hitting against him. And of course, Washington has become a prime destination, so there's no reason why Sanchez wouldn't consider suiting up in a curly "W."
It's neither likely nor the best move, but a return to D.C. could still be in the cards for perennial journeyman Edwin Jackson. He wasn't great in 2012, but he showed that he could toss a few gems when he really needed to.
His 10-11 record with a 4.03 ERA looks worse than it actually was. The fact of the matter is that Jackson was the Nats' workhorse last year, regularly putting in seven to nine innings of work on any given night. He became a fan favorite and was a veteran presence on a very young staff.
Jackson is looking for long-term commitment, so the Nationals would have to pony up a couple of years to keep him. That's probably not likely, but it would make sense. After one season, Jackson is familiar with the area and the team, and could provide valuable experience when its needed. Chances are he'd be the fifth starter, and he'd be perfect for that role.
The other thing about Jackson is that he's not limited to pitching. He can hit fairly well and is a proven commodity on the base paths, being called upon to pinch run several times during the year. It would certainly be an interesting move if the Nationals decided to re-sign him, and it's not out of the question.