Monday, December 13, 2010

If Not Lee, Then Who?

OK, so what would the Nationals Opening Day rotation look like if the season started January 1st?

Well, Jordan Zimmermann is health, and we will assume the same for John Lannan and Jason Marquis. I though Marquis could be a mildly intriguing trade chip at the Winter Meetings if the Nats played up his second half numbers. However, Rizzo likes his groundballers and wasn't going to mail-in his first major signing as a failure.

2) Zimmermann
3) Lannan
4) Marquis

OK, so some in-house candidates to fill in that five-hole are Yunesky Maya, Luis Atilano, and Craig Stammen. I doubt JD Martin figures into the equation anymore, as the front office treated him as an afterthought despite league average numbers. The Pirates took Scott Olsen off the scrap heap, so that is one less headache. The Nats really do not have another farmhand ready to step in and contribute, so unless they bring back Hernandez for another dance (which wouldn't be the worst thing), these are the applicants.

Maya, despite the investment, projects more as a reliever in the long run. The Nats will try to recoup by giving him every opportunity to succeed, but until he moves into that 7th or 8th inning role, expect him to be plagued with inconsistency injuries, but the promise that if he puts it all together, he could be a good #2 or #3 starter.

Stammen seems to have accepted his fate as the team's new Jason Bergmann: too good to pitch in the minor leagues, but not good enough to be anything but the big club's emergency punching bag. He just cannot keep the plane of his fastball down long enough to string together a month of good starts. He also seems to be nibbling more and more and finding himself behind in counts, never good for a starting pitcher.

Atilano has a similar game to Stammen, but more options and fewer gopherballs. If he wins the job out of camp, good for him. If he gets it by default, uh oh.

The #1 guy is a little bit more tricky. There are no in-house candidate with elbows fully intact. Cliff Lee was a wet dream as the Yankees and Rangers have everything to lose by not acquiring his services. The Nats do not have the minor league depth to really go get Zack Grienke or Matt Garza, but they have inflated the market to force those two teams to extend or trade those players at or below market value. The Werth deal is terrible from a cost per win standpoint, but not so bad if they can land Garza or Grienke at sixty percent what Lee gets on the open market.

If the Nats want to roll the dice on other free-agent pitchers, Brandon Webb, Rich Harden and Ben Sheets are fascinating and volatile reclamation projects. Both Harden and Sheets were awful last season, and Webb has been shutdown so long Rizzo may be the only guy who still knows he is out there. Harden was destined to get destroyed in Arlington, and there is no way the Rangers will exercise his option. Sheets should have fared better in Oakland, but never turned the corner. Carl Pavano is slightly safer, but doesn't offer #1 potential. Brad Penny is probably out of gas, but somebody will kick the tires. Everybody else out there is #3 potential as well as quality, and probably not worth the 5 million it would take to sign them.

The conclusion? Much like the first base situation, only a few people in the front office are navigating the smoke and mirrors. 2011 is likely another rebuilding season, so they may not want invest in a one year deal for #1 money, but settling for a #3 like Jeff Francis. After watch Wang rehab all season, the Nats are likely staying off the reclamation projects, so expect a trade or a minor signing. 2011 is more about finding competent corner outfielders and growing the young talent up the middle. If it gets them to .500, good work.


  1. Livan Hernandez signed a guaranteed deal for 2011, so he's as much as guaranteed a rotation spot as anyone right now.

    We also picked a starter in the Rule 5 draft (Brian Broderick), meaning that he has to have the inside track on the 5th starter job right now. Past that, the pecking order is Maya and Detwiler. We didn't sign Maya to an $8M guaranteed contract to play in AAA.

    If we sign another reclamation project such as Webb or Wang i'd guess Maya gets pushed back or someone on this list suddenly develops a soft tissue injury.

    ps: Rizzo's first big signing technically was Dunn; it happened on his watch.

  2. Thanks Todd... I was looking to see if Livan had signed. Must have missed it. I forgot to include Detwiler in with Atilano. 2009 he made the jump straight from AA, but is still pretty unpolished. I wouldn't be surprised if they keep in Syracuse for a couple months to build his confidence.