Checking in on Washington's Pursuit of Pitching


Pitching wins championships. It’s baseball’s oldest cliche. But it has proven time and time again to hold true. As such, it’s no surprise (and no secret) that the Nationals are hoping to acquire a big name starting pitcher this winter. A veteran influence who will help solidify and mentor a young and inexperienced rotation. An innings eater. A leader who demonstrates a presence in the clubhouse.

As expected, the Nationals have been linked to a number of the free agents currently available on the open market. And much of that interest we’ve discussed here at DoD, in particular the three biggest named options that are available. Nearing the end of October I examined the case for and against C.J. Wilson.  A few days later I asked whether the team should make a serious run at Roy Oswalt. Finally, one of our newest writers, Michael, stated his case for why he believes Mark Buerhle would be a nice addition to the Nationals’ rotation.

MLB.com’s Bill Ladson shared a quote from GM Mike Rizzo recently which summed up nicely what the organization is searching for this winter:

The type of pitcher we are looking for is a good leader type of guy that throws a lot of innings, has shown that he can win in the big leagues, and can really lead our staff. It’s not by having the best stuff on the staff, but showing how to be a professional, how to be a winner, how to pitch 200 innings in a season many, many times in a career. That’s the kind of guy we are looking for.

Personally, I’m growing skeptical that any of the three are the right choice for Washington. And I’m questioning the likelihood that any of them actually end up with the Nationals. The number of other interested possibilities for the three players has exceeded expectations and while I believe the Nationals are willing (and able) to spend on a free agent, I don’t see this organization overpaying for one of them this winter. Rizzo will have his limits and he’ll stick to them without compromising the remainder of the roster.

The rumblings lately continue to peg either Oswalt or Buerhle as the “preferred choice” of the Nationals. Whom the favorite is seems to change depending on which outlet you’re reading. One concern that has arisen are the number of teams who have stepped into the picture as possible suitors for all three pitchers. For instance, Bob Garber, the agent for both Oswalt and Wilson is expected to meet with at least 11 teams by the end of this week’s GM Meetings in Milwaukee. He does have other clients, but much of the discussions of late have revolved around the two pitchers.

Oswalt has reportedly already received varying levels of interest from the Royals, Phillies, Rangers, Angels, and Diamondbacks. The Rockies, Red Sox, and Marlins have also now been linked to the right-hander, though it is believed that no formal talks have yet to take place.

Meanwhile, it was reported early Wednesday afternoon that as many as 13 teams have expressed an interest in Buerhle. This includes the White Sox, Twins, Rangers, Yankees, Royals, Cardinals, Red Sox, Diamondbacks, Blue Jays, and Angels. The Cubs have met with Buerhle’s agent, Jeff Berry, numerous times. If the Cardinals have interest in Buerhle (which they’ve shown in the past) they could also get involved for Oswalt (in whom they’ve also shown interest in the past for). The Marlins have reportedly already made a preliminary offer to Buerhle, though terms have not yet been made public.

While I see the appeal to bringing either pitcher to Washington to help strengthen a rotation that I already believe could be strong, I am not convinced that either pitcher will end up with the Nationals. Oswalt has long stated a preference to remain in the National League and wants to win a World Series before his career is over. It is possible that could happen with Washington but he may view another opportunity as having a better shot to win right now. Buerhle is in a similar position. His priorities have long been publicly different (he’s always wanted to pitch close to home, a thought that has long made the Cardinals a favorite for him should he leave Chicago) and he’s already won a World Series (2007 with Chicago). Both pitchers are likely facing the last multi-year contracts of their careers and will be weighing all of their options carefully. And ultimately I don’t believe that simply throwing more money on the table is the right way to win a bidding war. If it comes down to that, I don’t see the Nationals coming out on top.

The latest on Wilson has the left-hander landing with the Angels. He’s originally from Southern California and according to most reports the interest is strong and mutual. There has also been interest from the Rangers, Yankees, Marlins, and Blue Jays. However, it is also being reported that Wilson is seeking a deal in the neighborhood of six years and $120 Million – a price that has already reportedly led to the Yankees “backing off” in their pursuit of the former reliever. If that is the asking price, I expect the Nationals will (and should) also refrain from continuing their pursuit at this point in time.

Washington’s 2012 starting rotation currently looks to be Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, John Lannan, Chien-Ming Wang, and one of Ross Detwiler, Brad Peacock, or Tom Milone. There is the potential for a strong rotation there, though the organization will potentially face innings limitations on roughly half of those options. The need for someone who can help pitch close to 200 innings will prove to be important should the Nationals find themselves in contention as the 2012 season approaches its close. That said, I’m not sold on Oswalt, Buerhle, or Wilson being an ideal solution to the team’s rotation needs because of the type of commitment that will be required in order to complete a deal.

The Nationals seem destined to add a big name starter to their rotation but there is no guarantee that a move takes place this winter. I think there are better options than Oswalt, Buerhle, or Wilson that could be available via trade. I think there are also better options who will be free agents a year from now, who could potentially be traded this coming summer. Despite the team’s interest in the current crop of free agents, the fact that so many other teams are also in need may work in Washington’s favor. The market, which thus far seems stronger than expected, could force the Nationals to take a different route towards upgrading their rotation, one that at least this writer would prefer.

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Tags: Brad Peacock C.J. Wilson Chien-Ming Wang John Lannan Jordan Zimmermann Mark Buerhle Ross Detwiler Roy Oswalt Stephen Strasburg Tom Milone Washington Nationals