Recently the Phillies released left-handed pitcher Dontrelle Willis, better known as “D-Train,” and now, it’s time for the Nationals to give him a shot.
The general consensus is that it would only take a minor league deal to sign Willis, and with Chien-Ming Wang going down on an injury last week, the Nationals now find themselves with a little less pitching depth than they hoped to have. Though Ross Detwiler and John Lannan are both solid options for the fifth spot in the rotation, if one of them goes down, the Nats are left with only Tom Gorzelanny as depth. As I mentioned in my past trade review about Gorzelanny, he had a 4.46 ERA last year a starter, but only a 2.42 ERA out of the pen, so no sense in messing with a good thing. Leave Gorzo in the pen and seek out another depth option.
On a minor-league deal, is there any reason why signing a guy that could potentially benefit your club is a bad idea? The majority of the Nationals top pitching prospects currently reside in the low minors, so giving Willis time in AA or AAA would not be blocking top prospects from action, and when Strasburg gets shut down in September, Willis could prove to be valuable when both Lannan and Detwiler are pitching. Presumably whoever doesn’t land the fifth spot out of the gate is going to replace Strasburg in September, so that will eliminate the current depth the Nationals have even if neither pitcher gets injured all year. Chien-Ming Wang will likely be back soon, but the Nationals will likely take it easy with him, so who knows how much action he’ll face in September; the Nationals should have another option in case they need one. Not to mention, Willis’ durability may be perfectly suited for him to be used as a September starter. Despite an undesirable ERA (5.00) last year, Willis averaged roughly 6 innings per start last year. In the month of September, the sixth and seventh innings are typically where prospects get the chance to come in and show what they’ve got, so if Willis can get the Nats through six, he’ll be just fine.
Look, I’m not saying Willis is an ace. But, he is only 29, and maybe he can rediscover the form that brought him such success years ago. If a team like the Phillies wanted him, he had to be something of value, right? And if not, it’s not as if there’s anything to lose, it’s just a minor league deal. Mike Rizzo, if you are reading this, go out and sign D-Train to a minor league deal. It is certainly in your best interest.