The trade deadline approaches and the chatter is focusing on the Nationals “needs” for the rest of the season. There are lots of articles and opinions floating around out there that the Nats need to get another front line ace pitcher. Names such as Zack Greinke and Cole Hamels keep coming up, with folks speculating that the Nationals should chase one of them to replace Stephen Strasburg when his innings limit is reached and he is shut down.
The whole notion is idiotic. That isn’t to say that Mike Rizzo won’t pull the trigger on a deal for a pitcher, but he shouldn’t. Signing another pitcher is a solution in need of a problem, and adding yet another pitcher to the roster will cause more roster chaos than Nats fans can imagine.
Hamels is a rent-a-player who will only stay through the end of the season. He has publically said that if he gets traded he is open to resigning with the Phillies next year. Now that the Nats have their foot on the Phillies necks, why would they give any minor league talent to the Phillies that they can use for their rebuilding project, especially to get a pitcher that probably will not stay with the team or who will require a huge contract to sign with the Nats in the offseason? I cannot imagine a worse idea than to help the Phillies get out of the mess they have created for themselves by giving them any talent in exchange for a three month rent-a- player.
Greinke is headed for free agency after this season. His salary for this year is $13.5 million, and the Nats would have to pay at least a third of that if they get him in a trade to use him for three months. There is no guarantee that he would sign with the Nats next year and he will command big dollars in the offseason for whatever team signs him. Greinke’s temper tantrum last week that got him tossed by the umpire in the first inning of his start didn’t impress either.
The Nationals overloaded on pitching this year by signing Edwin Jackson. The signing of Jackson was a silly move at the time and in the grand scheme of things remains inexplicable to me. The Jackson signing was the one move made by Rizzo in the offseason that clunked. At the time he was signed, the Nats had starting pitching of Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmerman, Detwiler, Lannan, and Wang competing for rotation spots. Throwing Jackson into the mix meant there were seven starters competing for five spots. With Wang’s spring training injury, it still meant that the Nats had a starter they could not use. Lannan got sent to the minors even though his spring training ERA was lower than Jackson’s.
Jackson’s record with the Nationals this year is 5-4. I seriously doubt that Lannan’s record would be worse if he was the Nats fourth starter. The Nationals spent 11 million dollars to sign Jackson, and are paying Lannan 5 million. Edwin Jackson is not six million dollars better than John Lannan. The demotion to the minors had Lannan requesting that the team trade him, and sent his pitching totally off the rails when he went to Syracuse. Lannan was horrible in his first couple of starts at AAA, but he has righted his ship and his ERA is currently down to 4.60.
What would the Nats do with another starter coming onto the team at the end of July? Strasburg will not reach his innings limit until the end of August or the beginning of September. The new starter will not be taking Strasburg’s place right away. That means someone has to go to the bullpen. Jackson is not a good candidate for bullpen work, because as we have seen this year it usually takes him at least an inning to start pitching well. Jackson tends to give up runs in the first inning he pitches. That does not make him a good candidate for a relief role. Detwiler would probably get sent to the bullpen again. Detwiler can’t be sent to the minors to be parked until needed because he is out of minor league options. If Detwiler goes to the bullpen, which pitcher gets sent down or released? Keep in mind someone is leaving the major league roster when Storen comes back next week. Who goes if Detwiler has to go to the bullpen because the Nats have signed another starter–Ryan Mattheus? Henry Rodriguez? Mike Gonzalez?
When Strasburg has reached his innings limit, Lannan is available to come up and be a fifth starter. About the time Strasburg gets shut down, the rosters will expand and the Nats will be bringing up some young arms to get some major league experience. This year’s Tommy Milone and Brad Peacock are waiting in the wings–but if the Nats already have signed another starter it will be next to impossible to get many starts for the guys added to the roster in September. Don’t forget that last year with Jordan Zimmermann shut down when he reached his innings limit both Peacock and Milone received significant starts where they performed well, and that showcase lead to Rizzo’s ability to pull off the trade with the Athletics to bring Gio Gonzalez to the Nats, sending Peacock and Milone to the A’s.
The Nats don’t need another starter for the postseason. Even with Strasburg unavailable, the team has Gonzalez, Zimmerman, Detwiler and Jackson as a four man rotation with Lannan to use as a fifth starter if necessary. I know the Nats have never been to the postseason, and that may be why the fans and talking heads are forgetting that during the postseason, the fifth starter is rarely used. Teams tend to go with the best four pitchers they have and keep the fifth in reserve for a spot start or for long relief out of the bullpen. Most teams make it through the postseason relying on three or four starters, with the number one and two guys getting the majority of the starts.
The Nationals don’t need the roster chaos that adding yet another starter to the team will create, nor should they send minor league talent to other teams for a pitcher who may only be with the team for two or three months. The Nationals need to plug their ears with wax and refuse to listen to the siren song that the Cole Hamels and Zack Greinkes of the baseball world will be singing for the next couple of weeks.