People just don’t get it. People have short memories. People look at the Nationals starting rotation and see Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler. Then, they ask, why do they need another front line starter like Zack Greinke? Why trade someone like Mike Morse or Danny Espinosa for more pitching?
Well, to be frank, stuff happens. On the surface, the Nationals only need someone to step into the final spot in the rotation. It could be someone like Christian Garcia, a name that has bounced around. They could bring back someone like Zach Duke or another low-risk pitcher who could eat innings. The problem with that? What happens if, worst case scenario, an injury happens to one (or, more!) of the top-four? Then, the strength of the Nationals becomes a weakness, and pretty quickly too.
Teams always need pitching. The average team in baseball used 22 pitchers last year. Washington used 19. For argument’s sake, let’s take the three pitchers that threw the most innings for Triple A Syracuse last year without getting the call to Washington: Yunesky Maya, Tanner Roark and Mitch Atkins. That would be who you’d be getting replacement innings from. That doesn’t even talk to the fact that those 19 pitchers included Ryan Perry, Brad Lidge, Mike Gonzalez, John Lannan, Chien-Ming Wang, Sean Burnett, Tom Gorzelanny, Edwin Jackson and Duke – all of which are currently free-agents.
Basically? The Nationals were really, really lucky on the injury front last year. That cannot be expected going into this year and the team is very short at major-league ready arms right now. That is a position of need no matter who is at the front of the Nationals rotation and that is why the sense of urgency is there. You trade Mike Morse? You have Corey Brown or Tyler Moore or Roger Bernadina (or presumably Adam LaRoche is an option as well). You trade Danny Espinosa? You have Steve Lombardozzi or rumors say Anthony Rendon could be changed to take that position.
If Jordan Zimmermann gets hurt? Who steps up? Right now, there is nobody. So when you hear the Nationals kicking the tires on Zack Greinke, good. When you see they are in the mix for a starting pitcher via trade, fantastic. It shows that the priorities of the front office are two-fold: One, get better after a great season. Two, fix a problem before it comes up.
I spent last year writing about the Texas Rangers. The rotation of Yu Darvish, Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison and Neftali Feliz was one of the best in the early part of the season. Then, Feliz and Lewis got hurt for the remainder of the season. Then, Holland missed time. Darvish and Holland struggled for some starts. The team ended up getting Ryan Dempster, but that injury situation was something that can happen to any team, and something good teams must prepare for because they are the ones that have the biggest drop off and the most to lose.
I don’t know if trading Espinosa or Morse is necessarily the right move and if/when they are moved you have to take a look at what the trade was. However, I do know that if the Nationals are sitting with seven major league caliber outfielders and something happens to the pitching staff, that asking price goes up because teams can smell the desperation.
And before you ask why they traded Alex Meyer, I can come up with two answers. First, prospects are only necessary for two reasons: If they are close to the Majors and if the team is older. The oldest returning starter to Washington is 26, so they aren’t old and Meyer is at least two or three years away from reaching the Majors so he is irrelevant for 2013 purposes.
But this front office is smart and there is definitely a reason they are reported to be looking where they are looking. The fact is, the Nationals are more desperate for pitching than they would seem on the surface.