Post-Buehrle, Where does Washington look next?
By Andrew Flax
After a long courtship, it was announced Wednesday that Mark Buehrle has signed for 4 years and $58 million with the Miami Marlins, who continue their (surprisingly) free-spending ways. This move obviously means that Buehrle has spurned the Nationals, who considered Buehrle to be far and away their top offseason priority. Now that the Nats have lost out on their top choice, where do they go from here?
It has often been reported that the team considers Roy Oswalt to be their Plan B, and he fits the mold of the veteran leader Rizzo is looking for. He was an ace in Houston for a long time, and has thrown 200+ innings in 8 different seasons, making him an ideal candidate to tutor the young Nationals staff. However, Oswalt suffered through some injuries last year, pitching only 139 innings, but managing to record an effective 3.69 ERA. His career ERA is an impressive 3.21, and as such, a healthy Oswalt could be a force to be reckoned with in the Nationals’ rotation. Earlier this offseason, I wrote an article arguing that the Nationals should not sign a pitcher this offseason. There is a caveat to that, however: if Oswalt can be had for an affordable contract, such as 1-2 years at $9-10 million a year, then he would be a valuable addition to the team, even given his injury concerns. Despite his upside, Oswalt should not be considered the only potential pitching addition.
In an earlier article, my fellow writer Michael Natelli stated the case for trading away Jesus Flores and a prospect or two to the Astros for Wandy Rodriguez. Wandy is another reliable workhorse, having thrown 191+ innings each of the past 3 years. However, his contract is a bit of an albatross, owing him $10 million in 2012, and then $13 million in 2013 and 2014, as his 2014 option becomes a player option if he is traded. At that price, the Astros will likely be willing to trade him for a lower price, but would be unlikely to find any takers. The Nationals would do well to add Wandy, but only if the Astros eat some of his contract, which they are apparently unwilling to do. Wandy is the poor man’s Buehrle, but his rich man’s price tag means he would be an unworthy investment unless the Astros chipped in as well.
Beyond pitching needs, the Nationals are interested in various centerfielders as well. A common name in the free agency field is Yoenis Cespedes, the 26-year-old Cuban sensation. Scouts expect him to hit around .260-.270, with 20-30 home runs and adequate CF defense, and many believe he is major league ready already, despite playing against AA-quality competition in Cuba. Since the Nationals presumably have money to spend that would have otherwise gone to Buehrle, Cespedes could fit perfectly. He may demand up to $60 million over 8 years, which seems like an intimidating figure, but is less than half of Jayson Werth’s salary, a small price to pay for a player who Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein called “arguably the best player to come out of Cuba in a generation.” Cespedes may also create a bit of a lineup jam if Bryce Harper makes the team out of Spring Training, as Davey Johnson hopes, but in that case, Michael Morse could be moved back to first with Harper and Werth in the corners, and Adam LaRoche could be traded, albeit for pennies on the dollar.
The Nationals are likely upset that Buehrle chose to take his talents to South Beach, but all is not lost. Other opportunities arise for pitching signings or trades, and the leftover money could be spent on another key piece. Rizzo may not have gotten his first choice, but take heart: he will still be able to make the additions he needs in order to set the Nats up for contention, whether now or in the future.