Nationals Express Interest in Dempster, Greinke, Liriano


Trade rumors often need to be digested with a grain of salt. Names are often thrown out there that are purely in speculation, sometimes they make some sense and sometimes they don’t. But we, as both fans of our respective teams and as those that cover those teams, still have a tendency to over-react and occasionally over-analyze the very idea into some form that ultimately either confirms or rejects the initial rumor that started it all.

Much has been made this year of the innings limitation that the Washington Nationals organization is placing on Stephen Strasburg this year – believed to be in the neighborhood of 160-180 innings – and for good reason. With the Nationals currently sitting in first place in the National League East and with one of the best records in the league, it’s easy to speculate about a possible playoff run this October which has naturally led to questions about whether the team is really prepared to head into their first post season appearance without the ace of their staff. Opinions vary in both directions on this subject, with some believing the innings limit is “nonsense” and “poor decision making if it will hinder this team come the playoffs”. Others see the long term value in such a move, citing the organization’s ability to remain competitive for years to come rather than simply focusing on just this season.

With all of the discussion surrounding Strasburg’s innings limit, it’s only natural to wonder what the team’s options are going to be once he reaches that limit. One such option could involve acquiring another starting pitcher prior to the July trade deadline.

Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports passed along some of the latest rumors earlier this afternoon, citing “major-league sources” in reporting that the Nationals have expressed interest in Ryan Dempster of the Chicago Cubs. He also mentions Milwaukee’s Zack Greinke and Minnesota’s Francisco Liriano as possible targets.

Dempster would offer a veteran presence in the rotation for the season’s stretch run, something that could prove to be beneficial for the young arms that currently occupy the team’s pitching staff. He’s also been enjoying a solid 2012 season to date. Through 14 starts he’s posted a 5-3 record, a league-leading 1.86 ERA, and career lows in H/9 (6.8) and BB/9 (2.4). The 35 year old right-hander will be a free agent this winter, so Washington would potentially be acquiring him just for the remainder of the season and given changes to Collective Bargaining Agreement, the team would not be eligible to receive any extra draft picks next year should they allow him to walk this winter.

Part of the argument being made in favor of Dempster is his “playoff experience” – something the Nationals currently have a minimal amount of on the roster. However, Dempster shouldn’t necessarily be considered a seasoned playoff veteran. His teams have twice reached the postseason, in 2007 and 2008. Dempster appeared in just two games during each of those years, making only one start. He allowed 4 earned runs over 5.2 innings with 7 walks and just 4 strikeouts. He’s 0-1 with a 6.35 ERA and 1.941 WHIP.

While yes, Dempster has pitched well this season, he ultimately isn’t the right option for this Nationals team should they decided to pull the trigger and make a deal before the deadline. Dempster (who has the right to veto any potential deal thanks to his 10-5 rights) is having a career season, he’s never been a hard thrower, he’s already battled some injury concerns this year (he missed a little over two weeks in June with a strained lat muscle), and let’s not forget he’s just a two month rental without a proven track record of success in the post season. As if we didn’t have enough reasons to pass on Dempster, we have yet to consider what acquiring such a player might end up costing the Nationals given the seemingly high demand that the right-hander is creating. The Red Sox, Braves, Yankees, Dodgers, Tigers and others have all been linked to him in some fashion just over the last week. Add in the fact that Chicago can hold out for a strong deal given the fact that they do have the ability to potentially collect extra draft picks should Dempster leave this winter via free agency and that further increases what a potential offer might need to look like in order to obtain Dempster from Theo Epstein and the Cubs. In the end, bringing him to Washington just simply won’t be worth it.

The two other names Rosenthal threw out there in his article, Greinke and Liriano, also have their faults and limitations.

Washington nearly had a deal completed that would have brought Greinke to town following the 2010 season. It’s uncertain what players were being discussed in the deal* or how close the two teams were to reaching an agreement, but it all became a moot point in the end. Despite Washington’s public statements regarding the possible contract extension they’d be willing to hand Greinke, he rejected the deal (his contract permitted him to reject trades to 15 teams, one of them being Washington). Once he landed in Milwaukee, it became apparent that Greinke’s opinion was that the “Brewers could win sooner” and that was ultimately a large factor in his decision. He spurned Washington once and will be a free agent this winter, likely one who’ll command a contract in excess of $100 Million. Like Dempster, he too is likely not the right option for the Nationals to pursue at this point in time.

* Based on the players Kansas City ended up receiving from Milwaukee when they did trade Greinke, a potential comparable package from the Nationals may have looked something like Jordan Zimmermann, Danny Espinosa, Derek Norris, and another prospect or two (some speculated that Drew Storen’s name had been involved, even though he had just been drafted the prior summer).

As for Liriano, his lack of consistency has long been his biggest problem. The phenom that burst onto the season when Liriano made his MLB Debut (and subsequently convinced the Twins they had enough in-house that they could afford to trade Johan Santana) is no longer there. Injuries have plagued Liriano for the past few years and the player that was once deemed “untouchable” is suddenly available. It is possible that a change of scenery could prove to be beneficial for the left-hander at this point in his career, though there seems to be some certainty this winter that he’ll test the free agent market and is unlikely to return to Minnesota, and being inserted into a youthful clubhouse like that in Washington could re-invigorate the 28 year old to some degree, but there is still some question about whether he’d be the right fit for this Washington team.

How the Nationals proceed in handling Strasburg’s innings limit may go a long way towards how deep into the post season this team is capable of actually going this year. Internally there has been a great deal of support for such a plan, namely because it places more value on the organization’s long term success rather than just one playoff run. Perhaps acquiring another starting option is the right move for the team to make between now and the trade deadline, but guys like Dempster, Greinke, and likely even Liriano just aren’t the right options for this team right now.