Washington Nationals Free Agent Target: Wei-Yin Chen

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After Scott Kazmir signed with the Dodgers, could the Nats now look to add Wei-Yin Chen to the rotation?

As we head into 2016, the second-tier starting pitchers on the free agent market are starting to come off the board. Yesterday, the Los Angeles Dodgers signed Scott Kazmir to a three-year, $48 million deal with an opt-out after this season. The Washington Nationals don’t exactly have a dire need for a starter, but they were interested in Kazmir and Mike Leake (signed with the St. Louis Cardinals).

One name that has been connected to the Nats this offseason is former Orioles’ starter, Wei-Yin Chen. Over a week ago, William Ladson of MLB.com reported that the Nats have shown interest in Chen, but are unwilling to go five years on a contract to sign him.

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Chen, who will be 31 next July, went 11-8 this past season with a 3.34 ERA and a 4.13 FIP in 31 starts. In his four seasons with the Orioles, his ERA has decreased every single year. Over the course of his four-year career, Chen is 46-32 with a 3.72 ERA in 117 starts.

In 2014, Chen won 16 games, which was seventh in the American League as the Orioles made it to the ALCS that season (lost to the Royals). Plus, he has made at least 30 starts in three of those four seasons, so he has proven to be a durable pitcher since signing with Baltimore.

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When you look at Chen’s 2015 numbers more closely, he did better from a win-loss record perspective in the second half of the season, but hitters were able to make more contact. After going 4-5 with a 2.78 ERA in the first half, Chen went 7-3 after the All-Star Break with a 4.08 ERA. Plus, opponents had a .296 average against him in those final 14 starts after hitting only .235 before the All-Star Break.

In his career, Chen has never been much of a strikeout pitcher. In fact, his 7.2 strikeouts per nine innings this year were tied for the best of his career (2012). While he doesn’t overpower hitters, his control is on point as he has walked less than two batters per nine innings each of the last two seasons.

According to Fangraphs, Chen’s fastball has averaged out at 91 miles per hour. He also has a slider, curveball, and changeup in his arsenal, but he has used his changeup less over the course of his career (13.9% in 2012 to 10.4% in 2015).

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At the beginning of the offseason, MLB Trade Rumors predicted Chen would get a five-year deal worth $80 million. While I don’t think the Nats would give Chen a five-year deal, he would make sense for Washington as a number three starter behind Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. He has pitched well in a tough division (AL East) Chen will be a name to keep an eye on going forward if the market drops on him. Plus, he is a Scott Boras client and the Nats have been known to sign a lot of Boras clients, even if it means giving up their second round draft pick (Chen has a qualifying offer attached to him).

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