Should The Washington Nationals Take A Chance On Cliff Lee?

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Jul 21, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Cliff Lee (33) pitches during the second inning of a game against the San Francisco Giants at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 21, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Cliff Lee (33) pitches during the second inning of a game against the San Francisco Giants at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /
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Could the Washington Nationals look to add a low-risk, high-reward veteran to the starting rotation in Cliff Lee?

Throughout the offseason, we have looked at how different free agents would fit in with the Washington Nationals rotation such as Mike Leake, Scott Kazmir, and Ian Kennedy to name a few. While the Nats haven’t signed any big name starting pitching free agents, they have at least looked into adding another pitcher for the back end of the rotation.

One name to keep an eye on might be a veteran pitcher coming off injury who has pitched in the NL East before. That pitcher would be Cliff Lee. Lee, who missed the 2015 season due to an elbow injury, is now a free agent. His agent, Darek Braunecker, was on MLB Network Radio this past weekend talking about how Lee would pitch if he can find a perfect fit.

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In a column written by Mike Axisa of CBS Sports on Monday, he lists the Nationals as one of five teams who could be a perfect fro Lee. Here is what Axisa had to say regarding the Nats and Lee:

"“There’s no doubt the Nats are looking to erase the memory of their brutally disappointing 2015 season. The team has already signed Daniel Murphy and they’re looking for outfield help. A starter figures to be on the agenda too. GM Mike Rizzo loves big names, and Lee’s a big name who won’t cost a ton.”"

Lee is a four-time All-Star and won the Cy Young Award when he was with the Cleveland Indians in 2008 when he went 22-3 that season with a 2.54 ERA. The 37-year-old left-hander last pitched in a Major League game in 2014 when he went 4-5 with a 3.65 ERA in 13 starts for the Philadelphia Phillies.

There are a couple of connections here involving Lee and the Nationals. Lee was picked in the fourth round of the 2000 MLB Draft by the then Montreal Expos. The second connection is that Lee pitched for current Nats’ pitching coach Mike Maddux when he was with the Texas Rangers in 2011.

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Even though Lee went 4-6 with a 3.98 ERA in 15 starts that year after being traded to Texas from Seattle, he was the ace that helped lead the Rangers to their first World Series appearance in franchise history. He is 7-3 with a 2.52 ERA in 11 career postseason starts.

With Lee not likely to get more than a one-year deal from any team, this is a move that could help the Nationals because it would allow them either to move Tanner Roark back to the bullpen or give Joe Ross more time to develop in triple-A and monitor his innings. Plus, if Lee were to get hurt, you have Ross ready to go.

Lee is not the pitcher that he once was with the Rangers. Before the elbow injury, his fastball averaged 89 miles per hour (according to Fangraphs). Back in 2012, his fastball averaged near 92 miles per hour with Philadelphia. He now relies more on his changeup and cutter along with a breaking ball and a slider.

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Again, this would be a low-risk, high-reward move for the Nats if they were to sign Lee. While Lee will have many suitors and the price won’t be as cheap, the Nationals could use another veteran left-hander at the back of the rotation. If Lee is 100%, the Nats and Mike Rizzo should make an attempt to sign him on a one-year deal.

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