Washington Nationals: Jake Arrieta a definite target

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Seeking a nasty rotation, the Washington Nationals Tuesday are after free agent starter Jake Arrieta. A bold move, if they can pull it off.

The Washington Nationals want you to know they have an interest in Chicago Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta.

FanRag’s Jon Heyman reported the rumor Tuesday morning on the second day of baseball’s Winter Meetings in Orlando.

Arrieta is the top starting free agent behind Yu Darvish and has plenty of suitors including the Cubs. If you figure Darvish commands roughly $20 million a season, then Arrieta will draw around that, if not slightly more.

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In five years on the North Side, Arrieta exploded into an elite starter. The 2015 National League Cy Young winner, he went 22-6 with a 0.865 WHIP and 1.77 ERA. He battled injuries last year but went 14-10 with an ERA of 3.53 and WHIP of 1.218. Overall with the Cubs, he is 68-31 with a 2.73 ERA, 1.034 WHIP and 147 ERA+. In 128 starts, he fanned 793 over 803 innings while walking 244.

The Nats are in the market for a starter. With Joe Ross recovering from Tommy John, Washington is short a quality pitcher. Erick Fedde and A.J. Cole are the best in-house candidates to fill the role, but their major-league readiness remains a question.

A serious attempt to woo signals the Nats want to assemble a killer rotation. Behind Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, Arrieta provides massive insurance for the top of the rotation. Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark are above-average if they are in the back of the rotation.

But, Washington must fill holes on their bench, possibly replace Brandon Kintzler in the bullpen and find a credible catcher to pair with Matt Wieters to reduce his playing time. Unless the plan is to push the Nats payroll north of $200 million, it is hard to see how they do that without a trade.

Arrieta led the NL the last two years in wild pitches. Because the Cubs made three consecutive deep playoff runs, questions remain about his arm durability. His ERA ballooned 0.4 runs from 2016’s 3.10.

When it counts most, Arrieta shines. He was the lone Cubs pitcher to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in last season’s NL Championship Series. In their World Series win, he won both his starts pitching 11.1 innings along the way. He is a gamer.

Next: Will Gio get traded?

Washington nabbing Arrieta would be a major coup. They dearly want to win now and he provides strength to a rotation already considered at the top.

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