Mike Rizzo and the Washington Nationals love starting pitching, and that's no secret. The starting rotation has been the backbone of each roster Rizzo has constructed since their first postseason birth in 2012. Given their regular season success throughout the 2010s, including their 2019 World Series run of course, having a strong starting rotation is never a bad thing. Nationals fans have been gifted with the ability to watch guys like Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, Doug Fister, Tanner Roark, Patrick Corbin, and so on. However, the Nationals are in a much different spot right now. Despite the importance placed on starters throughout the organization, the Nats find themselves without much depth at the position.
As it currently stands, the Washington Nationals starting rotation consists of Josiah Gray, Cade Cavalli, Mackenzie Gore, Trevor Williams, Patrick Corbin, and whatever amount of innings Stephen Strasburg can throw. After those names, there isn't much else. While there is already a lack of depth, what makes the situation worse is the fact that not all of these names are reliable for the amount of innings a team needs from their starters to make it through a season. Cade Cavalli and Mackenzie Gore both had their 2022 seasons ended early due to injury and are young arms that the Nats probably won't want to push at all during the year. Josiah Gray has been in the majors for about a full year and a half now, but will also most likely not be pushed by the Nats. Trevor Williams has starter experience, but threw only 89.2 innings last year out of the bullpen for the Mets, so he's transitioning from a relief role back to a full time starter. Patrick Corbin can only make it through more than 3 innings a handful of times throughout the year and Stephen Strasburg's talent has unfortunately been overshadowed by his rough injury history. Combining all of these issues creates a need for increased depth at the starting pitcher position for the Nats, an issue that could be aided by adding more depth. Even with spring training right around the corner, there are a number of starting pitchers who still find themselves on the free agent market. Here's 3 starting pitchers the Nats should look to add before the 2023 season.
Note: Between the time I wrote this article and now, 2 free agent pitchers who I included in this list have since been signed: Joe Ross and Zack Greinke. The longtime Nat Joe Ross signed a minor league deal with an invite to camp with the San Francisco Giants, while the crafty veteran Zack Greinke returned to Kansas City on a one year deal.
1. Michael Wacha
We have mentioned this before, but Michael Wacha would be a great addition to the Nationals. The veteran right-hander spent last season with the Boston Red Sox, where he did better than many people anticipated. Wacha started 23 games for Boston, including a complete game shutout, where he pitched to a 3.32 ERA and 1.115 WHIP across 127.1 innings. Some of his more advanced stats, like his 4.14 FIP, may indicate he didn't perform as good as the other numbers show, but impressive nevertheless. Wacha throws a five pitch mix that includes a 4-seam fastball, changeup, cutter, sinker, and curveball, but he primarily relies on a 4-seam, changeup, and cutter combo. He could add a veteran arm to this rotation, one that can be relied on every 5 days to provide quality starts and keep his team in the game.
2. Mike Minor
Unlike the pitcher just mentioned, Mike Minor did not have a strong 2022 campaign. The southpaw allowed 120 hits and 66 earned runs across 98 innings for the Cincinnati Reds, equating to a 6.06 ERA and 1.633 WHIP. While the numbers might not be jaw-dropping, Minor is a veteran starter than can add some depth to a shallow Nationals rotation. Regardless of previous season's numbers, a bounce back year is always possible and fills a need of the Nats.
3. Chris Archer
Chris Archer is primarily known for the trade in which he was sent to Pittsburgh from Tampa Bay in return for Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows, and Shane Baz. However, Chris Archer has quietly had a respectable career. He spent last year with Minnestota, throwing 102.2 innings and pitching to a 4.56 ERA and 1.412 WHIP. Just like the other pitchers, Chris Archer isn't a dominant starter in the league, but one that can go out every 5 days and pitch a quality game. A veteran presence like himself is one the Nats need in their rotation, and it isn't too late for the Nationals to bring him onboard for the 2023 season.
With the Nationals having a lack of depth in their rotation, adding any one or more of these guys would be a huge boost for their staff heading into the new season. Quality innings from a veteran arm is something this team needs badly, especially if it prevents them from rushing any more arms into the big leagues. Plus, there is always a bit of potential upside in any deal, as any one of these guys can hit their stride and become a strong trade deadline candidate for the Nats to deal away and get some prospect in return. With the starting pitching market already getting slim, it is essential for the Nats to strike now and grab themselves one of these three arms to add to their roster.