The Nationals have one of the worst pitching staffs in baseball.
As a team, the Nationals had a 5.02 ERA from their pitchers, both starters and relievers, which was good for 4th worst in baseball and 2nd worst in the National League, only ahead of the Colorado Rockies who deal with the altitude at their home field in Denver.
The thing is, the Nationals have several pieces in place both in their staff and in their bullpen that project to be key pieces in 2024, and should perform well. Josiah Gray and MacKenzie Gore appear to be locked in as mainstays in the rotation for the forseeable future, with Cade Cavalli nearing return from Tommy John surgery. Kyle Finnegan and Hunter Harvey enjoyed career years in 2023, with Jordan Weems and Mason Thompson flashing their potential at times. Long story short, the bones are there to build up a strong pitching staff. For Mike Rizzo and the Front Office, the attention should be on replacing the pieces who have greatly underperformed and likely won't be bouncing back next season.
If you look at the Free Agents this offseason, there are several big name Starting Pitchers that would instantly make the Nationals better. Players like Blake Snell, Aaron Nola, Jordan Montgomery and recently posted Japanese Pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto would all instantly be the best pitcher in the Nationals' rotation, bumping the rest of the arms down a spot and creating much needed depth.
The thing is, the Nationals may not spend.
The team is still technically up for sale and while the Lerners have said all the right things publicly, anyone who is paying attention can read between the lines and see that just like in recent years, the Nationals won't be huge players in Free Agency like they were for much of the 2010s. The pitchers listed above are all likely to exceed $125M to $150M in guaranteed money this Winter. Will the Nationals really outbid the rest of Major League Baseball for their services? I would say it is unlikely.
But that does not mean the Nationals should just sit on their hands and do nothing. This is the same roster that improved 16 games from 2022 despite having some of the worst pitching in baseball. If they address the pitching staff, what is to say they cannot improve another 16 games? That would get them to 87 wins, which would have been good enough for a playoff spot this past season. 84 wins would have been enough. Adding a quality starter or two can get you there.
So if they're not players for the top names in Free Agency, they could of course go bargain bin hunting as they have in years past. That led them to players like Jeimer Candelario, who was fantastic during his brief tenure in DC, and Trevor Williams, who honestly could not have been worse. That kind of volatility in signing players is not exactly what you want to rest your playoff hopes on.
So instead, the Nationals and Mike Rizzo should play to their strengths and explore the trade market for some Starting Pitching help. Even fans who do not believe in Rizzo can admit that his best asset and strength as a General Manager is his ability to navigate and negotiate the Trade Market. Allowing Rizzo to do this instead of having to outbid every other team, like they did for Patrick Corbin (which is turning out great, by the way), would be utilizing their best asset as a Front Office.
Now some might be opposed to a still rebuilding team parting with top prospects in order to get a Starting Pitcher on a likely close-to-expiring deal. I understand that. But if you look at the Nationals' Farm System, they have a litany of quality Outfield prospects at their disposal, many of which won't even see the Major Leagues with the Nationals due to the sheer volume at the position - they will likely be blocked by whichever prospects reach the Major Leagues first.
Knowing this, the Nationals could also play to their strengths and deal from an area of strength in a trade for a proven arm that won't break the bank financially. Assuming James Wood and Dylan Crews are off the table, as they should be, that leaves the Nationals with the ability to trade from Robert Hassell III, Elijah Green, Daylen Lile, Cristhian Vaquero, Jeremy de la Rosa, among others. All quality prospects that would be a great start to trade talks.
Now I am not necessarily advocating for any or all of these players to be traded. I am simply saying they could be traded and would possess value to other teams. And for the Nationals, if you know you cannot play them all, you may as well sell high and get a position of need in return.
So who would the Nationals target in return?
The Nationals Should Trade for Tyler Glasnow
The Nationals should drop a bomb (yes, Oppenheimer joke) and trade for Tyler Glasnow. Glasnow is an electric pitcher who has had unfortunate luck with injuries over the past couple of seasons. Regardless, Glasnow has been excellent when healthy, pitching to a 3.53 ERA in 120 innings last season. And as we know about the Rays, they are no strangers to moving proven commodities in favor of young prospects (see: Blake Snell).
There are a couple of reasons I identified Glasnow over someone like Dylan Cease of the White Sox or even Corbin Burnes of the Brewers.
First, Glasnow is a Free Agent after the 2024 season, so you would only be trading for one year of his services as opposed to multiple seasons like Dylan Cease, which would not require as large of a return haul to the team trading him. This would be in the Nationals' interest so they do not completely deplete their Farm System.
Secondly, Glasnow does not have the award pedigree that Corbin Burnes does. You are not trading for a recent Cy Young award winner, which would have also driven up the price in a potential trade. However, you very well could be trading for a FUTURE Cy Young award winner if you trade for Glasnow.
Why would the Nationals trade prospects for one season of Tyler Glasnow, you ask? Here's why:
The Nationals need to realize that with the expanded playoffs, the road to the postseason is closer than ever before. The Miami Marlins snuck into the postseason at just 84 wins, as well as the Arizona Diamondbacks who went on to win the National League Pennant. Long story short: get into the dance and anything can happen. Adding Glasnow to bolster your rotation is a great start to a potential dance.
Here's a quick list of what adding Glasnow could allow the Nationals to do:
- DFA Patrick Corbin, statisically the worst pitcher in baseball over the past three seasons, as the Diamondbacks did with Madison Bumgarner.
- Relocate Trevor Williams to a bullpen role, if not release him altogether
- Take their time with Cade Cavalli, easing him back into action as he is basically still a rookie
- Take the pressure off of young arms such as Jake Irvin and Jackson Rutledge
- And as previously mentioned, move Josiah Gray and MacKenzie Gore into a more fitting 2 and 3 Starter Role, as opposed to a 1 and 2 Starter
Secondly, even if the team does not take a step forward as hoped, Glasnow will still maintain immense value at the trade deadline at which the Nationals could recoup some of their prospects if they so choose. They could also ride out the season with Glasnow and slap a Qualifying Offer on him to get a high draft pick in 2025.
Lastly, even if Glasnow gets injured again or underperforms, they would not be tied to an albatross contract for five more years. They would be able to reset next offseason, with Patrick Corbin's massive deal off the books as well, and start again. Or if Glasnow does perform as hoped, the Nationals would get first dibs at extending Glasnow to lead their rotation for the next half decade, the same offseason when $35M comes off the books.
To win in sports, you have to take risks. You cannot just sit back and hope every homegrown prospect pans out into an All Star caliber player. Glasnow would be a risk, but it would also be one worth taking.