Which Free Agent Arms Should the Nationals Realistically Target?

The Nationals aren’t going to be “big-buyers” this offseason, but a cheap veteran arm would do wonders for their inconsistent pitching rotation. Josiah Gray and MacKenzie Gore are young exciting arms at the front of this rotation, but there are plenty of question marks surrounding the remaining arms. 
Kansas City Royals v Minnesota Twins
Kansas City Royals v Minnesota Twins / David Berding/GettyImages

Here are a few starting pitchers the Nationals should target this offseason because, although we’d love to see it, Erick Fedde isn’t walking through that door…

Tyler Mahle 

Tyler Mahle
Kansas City Royals v Minnesota Twins / David Berding/GettyImages

The Nationals aren’t going to shock the world and trade for Tyler Glasnow or sign Blake Snell, but they could take a gamble on a cheap veteran like Tyler Mahle. It’s been an up-and-down career for the 29-year-old righty who’s struggled to stay healthy. After making only four starts for the Twins in 2022, Mahle looked great in 2023 before getting injured once again. 

The veteran right-hander owned a 3.16 ERA in 25.2 innings of work striking out 28 batters in 5 starts before needing Tommy John surgery. Mahle will miss the beginning of the 2024 season, and is currently looking for a new team. 

I really liked what I saw out of Mahle this season in a limited sample. The Twins are known for getting the most out of their arms, and they had Mahle looking primed for a breakout season before his injury. Why not take a chance with Tyler Mahle on a short term deal where he can return from injury and prove himself with zero added pressure from the organization. 

Although possible, it’s highly unlikely that the Nationals will be in first place when Mahle returns to the mound. If he pitches anywhere close to how he did in 2023, they can flip him at the deadline, trade him in the offseason, or make him the centerpiece of this rotation later on down the road.

Considering Mahle’s laundry-list of prior injuries, he won’t be looking for a long-term, expensive contract. He will be looking for a one to two year “prove-it” deal where he can show the world that he still has some gas left in the tank. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather see Mahle in the Nationals’ rotation than Trevor Williams…

Eric Lauer 

Eric Lauer
Chicago Cubs v Milwaukee Brewers / John Fisher/GettyImages

If the Nationals are looking to add another left-hander to the starting rotation, Eric Lauer should be a name they target. Only a year removed from being a solid middle of the rotation starter, it was clear that he was pitching with some sort of injury last season. His velocity was down and his ERA sky-rocketed after two solid years with a sub-3.70 ERA.

Lauer couldn’t have been in a worst position to succeed last year. He was immediately demoted to the minors after struggling, and never really had another fair shot at the rotation. If Lauer is finally healthy, I don’t see why the 28-year-old left-hander can’t return to his 2021/2022 form. 

With all the big names in free agency this offseason, a one-year “prove-it” deal would make a ton of sense for Lauer in Washington. With a cheap price-tag and a large sample size of solid starts over the last three years, why not take a flier on Lauer this offseason? He could end up being the perfect replacement for Trevor Williams at the back-end of the rotation.

Thankfully for the Nationals, they aren’t going to sign Domingo German or Trevor Bauer, who is supposedly expected to make his return to Major League Baseball this year. However, they should still look to “buy low” on one or two of the cheap veteran arms in the market like Mahle or Lauer. Why not surround this young group of starting pitchers with a veteran arm looking to rejuvenate their career on a cheap one-year deal?