Priority #3, the #Nats are in need of a #4 starting pitcher!

Photo by Sol Tucker for TalkNats

As we work in priority order, we look at what we set as the third priority for this Washington Nationals team which is the spot that Anibal Sanchez held in the starting rotation during the 2019 and 2020 seasons. For Sanchez, he had a very good 2019 season for the Nats, but then struggled for most of his 2020 starts and finished with a 6.62 ERA. His $18 million team option with a $6 million buyout will almost certainly be declined and bought-out, leading to a large vacancy for the team to fill heading into the 2021 season.

The list of priorities has limits with regards to budgetary spending, player availability, and team philosophy. There is always the possibility that the team could try to fill the spot internally which is not optimal, but in these times of budgetary constraints and limited revenue, filling the spot externally is not a given, although we believe the team should look into the free agent market for a candidate who would upgrade the rotation.

Of course we would love to see the team break the bank and acquire Trevor Bauer via free agency for the front of the rotation which would add him into a star rotation with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin and turn it into a super “four aces” scenario. But adding Bauer is extremely unlikely. Between the Big-3 for 2021, the Nats have over $88 million invested in them in annual payroll. Adding another $12 million between the fourth and fifth starters would create the first $100 million starting rotation in baseball history, and Bauer could cost in excess of $30 million a year!

To add to the complexity of the situation, the Nats hired a new pitching coach in Jim Hickey this week, and you can bet he will have a lot of input in regards to any acquisition along with manager Dave Martinez and of course general manager Mike Rizzo. There also needs to be evaluations done with internal candidates Joe Ross, Austin Voth, and Erick Fedde. Hickey has some great philosophies on pitching which should further evolve the situation, and hopefully get Corbin back on track after his disappointing 2020 season with a 4.66 ERA and a 2-6 record. Immediately due to Hickey, I would add Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi to the mix. Archer is more of a reclamation project, but Odorizzi who had a nice 2019 season was hampered by numerous fluke injuries in a short-season which made his 2020 a complete bust. Archer should be cheap and Odorizzi will be more expensive. Even without the Hickey relationship I would have Odorizzi at the top of my short-list.

To add another layer of mystery and intrigue to the situation, Max Scherzer put his Potomac River home up for sale leading to some conspiracy theories that he will be traded. Clearly there is no evidence of that, but it does add to all of the offseason questions that Scherzer is in the final year of his 7-year $210 million mega-deal. Scherzer who turns 37 next July had his worst statistical season in 2020 in terms of WHIP at 1.381 and his worst ERA (3.74) since his early days in Detroit. Scherzer is a strong bounceback candidate for 2021, and the Nats need that from him and Corbin to have any success in the upcoming season.

If we look at the list on MLBTR for available free agents, it is a short list of quality starting pitchers on the list, and after options are declined, DFA’s are factored in, and non-tenders are made, the list will grow to well over 50. As usual, there are dozens of retreads. This is an alphabetical list with notes from MLBTR and ages in parentheses.

  1. Brett Anderson (33)
  2. Chase Anderson (33) – $9.5MM club option with a $500K buyout
  3. Chris Archer (32) – $11MM club option with a $250K buyout
  4. Jake Arrieta (35) – $22.5MM club option
  5. Homer Bailey (35)
  6. Trevor Bauer (30)
  7. Trevor Cahill (33)
  8. Tyler Chatwood (31)
  9. Anthony DeSclafani (31)
  10. Robbie Erlin (30)
  11. Mike Fiers (36)
  12. Kevin Gausman (30)
  13. Gio Gonzalez (35) — $7MM club option with a $500K buyout
  14. Cole Hamels (37)
  15. J.A. Happ (38)
  16. Rich Hill (41)
  17. Merrill Kelly (32) — $4.25MM club option with a $500K buyout
  18. Corey Kluber (35) — $17.5MM club option with a $1MM buyout
  19. Mike Leake (33) — $18MM mutual option with a $5MM buyout
  20. Wade LeBlanc (36)
  21. Jon Lester (37) — $25MM mutual option with a $10MM buyout
  22. Tommy Milone (34)
  23. Mike Minor (33)
  24. Matt Moore (32)
  25. Charlie Morton (37) — $15MM vesting option with no buyout
  26. Jimmy Nelson (32) — $2MM club option ($9MM mutual option based on innings)
  27. Ivan Nova (34)
  28. Jake Odorizzi (31)
  29. James Paxton (32)
  30. Martin Perez (30) — $6.25MM club option with a $500K buyout
  31. Rick Porcello (32)
  32. Jose Quintana (32)
  33. Robbie Ray (29)
  34. Garrett Richards (33)
  35. Tyson Ross (34)
  36. Jeff Samardzija (36)
  37. Matt Shoemaker (34)
  38. Drew Smyly (32)
  39. Marcus Stroman (30)
  40. Masahiro Tanaka (32)
  41. Julio Teheran (30)
  42. Michael Wacha (29)
  43. Adam Wainwright (39)
  44. Taijuan Walker (28)
  45. Alex Wood (30)
  46. Jordan Zimmermann (35) ranked the starters in top free agent order within all of the free agents in their Top-25. The list only named nine starting pitchers, and they are:

  1. Trevor Bauer
  2. Marcus Stroman
  3. Masahiro Tanaka
  4. Taijuan Walker
  5. Mike Minor
  6. Robbie Ray
  7. Jake Odorizzi
  8. Jose Quintana
  9. James Paxton

Maybe you would agree or disagree with the list. We expect Stroman to accept a Q.O. if the Mets offer him one and Tanaka also if the Yankees Q.O. him which is not expected. Bauer will get a Q.O. and almost certainly will reject it. Basically this list can change fast. Of note, Paxton is a Scott Boras client and as such will be connected to the Nats. What name(s) do you want from this list?

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