Baseball usually goes into a Thanksgiving hibernation as it gears up for the Winter Meetings late next week in Nashville, Tennessee. But never be surprised if a signing or trade happens. Rumors broke over Thanksgiving last year that Jeimer Candelario was headed to the Washington Nationals. Not every deal gets dragged out. What might be big for consumers and their Black Friday shopping obsessions — does not necessarily translate to baseball. The Winter Meetings is about as close as you can come to Black Friday frenzy — without the bargain sale prices.
Last year, Candelario, Anthony Rizzo, Tyler Anderson, Rafael Montero and Jose Abreu — all were signed before the calendar turned to December. Of course this year, all eyes are on Shohei Ohtani who is going to shatter all free agent records. Add to that, there is intrigue swirling around, that another trade of Juan Soto is probable. Could the Ray trade Tyler Glasnow? The Guardians could trade Shane Bieber, and the White Sox, after holding onto Dylan Cease at the trade deadline, might deal him now. Are the Brewers willing to move Corbin Burnes?
Personally, I wouldn’t be trading players and prospects for pitching when there is so much available in the free agent market thanks to several names that have emerged from the Asian markets, non-tenders, and a lengthy list that had already been anticipated from the pending MLB free agents. There was also the team option that was not picked up on Michael Wacha that made him a free agent, and the Brandon Woodruff non-tender just adds to what could be a new wrinkle added to over a dozen names that could serve the Nats well at the front of their rotation. Woodruff will be coming off of a surgery to repair the anterior capsule in his right shoulder, and his future is a gamble on risk/reward after his surgery in early October that might keep him out for the entire 2024 season — if he is ever serviceable to pitch again.
With Aaron Nola re-signing with the Phillies over the weekend and Lance Lynn with the Cardinals today, there’s still Ohtani, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Sonny Gray, Jordan Montgomery and two-time Cy Young winner Blake Snell at the top of the pitching market. Then you have Eduardo Rodriguez (31) 13-9, 152.2 IP, 3.30 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, Lucas Giolito (29) 8-15, 184.1 IP, 4.88 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, Marcus Stroman (33) 10-9, 136.2 IP, 3.95 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, Seth Lugo (34) 8-7, 146.1 IP, 3.57 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, Shota Imanaga (30) 7-5, 159 IP, 2.66 ERA, 1.01 WHIP (Japan Central League/Japan Eastern League), Wacha (32) 14-4, 134.1 IP, 3.22 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, Nick Martinez (33) 6-4, 110.1 IP, 3.43 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, Sean Manaea (32) 7-6, 117.2 IP, 4.44 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, Kyle Gibson (36) 15-9, 192 IP, 4.73 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, Tyler Mahle (29) 1-2, 25.2 IP, 3.16 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, Jack Flaherty (28) 8-9, 144.1 IP, 4.99 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, and Michael Lorenzen (32) 9-9, 153 IP, 4.18 ERA, 1.21 WHIP.
Of course there are so many more starting pitchers out there like Luis Severino, Kenta Maeda, James Paxton, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Frankie Montas. Those would be part of the bargain aisle, and damaged goods. But what about old friend, and the old-and-improved Erick Fedde? He will test the waters in free agency after he was non-tendered a year ago by the Nats and chose to go to Korea where he was named their top pitcher.
There really are so many names and dozens beyond them that will be signing minor league deals like Chad Kuhl. The starting free agent list is over 100 names, enough for each team to sign three players, many of whom will be inking deals with Triple-A affiliates, and some going to Korea and Japan. There are controversial names like Trevor Bauer on the list, and pitchers who once dominated the game like Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. Some have seen their best days pass them by.
Should the Nats’ general manager, Mike Rizzo, sign two pitchers or just go after the BPA (best player available)? That is certainly subjective. Best? The decision will be difficult, and pitcher who Rizzo might want — won’t want the Nats. That is what Rizzo calls “it takes two to tango.”
While that chart is sorted by innings pitched, and not ERA or player value, it is clear that the Nats need a true No. 1 starter to place in front of what should be MacKenzie Gore as the No. 2, Gray as the No. 3, Jake Irvin as the No. 4, and by default, Patrick Corbin is the No. 5. That would push Trevor Williams into the bullpen, and Cade Cavalli can take his time on his rehab back from UCL surgery in his pitching elbow. The depth from Jackson Rutledge will be a key along with Mitchell Parker and DJ Herz who were both just added to the 40-man roster last week. Joan Adon is out of options, and we will see what Rizzo does with him.
The free agent list of starting pitchers with positive WAR projections is lengthy, do you take a chance on Wade Miley who could give you more projected WAR than Gray? These are the tough decisions to be made. Which aisle will Rizzo eventually buy from? The Nats starting pitchers had a 5.02 ERA in 2023 — and that should not be hard to improve upon with addition by subtraction along with classic addition by adding quality. If a 4.20 staff ERA is the goal, you need to certainly hope that Gore, Gray, and Irvin all beat expectations, and Corbin pitches to that 4.86 ERA. By averages you would want to find a starter to give you a 3.54 or better ERA and hope the middle-three starters can average 4.20 or better.
Everything comes down to actually doing it in games. Rizzo can make everything easier by adding top quality to the roster.