A Few Candidates To Be The Nats’ Fifth Starter

The Nationals head into the offseason without a fifth starter. The plan was for Joe Ross to be a member of the rotation for 2018 and years to come, but he is likely to be out for the season after Tommy John surgery. The next-best in-house option is A.J. Cole. He is generally ineffective, however. In addition, both of these pitchers’ struggles against left-handed hitters may indicate that they are better suited to relief. Eric Fedde is the best pitching prospect on the farm. Although he may be ready to produce come June or July, it is probably better for his development for him to start the season on the farm, and then get called up when Stephen Strasburg inevitably has to sit out for a month.

The Nats have a good rotation headlined by Max Scherzer and Strasburg, so there is no need to go after the best free agents like Jake Arrieta or Yu Darvish, or even mediocre options such as Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb. The Nats don’t need high quality innings; they need a high quantity of innings.

Even though Jayson Werth’s hundred-million-dollar contract is coming off the books this offseason, much of that money will be devoted to arbitration raises to Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon and Tanner Roark. The Nats will be searching for a cheap workhorse, and those don’t get exchanged in trades. Mike Rizzo will have to explore the free-agent market to find 160 innings, and I would like to highlight a few candidates.

THE RELIABLES

Jhoulys Chacin

Chacin is quietly coming off a great year for a back-of-the-rotation arm. He pitched 180 innings and managed to keep his ERA below 4. Behind that 3.89 ERA, though, was a 1.79 home ERA and a 6.53 away ERA. That may be off-putting to any non-Padre suitors, but there is no way that Chacin can be Clayton Kershaw at Petco Park and Anibal Sanchez everywhere else. Those two numbers are bound to converge somewhere around 4.0 in 2018. Plus, those splits may scare away a number of rivals for Chacin’s services, making his price palatable.

John Lackey

You may be initially repulsed at this name because his ERA increased by a whole run this season, but the reality is that he will probably be too expensive for the Nats. He pitched 170 innings this season, and the last time he pitched fewer than 160 innings was 15 years ago. (That is, aside from missing all of 2012.) The quality of those innings decreased drastically, but the baseline for that comparison was his career ERA+ of 110.

R.A. Dickey

The knuckleballing vet continues to produce. He made good on his one-year, $8-million deal with the Braves by pitching 190 innings of roughly league-average production. His FIP was right in line with that ERA. In addition, since velocity isn’t critical to his success, age shouldn’t and hasn’t rendered him ineffective. That being said, he could regress a bit and still produce 180 innings at around a 4.5 ERA next season. The caveat here is that the Braves have an option on him for this next season for the same price as 2017, so he might not reach free agency.

All of these players are probably in line for contracts like the one Bartolo Colon and Dickey received last offseason — one year, about $10 million. If Big Daddy Lerner wants to splash the cash, then the Nats can probably sign one of these players on a one-year deal. However, that is unlikely. If the Lerners don’t increase payroll, the Nats may be forced to truly scavenge the scrapheap.

 

WILD CARDS

Bartolo Colon

Speaking of veterans…Colon may have been DFA-worthy for the Braves last season, but I think he’s still got it. The manifestation of Jabba the Hutt on the pitcher’s mound rebounded with a 3.4 ERA in August with the Twins, and didn’t have the ominous drop in velocity that many veterans undergo. There is a worry that NL East hitters will have seen him enough to know how to destroy the 90mph fastballs he could throw in a game, but given the drastic roster turnover in Philadelphia and New York over the past year, and the pending teardown in Miami, the only worry is Freddie Freeman, and he seems to destroy any pitcher wearing a curly W on his chest. The 44-year-old may able to squeeze a little more magic out of his arm.

Ubaldo Jimenez

I know. I know. The Orioles’ rotation was trash, so why would the Nats want to sign someone from the rivals just up 95? Jimenez could easily rebound from his disastrous 2017. His ERA was 6.8, but his 4.5 xFIP paints a different picture. His ERA was bloated because of an almost impossibly high 2.08 HR/9 — well above the normal HR/9 of 1 that he sported for most of his time in Baltimore. That number is bound to fall much closer to his career average, and a move from Camden Yards to Nats Park would only help that. In addition, both his strikeout and walk rates were better last season than his career averages. Maybe a reunion with Matt Wieters would cause Ubaldo to return to what he was from 2014-2016 — an inconsistent, but capable, back-of-the-rotation arm. If his price tag is low enough, he could be a steal.

Chris Tillman

Let’s just pretend 2017 never happened. Tillman was the staff ace on a team that made the playoffs two out of the last three years. His 2017 season was ugly. Negative WAR ugly. However, that lackluster performance was likely due to the shoulder issues that forced him to miss half the season. Tillman proved from 2011 to 2016 that he is a more than capable pitcher. His FIP- was basically league average every year during that span, and he cracked 200 innings twice and 170 on two other occasions. The Nats should take a peek at Chris Tillman.

Clay Buchholz

Buchholz does not fit the mold I described in my introduction, but the Nats should be intrigued by his upside. He was a quality number two worth 3.2 WAR as recently as 2015, and provided 2.8 WAR to the Red Sox in 2013. Buchholz has been nothing but mediocre in his other seasons. He has the highest potential of any pitcher on this list, but he has proven NOT to be durable. He hit 189 innings in 2014, and 170 in the preceding and following even years; however, for the most part, Buchholz has thrown between 100 and 150 innings per season for his career. He basically missed this entire past season, but he is on track to be ready for spring training. If his right arm looks good, the Nats should give him a hard look.



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YKnotDisco
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YKnotDisco

R.A Dickey throwing Knuckleballs to Matt Wieters would be hilarious!

pedeysRSox
Member

Miles Mikolas should be cheap enough to take a look at (my thoughts are that he could perform like a 3 starter). Eric Hacker could be an intriguing right-hander on a minor league deal that is heavily incentive laden. As would a bunch of other KBO pitchers. If you want to know my opinion on those players send an email to afarelli91@gmail.com

stever20
Member
Member
stever20

1 thing that’s interesting. Old times you would have seen the extra off days as a way to get fewer starts from your 5th starter. But given today, I don’t see that as a really viable solution going forward.

They may actually be a bit more open to signing someone than you think. Gio is a FA after the ’18 season and will be 33 after next year. So I could see the Nats getting a guy that would be Gio’s replacement. Making Gio the ’18 5th starter in essence.

I could also see the Nats being active in July brining whoever the hot names are for a deadline deal.