The Washington Nationals bolstered what was already one of the top starting rotations in baseball when they agreed on a contract reported to be worth $210 million with starter Max Scherzer late Sunday night.
Scherzer is reportedly headed to Washington with a seven-year deal and gives the Nationals at least six potential starters. There is a saying that you can never have too much starting pitching and the Nats may stand pat and let things shake out and see who joins Scherzer in the rotation. Scherzer, a Cy Young Award winner in Detroit, will at least co-headline a rotation that includes Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, Doug Fister, Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark.
The Nationals’ pitching staff led the Major Leagues with a 3.03 ERA last season and has now added Scherzer. The move will be expensive but should guarantee Washington a bona fide star in their rotation for the next few seasons. But the question now is who will be there with him.
Zimmermann’s name has been bandied about as a prime trade candidate this winter because he’s slated to become a free agent after the 2015 season and there has been little to no progress between Zimmerman and the club in negotiations on a new contract. Fister will also be a free agent after 2015 but is a little less attractive as a trading chip given that he is older than Zimmerman and has had some injury issues.
During the Baseball Winter Meetings in December, Washington general manager Mike Rizzo stated that Washington wouldn’t be in the market for a big-name pitcher unless they traded one of their starting pitchers. That now isn’t the case as Scherzer is on board and no one has been moved.
Zimmermann won 14 games and pitched the team’s first no-hitter on the last day of the season in 2014 and Fister led the team in victories with 16 and had a 2.41 ERA despite missing the first month of the season because of a lat strain.
If the Nationals decide they want another season of Zimmerman and Fister and hope to re-sign one or both of them during the season, then another possible trade chip remains in Strasburg.
One of the faces of the franchise and the team’s Opening Day starter the last three seasons, the 26-year-old Strasburg made a career-high 34 starts in 2014 while posting a 3.14 ERA and 242 strikeouts in 215 innings. Strasburg and the Nationals avoided arbitration last week with a one-year, $7.4-million deal.
The first-overall pick in 2009, Strasburg is eligible to hit free agency following the 2016 season. He’s a client of Scott Boras and will likely avoid signing any kind of extension with the Nationals and instead test the market, all of which leads us to where we are today, with Strasburg reportedly on the market.
USA Today’s John Perrotto reported that he’s hearing that Stephen Strasburg is “very much available” following the Nationals’ deal with Scherzer. Perrotto’s sources said both Strasburg and the Nationals think that it might be “time to move on.”
The Nationals may just feel it’s time to move on with the large price tag Strasburg will likely come with in free agency along with his injury history and occasional lapses in command. If Washington does deal Strasburg, it might also be partly due to it feeling right-hander Tanner Roark is ready to be a replacement after going 15-10 with a 2.85 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in 198 2/3 innings last season. The 28-year-old is also under team control until 2020, which makes keeping him around even more attractive.