The Nationals fell short of all of baseball’s preseason predictions and our expectations. A team that was expected to win the pennant failed to win their division or even make the post season. We’ve beaten to death the reasons that this team crashed and burned like it did but the good news is that much of the core that made us so optimistic about this team is returning for 2016 and the Nationals have room to make some major acquisitions. This is a long post so it’s broken up into 2 parts. This is part 1, the pitchers. I bolded potential acquisitions and wrote a summary at the bottom.
The Nationals’ rotation is stacked up front for another year: Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg are each threats to win the Cy Young Award, Gio Gonzalez has the ability to be an all-star caliber hurler, Joe Ross gave us a glimpse at his potential in his first few starts last season (he had a 2.80 ERA and 2.56 xFip with 47 ks in his first 45 innings) but struggled in subsequent outings – Ross will probably toss a low-mid 3s ERA in ’16. Tanner Roark was absolutely dominant in 2014 but was anything but through his 12 starts (and 40 total outings) this past season, I’d expect a high-3s/low 4s ERA next season but wouldn’t be shocked if he turned in something much better. Regardless, Roark is a great arm to have as your 5th starter. I should note here that I just don’t see a Jordan Zimmermann reunion for the Nationals – and, considering his regression and recent downward trajectory, I don’t think I would be comfortable with the team paying him what he wants. AJ Cole should probably be the first pitcher in should anyone get injured and I’m not super high on him next year – his k% has decreased steadily since 2013 while his walk rate has grown and his fastball velocity has shifted from mid-90s to lower-90s. And I just don’t trust Taylor Jordan’s stuff to consistently get MLB hitters out.
The Nats would probably be best served signing another 6th starter as some insurance. Some pretty inexpensive options include Bronson Arroyo who missed all of 2015 with Tommy John surgery but had started at least 29 games every single year from 2004-2013 and threw at least 199 innings every season from 2005-2013. With Arroyo, you won’t get much in the way of upside but he could be stashed as a clean-up reliever while the rotation is healthy and eat innings if any Nats starter goes down. Dillon Gee, formerly of the Mets, had been one of the most underrated 5th starters from 2012-2014 before completely imploding last season. Arroyo and Gee would probably each only receive around 4 million. I’m also a huge fan of signing a talented injury magnet like Brandon Morrow or Josh Johnson to incentive-laden deals.
The bullpen was a point of major weakness in 2014 and the questions about whether Drew Storen and Jonathan Papelbon will both be on the 2016 roster will remain until … opening day because I trust Rizzo when he says “As of today, they’re both in the bullpen.” The Nationals just won’t receive an offer on either that would give them incentive to move the two still-quality closers. Filipe Rivero had a great rookie year and Craig Stammen’s return from injury should help but this team needs outside help.
Aroldis Chapman is still on the Reds’ trading block but I don’t see the fit now that the Nats have Pap and the team could really make better use of its prospect trade chips. Oliver Perez is an excellent under-the-radar lefty to pick up, Perez has averaged nearly 12k/9 in the past 3 seasons and put together some excellent seasons with Arizona prior to really struggling in just 12 innings with the Houston Astros at the end of the season. Joel Peralta – who was money with the Nats in 2010 – and Sean Marshall (who is great when healthy) are each high-upside guys that could help the Nats build a great pen on the cheap. Mark Lowe has had one great half-season in his 10 year MLB career but it was really really great and I think the Nats should consider signing him to a deal of around 2 years/12 million but walk away if he requests significantly more than that. The Nationals are rumored to be the front-runners for Darren O’Day and the side-armer will come with a hefty pricetag, he has produced excellent results in 7 of his past 8 seasons and would be a worthwhile short-term investment. Tony Sipp is another possibility but will probably sign a deal for more than what he’s actually worth. The final ‘reliever’ that the Nationals should be interested in is Tim Lincecum, he has the potential to be a shut-down super-reliever type but, unfortunately, some team will probably sign him as a back-end starter where he will once again put together some lousy performances; if, however Lincecum is willing to relieve, the Nationals should be the first in line for his services.
Guys they should target to sure up the rotation include: Bronson Arroyo or Dillon Gee and they should look at Brandon Morrow or Josh Johnson on incentive-laden deals.
For the Bullpen: Oliver Perez, Joel Peralta, Sean Marshall, Mark Lowe, and Tim Lincecum are all possibilities while Darren O’Day and Tony Sipp would be great acquisitions if their price-tags don’t inhibit the Nationals from making other improvements. Brandon Morrow, mentioned above, would also be a good ‘pen piece. I do not predict that the Nats will trade Drew Storen or Jon Papelbon before opening day.