While watching the Nationals sweep yesterday’s doubleheader from the Phillies, running their record to 8-8 on the season against Philly, I started to think about the Nationals rotation for next year. One of my buddies suggested that we should trade one of our starters in the offseason. This was an interesting idea to me, because I had never really considered that the Nationals could actually have their starting rotation be a position of depth. But, given the strong performances of some pitchers (both young and old) in September, that may be changing.
First, the young: Tom Milone and Brad Peacock have been phenomenal so far. Milone, despite continued scouting reports that he doesn’t have one above-average pitch, has been dominant as a control artist, similar to the way that John Lannan has made a living in the big leagues. Peacock, meanwhile, has used a hard fastball and a spike knuckle-curve for his success (and his numbers would look even better if it weren’t for the one game where I could have sworn Ian Desmond was trying to sabotage Peacock with his atrocious defense at shortstop).
And the old: Mr. Wang! Chien-Ming Wang has started to resemble the pitcher that he used to be in New York. Now, he probably will never BE that pitcher, but if he can become a rough approximation, the Nationals certainly have something. He has used that power-sinker to get hitters out, and is now pitching deeper into the game as a result.
And speaking of power-sinkers, Ross Detwiler has actually resembled a major-league starter. Detwiler clearly has always had the talent, but has never put the full package together. Well, I would consider 7 1/3 innings of shutout ball against the Phillies on only 81 pitches putting it together. Now the question is whether Detwiler can maintain any consistency, which has always been his biggest problem.
The point is the Nationals now have options for next season. They have legitimate options for the starting rotation in Strasburg, Zimmermann, Lannan, Livo, Milone, Peacock, Detwiler and Wang. That’s EIGHT starting pitchers who it wouldn’t be shocking to see in the starting rotation next season. And there’s this report that the Nationals may pursue C.J. Wilson in the offseason. Make that nine starters.
So what to do with this sudden depth? I think that Rizzo would be foolish to trade multiple pieces because a lot of these pitchers come with a great deal of risk. A lot of young pitchers can come in and pitch well for a little while, but then struggle once the league catches on their schtick (see Ross Detwiler earlier in his career). Plus, there is always the injury risk with this crowd.
I think Livo profiles as a perfect long-reliever. He clearly wants to be here, and can you imagine Livo coming out of the pen after someone like Strasburg or Zimmermann? Hitters would go from 99 to 62 mph. Plus, he wants desperately to be here and he can handle the bat, making him valuable as a late-inning pinch-bunter to save a position player. Pair him with Tom Gorzelanny, who has been effective out of the pen, and you have the right-left long-relief pair that Davey Johnson has been so cranky about getting.
Wang is another piece that I think has to stay. Putting aside all of the time and effort that the Nationals have invested into getting Wang back healthy, he can be an effective member of this staff. Plus, maybe part of the reason Detwiler has been so effective with his sinker has been watching and observing how Wang lives and dies with the pitch. There’s something to be said for that influence on other pitchers (which, again, is just speculative on my part). I think there’s also something to be said for having a variety of pitchers on your staff. Yes, it’s nice to have five power-pitchers with hard fastballs and breaking curveballs, but I think it can be equally effective to have, say, two of those pitchers, another sinker-baller, a junk-ball pitcher and a control artist.
So what to do with the rest of the rotation? I think the two most likely trade candidates should be Detwiler and Lannan. Detwiler because maybe someone will see his fantastic September and think that he has finally turned the corner (which I am still skeptical about). If some team comes along and offers a premium prospect or really anything over Detwiler’s value, I think Rizzo should pull the trigger. Lannan is a candidate for me because that Nationals now have almost an exact copy of him in Milone. Plus, Lannan has the track record to be more attractive on the trading block. Again, I’m not saying just give these players away, but I have a feeling that their value could be inflated this offseason and if so, Rizzo would be foolish not to try and swing a trade.
One word of caution though: the Nationals greatly-improved farm system doesn’t have another pitching prospect on the horizon for next year. There is something of a gap between Milone and Peacock and the next crop of pitchers (probably Matt Purke and Sammy Solis would be the next closest and I can’t see them getting the call before 2013). So it doesn’t make sense to completely empty the cupboard of starting pitching options. Just maybe trim one or two off the top.
So, after all that, here’s my guess at next year’s starting rotation:
1. Stephen Strasburg
2. Jordan Zimmermann
3. Free agent of some sort (If not C.J. Wilson, then someone else)
4. John Lannan (because I don’t think Rizzo will ultimately pull the trigger on trading Lannan, even though he probably should)
5. Chien-Ming Wang
That leaves Hernandez and Gorzelanny as long-relievers, and Detwiler, Peacock and Milone as solid options at AAA, should anyone falter. Not a bad little stable of pitchers to have. Now if we can just get some offense…..(paging Prince Fielder. Fielder to Washington immediately. Please)