Nats Free Agent Choices: Starters

Earlier in the week, we took at look at the offseason needs of the team. The biggest is a top of the line starting pitcher, a real ace. After that, they probably need someone to play first base. Another outfielder would be desirable, and with those hitters they could use a power bat as well as a high-OBP leadoff type. A veteran second baseman for a short term deal is possible, maybe not necessary. So let’s go over the bigger names that are out there, at least ones that I find interesting. I’ll start with the pitchers:

Cliff Lee – This guy is the top of the class, the best free agent available. He is head and shoulders above the competition, a no doubt number one. As hard as it is to believe, he’s only been a true ace for 3 seasons, back in 2007 he had a 6.29 ERA. Since then, he’s been on 4 teams, pitched 93 games and 667 1/3 innings with 536 Ks, only 95 BBs and a 2.98 ERA. He strikes out a good number, but simply does not walk batters. Another positive for him is how nice it would be to go into Philly with him leading the staff. The biggest negative is his age – he’ll be 32 next season, so more than 4 years might be just plain crazy, but teams will offer it.

Ted Lilly – Theodore Roosevelt Lilly is not a youngster either, and will be 35 coming into 2011. Another late bloomer, he really wasn’t a consistently effective pitcher until he hit age 30. In the last 5 seasons, though, he has a 3.80 ERA with 835 Ks and 280 BBs in 964 IP. Counting his last 4 years, the ERA drops to 3.68. He’s started at least 27 games in all 5 of those years, and at least 30 in 4 of them. He’s not a real life number one pitcher, but he’s pretty much pitched as close as you can get since 2007, and his numbers have remained consistent over that time. The question for his next employer would be how long that will keep up.

Javier Vazquez – This is an interesting case. He has stunk as a Yankee in 2010. He stunk in the second half of 2004, also as a Yankee. In the years in between, he was strong, compiling a 4.09 ERA and 1027 Ks in 1062 2/3 IP with only 257 BBs. But he also gave up 132 HRs in those 5 years, and will be 35 years old next season. More troublesome, though, isn’t his lack of success in New York this year, but his lack of ability. He isn’t throwing as hard, and didn’t strike out as many. He’s arbitration eligible, but New York won’t offer him that chance, so he’s gone. Maybe he’ll make a triumphant return to the NL in 2011, but it’s hard to think he’d come in to the season as anyone’s presumptive ace.

Brandon Webb – He could be a once and future ace, or he could be all finished. He’s going to be 31 next season, but hasn’t pitched since opening day 2009.  He still has to rehab, and the Nats may not be interested in another project. That being said, he can be had for cheaper than a normal ace, and just taking a look at his numbers will make teams interested. Over 6 full seasons, plus one start in 2009, he has a career ERA of 3.27. In 1319 2/3 IP, he has 1065 K to 435 BB, he had 172 or more Ks in each of his 6 seasons. In 2008 his 3.15 GB/FB ratio lead the majors, he also lead the league in 2004, 2005, and 2006, and finished 2nd in 2003 and 2007. If he can recover, he is a true ace.

Jorge De La Rosa – The first guy on the list below the age of 100, er, he’s only gonna be 30 next year! In a relatively thin class of starters, he makes the list for his potential. He strikes out alot of guys, and since he moved to Colorado he’s been pretty strong. In those 3 seasons he’s had a 4.49 ERA, pitched 436 2/3 innings, struck out 434 but walked 200. His walks are troubling, but those strikeouts are enticing. At 29 right now, it’s hard to imagine him being a truly great pitcher, but if you look at the top of this list you’ll find a pitcher who did something similar.

Justin Duchsherer – After an impressive 2008 in which he was converted from a reliever to make 22 starts, finishing with a 2.54 ERA and 95 K/34 BB in 141 1/3 IP, he didn’t pitch at all in 2009 and only made 5 starts in 2010. Someone will sign him to a low-base high-incentive deal this offseason, perhaps it will be the Nats.

Jake Westbrook – Never overwhelming, the 32 year old has had pretty consistent numbers over his career. From 2003-2010, he has a 4.10 ERA, has pitched 1160 innings with 642 K/358 BB. His health is somewhat in question, he missed most of 2008 and all of 2009. He’s a strong performer when healthy, but his age and injury history leave major question marks here.

Conclusions

There’s a pretty thin class out there, the only definite ace is Cliff Lee. I think the Nats will at least sniff around there, and while it would be great to see them get him, I have my doubts. He should be their number one offseason priority, by far. Having a true number one is a valuable thing, and him plus Strasburg could yield two. That is the kind of formula that wins playoff series, and with decent arms behind those two, it wouldn’t be hard to see. Lots of other teams will be willing to pay lots of money for him, but if the Nats are willing to pay, deal with the consequences of a long term deal and go after him, they could be rewarded with a very strong staff for years to come.

Of course, if they can’t get him, they need some backup plans. Brandon Webb is very intriguing, and if he shows some recovery over the next few months, the Nats should be interested in him. Lilly would be a good addition to the roster but they should be careful on the length of the contract. He’s older than Lee and it’s safe to assume that his bad outings will be much worse. He also has never been a real top 15 or so starter that you’d want in an ace, unlike Webb and Lee. Duchsherer and De La Rosa both have upside, but have huge question marks attached to them. I have no confidence in Vazquez or Westbrook delivering what the Nats need. It just goes to show how bad the Nats should go after Lee, and how tough it will be to get him.

Next time, we’ll take a look at some position players…

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One Response to Nats Free Agent Choices: Starters

  1. […] concluded that what they needed more than anything else was a front line starting pitcher. I also ran down a list of free agent starting pitchers to figure out who they should pursue. After the last few days I can add a few things. First of all, […]

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