The Nationals' free agency pitch
Free agency season has begun for Major League Baseball and Washington won’t be spending its time on the back-burner. The Nationals are part of many of the hot stove stories this offseason. The Nats have been mentioned as players in the Cliff Lee sweepstakes, but if you figure a team like the Yankees who wants to win now and has a much bigger payroll will eventually win that battle, then you turn your attention to some of the other names being whispered in the same breath as the Nationals.
One of the more interesting rumors has the Nats looking at former Cy Young award winner Brandon Webb. The rumor makes sense, if for nothing else, it matches the Nationals' modus operandi of going after “value” players, guys they can sign on the cheap who have the chance to pay off big. Unfortunately, in the past the Nats haven’t had such bets pan out, the most recent being the signing of Chien-Ming Wang, who if you don’t remember being a Nat that’s because he never pitched in a Major League game this season. Unlike the fans that dislike the Nats’ bargain bin shopping habits, I think it’s a savvy way to try to gather pieces for a winning team. I'd rather see the Nats sign a player like Webb to an inexpensive contract and watch him not play well over than than watch them sign a player like Carlos Beltran to a hefty contract (like the Mets did) that doesn’t work out. There’s so much randomness in free agency that making low risk signings is better than hamstringing your team with expensive and risky signings.
The potential is there for Webb to get back to his dominate ways. Baseball research guru Bill James is projecting Webb to throw 179 innings with an ERA of 3.42. Only Livan Hernandez threw more innings for the Nats last season and no starter not named Stephen Strasburg had a lower ERA. While those predictions may be a little optimistic for a player coming off shoulder surgery, even 150 innings and a sub-4 ERA would bring much needed stability to a Nationals pitching staff that hasn’t known the meaning of the word.
The other starting pitcher who may see Washington as a potential landing spot is a player already familiar with the franchise. Javier Vazquez spent his first six seasons with the Expos. Ever since he left the organization, he’s been a Jekyll and Hyde type of pitcher. The past two seasons are perfect examples of the anybody’s-guess-type of production you can get from Vazquez. With the Braves in 2009, he struck out almost 10 batters per nine innings and had an ERA of 2.87. His fielding independent statistics support that it was Vazquez who was dominant and not that he was the beneficiary of some divine intervention. Then in 2010, he was a completely different pitcher. In his second stint with the Yankees (who are only familiar with the unproductive Vazquez), he had an ERA of 5.32 and struck out three fewer batters per nine innings. That’s the type of pitcher you proceed with caution with. It’s not even that he only thrives in the National League, he has a subpar stat line from 2005 with the Diamondbacks to prove that.
Both Webb and Vazquez have trophy cases full of honors, but at this point in both players’ careers, they can be seen as good free agent signings only if the Nationals get them at the right (read: low) price.
| November 9, 2010; 8:18 AM ET
Categories: Nationals, Ryan Korby | Tags: Nationals, Ryan Korby
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