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The Patterson question

We now know that John Patterson will not pitch for the Nationals again this season. We know that he is headed for his second surgery in as many years to solve nerve problems in his right arm. We know his stats over the past two seasons:

2006: 8 G, 1-2, 40-2/3 IP, 4.43 ERA, 9 BB, 42 K
2007: 7 G, 1-5, 31-1/3 IP, 7.47 ERA, 22 BB, 15 K
Totals: 15 G, 2-7, 72 IP, 5.75 ERA, 31 BB, 57 K

We also are reminded of his 2005, when if he had gotten a few more runs of support he easily would have won 12-15 games.

2005: 31 G, 9-7, 198-1/3 IP, 3.13 ERA, 65 BB, 185 K

But in the end, what do we know? And more importantly, what should we think going forward?

In talking to Patterson at some length yesterday, it is clear that he is frustrated and distraught. I know in talking with people close to him this year that he has wondered about whether his career is over or not. Yesterday, he was adamant that it is not, and he was equally adamant that he must find the right doctor to perform his latest surgery. He definitely had a "Why me?" air about him, because he realizes he should be in the prime of his career, and in effect he now has two straight lost seasons.

Next January, Patterson will turn 30. He has played 11 professional seasons. He has thrown more than 135 innings twice in his pro career - in 2005 with the Nationals and in 2003 when he split time between Class AAA Tucson and the Arizona Diamondbacks.

This offseason, Patterson is eligible for arbitration for the second time. Last year, he lost his arbitration case, earning $850,000 when he asked for $1.85 million. Since then, he was anointed as the only secure member of the Nationals' rotation going into spring training, came down with the new arm problems, switched agents - from Greg Landry of CAA, with whom he had been with since the draft in 1996, to brothers Randy and Alan Hendricks (for whom Landry used to work) - received treatment in suburban Toronto, tried to pitch again at the Nationals' facility in Viera, and finally opted for surgery.

During that time, he offered an unusually terse statement to the assembled media in the Nationals' clubhouse one day. He explained that to me yesterday. "Everything I've done has been out of frustration," he said. (I am not one to freak out when athletes act like that. Passion like that is better than not caring.)

Anyway, this brings us to yet another crossroads for the Nationals and Patterson. The club must make a decision: Offer Patterson a contract and lead to arbitration, in which by nature of the CBA he must receive at least a small raise; or "non-tender" him, meaning he would be set free and be eligible to sign with any team for whatever the market dictated. That could mean that he would come back to the Nationals at a lesser price, too. It's also possible that he and the club could negotiate a contract that avoids arbitration, perhaps one with incentives for games started, innings pitched, etc., that would maybe bring the total to $1.5 million.

There are a couple schools of thoughts on this. One is that even though the Nationals feel like they have discovered some candidates for next year's rotation - Redding, Lannan, Balester, etc. - they aren't yet deep enough to just dismiss a player with Patterson's potential. Even at a max of, say, $1.5 million, Patterson's pretty cheap - and if he's making $1.5 million, he'd be pitching and likely pitching well. So Option 1 is bring him back, guarantee him nothing in terms of a rotation spot, but see if he's healthy. The risk is minimal anyway.

The second school of thought is that Patterson has simply run his course with this organization. I have mentioned before that there are players in the clubhouse who are simply done with all the perceived drama. It's simply the nature of the beast that when players come down with difficult-to-document ailments that other players, many of whom go out there every day with bad aches and pains, are going to roll their eyes. Doesn't mean it's fair. Just means it happens. The front office has put an extraordinary amount of time trying to help Patterson find doctors, adhering to his wishes to go to Canada, etc. Is there a point where enough is enough, and it's worth the risk to let him walk and perhaps find success with another club?

Discuss below. This could be the last post of a slow Labor Day weekend - with many of you out of town. I'll add lineups here for the games, but please feel free to knock around Patterson's future. I'll be here all weekend, so if you're at the beach, pick up the $.35 edition for all your news.


By Barry Svrluga  |  September 1, 2007; 1:56 PM ET
 
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