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The starting pitching shopping list

Just a few days ago, the Washington Nationals had a wish list that ran at least four deep. They wanted some bullpen help and a catcher. They wanted a middle infielder -- preferably a starter with a strong glove. They also wanted a starting pitcher, maybe two.

So now, two of those needs (bullpen and catcher) have been satisfied. But from talking to numerous talent evaluators familiar with Washington's system, this much is clear: the Nationals won't contend for respectability, much less a playoff spot, unless their starting pitching is significantly upgraded.

So, that's what we'll address today.

Here's an abbreviated list of starting pitchers available on the market: Jon Garland, Jarrod Washburn, John Smoltz, Ben Sheets, Joel Pineiro, Vicente Padilla, Jason Marquis, John Lackey, Rich Harden, Livan Hernandez.

That group (sorry, I didn't include Odalis Perez) represents a wide-ranging list, including the near-inconceivable (Lackey) and the intriguing (Smoltz). From what we know, the Nats have definite interest in Garland, Padilla and Smoltz. I've also heard reports that link them to Pineiro, which doesn't make quite as much sense only because Pineiro is the soft-tossing finesse type -- too similar to the mold of others in their current rotation. Livo can still be had at a bargain, and Sheets and Harden are both bigger risks -- talented, with health questions.

Any thoughts? Preferences?

By Chico Harlan  |  December 9, 2009; 12:17 PM ET
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Next: The starting pitching, Pt. II


Chico, why would adding Brian Bruney satisfy all of the Nats horrendous bullpen problems?

Posted by: artvandelay2 | December 9, 2009 12:21 PM | Report abuse

reposted ...

I've been thinking (this is always a dangerous thing because I never know how it'll end up), but what if the Nats decide not to dip into the FA pool and decide instead to venture into trades? For me, the #1 goal is to get a SP. #2 would be to get a solid MI (and get rid of Guzman).

So what could do they do? I suggest look to a team that wants to shed payroll and take one or more of their higher-paid players in exchange for Guzman. My suggestion:

Talk to the Reds (hey Bowden's no longer here so Rizzo is allowed to talk to them). They've talked about wanting to jettison either Harang or Arroyo (or both) as well as Brandon Phillips. So, see if they're up for this ... they give us Harang ($12.5M owed in '10) and Phillips ($6.75M) and we give them a package of Guzman ($8M) plus one or two of our many, many #5 starters (Martis, Mock, Balester) and one or two lower-level minor leaguers.

The Reds would shed about $10M off their 2010 payroll and upwards of about $13M off of the 2011 payroll (Harang as a $2M buyout in '11 and Phillips would be due to make $11M). Sure they'll have Guzman at $8M, but this season would be Guz's last and he doesn't have any club/player options for 2011 so once this season's done, the Reds would be free and clear of him.

The Nats would still need to sign at least one more FA starter, but they wouldn't need to break the bank and could sign a Smoltz or Livo or even take a flier on one-year deals with guys like Bedard or Sheets.

The Nats could then trot out this lineup:

C - Flores
1B - Dunn
2B - Phillips
3B - Zimmerman
SS - Desmond
LF - Willingham
CF - Morgan
RF - Dukes

SP's: Harang, Lannan, Smoltz, Bedard, Martin (with Strasburg coming in around June).

Posted by: erocks33 | December 9, 2009 12:22 PM

Posted by: erocks33 | December 9, 2009 12:27 PM | Report abuse

I agree with that approach, erocks. It would be great if the Nats took advantage of the economic times and shored up multiple positions by taking guys that other teams simply didn't want to pay.

Also, Padilla evidently shot himself in the leg in November, so he has that going for him. He'll fit right in.

Posted by: BobLHead | December 9, 2009 12:42 PM | Report abuse

Don't forget Eric Bedard. And the Brewers apparently just signed Randy Wolf, so that's one down.

I'd really like to see the Nats go after a solid guy like Garland #1. Then maybe Harden or Sheets -- both are risky, but both have more upside than most of the pitchers on the list.

I like Smoltz, too, but I'd rather have him in the bullpen. How nice would it be to have him as a closer until Storen is ready? Plus, he could probably teach a lot of the young pitchers a thing or two.

Posted by: js_edit | December 9, 2009 12:47 PM | Report abuse

I agree that the Nats likely aren't done adding to (and subtracting from) the bullpen, though its probably wisest on that front to wait and see how the market plays out. Like last year, there could be some real bargains.

The starters mentioned, by contrast, all seem to have other suitors. Assuming Lackey isn't going to happen, and setting aside the possibility of trades, I think the team should look for one proven commodity and one high risk/reward type. I like Garland for the former and Harden for the latter. I'm very skeptical of Washburn, Padilla and Pineiro. I would be happy with Sheets or Smoltz instead of Harden, and with Marquis instead of Garland.

Posted by: jcj5y | December 9, 2009 12:48 PM | Report abuse

Here's a link to Carpy's infamous "ball is evidently gone" call:

Posted by: BobLHead | December 9, 2009 12:51 PM | Report abuse

I agree with the theory of trying to a solid guy like Garland and then taking a risk on a guy like Sheets, who if he can stay healthy could be a legitimate stud #1 and take the pressure off Lannan.


Not the worst ever.

Posted by: Imjustlikemusiq | December 9, 2009 12:54 PM | Report abuse

my thoughts? The recession is over! look at all the money going to free agents early in the offseason. I would like to see the numbers compared to the last two years once the big signings are done. $30/3 for Randy Wolf? $12/1 for Petitte? $12/2 for Bengie Molina? I guess the Pudge deal could have been worse!

Posted by: sect104 | December 9, 2009 12:56 PM | Report abuse

I agree with js_edit. Go after Garland hard. He's an innings eater and a tough guy. Then take a chance on Harden or Sheets (either one was lots of upside if they can stay healthy, which is worth the one year risk). Don't touch Bedard with a million foot poll. He's a head case, bad in the clubhouse and a sissy. If stubs his toe, he won't pitch for a month.

Posted by: jmurray019 | December 9, 2009 12:58 PM | Report abuse

Just say no to Livo. Of all the innings eaters who ate as many innings as he did last year, his ERA was by far the worst.

Posted by: section309 | December 9, 2009 12:59 PM | Report abuse

"Chico, why would adding Brian Bruney satisfy all of the Nats horrendous bullpen problems?"

Keep in mind that acquiring one or two veteran starters is likely going to push the likes of Stammen, Mock, Martin etc to the bullpen. That's how an upgrade to the rotation also serves as an upgrade to the bullpen. Most all good relievers start out as starters anyway.

Posted by: section309 | December 9, 2009 1:02 PM | Report abuse

Erocks33: I agree wholeheartedly with trade idea of Guzman plus a couple backend starters or C prospects, for Harang and Phillips.

Posted by: Steveo11 | December 9, 2009 1:04 PM | Report abuse

3 NL East catcher signings with 2009 stats:

PHI: Schneider - age 32 - $2.75/2 (.218/.292/.335)

WAS: Rodriguez - age 38 - $6/2 (.249/.280/.384)

NYM: Molina - age 34 - $12/2 (.265/.285/.442)

Molina is definitely going to be the starter for the Mets, while the other two are going to be back-ups or some sort of platoon. Schneider apparently took a discount because the Phillies were his favorite team growing up, while the Nats paid a premium because of Pudge's "leadership skills" and the fact that the team stinks.

So who got the best deal? It seems like the Mets overpaid for Molina, and Pudge is definitely better than Schneider (although maybe not in the leadership category). What does everybody think?

Posted by: SpashCity | December 9, 2009 1:15 PM | Report abuse

I say stay away from trading for anyone who currently plays for the Reds. Felipe Lopez and Austin Kearns failed miserably here after playing average to above average ball in Cincy. As soon as Lopez left here, he found his stroke again. Maybe Kearns does the same. But I wouldn't risk it.

Posted by: jmurray019 | December 9, 2009 1:18 PM | Report abuse

Personal preference would be: Garland, Washburn, Lannan, Healthy Olsen, and one of our ten fifth starter to start the year and Strassburg by July if he's ready.

However, I would be suprised if we could attract two of the better free agent starters. Perhaps 1 but not 2. So I'll predict Piniero, Davis, Lannan, Olsen, and Martin to open.

Posted by: natbiscuits | December 9, 2009 1:20 PM | Report abuse

Bruney helps, as would any youngsters pushed to the pen by veteran free agent starters. But they really need a lefty back there in addition to Burnett.

Posted by: BobLHead | December 9, 2009 1:20 PM | Report abuse

Also there is no way the Reds would make that deal. Even if packaged Guzman with Zimmerman and Zimmermann no one would want him. That is why he is still here.

Posted by: soundbloke | December 9, 2009 1:23 PM | Report abuse

who is this 'Martin' fellow everyone keeps referring to? 'Martis' perhaps?

Posted by: woojai | December 9, 2009 1:28 PM | Report abuse

First rotation...


I'm about 2% sure of this

Posted by: Kev29 | December 9, 2009 1:29 PM | Report abuse

Martin. J.D. Martin. (Doesn't work quite as well as Bond. James Bond. though, does it?)

Posted by: section309 | December 9, 2009 1:31 PM | Report abuse

No. More. Reds. Ever. Promise, Mike?

Posted by: Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me | December 9, 2009 1:59 PM | Report abuse

Good grief. It's even worse in December!

I've subscribed to Extra Innings and Gameday Audio for three years now, and I've listened to a lot of calls by a lot of different announcers.

That was easily the worst call I heard in the last three years.

Carpenter could have swallowed and subsequently regurgitated his mic and it would've sounded better.


Here's a link to Carpy's infamous "ball is evidently gone" call:

Posted by: JohninMpls | December 9, 2009 2:02 PM | Report abuse

Okay, since we're playing here, I would love this rotation:

Garland, Lannan, Smoltz, Olsen, Martis

Okay, so that last spot can go to the starter who fares the best in ST. Maybe give Stammen a chance in the 'pen.

Tell me you don't want John Lannan sitting next to John Smoltz in the dugout talking shop.

Plus, the rotation would be 60% John (or Jon). I haven't called Elias, but I'm sure that's a positive thing.

Posted by: JohninMpls | December 9, 2009 2:07 PM | Report abuse

The ball is evidently gone! The Nationals have apparently won the game! Justin Maxwell seems to have hit a grand slam! I am quite possibly the worst announcer in baseball!

Posted by: BobLHead | December 9, 2009 2:07 PM | Report abuse

Was about to comment until I saw that Chico has up a New Post.

Posted by: leetee1955 | December 9, 2009 2:10 PM | Report abuse



New post, by the way. I'll meet you there once I calm down.

Posted by: JohninMpls | December 9, 2009 2:10 PM | Report abuse

So who got the best deal? It seems like the Mets overpaid for Molina, and Pudge is definitely better than Schneider (although maybe not in the leadership category). What does everybody think?

Posted by: SpashCity | December 9, 2009 1:15 PM


That Pudge deal isn't looking too bad, huh? It's really all apples and oranges, though, because all three teams had different needs. The Mets needed a starter, and they probably overpaid, but Molina is a good defensive catcher who can play everyday and has a little pop in his bat. He certainly looks better than most of the available starting options.

The Phils needed a straight backup, and that's what they got. Nothing special, not much money for a guy who looks to play once a week.

The Nats needed something in-between. Ideally, Flores is healthy all season and Rodriguez starts once or twice a week to spell him. But Pudge can be a serviceable starter if necessary. On par with Molina, much better than Schneider. I don't think anyone wants to see him play 120 games, like he did last year. But he's capable of it if necessary.

And looking at what's left for other teams scrambling for catching help (Kendall, Torrealba, maybe Doumit), Pudge certainly does seem like the best option to fit the Nats' needs.

Posted by: js_edit | December 9, 2009 2:15 PM | Report abuse

While I'm not denying that the call was lackluster, I was standing at the back of the section behind the home dugout and I wasn't sure the ball was out until I saw how the folks across the field reacted (in the section where the ball went).




New post, by the way. I'll meet you there once I calm down.

Posted by: JohninMpls | December 9, 2009 2:10 PM

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | December 9, 2009 2:33 PM | Report abuse

The Kiddie Korps are still probably 2 years away from competing in the NL EAST....and additions like Bruney and Slaten...and another stint with Livan won't change think 90-95 losses if all else goes well...a 100 loss three peat...if not...
Don't let your DESPERATION for anything/ everything keep you in that Koolade filled bathtub.... and then there's .444 lifetime RETREAD Riggleman at the helm... YIKES !!!!

Posted by: FletcherChristian1 | December 9, 2009 2:36 PM | Report abuse

Why not try and trade for Maholm or Duke from Pirates?

Would Willingham for Duke and a pitching prospect (Uvideo or McCutcheon) be a good deal?

Posted by: Pensfans | December 9, 2009 2:50 PM | Report abuse

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