The past couple offseasons have seen the Washington Nationals go out and acquire a back-end starter to eat innings and provide a veteran presence in a young rotation.
Those two hurlers were Edwin Jackson and Dan Haren, who cost Washington a combined $24 million on one-year deals. It can be said, with 20/20 hindsight, that both those deals were not exactly as successful as the Nationals anticipated, as Jackson and Haren went a combined 20-25 with a 4.35 ERA as back-end starters for Washington.
Jackson actually being better than Haren with a lower ERA, better record and more innings pitched, which was shocking because many considered Haren to be an upgrade over Jackson.
After the acquisitions of Gio Gonzalez and Denard Span, Washington’s pitching cupboard was more or less stripped bare in 2012, which conveniently was the year where the Nats suffered no major pitching injuries and had John Lannan waiting in the minors when Stephen Strasburg was shut down.
This season, however, Washington saw the emergence of Taylor Jordan and Tanner Roark from the farm system. The duo went a combined 8-4 with a combined 2.56 ERA, which gave fans something to look forward to for multiple reasons.
After the now multiple disappointments that were the Jackson and Haren deals, it will be interesting what Washington decides to do this offseason with their pitching staff. Haren will definitely be signing elsewhere, probably returning to the west coast to be with his family, so Washington will have an open spot.
The free agent class for starters is not exactly saturated with talent, as there are probably going to be more pitchers available via trade than there will be via free agency. The crown jewel of the free agent class is probably going to be Matt Garza, with former teammate David Price being the most sought-after trade target.
Garza is coming off his third consecutive season of missing the playoffs, and though the team he could be leaving, the Texas Rangers, is not a bad team, the division they are in is not exactly a cakewalk anymore. The Oakland Athletics are showing that they are legit, and there are the Los Angeles Angels as well if they ever figure things out.
Needless to say, it would not be shocking if Garza left, and he could demand a lucrative deal on the open market.
Washington could go in multiple directions. First off, they could stay the course and do what they have done each of the past two offseasons and sign a veteran on a one-year deal a la Jackson and Haren.
Secondly, they could simply have Roark and Jordan battle it out for the final rotation spot. They have both shown they can get MLB hitters out, and are both young and could be very cost effective with the impending extension talks with Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann.
Their third and possibly fourth courses of action could be the most interesting. Washington is now seen as a legitimate destination for free agents with their young core of players and ownership that is willing to spend money. Washington could go out on the free agent market and lay out whatever cash they need to in an effort to acquire someone like a Garza, who is probably the safest bet on the free agent market.
He has a proven track of winning when healthy, and only has one hiccup health-wise. Washington could also package Roark or Jordan as well some other players and form a trade to acquire a Price or even a Max Scherzer, as there has been word he may be on the block as well.
Washington has options, there is no doubt about that, and whatever decision they make will definitely be must-see television this winter.