Javier Vazquez's signing with the Marlins yesterday depleted one more name off the list of potential Nationals pitching acquisitions, a list that is losing some of its luster.
Not that Vazquez's decision to take $7 million and move closer to home in Florida instead of coming to D.C. was a devastating blow to the Nationals' offseason plans. I don't think he would have been the difference between 75 and 85 wins in 2011.
But in a market boasting one really big fish (Cliff Lee) and plenty of less-than-inspiring alternatives, Vazquez seemed to be one of the better fallback options for a Washington club that is simply trying to stabilize its rotation while Stephen Strasburg recovers from Tommy John surgery and Jordan Zimmermann develops into a front-line starter.
So who's left for the Nationals to pursue? Let's break down the possibilities by four categories: 1) legitimate aces, 2) second-tier free agents, 3) trade targets, 4) low-risk options...
I think we all know only one free agent pitcher falls into this category: Cliff Lee. The Nationals have certainly made contact with agent Darek Braunecker and will attempt to be taken seriously by the left-hander. But the odds of actually landing Lee over the Yankees, Rangers and others on the list are slim-to-none. Best not to spend too much time pondering this unlikeliest of possibilities.
SECOND-TIER FREE AGENTS
Vazquez fell into this category, as did Jon Garland (who moved from San Diego to Los Angeles) and two other pitchers who have already re-signed with their 2010 clubs: Jake Westbrook (Cardinals) and Hiroki Kuroda (Dodgers).
There are three other "Type A" free agent starters still on the market besides Lee: Jorge de la Rosa, Carl Pavano and Andy Pettitte. Forget about Pettitte, who will either return to the Yankees or retire. That leaves de la Rosa and Pavano.
De la Rosa is an intriguing guy with a live arm but a track record of injuries and inconsistent performance. He's never posted an ERA under 4.22, and he's only made more than 23 starts once. But plenty of people around the sport believe the 30-year-old lefty's breakthrough is bound to come sometime soon, and that makes him a top target of several teams this winter.
Pavano is more of a known quantity, though his ceiling isn't nearly as high as de la Rosa's. Best known as a washout with the Yankees, he re-established himself this year in Minnesota, going 17-11 with a 3.75 ERA and a league-leading seven complete games. At 34, is Pavano just beginning his second coming as a top starter? Or is he destined to revert back to his previous, mediocre form? It's going to cost some money to find out.
Additionally, there are three more available "Type B" free agents: Kevin Millwood, Kevin Correia and Vicente Padilla. Millwood had a terrible year in Baltimore (4-16, 5.10 ERA), turns 36 next month and has made eight figures each of the last three seasons. Correia, 30, was solid in 2009 for the Padres (12-11, 3.91, 198 innings) but regressed this year (10-10, 5.40, 145 innings) as one of the few weak links in an otherwise spectacular San Diego rotation. Padilla, 33, has had a wildly inconsistent career and has long been known as a divisive clubhouse figure. I'd steer clear of this one.
There has been plenty of talk centered around two right-handers: the Royals' Zack Greinke and the Rays' Matt Garza. Either could be had from their respective clubs, but it would cost a bundle, perhaps to the point that it would hurt the Nats at several positions in the long run at the expense of trying to fix one hole (albeit an extremely glaring hole).
For what it's worth, Greinke is coming off a down year after his Cy Young campaign of 2009. His ERA nearly doubled (from 2.16 to 4.17) and his strikeout rate plummeted (from 9.5 per nine innings to 7.4). He's due to make $13.5 million each of the next two years before he's eligible for free agency.
Garza has been a more consistent pitcher, maintaining an ERA in the high-3.00's each of the last four seasons. He's made 30 or more starts three straight seasons and allows less than one hit per inning. He's also in his second year of arbitration after qualifying last winter as a "Super 2" player. Thus, he won't be a free agent until 2014, perhaps lessening the long-term damage of trading away several young position players in exchange for him.
Bargain basement. Trash heap. Buy low, sell high. Whatever you want to call them, these are some more affordable options that obviously have less chance of making a real positive impact than the guys in the previous categories.
The name off this list that has drawn the most attention around NatsTown is Brandon Webb, who only two years ago was a 22-game winner, a three-time All-Star and either the Cy Young Award winner or runner-up for three straight seasons. The 31-year-old sinkerballer, though, has pitched in only one game the last two seasons combined thanks to a nasty shoulder injury. His fastball was clocked in only the mid-80s a couple of months ago, so there's no telling what he has left in the tank, if anything. Mike Rizzo, of course, drafted Webb way back in 2000 and still loves him. No one would be surprised if the Nats take a chance on him, much as they did last winter with Chien-Ming Wang.
Other possible targets in this category include plenty of red flags: Erik Bedard, Jeremy Bonderman, Dave Bush, Doug Davis, Justin Duchscherer, Jeff Francis, Freddy Garcia, Aaron Harang, Brad Penny, Jeff Suppan and Chris Young.
The list could, however, grow by the end of the week. Thursday is the deadline for clubs to tender contracts to all of their "under control" players, and there figure to be several non-tendered pitchers who suddenly become free agents. Keep an eye on those names later this week.
So what do you think. Out of all those names still available, who do you think makes the most sense for the Nationals? Or do you think they're better off not spending their money (or giving up current players in a trade) on any of them and sticking with what they've got. As it stands, their 2011 rotation features Livan Hernandez, Jordan Zimmermann, John Lannan, Jason Marquis and either Yunesky Maya or Ross Detwiler, with perhaps Chien-Ming Wang forcing his way into the picture.
In other news, the Nationals have hired Bob Schaefer as a special assistant to the general manager. Schaefer, 66, has more than 30 years of professional baseball experience as either a coach or executive. He spent the last three seasons as Joe Torre's bench coach with the Dodgers and previously was on coaching staffs in Kansas City and Oakland. He also has been a special assistant in both Atlanta and Baltimore.