The Nationals, relative to most teams in baseball, don’t have a lot of work to do this offseason. Their core is largely in place — they know next year’s starting lineup; all they have to do over the offseason is look to augment the bench. Similarly, in Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman, and Ross Detwiler, the Nats have 4/5ths of their starting rotation figured out. Thus, the biggest question this offseason becomes what to do with that 5th spot.
In Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan, the Nats have two capable but unproven players to fill the void. However, this is a team that is looking to contend for a championship next year, and handing the keys to inexperienced rookies, talented though they may be, would be dangerous. Plus, behind Roark and Jordan, the Nats have very little starting pitching depth, leaving them vulnerable in the likely event of injury, especially with Detwiler and Strasburg on the mend. It is clear that, in order to shore up the pitching ranks, the Nats need to go outside the organization and acquire another starter.
But whom? Today, in his column, FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal suggested that the Nats try and trade for Max Scherzer. Now, there is a parallel universe in which this makes sense. The Nats need another starter, and Scherzer’s as good as they come. Plus, as we’ve seen with Matt Williams et al, Mike Rizzo is fiercely loyal to those he’s worked with or drafted, and he was the scouting director in Arizona when the Diamondbacks took Scherzer 11th overall.
But this trade would be nonsensical on so many levels, for both teams. The Tigers are trying to contend now, as are the Nats. The Tigers will be looking for pieces that can help them win now, and the Nats are highly unlikely to want to give those pieces away. Plus, after dealing for Gio Gonzalez, the Nats have spent the last two years rebuilding the farm system, reacquiring A.J. Cole, drafting Luc Giolito, and making those small behind-the-scenes trades to ready the next wave of reinforcements. The last thing Rizzo would want to do is undo much his work, even to acquire Scherzer. To me, this trade is a complete non-starter.
Nor will the Nats be acquiring David Price; they couldn’t, even if they wanted to. Last year, the Rays traded James Shields for the then-no. 4 prospect in baseball, likely AL Rookie of the Year Wil Myers. The Nats don’t have even one prospect of nearly that caliber, and David Price is a far better pitcher than Shields (with 2 years of team control, to Scherzer’s 1), so the Rays will be looking for a package far in excess of what the Nats can offer.
The best course of action for Rizzo’s Nats is to scour the free-agent market for a veteran mid-level starter; the Bronsons Arroyo and Tims Hudson of the world. There’s no need to take a flier on a reclamation project like Josh Johnson or Roy Halladay, nor do the Nats need to sell half the farm to solidify the rotation. A mid-level free-agent may not be sexy, but it gets the job done.