The Ecstasy of Pitching
The Nationals currently have ten pitchers that could pitch in the big leagues and even more if you figure someone like AJ Cole or Paul Demny would be given shots out of Spring Training, that is if these were the 2008 or 2009 Nationals. In fact the five pitchers behind the projected starting five (Jordan, Roark, Ohlendorf, Karns, Young) would be a better Opening Day rotation than that calendar date saw in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010 for the Nationals. The pitching rich Nationals is much more of a recent development, but even with four pitchers that project to put up top of the rotation level numbers and a bevy of guys that can fill the back of the rotation behind them the Nationals don't have enough pitching.
The only reason being that there is never enough pitching, and there is no such thing as having too much talent. There are five rotation spots and seven bullpen spots on the majority of major league teams. There are thirteen pitchers that are going to start the season on the Opening Day roster, and last season in MLB the average team needed 23 pitchers to make it through the season. That brings us finally to the point that like the lust for gold, the lust for pitching can never be satiated. Sure the Washington Nationals traded for Doug Fister earlier in the off-season, but that only gives them four very good pitchers and leaves them with a couple of open spots in the bullpen. There is one additional move, one big fish still on the market, which the Nationals could make to solidify their roster even more.
Masahiro Tanaka. The recently posted Japanese star is garnering a lot of attention from a lot of different teams, but when asked about it Mike Rizzo said the Nationals probably wouldn't get involved. That they need to take care of their own first, if at all possible. When I read the original quote, that I can't seem to find by using Google, my thought was, "That's so Rizzo." He made a statement that when examined for meaning ends up meaning nothing. You can read it a couple ways. The Nationals probably won't get involved unless the price for Tanaka isn't upwards of the $120 million combined for player and posting fee it is expected to be, or that they probably won't get involved unless things don't go as planned with Desmond and Zimmermann, mainly Zimmermann.
The latter reasoning of the statement would seem to indicate the Nationals may want to use the possibility of jumping in on Tanaka as leverage in negotiations with Jordan Zimmermann. That if he doesn't agree to their terms they won't wait to acquire his replacement. Now whether this would put any pressure on Jordan Zimmermann or not all depends on how much Jordan Zimmermann wants to stay in DC and all indications are that he doesn't care that much. That he is looking at making $17-20 million on the open market and would like that to be his salary for how many ever free agent years the Washington Nationals buy out. This can still lead to a reasonable contract. Figure a doubling of the $5.3 million he made last season to $11 million in the first year of the extension buying out one arb year and then raise that to around $15 for his final arb year and then $18 million for three free agent years with two $25 million options tacked on the end. That is a five year $80 million contract that he and his agent can announce as a seven year $130 million contract. Fair and reasonable.
But if Jordan Zimmermann won't accept that deal then the Nationals can turn their attention towards Tanaka and offer him the same seven years and $130 million with $20 million of it being the posting fee and fill an impending need without spending any more money than they were willing to in the first place. The projected $10 and $15 million Jordan Zimmermann would make in his final two years of arbitration is less than the going rate for a pitcher of his talent, but is the going rate for a back of a rotation starter. So even if the Nationals kept all five pitchers they wouldn't be paying any more than they would have to anyway. The largest positive to adding Tanaka is that it gives the Nationals two seasons of the best five man rotation in baseball, and when Fister and Zimmermann leave after the 2015 season it is more likely that they can fill two spots internally than three.
There are positives and negatives to signing Tanaka. He projects to be a pitcher very similar to Jordan Zimmermann and the Nationals already have and know Jordan Zimmermann. It would take right around the same amount of money to sign them and having one may cause the other to be lost. The negatives to signing Tanaka boil down to it may not work out, but that can be said of any pitching move. Not that long ago the Mets traded for one of the best pitchers on the planet in Johan Santana. He blew out his shoulder and never pitched to his Cy Young level abilities in New York, and Santana was a proven commodity. Tanaka being untested in MLB doesn't diminish his talent. This could be the only way a team can get a top of the rotation talent this season or next without having to give up a draft pick or prospects. All Tanaka costs is money. A giant boatload of money, but no more than any other top of the rotation talent will cost.
As Mike Rizzo said the Nationals probably won't get involved, but the possibility of being the GM that assembled the greatest five man rotation in baseball history has to be alluring. It is the baseball executive equivalent of the shimmering aspect of gold. If Mike Rizzo wakes one morning with the fever you never know what the Nationals may do. They do have Zimmermann and Desmond to sign, but having Tanaka replaces one of those and in reality doesn't cost any more. Mike Rizzo's quote didn't shut the door on the possibility of the Nationals going after Tanaka only its probability, and until he signs somewhere else there are a few of us in Natstown that will dream on the gold in them there hills.