Monday, January 19, 2015

Nationals Sign Scherzer

Did the Nationals really need another top-flight starting pitcher? (DodgersNation)
The Washington Nationals won 96 games and the NL East last year, largely thanks to a talented pitching staff that topped the majors in ERA, FIP, and fWAR. Their loaded rotation, comprised of Stephen Strasburg, Doug Fister, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, and Tanner Roark, were primarily responsible for that, delivering 936 innings of 2.92 ERA-ball and missing just 13 starts between them. With all of them healthy, in their 20s (save Fister), and under contract for 2015, the Nationals did not need pitching help. They were more than set.

Max Scherzer, the 2013 AL Cy Young winner and a free agent*, was a $200 million luxury Washington didn't need. And yet, Scherzer is now a member of the Washington Nationals. Unless the rumors of a possible Strasburg or Zimmermann trade come to fruition, he'll bump Tanner Roark, a borderline Cy Young candidate who compiled a 2.85 ERA in just under 200 innings last year, to the bullpen.

Look out, National League.

*Scherzer, who boldly rejected Detroit's six-year, $144 million contract extension offer prior to the 2014 season, looks like a genius, by the way. He bet on himself, had another big season, and reaped the rewards. 

Just when you thought the Nats couldn't get any more stacked, they go out and ink the prize possession of this winter's free agent pool. In an era where most teams are settling for mediocrity, hoping for 85+ wins and a shot at the second wild card, Washington is one of the few franchises trying to separate themselves from the pack. They're all in.

Thing is, the Nationals were already head and shoulders above the rest of the NL East. Last year, they were the only team with a winning record in their division, which they won by an astounding 17 games. Even with the Marlins and Mets projected to be better this year, Washington was still heavily favored to end up in first place again. The aging Phillies are only getting worse and the re-shuffling Braves will probably be about the same, if not worse. There was no serious challenger threatening Washington's ironclad grip on the NL East in 2015.

Now, the division title that was all but guaranteed to go to Washington is only more of a sure thing. They now claim the best 1-2 top of the rotation punch outside of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, backed by a former 20-game winner in Gonzalez and a pair of top-notch arms in Zimmermann and Fister. All have received Cy Young consideration at least once in the last three years, and nobody's going to be older than 31 this year. Roark, should he stick around, provides excellent insurance if an injury crops up. Throw in a lights-out bullpen and a formidable starting nine and you have a team that could easily win 100 games in 2015, no small feat given the improved parity throughout the sport.

Did the Washington Nationals need Max Scherzer? Probably not*. But are they a better team with him on board? Absolutely. They say you can never have enough pitching, but it appears the Nats have more than enough to take them all the way. I know it's only January, but I think the Nationals just punched their ticket to the World Series.

*Though I can see why Washington wanted Scherzer. Fister's on the wrong side of 30, Gonzalez got hurt in an uneven 2014, Strasburg and Zimmermann are recovered Tommy John patients, and Roark has a mere 36 big league starts under his belt. Pitchers are inherently risky, and everyone in the Nationals rotation had at least one question mark. There's no such thing as a sure thing in baseball, especially when it comes to pitching. Scherzer's also one of the five best pitchers in baseball, so there's that.

1 comment:

  1. Washington is totally unbalanced from both sides of the ball. They will have 6-7 right-handed hitters in the everyday lineup, and 9 of their 12-man staff will be right-handed as well. They won't do as well as last yr's 96 wins but should win the division, then get trumped again by their imbalances to either SF or St.L. Baseball history says this is so. They've got a 7-8% chance of winning it all. Check out the '54 Indians who won 111 games with a staff that sent 3 to the HOF.