Everyone else is talking about playoffs. Yes, they’re super exciting, but the Nats need to start thinking about their best way to get there in future ASAP. If the plan goes as planned, the Nats are supposed to spend some money this offseason to build a winning team in 2008. Spend more money the following year to build a playoff team in 2009 which would lead to a legitimate championship contender in 2010. But who’s going to be available? Well let’s start with the pitchers. Remember here, we’re talking about (with 2 exceptions at the end for reasons of age) signing pitchers for a few years. This class is thin, many guys will be looking for 3-5 year contracts and getting it. For that, with a rebuilding team like the Nats, they better be looking for a cornerstone of the franchise type pitcher. Technically, we won’t know the full list until after the World Series, but there shouldn’t really be names that are surprising when that day comes.

Here is a relatively complete list of starting pitchers under 40 available at the end of this season:
Jeremy Affeldt, Tony Armas, Pedro Astacio, Kris Benson, Paul Byrd, Shawn Chacon, Bruce Chen, Matt Clement, Bartolo Colon, Scott Elarton, Shawn Estes, Josh Fogg, Casey Fossum, Freddy Garcia, Jason Jennings, Brian Lawrence, Kyle Lohse, Rodrigo Lopez, Joe Mays, Wade Miller, Eric Milton, Brian Moehler, Tomo Ohka, Ramon Ortiz, Russ Ortiz, Chan Ho Park, Odalis Perez, Sidney Ponson, Mark Redman, Glendan Rusch, Aaron Sele, Carlos Silva, John Thomson, Brett Tomko, Steve Trachsel, John Wasdin, Jeff Weaver, Kip Wells, Paul Wilson, Randy Wolf, Jamey Wright, Jared Wright, and Victor Zambrano.

Of course I may be missing one or two guys, but for the most part, I think it’s there. Not alot of exciting names, huh? Carlos Zambrano and Mark Buerhle, probably the top 2 guys on my list in April, are now off the list. So let’s go through some of the more desirable guys on the list:

Carlos Silva has had some success with the Twinkies. And he’s young, only 29 next season. His K/BB ratio is about 2.3/1 for his career, mostly due to the fact that he doesn’t walk anyone. He doesn’t miss bats, gives up ALOT of hits, and has a career ERA of 4.31. Since he pitches in the AL, he could be an under-4.00 guy in the NL. He is a decent player, and he’ll probably do well this offseason. But he is predictably decent, there’s little outstanding about him, so signing him longterm seems a stretch. He might fit in with a team that is one #3 pitcher away from contending, but not the Nats.

Scott Boras client Kyle Lohse is going to command some cash this offseason too. Boras has been quoted talking about his “durability” and “experience” and his age of 28, which is what you have to do when there is nothing better to say. Averages 191 IP a year. Other than that his K/BB ratio is 2/1, his career ERA is 4.82 and… and that’s all I got. Waste of a spot on this team, maybe a good back end guy somewhere else.

Roger Clemens will be available, but in my opinion he isn’t coming back. And if he is, it aint with the Nationals. Not that they should be pursuing him. What’s he, like 45? I could hit him. Oh, he actually is 45.

Livan – Not happening.

Bartolo Colon is free after an injury-prone 2 seasons since winning the Cy Young. He has had success in the past, of course, and a healthy Colon could give a team 15-20 wins as well as regular movements. But his weight problems continue, injuries are of course an issue, and he’ll be 35 years old next year. Colon could be a real mess for this team. Ok, I’ll stop, I promise.

Freddy Garcia may have been an interesting prospect if I wrote this at the beginning of the year. Not spectacular, but a successful workhorse, he’s averaged 220 IPs over his career, and lead the league in that category once. He’s been top 10 in Ks 4 times, IPs 4 times, games started 6 times, wins 3 times and ERA 3 times. His career ERA is a tolerable 4.07 and he has a career record of 117-76. Then got hurt, and underwent surgery. He likely won’t be back until after the All-Star break in 2008. At 32, he still has some useful years, and may be a bit more desirable than other pitchers on this list, especially since his injury may necessitate a short-term deal.

Randy Wolf‘s talent is appealing (not overwhelming), but he hasn’t pitched more than half a season since 2003, that isn’t what you sign for long-term.

Kip Wells has now sucked for 4 straight seasons, although last year he spent most of the time on the DL, which is also sucky, but at least you can’t give up HRs when you’re on the DL. Anyway, he’s only been good for 2 seasons, and it’s making me believe that perhaps those years were the flukes, not the other way around. He is a 5th or 6th starter for a team trying to pull together a staff to make a run not a piece to build with.

Jason Jennings was supposed to kick some serious Astro in Houston, coming off a year where he had an ERA of 3.78 in Colorado. Instead he gave up 19 HRs in 99 IP with a 6.45 ERA, and got hurt and had surgery. He could be a decent one year acquisition because he’ll probably go that route, hoping to score a long-term deal in 2009. But for the Nats, what’s the point in paying a guy several million to be mediocre for 1 season when they have plenty of guys who can do that already? Same thing for Matt Clement, while we’re at it.

Kris Benson is available, and he’s nothing special either. He can’t even be called an innings eater because of his history of injury, when healthy he can pitch decently enough – a career ERA of 4.34. But it’s more of the same story with this free agent class. Lots of potentially decent guys coming off injury, but the potential isn’t enough to take the risk for a long term deal. And the Nats don’t really need to get anyone for a 1 or 2 year deal. Unless…

Then again, there is another reason to sign a free agent: to make the fans excited. There are 2 free agent pitchers that may be able to both excite fans and bring some intangibles, but they are the opposite of those young, building-the-future type of guys.

Curt Schilling is one guy that is going to be available, and there’s a good chance that the big money BoSox won’t be pursuing him. His attitude is a plus and a minus. As a fan, I don’t want to hear him talk… ever. He never shuts up, brews controversy with the media, and that may not be what a young team should learn. But as a fan, I’d love him to inspire some of the other players. When he won the world series in 2004, he was considered one of the emotional leaders of his team. How many pitchers can claim that? He may want multiple years though, and the scariest part about Schilling is that he’s a power pitcher who has been hurt alot lately and his strikeouts per inning have been declining. He’s still a good pitcher, but if he wants 2 or 3 years, what’s gonna be left in 2010? Probably a financial drag that is stuck in the pitching staff because of his salary, not his ability.

Another possibility is Tom Glavine. In fact, it’s more than a possibility, it’s an actual rumor on ESPN. He actually turned down his player option for 2008 with the Mets. The bad news is that Glavine didn’t pitch very well this past season, so who knows what he has left. The good is that he’d probably only go for a 1 year deal. Alot of the talk is that he isn’t ready to retire after that terrible final start, and wants to redeem himself. And in terms of a guy who could really teach this young pitching staff a thing or two, well there isn’t much better of a choice than a 300 game winner. He could be one of those people that adds what we like to call “intangibles” to the team. I’m not gonna dive into his stats, he was always great with the Braves, his first and last year with the Mets were bad, while his 3 in the middle were very good. He could reasonably be expected to pitch 200 innings and win a dozen games.


With the young pitching staff the relative strength of this organization, and the lack of talent in the crop of free agents – don’t waste your money. But don’t sit on your haunches either. This is a perfect opportunity to sign an older player who can impart wisdom and inspire with his ability and tenacity. As much as I go on and on about stats on this site, I do believe there is more to baseball than the numbers. This young guys pitching for this team could get years worth of value out of having one of these elder statesmen for one year. I’m gonna say if they sign anyone, it should be Glavine over Schilling since he will probably be ok with 1 year. But either one, for a 1 year deal, could be a boon to this pitching staff.

Next we’ll talk hitting…

By Charlie