The mid-season trading season appears to have opened in early June, and the first piece moving looks to be Astros longtime ace, Roy Oswalt. It looks like he wont go very far.
The Rangers have been holding onto a half-game lead over the L.A. Angels, two in the loss column, going into action Monday. While the Rangers have no problem striking players out, they ranked as a team 16th overall in ERA and 15th in WHIP. To complicate matters, right handed pitcher Rich Harden, who was signed in the off-season, has been placed on the 15-day DL with a strained left gluteus muscle.
The Rangers rotation has been a roller coaster of pleasant surprises and utter disappointments. Colby Lewis, signed in the off-season from Japan, and has exceeded expectations this season with a stat line of 6-4, with a 3.30 ERA and a K/BB ration of 81/33 in 84.1 innings of work. Equally surprising has been reliever-turned-starter CJ Wilson.
However the Rangers season has not been without letdowns on the mound. After a promising season last year, Scott Feldman has taken a few steps backward with his ERA hovering at 5.28. And before Harden’s most recent DL trip, his ERA was sitting at 5.68. An ace is what they have surely lacked.
But, this is TheNatsBlog. How does this trade affect the Nationals interest in the starting pitching market? The Nats are second to last in strikeouts from the rotation, 17th in ERA and 21st in WHIP. It would be unfair to expect Livan Hernandez to continue at his current pace, and both John Lannan and Craig Stammen have been disappointments in the rotation. We are all witnessing the beauty of Stephen Strasburg first hand, and Luis Atilano is impressing in his rookie campaign.
Now, the Nationals do have options from within, as both Scott Olsen and free-agent acquisition Jason Marquis are currently on the DL. But, the team seems steadfast in their desire to limit Strasburg’s innings, and no team can predict how a starter will do after returning from injury.
Are there options on the open market that the Nationals should consider trading prospect pieces for? Let’s consider a few options available:
Cliff Lee, Seattle Mariners: Nine starts, 68.2 innings, 4-3, 2.88 ERA, two complete games, K/BB of 60/4 (yes, he’s walked FOUR batters in 68.2 innings)
-The Mariners are disappointing everybody across baseball for the second straight year. Lee’s current deal expires at the end of the season and nobody believes the Mariners will have the money to re-sign him. Lee will cost at least one super-prospect, but no more than two since most teams will view him as a rental, Nationals included. Teaming up Lee with Strasburg for the stretch run at the top of the rotation is an incredible one-two punch. Lee would also serve as the experienced ace the Nationals will need to chase the playoffs. The question is, do the Nationals mortgage parts of the future for a run at this year’s division?
ACE ON THE MEND:
Ben Sheets, Oakland A’s: 14 starts, 80.1 innings, 2-6, 4.93 ERA, 59/33, 1.47 WHIP
-The good news: he’s healthy. The bad news: he is not pitching like Ben Sheets of the Milwaukee days. The argument could be made Sheets is still trying to find his groove after missing a year and a half with right shoulder and elbow woes. His last four starts haven’t been great, but they haven’t been terrible either. He’s given up earned runs of three, four, three and three in his last four starts while going 0-3 over that stretch.
The purpose of the A’s acquiring Sheets was for the purpose of dealing him at the deadline, but a question remains at what his true value is. He is not impressing many scouts, and it’s not publicly known the package the A’s are looking for in return. Sheets won’t be moving until Jul. 31, since the A’s will want to audition him to the league as much as possible, so stay tuned.
LOOKING FOR A NEW TRIBE:
Jake Westbrook, Cleveland Indians: 13 starts, 78.0 innings, 4-3, 4.62 ERA, 43/29, 1.42 WHIP
-Nationals fans are aware of what Westbrook can do when he is on top of his sinker, with his recent win over the Nats on Jun. 11. But, this is Westbrook’s first heavy workload since 2007 as he too dealt with a multitude of arm troubles. He’s experienced and shown flashes of brilliance, but the detractor with Westbrook is his $11 million price-tag. The Indians would want any trade partner to take on a strong portion of that salary to free up space on the payroll, regardless of what that means in terms of prospects.
Westbrook’s ground-ball style would work well in the National League, and could be the veteran presence needed in the heart of the Nats rotation with Jason Marquis to help guide the young bucks.
AND THEN THERE ARE THE O’S:
Kevin Millwood, Baltimore Orioles: 14 starts, 90.2 innings, 0-8, 5.16 ERA, 73/27, 1.49 WHIP
Jeremy Guthrie, Baltimore Orioles: 13 starts, 84.2 innings, 3-7, 3.83 ERA, 46/18, 1.13WHIP
-Win-loss records with the Orioles are nothing to read into. However, Millwood has begun to struggle. During the Mets series, Mets broadcasters began to wonder if parts of Millwood’s recent struggles are due to the environment he is pitching in, and if all he needs is a change of scenery to get back on track. Interesting theory, but Millwood surrendered three home runs to the Mets over the weekend, two of which in the first inning. For a sinker-ball pitcher, three home runs in one start is something that raises a red flag.
Jeremy Guthrie, however, is an interesting name. He’s only 30-years old and his peripheral numbers are very promising. He doesn’t walk batters, he pitches to contact and is predominately a groundball specialist. He pitched a strong game against the Mets over the weekend, but was bested by Hisanori Takahashi in a pitcher’s duel. Outside of the lead-off home run to Jose Reyes and a fluke line shot that cleared the right-center wall to Jeff Francoeur (any other stadium, it would’ve been a double), Guthrie was excellent.
Guthrie would bring in a better haul of prospects than Millwood or Westbrook, and at this point is more reliable than Ben Sheets. If the Nationals do not want to spend on Lee, and want control of a player beyond this year, Jeremy Guthrie is looking like the man of the hour. This is a story that will certainly continue until Jul. 31, but these are the most common names you will hear until then in connection with the Nationals and other teams racing for a rare playoff spot.
Personally, in Mike Rizzo’s position, I’d go for Guthrie. Some team will ship the farm for Lee, but I don’t see that team being the Nationals. They’re not about to forgo all the long years of work for just this summer in trading for Lee without a guarantee that Lee would sign an extension. Guthrie is a pitcher in the heart of his prime that is controllable. He would slot in between Strasburg and Hernandez to give the rotation a different look and variation in speed. I think the Nationals would benefit more from acquiring a lefty for the rotation, but Guthrie is a pitcher that can control National League line-ups, as evident by his performance against the Mets.