Nationals Should Have Interest in Joe Saunders

After a disappointing week of Winter Meetings, the Washington Nationals are still in the market for a veteran starter to eat innings for the team’s young pitching staff.  On Monday night, the Arizona Diamondbacks may have answered their call by non-tendering LHP Joe Saunders, according to FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal.

Saunders, 30, was born in Falls Church, Virginia, which is just 10 miles from Nationals Park.  The move could bring Saunders back to his metro DC roots where he graduated from West Springfield High School and went to college at Virginia Tech.  He was drafted 12th overall in the 2002 Amateur Draft by the then Anaheim Angels.

The veteran lefty has thrown more than 185 innings in each of the last 4 seasons, with the most thrown last season (212 IP).  In those same 4 years, Saunders has posted a 4.03 ERA, a 54-44 record, and a slightly above average 104 ERA+.  On the less optimistic side, he averaged more than a home run per game, almost 3 walks per game, and posted a good-but-not-great 1.35 WHIP.  

During the 2008 and 2009 seasons with the Angels, Saunders went an outstanding 33-14.  While it may seem like a record like that would reflect dominating stats, that’s just not the case.  In that period, he threw up a 3.98 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 9.1 H/9, and 1.2 HR/9. All nearly identical numbers to his career averages.  This shows just how much wins and losses mean for a pitcher in today’s game.

For the Nationals, though, the possibility of a promising veteran who is still fairly young could be valuable as they wait for a more favorable market for starting pitching.  He would only be a stop gap, though.  Unless they sign Saunders to an extension, which seems unlikely, he would be a rental player for next year as he reaches free agency at the end of the 2012 campaign.  This certainly isn’t what the Nats were going for this offseason, but with no real options left, it might be worth shelling out the money to get them to next season or the trade deadline.

Saunders is certainly no Mark Buehrle, but he might eat some innings for a young pitching staff in need of someone to play that role.  Though not ideal, it could work as a temporary fix to a gapping hole in the team’s rotation: a veteran with proven longevity.  He couldn’t fit in the top of the rotation like a Buehrle could, but if matched up with other bottom-of-the-rotation starters, Saunders could prove valuable.

If the team doesn’t choose to go the Joe Saunders route, Roy Oswalt is still on the market.  It does seem that they would have gone that route already if they were seriously interested, though.  And if all else fails, there’s always Livan Hernandez.

Joe Drugan

About Joe Drugan

Joe is the Managing Editor of The Nats Blog and host of the Nats Talk On The Go podcast. He's been blogging about the Nationals since 2010 and with The Nats Blog since 2011.