At last year’s Winter Meetings, the Washington Nationals got their main target, signing Jayson Werth to a seven-year/$126 million deal and making a statement about ownership’s ability to open the checkbook in future years.
This year, the Nationals were not so lucky, as word came through Wednesday night that Washington’s main offseason target, left-handed pitcher Mark Buehrle, had signed a four-year/$58 million deal with the big-spending Florida Marlins.
It’s easy to see why both the Nationals and Marlins were so covetous of Buehrle, 32, who has spent his entire professional life with the Chicago White Sox since being drafted in 1998. The native of St. Charles, Missouri is a famously fast worker on the mound and has recorded an ERA+ of 100 or more in all but one season in the American League. He’s also durable, starting at least 30 games and throwing at least 200 innings every year since 2000. The website Fangraphs has valued Buehrle’s year-by-year performances as being worth at least $15 million every year since 2007. With that in mind, the $14.5 average annual value of the Marlins deal actually looks like a bargain. Despite all this, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo has come out and stated that he wasn’t comfortable with adding a fourth year to his bid for Buehrle’s services.
With Buehrle out of the mix, reports are that the Nationals are turning their attention to Roy Oswalt, who is coming off an average 2011 season with the Philadelphia Phillies (9-10 with a 3.69 ERA in only 139 innings pitched). Now, it’s true that the Nationals need another starter to complement Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, and John Lannan. But Oswalt comes with significant red flags, particularly his durability. The 34-year-old Oswalt made just 23 starts in 2011, 10 below his average in a season.
Whether Oswalt signs with the Nationals or not, there is no question that Washington’s quest to be legitimate National League East contenders in 2012 took a significant hit today, and not just because the Marlins got stronger with the acquisitions of Buehrle and Jose Reyes. The starting pitching rotation currently consists of a front three of Strasburg, Zimmermann, Lannan, and two question marks (Chien-Ming Wang? Ross Detwiler? Tom Gorzelanny?), while the hoped-for center field upgrade likely won’t happen through external means. Whether that means a Jayson Werth move from right field to clear space for super-prospect Bryce Harper remains to be seen.