A pitcher who figures to be a predominant character in this year’s World Series could be a National come next year. The Nationals have been mentioned as possible suitors for Texas pitcher C.J. Wilson when he hits the free agent market after this season. If nothing else it will be a polarizing decision, because of the very good reasons for and against signing Wilson.
According to Fangraphs.com's version of WAR, Wilson was the seventh-best pitcher in baseball this season. He looks even better by comparison, considering that this year’s free agent pitching class is considered pretty weak overall.
The Nationals have good young pitching in the majors and the minors, but as the old saying goes, you can never have enough pitching. In terms of results, Wilson would have been far and away the best pitcher on the Nationals’ staff this season and if he repeats those results next year, even Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann would be hard pressed to outdo Wilson. He had a 2.94 ERA in the best stadium for hitters in the Majors and also pitched in the American League. Many AL pitchers improve just from a move to the National League, because they don’t have to face the designated hitter.
The past two seasons he’s pitched more than 200 innings in each season, something that no pitcher did for the Nationals this year and that they could badly use. Since Wilson comes out of the Texas system, they’ve worked hard to make their pitchers durable. They’ve put in the work, now another team can reap the dividends.
Those are the reasons for signing Wilson. Now here’s why the Nationals shouldn’t touch him. Wilson will be 31 in a month and only has two very exceptional years to his record (this year and last) in his career. Before he started his meager 200 innings per season streak, he hadn’t ever pitched 100 innings in a single season. If you get frustrated by giving the opponent a free pass, then Wilson is not your man. He was 14th in the league in walks and nowhere close to the top in strikeouts-per-walk. It’s unfair to judge somebody on such a small sample size, but believe that much will be made about Wilson’s poor postseason if he doesn’t improve in the World Series. He has an 8.40 ERA in this year’s playoffs.
The weak free agent market makes it a good possibility that whoever wins the Wilson sweepstakes will have overbid for the pitcher’s services. From a PR standpoint, it would be understandable if the Nats shied away from overpaying Wilson after getting lambasted for doing the same thing with Jayson Werth last year and not getting the results they expected.
To me, it doesn’t seem like there’s much higher of a ceiling for Wilson. Even if you get two or three good seasons out of him, you’ll probably be paying for four or five very average seasons after that. The Nationals also need to avoid making moves just for the sake of making moves. Just because they have money to spend (they had the ninth-lowest payroll in the majors this season), doesn’t mean they should. They should either sign a higher profile offensive free agent this year, fill needs (centerfield), or sit tight for future free agent markets. C.J. Wilson and the Nats just aren’t a match.