By signing Edwin Jackson yesterday, the Nationals took the never-have-too-much-pitching mantra to the extreme. When the winter started, they hoped to add one starting pitcher. In Edwin Jackson and Gio Gonzalez, they got two — without giving any up, at least yet.
The Nationals insist they plan to head to spring training as is, which should make for great theater in Viera. In the meantime, here are some leftover thoughts on Jackson coming to Washington:
>>> John Lannan has been a vital piece to the Nationals for the past four years, and his surface numbers look similar enough to Jackson’s — a 103 ERA+ over the past four seasons compared to Jackson’s 106. But the fact is Jackson is a pretty clear upgrade over Lannan.
Jackson throws deeper into games, averaging about two outs more per start. Jackson’s performance was worth 3.8 wins above replacement last year according to FanGraphs.com, which ranked above both Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann. Lannan had a 1.3 WAR season. WAR is not a perfect stat, but that difference is significant.
While both have established track records, Jackson’s stuff gives him a higher upside than Lannan, despite being a bit older. People have been saying this about Jackson for years, but if he really puts it together, he could be one of the most dominant starters in baseball.
>>> The Nationals’ payroll will jump to somewhere around $88 million with the additional $10 million going to Jackson, an increase of about $20 million from last season. That number will drop by $5 million if they do end up trading Lannan, but it’s still a big bump from 2011.
>>> Mike Rizzo was insistent that he did not plan on trading a starting pitcher after signing Jackson. The Nationals signed Jackson, he said, because the terms of the deal presented too much value to pass up and because the Nationals had “an innings shortage” with Chien-Ming Wang, Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann all dealing with effects of injuries to various degrees.
Is that going to stop speculation about trades? Of course not.
The Nationals have seven starters, eight if you count Tom Gorzelanny. They have five relievers locked in with Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Henry Rodriguez, Brad Lidge and Sean Burnett. They’d have to find somewhere to stash their extra starters without a trade, but there’s not even enough room in the bullpen for them all.
The starter most people presume is most likely be traded is Lannan, but he is not positioned to have much trade value. He is about a league average starter, which is no small thing. And he also has two years of team control before hitting free agency. But he’s making $5 million this season and will get a raise to about $8 million next year if all goes well. The biggest thing the Nationals have going for them in regard to trading Lannan is scarcity – if another team suffers an injury to its rotation in the spring, the Nationals would be the rare team with a starter to spare.
If the Nationals decide they need to make room, Ross Detwiler would have far more value. While he’s nowhere near as accomplished as Lannan, Detwiler has four years of team control, including one more “zero-to-three” year in which he’ll make the league minimum. He would be more difficult to part with, but he’d also bring a greater return.
Detwiler and Lannan are the two clear options to trade if/when the Nationals pare down their starting ranks. Wang can’t be traded until June because he signed as a free agent. Ditto for Jackson. The Nationals clearly have no intention of trading Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez or Jordan Zimmermann, though that conversation would make for good talk radio. (“First time, long time – McCutchen for Zimmermann, who says no? I’ll hang up and listen.”)
Either way, the Nationals are intent on heading to Viera with all of their starters. That will make for an active and fascinating spring training. And it starts in 16 days.