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Nationals meet with free agent starter Patrick Corbin

Patrick Corbin met with the Nationals this week. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP Photo)

The Washington Nationals met with free agent left-hander Patrick Corbin this week, according to a person familiar with the situation. Their pursuit confirms what has long been suspected about Washington’s plans to bolster its rotation: The Nationals do not want to steady themselves with fourth or fifth starters, with back-end bargains. They will be pursuing the top names available, and indeed, have already begun to do so.

This offseason, Washington has reached out to representatives of all the big-name starters, including Corbin, lefty Dallas Keuchel and right-hander Nathan Eovaldi — though, of course, the Nationals reach out to almost everyone’s representatives at this time of year.

The meeting with Corbin came as the 29-year-old was touring several potential East Coast suitors. He visited the Philadelphia Phillies and is expected to meet with the New York Yankees, according to reports. Those visits likely foreshadow a heated bidding war between two of the league’s biggest spenders.

If Bryce Harper re-signs, the Nationals might not have the financial flexibility to win a war like that. But if he doesn’t — and the team seems to be operating as if it won’t wait around for Harper’s decision — they should have plenty of money to spend on their top priority, a big-name starter like Corbin.

Corbin pitched to a 3.15 ERA with the Diamondbacks last season, is being treated as the prize of this winter’s free agent pitching market, younger than crafty Keuchel, more of a sure thing than Eovaldi, whose surge last season followed plenty of injury trouble. Corbin has not escaped injury issues, either. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2014, though players who have gone through Tommy John tend to intrigue the Nationals more than scare them.

Despite the injury, Corbin compiled several solid, but not necessarily dominant, seasons in his 20s. He pitched to a 4.12 ERA in five healthy seasons from 2012 to 2017, and made one all-star appearance at age 23. He allowed more hits than innings pitched over that span, and struck out fewer batters than innings pitched. His average fastball velocity is around 92 miles per hour. In other words, until this season, Corbin was a strong major league starter, but not an elite one.

Now, many in the industry believe Corbin will command a contract of more than $100 million, a number that grew substantially due to his performance this season. In 2018, Corbin threw 200 innings, struck out 11.1 batters per nine, pitched to a 1.050 WHIP and was an all-star again. He finished fifth in the National League Cy Young voting.

That the Nationals are interested in Corbin is no surprise. In fact, it would have been a far bigger surprise had they not met with him before he made his decision. Exactly where that meeting led, in terms of offers or numbers, is unclear, but the Nationals' approach to this offseason is not. They want an elite starter, and they are going to chase one.

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