Free agent starting pitchers who could interest Nats

We’ve spent most of the offseason to date looking at players who already were on the Nationals’ roster this year and could return next year. But now that free agency has begun, we’d be remiss if we didn’t start looking at players from other clubs who could find their way to Washington in 2019.

The Nationals have several needs - starting pitching, catcher, second baseman, relief pitching, backup first baseman - but let’s start today with the most significant (and priciest) position.

The Nats haven’t truly been in the market for a frontline starting pitcher since the 2013-14 offseason, when they traded for Doug Fister. (Yes, they signed Max Scherzer the following winter, but that was a late-winter change of plans for a team that already had five established starters but decided to swoop in and sign the ace for $210 million. And yes, that proved to be a very smart decision.)

Otherwise, any pitching acquisitions Mike Rizzo has made in recent offseasons have been more in the way of rotation depth than elite arms. That’s not going to be the case this time, because the Nationals clearly need another quality starter to join Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg atop the rotation.

Think of this as Gio Gonzalez’s replacement, though in an ideal world the Nats would aim even higher than that. Fortunately, there are multiple pitchers on the open market who fit that description. Unfortunately, they’re not going to come cheap.

So let’s run through the possibilities ...

Opening day 2019 age: 29
2018 stats: 11-7, 3.15 ERA, 33 GS, 200 IP, 48 BB, 246 SO, 1.050 WHIP, 2.47 FIP, 4.6 bWAR
Projected contract: 5 years, $100 million
Nats’ likely interest level: High. Corbin checks off all the boxes that would appeal to the Nationals. He’s a legit front-line starter. He’s left-handed. He’s still in his 20s (barely). He strikes out a ton of batters. His career trajectory appears to be going up, not down. Yes, it’s a big investment in a guy who was very mediocre in 2016-17 before taking off in 2018. But he feels like a pitcher Rizzo believes in.

Opening day 2019 age: 31
2018 stats: 12-11, 3.74 ERA, 34 GS, 204 2/3 IP, 58 BB, 153 SO, 1.314 WHIP, 3.69 FIP, 2.6 bWAR
Projected contract: 5 years, $100 million
Nats’ likely interest level: Moderate-to-high. Keuchel has much more of a track record than Corbin as the 2015 American League Cy Young Award winner and two-time All-Star. But there are reasons to fear that his best days are behind him. He turns 31 on New Year’s Day. His strikeout rate (which was never all that high) has been going down. He gave up the most hits in the majors this season. But he’s durable, he throws the ball over the plate and he knows how to pitch.

Opening day 2019 age: 29
2018 stats: 6-7, 3.81 ERA, 21 GS, 111 IP, 20 BB, 101 SO, 1.126 WHIP, 3.60 FIP, 1.5 bWAR
Projected contract: 4 years, $60 million
Nats’ likely interest level: Moderate. No pitcher helped his cause more in October than Eovaldi, who was an absolute revelation for the Red Sox. And he’s going to be paid handsomely now because of it. He’s always had great stuff. The question is whether the pitcher we saw in the playoffs was the pitcher we’re going to see in the future or his 4.16 career ERA and 1.348 career WHIP are a more accurate reflection of this pitcher.

Opening day 2019 age: 36
2018 stats: 17-6, 3.65 ERA, 31 GS, 177 2/3 IP, 51 BB, 193 SO, 1.131 WHIP, 3.98 FIP, 3.3 bWAR
Projected contract: 3 years, $39 million
Nats’ likely interest level: Moderate. Happ is a solid veteran left-hander, and that’s always a valuable commodity, especially for a Nationals rotation that has no lefties anymore. But his age is a legitimate concern, especially because he might command a three-year deal. If the Nats could somehow get him for one or two years, they might be more inclined to pay up.

Gonzalez-Pensive-Dugout-Sidebar.jpgGIO GONZALEZ
Opening day 2019 age: 33
2018 stats: 10-11, 4.21 ERA, 32 GS, 171 IP, 80 BB, 148 SO, 1.444 WHIP, 4.16 FIP, 2.2 bWAR
Projected contract: 3 years, $30 million
Nats’ likely interest level: Low. Even had they kept him for the final month of the season, the Nationals knew all along they weren’t going to be re-signing Gonzalez. He did a lot of good things for them over seven seasons in D.C. But they know what he is, and they believe they can do better moving forward.

Opening day 2019 age: 35
2018 stats: 15-3, 3.13 ERA, 30 GS, 167 IP, 64 BB, 201 SO, 1.162 WHIP, 3.59 FIP, 3.5 bWAR
Projected contract: 2 years, $32 million
Nats’ likely interest level: Moderate. The Nats probably didn’t expect him to be available, but the Astros made the surprising decision not to make a qualifying offer to Morton. So Morton is on the open market now, coming off a career year. Yes, he’s getting up there in age. And no, there’s no guarantee he can duplicate what he did in Houston. But whichever team signs him won’t have to give up a draft pick anymore, and he could prove an awfully big addition somewhere.

Opening day 2019 age: 31
2018 stats: 10-10, 4.77 ERA, 29 GS, 156 2/3 IP, 76 BB, 161 SO, 1.526 WHIP, 3.84 FIP, 0.9 bWAR
Projected contract: 2 years, $16 million
Nats’ likely interest level: Low-to-moderate. The Nationals have been interested in Lynn before. Trouble is, he’s coming off a rough season with the Twins and Yankees. He’s not really a high-end No. 3 starter, more of a back-of-the-rotation arm at this point. But he’s durable, he never posted an ERA higher than 3.97 until this season and he won’t cost nearly as much as the other pitchers on this list.

Opening day 2019 age: 30
2018 stats: 11-6, 3.76 ERA, 28 GS, 160 1/3 IP, 42 BB, 208 SO, 1.098 WHIP, 3.23 FIP, 2.9 bWAR
Projected contract: Arbitration-eligible in 2019-20, free agent in 2021
Nats’ likely interest level: Potentially high. We’re going to throw Paxton into this list, even though he’s not a free agent. If reports over the last couple days that the Mariners are looking to tear down and start over are true, their ace lefty would be an awfully appealing trade candidate for the Nationals. He’s under club control for two more seasons. He’s affordable (projected to make about $9 million in arbitration in 2019). And he’s pretty darn good. Who knows what kind of prospects or young major league talent it would take to get him, but you can bet Rizzo will call Jerry Dipoto to find out.

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