LAS VEGAS - Asked Tuesday about the possibility of trading Tanner Roark, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo suggested such a move would only happen if the Nationals had already acquired another pitcher to fill that spot in a rotation top-heavy with talent but lacking in quality depth.
This afternoon, Rizzo traded Roark to the Reds for a minor league reliever, leaving his rotation - for the moment - short a proven No. 4 starter.
“Surprised,” Roark said during a hastily arranged conference call with reporters from both Washington and Cincinnati at the Winter Meetings. “But it’s the way this business is. I’m a Cincinnati Red now.”
Roark, a stalwart and much-respected member of the Nationals pitching staff since 2013, was dealt to Cincinnati for right-hander Tanner Rainey, who resembles the guy he was just traded for only in name and position. Rainey, 25, is a hard-throwing reliever who posted a 2.65 ERA with 65 strikeouts in 51 innings for Triple-A Louisville this season, but struggled in three brief stints in the big league bullpen.
In parting with Roark, the Nationals will lose a longtime member of their rotation, albeit one who underachieved the last two seasons and was due to make roughly $9-$10 million in arbitration in 2019 before becoming a free agent next winter.
But they also created a hole in a rotation that already might have needed more arms even after the club signed left-hander Patrick Corbin to a $140 million deal last week.
Corbin joins Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg as one of the more formidable 1-2-3 pitching punches in the majors. Beyond that, though, the Nationals have only unproven and oft-injured right-handers Joe Ross and Erick Fedde to round out their rotation.
That’s why Rizzo, responding to rumors of Roark trade talks on Tuesday, suggested such a move would only come if he had already acquired more pitching.
“Yeah, I think we would certainly want to reinforce our rotation (before trading Roark),” Rizzo said Tuesday. “We always talk about depth. And to eliminate a pitcher like Roark, we would certainly like to strengthen that strength, if we were to make a deal for him.”
Meeting with reporters only 90 minutes before this trade was announced, Rizzo declared there was “nothing imminent” in regards to any transactions the Nationals might make.
Apparently, Rizzo’s definition of “imminent” is shorter than most would define it.
Roark’s tenure with the Nationals included some significant highs. He went 15-10 with a 2.85 ERA in 2014 and finished 10th in Cy Young voting when he went 16-10 with a 2.83 ERA in 2016. But his numbers diminished significantly in the other seasons sandwiched around those high points, and over the last two years he was a combined 22-26 with a 4.50 ERA.
Along the way, the Nationals didn’t always treat Roark as well as other established members of the rotation; he was bumped to the bullpen in 2015, wasn’t used at all in the 2017 National League Division Series and now has been traded away. He spoke highly of the organization today, though, on his way out.
“Life’s too short to hold grudges,” Roark said. “That’s what they wanted to do. They treated me great, but there were times I’d get frustrated or pissed off. But that made me stronger.”
The Nationals appear to have decided they couldn’t count on another bounceback from the 32-year-old in 2019. And so he’s now headed to Cincinnati, while in Washington, the GM seeks to fill yet another hole in his ever-changing rotation.