By signing Max Scherzer, the Washington Nationals set off a chain of dominoes. The first was me doing a little jig when I read the news in the Fort Myers airport. When one of the best pitchers in all of baseball goes from facing the Indians a handful of times a season to no times a season, I dance.
The second domino, which probably got more attention (though I think some people definitely enjoyed my jig), was caused by the sudden overcrowding of the Washington rotation. Scherzer will be joining Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, Doug Fister and Tanner Roark. That is a stellar group, and that was true even before Scherzer was added. Uunless something gives, Roark, who was excellent last year, will be headed to the 'pen.
Nothing has given QUITE yet, but "very much available" are strong words. Suddenly one of the best young pitchers in all of baseball might be available? Should the Indians be interested?
The Indians have their own mini-version of this overcrowding going on, with Zach McAllister, Danny Salazar and T.J. House all deserving a rotation spot that only one of them can have. But we are not talking about adding a solid little mid-rotation innings eater, here. We are talking about a guy who immediately challenges Corey Kluber for the top spot in the rotation. ZiPS projects Strasburg at 4.9 WAR. That is 3 WAR more than Danny Salazar (the highest projected of the three competitors for that last spot) and 4.6 WAR more than Gavin Floyd, who seems to have a spot locked down already.
You don't worry about having space for Floyd, Salazar, House, McAllister or really anyone else if you have a chance to add Strasburg. If "very much available" means "just pay his salary," you take him without thinking twice, but in reality there will be a very hefty cost in terms of talent required in order to land Strasburg (who is under team control for two more seasons).
At FanGraphs, Jeff Sullivan speculates that players such as Javier Baez and Austin Hedges (top 20 prospects) could be starting points for Strasburg. Last year, a season and a half of David Price cost Drew Smyly and Austin Jackson. A season and a half of Jeff Samardzija cost Addison Russell and three others (though the A's also got Jason Hammel in that deal).
So, if I am Nats GM Mike Rizzo and the Tribe comes calling on Strasburg, I am starting with Francisco Lindor. If I am Chris Antonetti, I am politely declining to include Lindor. And, to be honest, that might end talks on the spot. It's posible the Nationals would be willing to talk about a package with Clint Frazier and Francisco Mejia, but it really depends what else is out there. Do I think the Nationals would take that package? I'm awfully high on Mejia, so I could easily see that package being one the of best out there. I would take it over a combination of Austin Hedges and Hunter Renfroe (from San Diego), which Sullivan mentions in his article above. Not sure if Rizzo would.
So do the Indians push for this? Offer up Frazier and Mejia? Or one of those two plus another prospect?
The other option is to go after one of the other Washington starters. Strasburg costs $7.5 million this year and should cost $12-13 million next year before hitting free agency. Jordan Zimmerman will cost $16.5 million this year and will then be a free agent. Doug Fister will cost $11.4 million this year and will then also be a free agent. The talent cost to acquire wither of them would be far lower. Gio Gonzalez is on such a team friendly contract that he probably is not worth discussing.
You can never have enough pitching, for sure, but while the Indians have an open window to compete right now, they also have talent on the way. Trading away that talent for 1-2 years of one of those Nationals pitchers is probably not the best path forward. In the next couple years, Antonetti needs to replace Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, the platoon of guys in RF, and maybe make upgrades elsewhere. Why endanger that?
So, I am out. Ask me again in June, though. If the Nationals still have too many SP and if one of those players is still on the market, and if the Indians are in the hunt but not getting what we all hope for from the rotation, pull the trigger. But today, the rotation is young, talented, and a potential strength. Don't mortgage the future to "fix" that.