*This column was originally published on Baseball Hot Corner.
The Washington Nationals shored up the best starting rotation in baseball with their surprise signing of prized free agent, Max Scherzer. Well, that is, the best rotation on paper.
Last year, the San Francisco Giants won the World Series with a one-man rotation namedMadison Bumgarner. This is far from ideal, and even the Giants will admit that their plan wasn’t for Bumgarner to have the greatest World Series pitching performance in the history of baseball while the rest of their rotation crumbled to the ground. What the signing signing of Scherzer means for the rest of baseball is that a starting five of Scherzer, Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Doug Fister is the best starting rotation on paper in baseball, with another viable option of Tanner Roark pushed to the bullpen. Signing a 30-year-old pitcher to a seven-year contract worth more than $180 million will also make you seriously consider shaking up your team for the future due to financial problems. In the Nationals’ case, they cannot be thinking like this.
Of all teams in baseball, the Nationals have seen how difficult it is to win a World Series in recent years. Somehow the Giants, who have not been anywhere close to as talented as the Nationals on paper, have won three out of the last five years. No matter how easy they have made it, simply, it is not that easy.
Remember 2012? Nationals fans certainly do. After 159 1/3 innings pitched in his first full season since undergoing Tommy John surgery, the Nationals shut down Strasburg for the rest of the season. At the time of the decision, Strasburg was 15-6 with a 3.16 ERA, 2.83 FIP, 1.155 WHIP, and 197 strikeouts while making the All-Star team for the first time. The playoffs were headed to D.C. for the first time since 1933, but their staff ace wasn’t going to join them. What happened that year for the Nationals without Strasburg? Only a devastating loss in Game 5 of the NLDS to the St. Louis Cardinals and then failing to make the playoffs a year later.
In sports, windows for ultimate success are too short to mess with. When a team has a serious shot at a title, they need to go for it. Luckily for the Nationals, they currently sit in the best of both worlds with the ability to go all in for the 2015 World Series, and stay optimistic for the future with a young talent at the MLB and minor league level at positions all over the field.
The signing of Scherzer has brought rumors of the Nationals trading either Strasburg (26 years old, 2017 free agent) or Zimmerman (28 years old, 2016 free agent). Fister, 30, also becomes a free agent after this season and Gonzalez, 29, is also a free agent in 2017 with an option for 2018. With Strasburg and Zimmermann as the options to garner the most money in free agency and the biggest return in a trade, it makes sense why their names are swirling as a trade bait before they hit the open market. Except, with the Nationals it doesn’t make sense.
When the rumors began swirling, especially with Strasburg, I began shaking my head. It didn’t make sense and here’s why. Prospect rankings done by MLB.com have 11 pitchers in their top 20 prospect list. The team’s top prospect, Lucas Giolito, is considered the top pitching prospect in baseball by many people in the industry. A tweet today from Jeff Passan of Yahoo! furthered my reasoning for keeping Washington’s current rotation together.
The Nationals have the pieces to win a World Series this year. After losing in the NLDS in both 2012 and 2014 and missing the playoffs completely in 2013, the Nationals need to jump at their opportunity. Their talent and depth on paper is above any other team’s in baseball right now. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Let this team compete the best it can in 2015 while trusting your promising young talent to take over at the MLB level soon, too.