Washington acquired three relief pitchers – Daniel Hudson, Roenis Elias and Hunter Strickland – prior to Wednesday’s trade deadline, but the club also attempted to bolster its starting staff before then. While the Nationals “were engaged on a starting pitcher Tuesday night,” the other team bowed out of talks, Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post reports. The Nats were in the mix for a No. 5-caliber starter, and had they landed him, they wouldn’t have come away with as many relievers as they did, according to Svrluga.
As expected, the competitive balance tax was a concern for the Nationals as they tried to improve in advance of the deadline, Svrluga writes. The Nationals entered the season reluctant to exceed the $206MM tax, which would’ve meant shelling out a 50 percent surtax for every dollar spent over that figure. Even after the acquisitions of Hudson, Elias and Strickland, they’re at just under $204MM, Jason Martinez of Roster Resource and FanGraphs estimates. Consequently, after exceeding the tax for two straight years, the Nationals are in position to stay below it this season. They paid $2,386,097 for going over the barrier in 2018.
It’s highly debatable whether the Nationals should have been so bent on steering clear of the tax this year. After all, as Svrluga notes, what’s a couple million more for a team spending upward of $200MM on players? But it was nonetheless important for the Nationals, who are slated to reset the tax by avoiding it this season. General manager Mike Rizzo did admit, though, that “it limited us to an extent.”
While Rizzo was seemingly able to improve a bullpen that has been problematic all season, he wasn’t able to address a rotation with concerns of its own. All-world ace Max Scherzer just landed on the injured list Monday for the second time in the past few weeks because of back/shoulder troubles, leaving Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez as the only established pieces in the Nationals’ rotation right now. Erick Fedde and Joe Ross, both unproven at the major league level, are filling out the group at the moment. The Nationals (57-51) are tied for the NL’s second wild-card spot, but we’ll see whether their insistence on dodging the tax comes back to haunt them before the season ends.