Nationals president of baseball operations Mike Rizzo said yesterday that the club plans to pursue rotation upgrades and it’s possible they have some self-imposed urgency in that search. Talk Nats reports that Rizzo wants to have a pitcher locked in before the end of the Winter Meetings, which conclude tomorrow. On a related note, Jesse Dougherty of The Washington Post reports that the club has had discussions with free agent Jordan Lyles.
The fact that the Nats are interested in starting pitchers is hardly shocking, given the uncertainty they have in that part of their roster. Stephen Strasburg has pitched just over 30 innings over the past three seasons combined and still isn’t sure what he can do in the future. Patrick Corbin still has two seasons remaining on his contract but has seen his ERA climb in four straight years, ending up at 6.31 in 2022. Apart from those two, the other rotation options are limited in experience and have concerns with either their health or performance. Josiah Gray has a 5.17 ERA through 219 1/3 career innings. Cade Cavalli made one MLB start before shoulder inflammation ended his 2022. MacKenzie Gore used to be the top pitching prospect in the sport but lost his command over 2020 and 2021. He got back on track in 2022 but then missed the second half of the season due to elbow inflammation.
Adding a stable veteran like Lyles into the mix would be plenty sensible, as that’s essentially the same role he just played in Baltimore in 2022. The rebuilding O’s had a similarly unclear rotation and signed Lyles to a one-year, $7MM guarantee with a club option for 2023. Lyles ended up making 32 starts for the club, absorbing 179 innings. His 4.42 ERA and 18.6% strikeout rate weren’t elite, but he limited walks to a 6.7% rate.
Those results are roughly in line with the numbers Lyles, now 32, has put up over his 12-year career. The O’s could have retained him for another season via a club option valued at $11MM but instead opted for the $1MM buyout, returning him to the open market. Most of the win-now teams will be focused on the starters with larger upside, with Jacob deGrom and Justin Verlander already off the board and Carlos Rodón seeming to have abundant interest. Back-end options like Lyles could wait around and see if those contenders will circle back to them later in the offseason, but some of them will also get some early interest. The O’s have already signed Kyle Gibson, effectively replacing Lyles as the veteran innings eater on the team. Meanwhile, the Rockies have re-signed José Ureña, the Tigers have added Matt Boyd and the Pirates have added Vince Velasquez. If the Nats like Lyles as their target for the stable vet, it’s possible for a deal to come together quickly.