The Nationals need help with the rotation.  They will see what the market offers.

The Nationals need help with the rotation. They will see what the market offers.

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SAN DIEGO — The last time Major League Baseball held in-person winter meetings, in 2019, the Washington Nationals pitching staff was the least of their worries. Fresh out of their first championship, the Nationals still caused a stir in December when they brought back World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg on a seven-year, $245 million deal. Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin were also there. Joe Ross, Erick Fedde and Austin Voth were expected to contribute in the future. Aníbal Sánchez was a safety net when needed.

Three years later, the Nationals are looking to add veteran weapons on a much smaller scale. Strasbourg have only pitched 31⅓ innings since picking up his contract, and his future is anything but certain. Scherzer was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers and is now pitching for National League East rival New York Mets. Ross had Tommy John surgery for the second time. Voth was slated for assignment last season and landed with the Baltimore Orioles. Fedde was not tendered last month. Until Strasbourg can sort things out, only a struggling Corbin remains for a rebuilding side that have gone through 15 starters in 2022.

So, with winter meetings underway, Washington will do what it can to improve its rotation.

“We already have a few starters in our rotation, but we don’t think we have enough,” manager Dave Martinez said Monday. “As the season progresses, things happen. We need [more starters]. Especially if we can get another veteran starter, that’ll be great – one or two.

On paper, the rotation is almost complete. Cade Cavalli, Josiah Gray and MacKenzie Gore are young centerpieces; Although Cavalli and Gore were injured late last season, Martinez said the two are on track for spring training. Corbin will be in the mix despite his massive struggles since playing in the World Series, leaving a spot the Nationals could fill internally.

They will seek the free agent market, but are extremely unlikely to make a move as big as their division rivals on Monday. Former Nationals shortstop Trea Turner has agreed to an 11-year, $300 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies, reuniting him with Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber. Hours earlier, the New York Mets landed American League Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander on a two-year, $86 million deal. All the while, the Nationals were quiet.

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Heading into the offseason, general manager Mike Rizzo highlighted the need for corner positions in the infield and in the outfield. They signed Jeimer Candelario to a one-year contract last week; Martinez and Rizzo said he would be running for third base with Carter Kieboom. The Nationals also signed Stone Garrett for outfield depth.

But reinforcements are needed for a rotation that finished last of the majors in ERA (5.97) and struggled to eat innings.

“We need the guys to go a little further in the games,” Martinez said. “Our bullpen, I think, was a big strength for us last year, but I can’t do that to them this year when they’re covering so many innings.”

Rizzo said durability will be a major consideration, but noted his team is looking for the pitcher who can have the most impact. That said, the market price for impact pitching, even on a one-year contract, is high.

Mike Clevinger, who had a 4.33 ERA in 23 games (22 starts) last year, signed a one-year contract worth at least $12 million with the Chicago White Sox in the end of last month. Matthew Boyd, who finished last season as a reliever with the Seattle Mariners, returned to the Detroit Tigers for $10 million.

If the Nationals want to improve their rotation significantly, they probably need to make an investment.

“Few seasons you go through with five starting pitchers,” Rizzo said. “You never have enough depth. … We are always looking to modernize. We’re not going to add anything that isn’t an improvement. But we are looking to improve the starting launch, above all.

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At general manager meetings last month, Rizzo said he believes his pitching philosophy still holds true: develop your own pitchers, then bring in a few from outside to build a solid rotation. The Nationals can watch Cavalli, Gray and Gore for another season before figuring out when to get aggressive in free agency.

Of course, the Nationals had hoped their rotation would be anchored by Strasbourg, but his health remains an unanswered question. He had surgery for carpal tunnel neuritis in 2020 and then for thoracic outlet syndrome in 2021. Last season he made just one start before landing on the injured list again .

Martinez and Rizzo reiterated on Monday that they will not set a timetable for Strasbourg’s return. In the meantime, they will consider free agency to fill the void.

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