Todd Dybas

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Tanner Roark is out, who could be in?

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Tanner Roark is out, who could be in?

LAS VEGAS -- Let’s strip the name and take a blank taste test. Wednesday, the Nationals sent an average of 197 innings out the door. That’s 591 outs. It’s not something to shrug off.

Trading Tanner Roark for a reliever, a minor-league one at that, extracts a path to almost 600 outs. The Nationals need to find a new one. Choices to do so aren’t very enticing.

They are back in the starting pitching market because of Roark’s regression the last two seasons coupling with an increase in pay. He’s expected to earn around $10 million out of salary arbitration. The Nationals are gambling they can find equal effectiveness through another starter -- or two.

There’s money to allocate now. It’s not much for the remaining upper tier of free agents. It’s sufficient to bring in someone on a one- or two-year deal and perhaps apply to a more versatile bench piece than a straight backup at first base.

Washington made Patrick Corbin the highest-paid pitcher this offseason. He was priority one. In a vacuum, he may not be worth six years and $140 million. But not all players carry the same value with every franchise. The Nationals had a clear need for another potent starter, and preferably a left-handed one at that. They received the combination with Corbin.

The challenge for the Nationals is handling this market after Charlie Morton and Lance Lynn complicated it. Morton signed a two-year, $30 million deal with Tampa Bay. Lynn received a three-year, $30 million contract from the Texas Rangers. If the Nationals didn’t want to pay Roark $10 million, they surely don’t want to pay another pitcher something near what Morton and Lynn received, even if it allows more control. Roark was entering the last year of his contract.

Dallas Keuchel remains atop the available starters. By WAR, the next-best available pitcher is 34-year-old Anibal Sanchez. He put together what appears to be an outlier season in 2018 following three consecutive years of significant regression. Sanchez’s ERA-plus went 80, 73, 70 before spiking to 143 last season, the third-best mark of his 13-year career. Sanchez has also averaged just 138 innings pitched on average the last four years. That’s a lot of outs between the workload Roark handled and Sanchez has as he heads into his age-35 season.

Next on the list by WAR? Gio Gonzalez. Moving on.

After that? Not much inspiration. Left-hander Wade Miley pitched well in just 16 starts last season. He has a carer 4.26 ERA. Miley has not put together a strong full season since 2013.

Matt Harvey? Trevor Cahill? Clay Buchholz?

Brett Anderson? James Shields? Jason Hammel?

These are not exactly places to hang your hat.

However, the Nationals have little choice. Their solution to replace Roark’s outs will come from outside the organization. Depth at Triple-A Fresno is negligible. Options in Double-A to help the rotation now are non-existent.

They have one intriguing pitcher lurking: Henderson Alvarez. The Nationals signed him to a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training.

“Chance to make the team, if not, to pitch in Triple A for us,” Mike Rizzo said of his outlook on Alvarez.

Alvarez threw a no-hitter in 2013. He was an All-Star in 2014. Shoulder surgery was followed by shoulder discomfort, then another shoulder surgery. Alvarez didn’t pitch in 2016. He started three games for Philadelphia in 2017. He then pitched in the Mexican League in 2018, where he finished with 4.60 ERA in nine starts. The wildest of wild cards here.

Washington has also kept an eye on Japanese left-hander Yusei Kikuchi, who is available through posting system.

Somewhere, they need to find another 180 innings.

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Scott Boras circus lights up Winter Meetings

Scott Boras circus lights up Winter Meetings

LAS VEGAS -- Scott Boras slid through a crush of media to step onto a 1630 Pelican Transport case in front of a 25-foot tall Christmas tree with 2,240 ornaments Wednesday, then stole its shine.

If that sounds silly, or over the top, or extravagant, it should. For anyone else. This is standard for Boras, agent to the stars, voluminous speaker, deliverer of ideas on how to shape the world around him.

He’s also Bryce Harper’s agent. That made Boras more in demand Wednesday than any time prior in his life. The Alex Rodriguez chase of 2000 delivered a mania of its own. But not like this. Not in the age of cell phones and social media, when passersby in Mandalay Bay stopped to ask whose skull was raised two feet above all else thanks to the boost from a hard exterior case designed to protect television equipment. Security shooed them along.

Boras touched on Harper’s status, the extension process with Anthony Rendon, how he would change the playoffs, and dropped a nurse-thermometer reference when talking about the New York Yankees. He spent more than an hour on center stage with the giant tree sparkling behind his 66-year-old head. Boras appearing after a puff of smoke or being lowered from the ceiling to his speaking spot would not have seemed out of place.

Chopping through his statements revealed little. Harper met with several teams. The Nationals are still in the mix, as much as they can be if their top offer is $300 million. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman backed away from the idea of signing Harper on Tuesday. Boras reeled him back in Wednesday. 

“When you're talking about star players, I go back to Mark Teixeira,” Boras said. “The Yankees are very adept. If they're going to do something, I think they can earnestly tell you that right now they're not doing it, and have every intention of doing something else when it's best for them to do it.

“When the nurse walks in the room with a thermometer, the issue is not what the thermometer says that day. The issue is the health of the patient when they're ready to leave the hospital. They're not ready to leave the hospital yet.”

So, there’s that.

The Nationals are not out of this. According to Mike Rizzo and Boras, anyway. Doors are open, but likely only propped by a foot, a touch of light squeezing through. Boras and Rizzo have been on-message since Nationals managing principal owner Mark Lerner suggested last week Harper’s future lay elsewhere.

“I’ve heard resonance of it,” Boras told NBC Sports Washington about Lerner’s comments. “Whenever I talk to Mark or Ted Lerner or Mike Rizzo, from our standpoint, their door is very open to us and our door is very open to them. We’ve always had a great working relationship, we will continue to do so and we’ll continue to have dialogue on this subject.”

Rizzo said Wednesday, like he said Tuesday, the Nationals have no scheduled meeting with Harper while in his hometown. He gave a quick summary of why Wednesday from a posh, bright white suite near the top of the Delano hotel.

“We know Bryce better than anyone in this building,” Rizzo said. 

And Boras knows them equally well. 

“The Lerners and Bryce are both collectively going to do what’s best for them,” Boras told NBC Sports Washington. “I think going into this situation in D.C. whether it be Max [Scherzer] or [Stephen Strasburg] or even the draft picks themselves, we’ve had very productive results and the franchise has grown dramatically. They’re a multi-billion dollar franchise. Their attendance has gone up from way back when they started in the early 2010s. The winning has been great. I’m sure they want to get to the higher levels. But for franchises that hope to aspire to where they are, I think it’s all gone positively. It’s been a great working relationship with the Lerner family and the Nationals and Mike Rizzo. For those reasons we just continue to talk and see where we can go.”

Boras was at Nationals Park for Harper’s last home game, an attempt at final resonance struck down by rain. Harper took the uncommon action of coming to work early that day. He pulled on his Nationals jersey long before anyone else in the clubhouse was dressed. Most days, he moved about in a sleeveless gray sweatshirt with his “BH” logo in red across the front. Not that day. He knew it could be the end. So did Boras.

Harper’s long-anticipated move into free agency followed, becoming the rarest of experiences in his life: something new. Harper has managed media and fame from the time he was 16 years old. His laps around the baseball world finished early. However, he’s never been through this. Harper doesn’t know -- yet -- where he will play next year. He has to discuss it with his wife, Kayla, and his father, Ron. So many factors abound when making what could be a decade-long decision.

“I think when you’re in Bryce’s shoes, you have no way of really knowing how this is going to turn out,” Boras told me. “He has great regard for the organization, Washington fans, his teammates. There is certainly a potential where that [final] day could come. It could be his last day wearing that [Nationals] uniform. And there’s potential where it could go on for the eternity of his career.” 

Boras finished his day by swashbuckling through a series of individual interviews. He compared his hotel room to Penn Station, satiated a gaggle of foreign press members, then rolled into the late afternoon dusk. Once he was gone, the tree resumed its station as the hall’s brightest light.

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Nationals trade Tanner Roark to Reds for reliever Tanner Rainey

Nationals trade Tanner Roark to Reds for reliever Tanner Rainey

LAS VEGAS -- In a surprise, pro-active thinning of their rotation, the Nationals traded reliable starter Tanner Roark to the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday for a reliever who played in Triple-A Louisville last season, Tanner Rainey.

Less than two hours after general manager Mike Rizzo told reporters nothing was imminent, the team announced a deal to send a key rotation piece to Cincinnati.

“Surprised but it's the name of the game,” Roark said on a conference call. “This is the way this business is. So I'm a Cincinnati Red now, so pretty excited.”

The move immediately opens a hole among the Nationals’ starting pitchers. Roark could be counted on for 180 innings of work per year. He was mediocre last season, finishing with a 4.34 ERA. Roark delivered a 4.67 ERA the season prior to that.

But, Roark was a quality pitcher for multiple seasons despite being miscast in the bullpen in 2015 before returning to the rotation.

Roark’s stint in the bullpen stayed with him during his time in Washington. He said he’s over it now.

“No, life's too short to hold grudges,” Roark said. “But that's what they wanted to do, you know. If they can live with it, then they live with it, you know? They treated me great. But there were times too where I would be very frustrated and I'd get pissed off. But that made me stronger mentally and how to handle certain things like that. So it helped me.”

The Nationals have little to replace him. Joe Ross and Erick Fedde were expected to compete for the No. 5 spot in the rotation. Extracting Roark opens two spots for two pitchers the Nationals can not rely on.

Ross still has to be monitored following his return from Tommy John surgery. Fedde’s results haven’t shown he is ready for a regular rotation spot at the major-league level. There are few to no options in the minor leagues.

Roark was expected to earn around $10 million following salary arbitration this season. Sending him to the Reds puts the Nationals on the hunt for another starter, perhaps a younger one near the same price but with more years of control.

Adding to the oddity of the trade are Rizzo’s recent comments about the importance of pitching depth as well as a statement that he would need to receive a starting pitcher in return for Roark.

What general managers say in public at the Winter Meetings always comes with a caveat as far as the truth is concerned, but both those points fit here, and yet neither were followed.

The right-handed Rainey has been clocked as high as 102 mph during his time in the minor leagues. He was 7-2 with a 2.65 ERA in 44 games last season out of the bullpen for Louisville. He could slot into the Nationals’ bullpen as soon as this season. He surely will be invited to spring training at West Palm Beach to receive a look. Command is his main issue.

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