Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin will combine to make $78.9 million -- roughly -- this season. Between ownership’s willingness to distribute long contracts for starting pitchers, and Mike Rizzo’s affinity to build the team from that spot, Washington has ended up paying for its top three in a way no other team does.
So, are they worth the money?
Last year would make “yes” the clear answer. Those three dragged the Nationals’ pitching staff through the playoffs to a World Series title. Strasburg was named World Series MVP, Scherzer a Cy Young finalist, and Corbin operated the most versatile weapon the Nationals had.
They remain in Washington for two more years. When this season begins, will they be the top trio in starting rotations? Yes, but it’s close. Let’s look at the top 10 rankings for the 2020 season.
Max Scherzer 5.7 (2019 Baseball-Reference WAR)
Stephen Strasburg 6.4
Patrick Corbin 5.4
Overview: The question for this trio revolves around usage and age. Following extensive work in October, Washington had to figure out a process to make sure the group was ready for Opening Day, but not push too much in spring training. Now, the large delay to the start of the season plays in their favor. The age part will come into play for Scherzer. He turns 36 years old on July 27. His age will be discussed until he retires. And, his ability to make it seem moot will be the central part of that discussion.
2. New York Mets
Jacob deGrom 8.2
Noah Syndergaard 2.5
Marcus Stroman 4.3
Overview: This is as much about deGrom as the group. The National League’s back-to-back Cy Young winner is 31 years old but has thrown just 1,101 ⅔ innings. He’s six seasons into what is becoming a monster career and nothing which occurred last year indicates he shouldn’t be as good this year. Syndergaard remains a conundrum of potential. His rate of home runs allowed almost doubled year-over-year. Stroman needs command of the ball and his emotions in order to be his most effective. But, put the best seasons from these three together, and it could be a powerful trio.
Justin Verlander 7.3
Zack Greinke 6.0
Lance McCullers Jr. 1.7 (2018)
Overview: The top two here are likely to decline a bit. However, what they did last year shows they have plenty remaining to enable them to pitch well. Verlander was again a Cy Young finalist. Greinke is striking out far fewer batters, but has long known how to pitch and is probably still wondering why A.J. Hinch took him out of Game 7. McCullers is returning from Tommy John surgery. He’s just 26 years old and the start of his career suggests a very good third option lurks with him.
Corey Kluber -0.4 (5.7 in 2018)
Mike Minor 7.7
Lance Lynn 7.5
Overview: Surprising, right? This is based on the assumption Kluber returns to something near his normal. Even if Kluber is the third wheel in Texas after breaking his arm last year, the Rangers still have a potent trio. Call him a 4-WAR pitcher. Adding that to Minor and Lynn -- both of whom should regress -- and three heavy starters appear. If Kluber is what he was in Cleveland, this may be the second-best group.
5. Tampa Bay
Blake Snell 1.4 (7.1 in 2018)
Tyler Glasnow 2.5 (12 starts)
Charlie Morton 4.9
Overview: This is more about potential. Snell is somewhere between his 2018 Cy Young season and his 2019 laboring, which would make him a pitcher hovering around a 3.00 ERA despite being in the American League East. Glasnow seemed to figure everything out before getting hurt last season, then returned just as good, if not better, following forearm tightness. Morton has established himself as a solid major-league pitcher.
Honorable mention: Atlanta, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Los Angeles Dodgers
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