As pitchers and catchers now report to Viera less than a month from today, general manager Mike Rizzo and the Nationals front office find themselves with most of their offseason “To-Do List” completed, aside from a potential Mike Morse trade. That said, there is a surprising amount of talent still available in free agency and while every team could use top free agents Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse even this late in the offseason if they could afford them, there are several other cheaper options that could bolster the Nationals roster if they can find some additional money within their payroll. I examined the free agents still available and here are a few interesting names the Nationals should consider adding before flying south to Florida next month.
Erik Bedard -> At first glance Bedard’s numbers from 2012, a 7-14 record with a 5.01 ERA and 1.472 WHIP in 24 starts, would lead one to believe his injury-riddled career at 33-years-old is finished. On the other hand, last season Bedard did strike out 118 hitters in 125.2 innings pitched and he held left-handed batters to a .218/.306/.322 batting line, leading me to believe a shift to the bullpen could extend his career another season or two. Obviously he has flaws and a strong risk of failure, but on a minor league contract, Bedard has a slight chance of becoming a productive left-handed reliever.
Scott Hairston -> Hairston is rumored to be seeking a 2-year contract after hitting .263/.299/.504 in 377 at-bats for the Mets last season and is worthy of more playing time than the Nationals could offer him in 2013. That said, his ability to punish left-handed pitching (.276/.325/.500 career vs. LHP), his versatility defensively, right-handed bat, and veteran leadership would be extremely beneficial to the Nationals off the bench next season if they could convince him to come to Washington.
Jair Jurrjens -> Struggling through an injury-plagued and nightmare 2012, the 26-year-old Jurrjens posted a 6.89 ERA and 1.862 WHIP in 48.1 innings before a midseason demotion to Triple-A, where he further struggled, eventually forcing the Braves to decline to tender him a contract at the end of the season. Only one season removed from a 2011 All-Star appearance with a 13-6 record and a 2.96 ERA in 152 innings and an accomplished starter with a 3.69 ERA in 750.1 career innings, Jurrjens could benefit from a change of scenery and on a minor league deal or a major league contract with a small guarantee, could be one of the better value signings of the offseason.
Jose Valverde -> Last season at 34-years-old, Valverde showed he has lost his closer-type stuff, as his strikeout rate fell to 6.3 per 9 innings and his hit rate increased to 7.7 per 9 innings, leading to a 3.78 ERA in 2012 and a meltdown as the Tigers closer in the playoffs. Valverde may no longer be a devastating closer, but he only allowed 3 home runs in 69 innings last season, and held right-handed batters to a .193/.270/.246 batting line in 114 at-bats. With the expectation Tyler Clippard and Craig Stammen will face more left-handed hitters this season due to the loss of Sean Burnett, Mike Gonzalez, and Tom Gorzelanny, Valverde’s effectiveness against right-handed hitters and 277 career saves could be an asset in middle relief for the still-youthful Nationals bullpen.
Javy Vazquez -> Rumored to be throwing 92-95mph down in the Puerto Rican winter league after taking the 2012 season off, Vazquez was still extremely effective in 2011 at 34-years-old with a 13-11 record and a 3.69 ERA in 32 starts and 192.2 innings pitched and was outstanding down the stretch, posting a 1.92 ERA and a 115/19 K/BB ratio over his final 19 starts. Mike Rizzo has been rumored to be heavily pursuing Vazquez, which runs contrary to his modus operandi of stealth activity, and although the starting rotation seems full right now, his signing would give the Nationals outstanding depth and bolster the Nationals pitching staff overall. He likely can find a larger paycheck and opportunity elsewhere, so Rizzo and Davey Johnson will need another outstanding recruiting pitch this winter to get the now 36-year-old Vazquez out of retirement and into a Nats uniform.
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