Next in line for my new plan for the Nats are Starting Pitchers. Follow along with the series here.
From my observations, the Nats have one lock for the rotation: John Lannan. I expect a spot to be given to Strasburg (whether he deserves it or not) and another to be reserved for some combination of Detwiler/Stammen/Mock/Martin. That leaves two open spots for the Nats to fill in the free agent market. The Washington Times went through some candidates today and came out suggesting Randy Wolf and Jon Garland.
John Lackey (RHP-Type A Free Agent)
Lackey is the only real ace on the market. He's due for a big pay day and hasn't shown any regression from his career averages even at age 30. My concern is that he'll be looking for a 4 or 5 year deal, which isn't something I ever want to give to a pitcher on the wrong side of 30. Still, he's the crown jewel of the market...I just doubt the Nats will get in on the bidding war.
Randy Wolf (LHP-Type A)
Randy Wolf has not been very consistent since turning 30, but a very good past two years has vaulted him into Type A status. I don't advocate signing type A free agents unless they're really difference makers, and don't think Wolf is really one. With injury concerns and ineffectiveness from 2005-07, I think the Nats should stay away.
Rich Harden (RHP-Type A)
Harden is a completely different animal from Wolf (no pun intended). He is immensely talented and has shown pretty good results over the years, but can never seem to stay healthy. I think the Nats are best off staying away from Harden as well, as they can find similarly talented and injury prone pitchers without having to give up a pick.
Jon Garland (RHP-Type B, 2010 option)
Garland is a nightmare for me to evaluate. He always puts up 190+ innings and double digit wins despite being, well, average. He doesn't strike anybody out and gives up a decent bit of runs, but he finds a way to win. He's actually a lot younger than I thought (turns 30 later this month). He could be valuable to eat innings, but I don't think he's much of an improvement over Livan Hernandez to be honest.
Jason Marquis (RHP-Type B)
Marquis is essentially the same pitcher as Garland from a statistical standpoint. He strikes out a few more batters, walks a few more, and keeps the ball in the yard a little better, but he's still an average pitcher. For some reason, I think Marquis will age better than Garland, so I wouldn't mind seeing the Nats go after him.
Joel Pineiro (RHP-Type B)
Will the real Joel Pineiro please stand up? His groundball rates are significantly higher than at any other point in his career, and his ERA is much lower. I don't expect him to be nearly as good as he was this season, but he's a pretty good pitcher to be honest. His "bad years" in 2005 and 06 look more unlucky (and perhaps caused by injury) than simply "bad." I think Pineiro is better than Marquis and Garland, but not as much of a known quantity. What I do know is that I would be intrigued by him (in a good way) starting for the Nats in 2010.
Tim Hudson (RHP-2010 option)
It all depends on whether or not the Braves pick up his $12 million option for next year (I don't expect them to, although they could bypass it with an extension). Hudson is a really, really good pitcher bouncing back from injury after a decade of health and prosperity. His first three starts back have looked pretty in tune with is career averages (small sample size). I'd like the Nats to chase Hudson, as he could be a great mentor for Strasburg and the staff.
Carl Pavano (RHP)
Pavano has been much better in 2009 than his numbers have indicated. I think he could be good for 200 innings of around a 4-4.25 ERA next year for a very reasonable price. The risk is a bit higher than with most, but I like Pavano's chances to return to being a pretty good pitcher.
Erik Bedard (LHP, Type B), Brandon Webb (RHP, Type B, 2010 Option), Justin Duchsherer (RHP, Type B) and Ben Sheets (RHP)
This is the Nats' real chance to snag an ace. Signing one of these guys would give the Nats another Shawn Hill or John Patterson, but I'd take 10 Justin Duchsherer starts and 25 Craig Stammen starts over 35 Jon Garland starts any day (ironically, FanGraphs used Sheets and Garland to show how A + Replacement >= B before the 2009 season).
This blog advocates signing two free agent starters: one of either John Lackey, Jason Marquis or Joel Pineiro as well as one of either Justin Duchsherer or Carl Pavano.
2009 production by Nats Starting Pitchers to date: 30-55, 5.07 ERA, 6 CG, 1 shutout, 779 and 2/3 IP, 5.2 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, 1.485 WHIP
2010 projection: Better peripherals, more innings pitched, similar ERA.
A list of the Nats currently under contract can also be found at Cot's.
The latest projected Elias Rankings (for Type A/B Free Agent purposes) can be found at MLB Trade Rumors.