Should the Nationals trade a reliever?

After their signing of Rafael Soriano last week, the Washington Nationals have an absolutely loaded bullpen, with Soriano joining Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen, and Craig Stammen, among others. But in his column posted this morning, Ken Rosenthal of Fox noted that Washington could look to deal Clippard or Storen, while signing a starting pitcher and moving current fifth starter Ross Detwiler to the bullpen.

If there's such a thing as overkill, it would be the Nationals signing another veteran starting pitcher (following their one-year deal with Dan Haren earlier this winter). While a rotation of Strasburg-Gonzalez-Zimmermann-Haren and Javier Vazquez or Kyle Lohse would look pretty good, is the upgrade from Detwiler to Vazquez or Lohse really that much of an improvement? In 164 1/3 innings last season, Detwiler was worth 1.8 fWAR while making under 500 grand. This year, his salary has jumped to a whopping $2.3 million, or about a quarter of what Lohse would likely earn and probably a third of what Vazquez would earn.

The 34-year old Lohse had a career year in 2012, posting a 2.86 ERA and 3.4 fWAR in 211 innings. That's all well and good, but is the benefit of a win and a half really worth the extra seven or eight million in salary for 2013? Of course, that's even assuming that the 2012 Lohse shows up again in Washington in 2012. In 2011, Lohse had a 3.39 ERA and accrued 2.5 fWAR in 188 1/3 innings, and in 2009 and 2010, he combined to throw just 209 2/3 innings and total 1.5 fWAR. That doesn't look like a huge upgrade over Detwiler to me, especially considering that Detwiler is a whopping seven years younger than Lohse and has much less mileage on his arm.

As for replacing Detwiler with Vazquez, that actually makes more sense than trading for Lohse, but there is still a lot of risk involved. Vazquez didn't pitch in the majors last year at all, and he's even older than Lohse at 36. Vazquez would be, at the very worst, an innings eater for the Nationals with little chance of injury.

But that brings me back to the point of the article: would an upgrade in the rotation really be worth it when Washington would be harming their bullpen? While Clippard and Storen have each been pushed out of their roles after the Soriano signing, both are still excellent relievers with several years of control (two for Clippard, three for Storen) remaining after 2013. Clippard has been a one win guy for each of the last three seasons while striking out nearly 30% of his batters faced. While Storen hasn't hit the one win plateau during his career, he's been solid enough and hasn't been a drain on the team.

Just because Detwiler was a solid enough starter for the Nationals last season doesn't mean that he can slide right into the bullpen and be an even better reliever. In his career as a reliever, Detwiler has had an awesome 1.11 ERA in 32 1/3 innings, but has struck out only 23 while walking 15. That's nowhere near the level of dominane of Clippard and Storen (albeit in a small sample), and thinking that it would be a seamless transition is a bit of flawed logic. As constructed right now, the Nationals are a solid World Series contender, and they don't need to continue to tinker with their team. Getting involved in a multi-year contract with Lohse or rolling the dice with Vazquez would reek of a desperation move, and the Nationals aren't desperate. Their payroll for 2013 will be north of $110 million, and they've already got $78 million committed for 2014 (without even considering Strasburg's first arbitration season). Throwing around even more money to solve a problem that isn't even a problem would be reckless, and the risks would by far outweigh the rewards for Washington.

About Joe Lucia

I hate your favorite team. I also sort of hate most of my favorite teams.