"The Nationals are one of several teams who have expressed interest in free agent right-hander John Lackey, according to a baseball source.
The team is reportedly in competition with the Angels, Red Sox, Yankees and Mets for his services.
The Nationals are looking for an ace who can tutor pitchers such as John Lannan, Ross Detwiler and Stephen Strasburg. Washington has been looking for this type of pitcher since after the Trade Deadline. It ended up signing right-hander Livan Hernandez in late August. While he did a good job for the Nationals, it's less than 50-50 that he will return to the club.
Lackey, who is 31 years old, has played his entire eight-year career with the Angels. He has won 102 games and has averaged 187 innings per season. His best season was in 2007, when he went 19-9 with a 3.01 ERA with Los Angeles."
Look, I can understand why a team like the Nationals would want to go out and sign John Lackey. He would be the immediate ace of the staff and give the Nationals a presence at the top of the rotation that they have never had before. In addition, Lackey would be a great mentor to Stephen Strasburg, John Lannan, and all the other young pitchers the Nationals have in their system. It might take years for the Nationals to put all the pieces together, but adding Lackey would certainly jump start the process.
However, adding John Lackey right now is the wrong move for the Nationals. Last season, the Nationals' payroll was a diminutive $60 million dollars, which was one of the lowest in baseball. After arbitration, the Nationals should have roughly $30-$40 million committed to player salaries next season, which should give them some payroll flexibility (around $15-$20 million at least) if their payroll is to remain at or around $60 million.
In that sense, the Nationals can afford to sign John Lackey. If the Nationals have $15-$20 million to spend, then conceivably, the team would be able to throw the big bucks Lackey's way. Lackey is expected to command a deal around $15 million annually for 5-6 seasons.
But just because the Nationals might be able to afford John Lackey, doesn't mean that the team should necessarily go out and do it. If the payroll stays at (or below) $60 million next season, then the Nationals would have to spend roughly 1/4th of their total payroll to sign John Lackey. Outside of Albert Pujols, there is no one player in baseball, who we can honestly say would be worth that much of his team's total payroll. Teams simply cannot sustain success over a period of time with that economic model.
And when you take into account that Lackey is 31 years old and coming off two consecutive seasons where he missed time because of arm injuries, that hefty commitment seems like a horrible risk for the rebuilding Nationals to take.
Don't get me wrong here: I would love to see the Nationals take a shot and go out and sign John Lackey. The Lerners have a reputation of being cheap owners and I would love nothing more than to see them make a big splash, help bring a better product to DC, and finally begin to infuse some life into Nationals' baseball. But right now is not the time. Unless the Nationals have plans to increase payroll in the very near future to at least $80 million, then this deal should be nothing more than a dream.
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