The Washington Nationals have signed Jason Marquis to a two year contract worth $15 million, the team announced today. The 31-year-old righthander was pursued by both the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies — but the former Braves-Cards-Cubs-Rockies front-liner had said just two weeks ago that he would consider the Nats. The signing of Ivan Rodriguez probably did as much as the silver-tongued convictions of Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo: the Rodriguez signing was a needed first step in convincing baseballs’ 2009’s free agent class (and particularly the pitchers) that Washington had changed its ways and was committed to winning. What is so surprising about Marquis is that, despite his obvious talent, he has been kicked around to four teams in an otherwise solid career — he was 15-7 for the 2004 Redbirds, but was left off the postseason roster and 11-9 for the hardly pitch-rich 2008 Chicago Cubs, whose management spent the year bad-mouthing him.
The “Jason is good but not great” label and even “too inconsistent” (a puzzling tag given him by Cubs whiner Lou Piniella) shouldn’t bother the Nats, who need all kinds of things: an innings eater (Marquis consumed 216 frames last year with the Heltons), a mentor for their young pitching staff (he’s 31, they’re 14), someone who throws down in the zone (he’s a ground ball wizard), a history of good health (he has only flirted with the DL) , an experienced hand with all the right role models (Greg Maddux!) and an all around good citizen (three kids, one wife, no Milton Bradley software). There are things not to like about Marquis, I suppose: he’s not Walter Johnson (and never will be), but he’s also not Daniel Cabrera. And he will come into Washington as the number one guy on the staff — something he’s never been. Then too, the Nats and Rizzo have been navigating the league’s treacherous off-season waters not only with sophistication (the Brian Bruney pick-up gives them a solid back-of-the-rotation stopper), but with something approaching actual insight. Rizzo has deftly ticked off a list of must-haves that, in the space of one month, has remade the team into a middle-of-the standings .500 club that has given the Nats something approaching league-wide respectability, something they haven’t had since the middle-of-the-decade.
There are skeptics: Tim Dierkes at MLB Trade Rumors thinks the Nats overspent: ” . . . this is an uninspired move by the Nationals,” he writes. “I understand that an innings-eater is needed to take pressure off young pitchers, but it’s likely that similar pitchers will be available in March at a fraction of the commitment. Plus, unlike an Erik Bedard type gamble, Marquis doesn’t have upside.” Here’s what I take to be the rough translation: Marquis is not John Lackey (which is true enough) and he’s not a roll of the dice — which is precisely what (as the Seattle Navigators will tell you) Eric Bedard would bring, along with a stint on the 30, 45 or 60 day DL. Then too, as Tim must know, the inspired Cubs of 2008 deemed Marquis not good enough to stick with the club, choosing instead to spend their money elsewhere. They regretted the decision last June, when Marquis was lining himself up as Colorado’s best producer, while the Cubs were holding a tryout for Randy Wells.