August 1, 2010

Maya Signs: World Series in 2012?

It's official. 28-year-old Cuban ace Yunesky Maya is the first major international signing of the Mike Rizzo era. The agreement, first reported in mid-July, was completed this weekend. Maya's major league contract will be worth between $6-8M over the next four years, and he could pitch for the Nationals before the season is out.

Maya doesn't have the raw talent of his countryman Aroldis Chapman, but he is by all accounts a polished veteran with a low-90s fastball and developed secondary pitches. With a career 2.51 ERA in Cuba (and a 1.73 ERA in the World Baseball Classic) there's reason to think that Maya could be a middle-of-the-rotation MLB starter right away. Given the parade of forgettables that have occupied that spot for the Nationals over the last five seasons, this signing is cause for legitimate optimism.

There's a great deal of assumption, wishful thinking, and finger-crossing that goes into projecting any roster into the future, but if Maya and Jordan Zimmermann have successful cups of coffee to close out 2010, and Stephen Strasburg's $15M shoulder gets a clean bill of health, the three of them could headline a formidable 2011 rotation. Mike Rizzo and Jim Riggleman would have the luxury of choosing between established veterans Jason Marquis and Livan Hernandez, comeback players like Chien-Ming Wang, John Lannan and Scott Olsen, or a talented youngster like Ross Detwiler to round out the starting five.

Depth would then come from some combination of those guys and AAAA veterans like Craig Stammen, Luis Atilano, J.D. Martin and Matt Chico. All of the aforementioned have had at least some measure of big league success and could presumably be counted on to fill in for a start or two without melting down in the spotlight.

Of course, an injury to one or more of the potential "Big 3" would be a serious setback (and with Zimmermann only a year removed from Tommy John surgery, not all that unlikely.) Any major league team needs at least seven starting pitchers to get through a 162-game season. But you also need luck to have the replacements fill in for your 4 and 5 guys, not your ace and No. 2. Still, if Strasburg, Zimmermann and Maya can put together 30 starts each in 2011, the Washington Nationals could be well on their way to contention and beyond.

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