Posted on February 6, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine
When it comes to starting pitching, you can never have enough. That’s certainly the stance of the Washington Nationals after they re-signed veteran righty Jeremy Hellickson on Wednesday. Hellickson and the Nationals agreed to a one-year deal with a base salary of just $1.3 million. However, Hellickson can make up to $4 million based on the number of starts he makes in 2019.
Hellickson, who will turn 32 in April, ended up doing a little better this year than he did last offseason. A year ago, Hellickson signed a minor league deal with the Nationals in mid-March. It was a big step back for Hellickson after he accepted a $17.2 million qualifying offer from the Phillies for the 2017 season. However, Hellickson made the most of his opportunity and was called up to Washington in the middle of April.
Despite making multiple trips to the DL for hamstring and wrist injuries, Hellickson ended up becoming a key figure in Washington’s rotation. He ended up making 19 starts, going 5-3 with a 3.45 ERA. For what it’s worth, he pitched just 91.1 innings, averaging less than five innings per outing. But Hellickson was effective on the mound and usually gave the Nationals a chance to win.
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Outside of a disappointing season in 2018, Hellickson been a solid and steady starter, winning double-digit games four times between 2011 and 2016. During that 2016 season, Hellickson posted a 3.71 ERA over 32 starts with the Phillies, showing that he has the potential to be something more than a back-of-the-rotation starter.
Fortunately for the Nationals, they don’t need Hellickson to be anything more than a steady no. 4 starter. Washington made a splash earlier this offseason when they signed Patrick Corbin, who was arguably the best starter on the free agent market this winter. Corbin now joins Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg in forming one of the best rotation trios in baseball. As long as those three stay healthy, Hellickson will only need to play a complementary role in the team’s rotation.
Of course, the fact that the Nationals signed Hellickson this late in the offseason indicates a lack of confidence in the back-end of their rotation. Washington also signed veteran Anibal Sanchez to take up a spot at the back of their rotation. Barring an injury, he and Hellickson should be all but assured of a rotation spot coming out of spring training. That likely leaves Joe Ross and Erick Fedde on the outside of the rotation. They are likely to head back to the minors or be moved to the bullpen depending on how things play out during spring training.
Rather than taking a chance on Ross and Fedde holding down full-time jobs in their rotation, the Nationals have signed Hellickson and Sanchez to take those spots. The addition of Hellickson, in particular, means neither youngster may get a chance unless there’s an injury. While the move for Hellickson shows a lack of faith in their young, homegrown pitchers, it also represents a significant boost to Washington’s rotation depth.
Hellickson is far from a guarantee to replicate his production from last season. He will also have to compete for his spot during spring training. But signing him for such a reasonable price will help to cement Washington’s rotation heading into spring training. In the end, he could end up being an important addition for a team that expects to compete for a playoff spot in 2019.