For a team like the Washington Nationals that entered camp with seven players who had a legitimate shot at making the team's rotation, it might seem odd to end camp by signing a 28-year-old veteran starting pitcher. That move seems even odder when you consider the Nats' pickup, Zach Duke, was just recently released by the worst team in baseball, the Houston Astros, after posting an 11.30 ERA in four appearances this Spring.
But this isn't your usual Nats team, which is why you are seeing moves that you might not see during a usual year. No, in the past the Nationals front office would make this type of signing, but only after the realization that the three or four veteran starters who they brought in to compile a make-shift rotation just wouldn't cut it. The Nationals circa 2005-11 would have signed Zach Duke in the hopes that he could resemble a shell of his 2005 self and eat up innings at the major league level until their Triple-A prospects were ready for a promotion. Now they've signed him for just the opposite, Duke will be assigned to Triple-A Syracuse to add depth to the team's minor league rotation.
And that's the difference.
Washington, for the first time in its short existence, is in a position to sign wash-ups to support their minor league system, not blood suck the Major League team. It's no longer the team that Julian Tavarez once referred to as the 600-pound chick he had to go home with at the end of the night, when all the good looking girls were gone. It's a structured, productive system of talent that is designed to compete, and if everything goes to plan, it will.
To his credit, though, Duke's resume isn't terrible. He was technically an All-Star in 2009, despite finishing the season with a 4.06 ERA and a league leading 16 losses. Last year he went 3-4 with a 4.93 ERA in 29 games for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
At one-time, Duke was one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. In his first 14 starts at the age of 22, he went 8-2 with a 1.81 ERA in 2005. He could turn into a great story, but don't be surpised if he never makes his way out of Syracuse.