WASHINGTON -- The Nationals' courtship of Patrick Corbin was highlighted by a dinner at Fiola Mare in Georgetown, where Corbin, his wife, Jen, and his agent, John Courtright, were hosted by Nats owner Mark Lerner and general manager Mike Rizzo. There was extra security at the restaurant because the venue
WASHINGTON -- The Nationals' courtship of Patrick Corbin was highlighted by a dinner at Fiola Mare in Georgetown, where Corbin, his wife, Jen, and his agent, John Courtright, were hosted by Nats owner Mark Lerner and general manager Mike Rizzo. There was extra security at the restaurant because the venue was hosting another special guest that night -- Vice President Mike Pence.
It was a small glimpse into life in D.C. for the recently married Corbins, who put an emphasis on the importance of touring the city in which they would spend much of the next six years of their lives. Of the three cities Corbin visited on his East Coast recruiting tour, which included Philadelphia and New York, D.C. and the Nationals stood out to the couple, who left the dinner raving about the candid and genuine nature of the sitdown compared to other meetings. That, combined with a six-year commitment from Washington worth a reported $140 million, was enough to land the market's top free-agent pitching prize.
"I'm excited to join the ballclub and be a part of something special," Corbin said during his introductory press conference Friday at Nationals Park. "I know this pitching staff here was definitely a big reason why I wanted to come here, so [I'm] just excited to join the guys and glad I'm part of the family."
Starting pitching has been the backbone for this team since Rizzo took over, and it was the Nats' strength that led to four National League East titles since 2012. They missed the postseason in '18 in large part because their starting pitching faltered, and the team believes an improved starting staff is its key to returning to the playoffs.
Rizzo weighed the options available via trade or free agency, but he quickly settled on Corbin, who was coming off a career year in which he finished fifth in the voting for the NL Cy Young Award. And Corbin chose the Nats despite interest from the Yankees and Phillies.
"We like that the needle's moving north at 29 years old," Rizzo said. "And we like the fact that all the sexy stats -- as Mad Max [Scherzer] says -- come into play: Strikeouts are up, walks are down, ERA ... all those factors are going in the right direction."
Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg sat in the front row -- along with longtime National Ryan Zimmerman and one of their newest acquisitions, Yan Gomes -- to welcome the newest member of their rotation. Those three pitchers will make up one of the premier front-line rotations in all of Major League Baseball, and the Nats have invested more than $500 million in the trio.
Still, Corbin comes with risk, as all pitchers do.
Corbin will turn 30 next summer, and this deal locks him up until he turns 35 years old. He underwent Tommy John surgery that sidelined him for the entire 2014 season and part of '15, and he spent time in the bullpen in '16 and was solid if unspectacular in '17. The perception of pitchers who rely as heavily on breaking pitches as Corbin does is that they carry a greater injury risk. Yet the Nationals believe they are getting someone closer to the dominant pitcher from this past season, who finished with a 3.15 ERA and 246 strikeouts against 48 walks.
Rizzo pointed to Corbin's development of a new pitch, a curveball which is a slower version of his slider, the fact that he is still getting stronger several years removed from Tommy John surgery and his athleticism as reasons that the lefty projects well long term.
"Now, pitchers are pitchers, there's always that inherent risk of a pitcher breaking down or getting hurt," Rizzo said. "But I thought this was a risk well-taken. We love the make-up and the competitiveness, and we do think the needle is moving north."
Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.