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Rizzo, Pitching, and the Road Not Taken

As the Nationals entered the offseason after completing the 2010 campaign, Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo made it clear that his top goal was pitching generally - but most particularly a #1 starter.  There was only one such starter on the free agent market, Cliff Lee, and the Nationals were never more than dark horse candidates to land Lee.  Ultimately, of course, he signed with the Phillies.  The Nationals also made a play for Jorge De La Rosa of the Rockies, but he spurned the Nationals and resigned with the Rockies instead.  Mike Rizzo may well have caught a break when his trade offer to the Royals was vetoed by Zach Greinke, who was ultimately traded to the Brewers. The Nationals were also linked with many other names, including But many other names were also floated, and each time many posters castigated Rizzo for failing to move aggressively.  A couple of weeks short of the halfway point of the season, how has Rizzo done?

The Nationals Starting Rotation (ranked by 2011 ERA+):

Jordan Zimmermann (before today's win over the O's): 4-6, 3.10 ERA, 1.082 WHIP, 123 ERA+

John Lannan: 4-5, 3.52 ERA, 1.391 WHIP, 109 ERA+

Livan Hernandez: 4-8, 3.77 ERA, 1.296 WHIP, 101 ERA+

Jason Marquis: 7-2, 3.86 ERA, 1.390 WHIP, 99 ERA+

Tom Gorzelanny: 2-4, 4.25 ERA, 1.226 WHIP, 90 ERA+

Interesting to note that Marquis, especially after his rocky outing yesterday, has seriously benefited from run support this year despite his gaudy W-L record.  Zimmermann, Lannan and Hernandez have losing records but have arguably been better this year.  Compare these results with the three starting pitchers linked to the Nationals through trade talks.  Remember that acquiring any of these pitchers would have cost the Nationals in terms of future talent, and (in the case of Greinke or Carmona) almost certainly Jordan Zimmermann, their most promising and effective 2011 starter, as well.

Matt Garza (traded to Cubs): 3-6, 4.14 ERA, 1.423 WHIP, 98 ERA+

Zach Greinke (traded to Brewers): 3-6, 5.23 ERA, 1.238 WHIP, 75 ERA+

Fausto Carmona (remained with Indians): 4-8, 5.79 ERA, 1.364 WHIP, 66 ERA+

Clearly none of these pitchers represent (so far) a significant upgrade over what the Nationals already have, with the possible exception of Garza over Gorzelanny - who ironically enough was traded by the Cubs after they acquired Garza.  And when the talent that would have been given up is factored in, Rizzo can feel pretty good about these roads not taken.  But what about free agents?  Free agents would not have required the Nationals to give up talent, although signing Cliff Lee would have cost the Nationals their 3rd round pick in this draft - which was used to draft TCU LHP Matt Purke - if he signs, there is some chance that 5-6 years from now Purke will be better (and much less expensive) than Lee.

Free Agents linked to the Nationals* (as ranked by 2011 ERA+):

Jorge De La Rosa (resigned by the Rockies, 2 yrs, $21.5 million): 5-2, 3.51 ERA, 1.186 WHIP, 129 ERA+, season ended with Tommy John surgery at the beginning of June.

Cliff Lee (signed by Phillies, 5 yrs, $120 million): 7-5, 3.12 ERA, 1.144 WHIP, 124 ERA+

Carl Pavano (resigned by Twins, 2 yrs, $16.5 million): 4-5, 4.20 ERA, 1.325 WHIP, 95 ERA+

Javier Vazquez (signed by Marlins, 1 yr, $7 million): 3-7, 6.85 ERA, 1.676 WHIP, 58 ERA+

Brandon Webb (signed by Rangers, 1 yr, $3 million), got lit up in one rehab start, immediately shut down with shoulder inflammation.

Justin Duchscherer (signed by Orioles, 1 yr, $700,000), contract can increase to $4.1 million with incentives.  Shut down last week after feeling pain in his surgically repaired hip during extended spring training.

It's easy to see why Rizzo made a serious play for De La Rosa, who was clearly the class of this group through the early part of the season.  Sadly, his season has been derailed and the Rockies are likely to get poor value for their two year contract.  Cliff Lee has been quite good for the Phillies, but to get into the Cliff Lee sweepstakes the Nationals would have had to go well beyond the Phillies both in years and dollars.  The rest of this class varies from extremely mediocre and expensive (Pavano) to lousy and expensive (Vazquez) to not yet ready for work (Webb, Duchscherer). 

Bottom line:  I give Rizzo a solid B.  I can't give him an A because if a deal for Greinke would have involved Jordan Zimmermann AND more talent (possibly including Desmond and a prospect), it would have been a disaster.  We're not quite sure what the exact deal would have been, but it still hurts Rizzo's grade.  Even though De La Rosa is injured I can't fault Rizzo for making a play for him, and backing out of the end of the Lee sweepstakes also wroked out well.  Not going after Pavano, Vazquez, Webb or Duchscherer clearly turned out to be smart moves even though there were a lot of posters here and on other sites that were savage in their criticism of Rizzo when these players went elsewhere. Sometimes the road not taken doesn't go anywhere good.  And just maybe Rizzo deserves some credit for his offseason work.

*These were just pitchers that I saw were linked to the Nationals; if there was another pitcher linked please feel free to point it out in the comments.

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