Washington Nationals' 2013 Rotation: Will The Nats Sign Edwin Jackson? Add A New Arm?

Jeff Zelevansky

The Washington Nationals have Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler set to start in the 2013 rotation, but what they'll do after that is a big question mark going into the winter...

The 102-60 2011 Philadelphia Phillies had five starters with double-digit wins, three of the top five starters had ERAs under 3.00 for the year, and six different pitchers made all of the starts for the team. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt, Vance Worley and Kyle Kendrick combined to post the NL's lowest ERA at 2.86, almost a full run lower than the Washington Nationals, who ended the year with a 3.80 ERA amongst starters, which was good for the seventh-lowest team ERA in the National League.

The Phillies' starters had the lowest FIP (2.98), lowest xFIP (3.17), the highest K/9 (7.88 K/9), lowest BB/9 (1.87 BB/9) and highest total innings pitched (1064.2). In explaining his decision to once again pursue a top starter on the market last winter after having done so unsuccessfully the previous two years, D.C. GM Mike Rizzo, on 106.7 the FAN's The Mike Rizzo Show, said that the goal last winter was to assemble the sort of elite rotation he saw in Philadelphia, so Washington could compete with the elite in the NL East.

"I see the Philadelphia Phillies," the Nationals' general manager said, "which is a team, they're on top, that's the team that we have to knock off the top, and I see them run four quality starters at you every night. They've got a guy on the mound, a starting pitcher, they go four deep quality starts and their fifth guy is pretty good, and I think that's what we have to emulate. That's what we have to get to, and I think when we get to that, and I think that in the very, very near future, we have a chance to compete with them."

The Nationals went into the winter with Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, John Lannan, Ross Detwiler, Tommy Milone, Brad Peacock and Chien-Ming Wang on the roster as potential starters for 2012, but in late December, the Nats dealt Milone and Peacock to Oakland as part of the deal for Gio Gonzalez, and Washington then signed Edwin Jackson to a one-year/$11M dollar deal. All of a sudden, with Strasburg (on an innings limit from the start), Gonzalez, Zimmermann, E-Jax and Detwiler, the Nationals had a starting rotation capable of competing, they hoped, and had some pitching in reserve should they need help with Lannan and Wang on hand to eat up some of the innings.

On the way to stopping the Phillies' five-year reign as the NL East Champs, and finishing 98-64, Washington used eight starters total to get them through the 2012 campaign, with Tom Gorzelanny making just one start at the end in the last game of the season so Gio Gonzalez could rest up for Game 1 of the NLDS with St. Louis. The top five Nationals' starters finished the season with double digit wins, two of them with ERA's under 3.00 on the year. The Nats' starting pitchers had the lowest ERA in the National League (3.40), lowest FIP (3.46), second lowest xFIP (3.68 to the Phillies' 3.54), second-highest K/9 (8.07 to the Brewers' 8.37 K/9), eighth lowest BB/9 (2.84 BB/9) and the 10th highest total IP (953.0 IP).

Stephen Strasburg will be free of any limitations in 2013. The Nats' '09 no.1 overall pick will have something to prove next season. Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler are hardened and wiser for having reached the playoffs for the first time in each of their careers. Edwin Jackson? Jackson told reporters after the World Series he would like to come back if a deal could be worked out, but he's known to be looking for a multi-year contract.

The Nationals have to decide whether or not to tender a contract to John Lannan, who made $5M last season when he lost his arbitration case. A baseball source told MLB.com's Bill Ladson the chance of the Nats paying Lannan $5M again in 2013 is unlikely.

Will the Nationals bring Jackson back as the 5th starter behind Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann and Detwiler, or will they turn to the free agent or trade markets again and look to supplement the rotation with a new starter? Is there anyone in the Nationals' organization that could take that fifth spot?

Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell said in a chat this morning that the Nationals should keep one thing in mind going into 2013 when they make decisions on E-Jax, Lannan and Wang...

The Nationals got lucky in having all of their starters remain healthy in 2012:

"You need at least 7 starting pitchers, and some say eight, so that you end up with five as the season goes along and you almost always have injuries.

"Next year, the Nats lineup may have less injuries, but maybe the rotation has more. You absolutely can't count on 150 starts from your top five pitchers -- as the Nats got this year. The Nats shouldn't think of themselves as a 98-win team -- that's too aggressive. You need more margin of error in your planning. They need to come to camp with two established starting pitchers in addition to SS, GG, JZ and RD. If one of them is Jackson, okay. They should remember [how] essential the Lannan insurance policy was. In a more normal season, you might have seen Lannan for 20+ starts."

The WaPost's Mr. Boswell also took a look at potential free agent pitchers Washington could add to "lengthen" their rotation in today's chat. The last word from the Nationals' GM came immediately after the Nats' loss in Game 5 of the NLDS, when he was asked if it was tough to transition quickly from playing in the postseason to thinking about the 2013 roster? "We've actually been thinking about that and planning it for the last three or four weeks," Rizzo said. "We never stop. We're always thinking about roster construction and what our plans are going to be and what we're trying to do."

The plan, the Nats' general manager said was to, "... take a little deep breath and see where we're at, assess it, get all of our evaluators together and figure out a game plan." Last year the message at the end of the 2012 campaign was that the Nationals thought they were a starter and an outfield bat away from competing in the NL East, this winter they have to figure out what it will take to do it again, defend their division title and get back to the postseason.

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