In spite of the rumors Thursday afternoon which quoted sources who said the Washington Nationals were "aggressively shopping" John Lannan around the league in anticipation of agreeing on a deal with free agent right-hander Edwin Jackson, when the Nats' GM spoke to reporters Thursday night he said, "We're certainly always open to [making] a deal that makes sense for us, and if it can improve the ballclub, but we did not acquire Edwin Jackson to trade another starting pitcher." The GM did, however, say that the Nats would keep an open mind about making a deal if one arose. In Jackson and Gio Gonzalez, the Nationals have added two power arms to their rotation to pitch alongside Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and whichever one of the three starters between Chien-Ming Wang, John Lannan and Ross Detwiler earns a starting role coming out of Spring Training.
The deal with Jackson, Rizzo told reporters, (which is said to be for 1-year/$8-$12M) doesn't change the team's plans for John Lannan. When the GM was asked if the 27-year-old left-hander could conceivably be moved into a bullpen role like many expect Ross Detwiler will be, early this season at least, the general manager said no, "I think John, his strength is as a starting pitcher. I think that he's a quality starter that's given us quality innings in the past [and] I believe is going to give us quality innings in the future, and he's an asset to our team and like I said, gives us quality and also gives us depth and options."
Asked if Lannan had any remaining options, (Detwiler has no options remaining which could figure in the decision-making process this Spring), Rizzo reiterated that though Lannan does have an option, "We feel that he's a major league pitcher. He's major league caliber and he's major league-ready to help a contending team and we feel that he's a solid major league starting pitcher and that's what we're going to use him as."
In Gonzalez and Jackson, the Nationals have added two starters who've put up multiple 200.0+ inning seasons to what is a relatively young staff with question marks throughout. Gio Gonzalez has pitched 200.2 and 202.0 innings in each of the last two seasons, respectively, and Edwin Jackson's gone over 200.0 IP in two of the last three campaigns, missing the two-hundred inning mark by a third of an inning in 2011. Both pitchers have struggled with control at times though. Gonzalez has walked 4.44 BB/9 over 535.1 career innings pitched. Jackson walked 62 (2.79 BB/9) in 199.2 IP last season, but he's walked 3.66 BB/9 over 1079.0 IP in his career.
When Rizzo was asked about Gio Gonzalez's control issues in a conference call with reporters after the deal, the general manager said he wasn't worried about the left-hander's walk totals. "We really like his peripheral numbers," Rizzo told reporters, "He's won a lot of games on a mediocre club. 16 wins on the Oakland A's last year was quite a feat. He has the propensity to strike players out. He's got swing and miss stuff and we see his walks turning in the right direction. We see him having general command and we think as he progresses into his career, each and every year he's going to improve on his command."
The general manager said tonight that the Nationals believe there's room for improvement with their new 28-year-old right-hander as well. "We think [Jackson's] got a bit of upside left," Rizzo said, "He's a guy that we've seen a lot. I've scouted a lot personally when I was doing scouting for other clubs. We're going to make a few tweaks to his delivery. Last year he was a different pitcher out of the windup than he was from the stretch. We feel that there [are] certain tweaks we can make to his delivery that will make him more difficult to see. If you look at the splits with runners on base, pitching from the stretch, and runners not on base, pitching from the windup, the numbers are really surprising, with [a .339] BAA from the windup and much, much less from the stretch."
• Edwin Jackson's 2011 Splits:
• Edwin Jackson's Career Splits:
"We've got some ideas," the GM continued, "We've got some ideas that we've mentioned to Edwin and he's very receptive to them and pending him passing a physical, we'll introduce [the changes] to him and see if we can gradually implement them and see if it improves his command and deceptiveness. The stuff is there. The power is there. And again, a terrific character guy, make-up guy and another guy with a World Series ring and a guy that we feel really good about having on the club."
"You've seen his walks trending in the right direction," Rizzo said when asked about the control issues Jackson's dealt with in the past. "I think it's a more mature pitcher. Not afraid of pitching to contact. Attacking the strike zone especially early in counts. That's a mindset that we're going to pound into all of our starting pitchers this year again as we have in the past, but with his stuff, he needs to be comfortable and confident that he can get guys out and especially early in the count, not nibble and thus not walk as many guys and be more successful."
Is the acquisition of Jackson a sign that the Nationals are in "win-now mode"? "I've been in 'win-now mode' for my whole career," Rizzo joked, "We just didn't have the players capable of winning. We feel that we're a team that is going to be very, very competitive in a really difficult division. Our goal is to play meaningful games in September and beyond and we feel that the acquisition of this kind of talent allows us and gets us a step closer to doing that."