Nationals' Starter Search: Will Nats Add A 4th/5th Starter?

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Washington Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo seems perfectly willing to go into the 2014 season with Ross Detwiler as his fourth starter while a group of young arms battle it out for the fifth spot, but not everyone believes the Nats will stay out of the free agent and trade markets...

When he's talked about the 2014 Washington Nationals' rotation recently, Nats' GM Mike Rizzo hasn't exactly sounded like a general manager who is desperate to add a starter to the mix in the nation's capital.

"'We certainly go four deep with a healthy [Ross] Detwiler,'" Rizzo told reporters including NatsInsider.com's Mark Zuckerman during a conversation in Arizona in the last week of the 2013 campaign. "'With the depth that we have in our young starting pitching, we could certainly fill from within.'"

"'We certainly now again have the depth to go out and acquire a player via the trade market.'" - Mike Rizzo to Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore in September

"'I don’t think it’s a necessity to go outside the organization, either in the free agent market or in the trade market,'" Rizzo explained, though he did add as always that the team would consider anything that might improve the roster provided it was in the best interest of the franchise long-term.

In his conversation with MLB.com's Bill Ladson last week, Rizzo once again said he thought that as things stand now, the Nationals have, "...much better depth in starting pitching than we had at this time last year," though he reiterated that he thought the prospect and major league-ready talent was there for a trade if a deal existed that made, "... sense for us, not only for this year, but for the long haul."

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The talk so far this winter has been about adding a left-handed reliever to the bullpen, with Giants' lefty Javier Lopez, who re-signed with San Francisco, telling reporters he considered an offer from the Nationals before he decided to stay put.

The Nats signed Edwin Jackson to a 1-year/$11M deal in 2012 and got Dan Haren on a 1-year/$13M contract last season. The Washington Post's Thomas Boswell, in a chat with readers this week, said he expected the Nationals to add arms to the bullpen and rotation at some point.

"[Rizzo] said there were no huge needs," the WaPost columnist wrote, "But [a left-hander] in [the] pen and another SP -- though probably not a $12-to-$15M one -- certainly seem like needs." Mr. Boswell's colleague at the Post, Adam Kilgore, and others around the baseball world have put the Nationals in the market for most of the top starters believed to be available this winter.

Rizzo reportedly doesn't want to part with either the organization's top position player, Anthony Rendon, or their top pitching prospect, Lucas Giolito, as the Washington Post's Mr. Kilgore wrote last week in an update on the Nats' search, and the GM is said to be reluctant to part with the Nationals' top pick in the 2014 Draft (no.20 overall) in order to sign a free agent who received a qualifying offer from their last team.

"'We are certainly not short of talent to make a trade, if we wanted to make a trade...'" -Nats' GM Mike Rizzo to MLB.com's Bill Ladson

Kilgore, the Post's Nationals beat writer, reported in that article that the Nats had been "in contact" with free agent right-hander Ricky Nolasco, who was not tied to a draft pick since the LA Dodgers who acquired him from the Miami Marlins last season couldn't make a qualifying offer to the 30-year-old starter. Nolasco got a 4-year/$49M deal from the Minnesota Twins this week.

Matt Garza was traded from the Chicago Cubs to the Texas Rangers last season, so received no qualifying offer and would not cost the Nationals their top pick if they decided to sign him and they have reportedly pursued the right-hander in the past. USA TODAY's Paul White predicted a 5-year/$80M deal for the 30-year-old, eight-year veteran coming off a 2013 campaign in which he dealt with elbow issues but posted a 3.82 ERA, a 3.88 FIP, 42 walks (2.43 BB/9) and 136 Ks (7.88 K/9) in 155 1/3 IP over which he was worth +2.2 fWAR.

David Price? Max Scherzer? Can Nats' GM Mike Rizzo find a young, controllable starter out there that's not on anyone's radar right now? Will Rizzo risk going into the season with a hopefully-healthy Ross Detwiler and the top major-league-ready arms in the organization battling for the fifth spot? Before Rizzo acquired Gio Gonzalez from the Oakland A's in 2011, he talked openly about wanting to have a solid top four he knew he could count on to take the ball night after 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." - Mike Rizzo on 106.7 the FAN in D.C., October, 2011

"I see the Philadelphia Phillies," Rizzo explained on 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s The Mike Rizzo Show, "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."

"You have a lot of good young starting pitchers that you can draw from if an injury occurs or if they get tired or if they don't perform well," Rizzo explained to another caller on the radio show. "You have a good deep system where you can reach down and grab them."

Detwiler as a "pretty good" fifth member of the rotation with another reliable arm added to the mix? Nathan Karns and Taylor Jordan a phone call, plane flight or car ride away in Syracuse with the Nats' Triple-A affiliate should any injuries occur? Tanner Roark, 2013's breakout arm, pitching in a long relief role or available to start if needed?

The Winter Meetings start on December 9th. Will Mike Rizzo make his move now or wait to see how things play out in the free agent and trade markets? Or will he stand pat and go with the arms already in the organization as he's said he's willing to?

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