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Washington Nationals: One Starter Short And Searching...

With Stephen Strasburg out til late 2011 at best, what will the Washington Nationals do to fill the hole in their starting rotation?  (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
With Stephen Strasburg out til late 2011 at best, what will the Washington Nationals do to fill the hole in their starting rotation? (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
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Asked in a pregame press conference late in the 2010 season, (before the final home game in fact), if he agreed with D.C. GM Mike Rizzo's opinion, as expressed in several interviews at the time, that a no.1 starter was on the top of Washington's winter wish list, the Nats' Skipper, Jim Riggleman, said that for the Nationals, " really take [the] next step, to add 10 more wins, we're going to have to up it a little bit in the starting rotation, and your starters have got to go out there and go 6.0-7.0 innings. If you go 5.0 innings, 5.1, that type of stuff, then you really need to add another bullpen guy, our bullpen's done a good job, but you need another real quality bullpen guy cause you're going to them so often." 

In a follow up question, Riggleman was asked if he felt that the Nats, with a healthy Jason Marquis, Jordan Zimmermann, John Lannan, Livan Hernandez and whichever pitcher filled in the fifth spot (which could be the top spot), had what they needed in the organization already, or if they needed to seek it elsewhere either by free agency or a possible trade, and the manager said, "The thing is, the way they pitched late, Lannan and Marquis, the way they pitched late that's very encouraging. So there's a little bit of hoping going on there. You're hoping what you saw there the last six or eight weeks is what you're going to see next year, [but] if what we see from those guys is what we saw in April in May, it's not going to work." So one hole and some question marks...?

D.C. GM had confirmed, as several late-season articles reported including Mark Zuckerman's article entitled, "Nats' Top Offseason Priority: No. 1 Starter", that the Nationals needed, "a front-of-the-rotation guy to put everybody in what we feel is their proper place in the rotation." The Nats' Skipper agreed, "Obviously [with] Stephen [Strasburg] getting hurt," Riggleman said, "...that was the plan that he would work into it this year and eventually become a no.1 for [2011]. As that's is out, now that's not going to happen, we certainly need someone at the top of the rotation, whether it's a no.1-type guy, we certainly need another guy that we thing can go out there and win 14, 15 ballgames, pitch 200-220.0 innings. Mike [Rizzo] talks about it all the time and he's dedicated to trying to do that, but those guys just don't show up for you."

The price for Cliff Lee is likely to rise to exorbitant levels. The return on a starter like the Royals' Zack Greinke or the Rays' Matt Garza is likely to be more than the Nats are willing to part with, and the D.C. GM acknowledged that as he recognized the difficulty Mr. Riggleman mentioned, "'Free agency is obviously the easier option; all it costs is money,'" Mr. Rizzo told CSN's Mr. Zuckerman, "'And trade opportunities come in lieu of players that are probably going to help you on the big-league level, too. But I think both ways they're obtainable, and I think we're going to explore every avenue to get that.'"

The Nats pursued Jon Garland last winter, but he opted to sign on the left coast. Washington moved on by signing Jason Marquis, whose elbow issues limited his contributions in 2010. The Nats were in on Aroldis Chapman til the end but were eventually outbid by the Reds. They signed an injured Chien-Ming Wang who didn't return to the mound til September, and they'll have to decide soon whether or not to commit any more money to the possibility he works his way back. They added international free agent, Yunesky Maya, in what Mr. Rizzo called Washington's first major international signing, and added a close-to-major-league-ready arm with the second pick in the draft...Will the pitching Washington needs come from outside the organization at the cost of either money or prospects, or is the solution already in the system?