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Washington Nationals' Starter Search: Carl Pavano, No? Matt Garza, Maybe?

Carl Pavano's name has been linked to the Washington Nationals for some time now, as the 34-years-old-for-three-more-days right-hander has tested the free agent market to see if there's an offer out there enticing enough to convince the one-time Expos, Marlins, Yankees and Indians' starter to leave Minnesota, where he's resurrected his career and emerged as an unlikely clubhouse leader over the last two seasons with the TwinsBoston writer Nick Cafardo wrote this past Sunday, in an article entitled, " "Bargain hunters cooking up plans at the Hot Stove", that Pavano, who's likely to, " likely to decide between Minnesota and Washington," and though the starter's desire to return to Minnesota is strong, Mr. Cafardo wrote that, "the Nationals will offer him a better contract. It won't be an easy decision for the former Red Sox farmhand, and he may take less to stay where he's happy." Back on Christmas Day,'s Bill Ladson, in an article entitled, "Nats remain in mix as Pavano decision nears", quoted anonymous sources who said simply what the title did, that the Nats, "remain[ed] in the mix to sign right-hander Carl Pavano."

Washington Examiner writer Jim Williams (@wordmandc) wrote on Twitter yesterday that the Texas Rangers, (one the teams that had interest in former Royals' ace Zack Greinke and had reportedly considered pursuing Pavano), were, "OUT of the Carl Pavano race," while the, "Twins willing to give him a 2yr deal," and the, "#Nationals 3yrs [was the] best deal 4 him."'s Jon Heyman, on Monday, wrote in the "Around the Majors" section of an article entitled, "New Year's resolutions for 50 of the biggest names in baseball", that, "...the Nationals really weren't very involved earlier," and, "they may need to overpay Pavano now," if they're going to convince him to leave the Twins.

D.C. GM Mike Rizzo hears the rumors about Washington's interest in Pavano. Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell quoted the Nats' General Manager yesterday in an article (that has since been updated to reflect the Adam LaRoche signing) entitled, "Adam LaRoche signing shows Washington Nationals now know nothing is free", saying (acerbically as Mr. Boswell notes), "'I hear we are 'the finalist' along with the Twins,'" for the right-hander's services, but, Rizzo continues, "'We've never spoken to Pavano and we haven't talked to his agent since the winter meetings.'" Pavano's another player the Nationals "won't get" this winter, Mr. Boswell writes, joining a list of starters with Cliff Lee and Zack Greinke that the Nats have reportedly pursued (to one degree or another) in their search for a top-of-the-rotation arm. 

The WaPost's Mr. Boswell says the Nats, "definitely have explored" a trade for Tampa Bay Rays' right-hander Matt Garza, but, "Unless a Garza deal gets done at a sane cost in prospects," he writes, "this is going to be one weird winter for the Nats," who, Mr. Boswell "adamantly" believes, "...were set for an offseason of fireworks, including those 'top of the rotation pitchers' that Rizzo talked about seeking." The problem is convincing players to take the money the Nats have only recently decided they need to spend. An unnamed "former front office member" tells Mr. Boswell that though, " took them three years longer than it should have," the Nationals are, "...doing the right things now...Give them credit for that." But the Nats, and the D.C. GM are still paying for the past. 

Washington gave Jayson Werth an industry-shaking (and many think ill-advised) 7-year/$126 million dollar deal, then spent the winter adding fringy bats and backups while the big-name free agents signed elsewhere and, somewhat painfully, Zack Greinke rejected the Nats and their offer of an extension, using his partial no-trade clause to block a deal between Kansas City and Washington before agreeing to go to Milwaukee. Adam LaRoche chose the Nats when the team and player were left with little choice but to agree on a deal with each other, and got a 2-year/$16 million dollar deal that many see as a good deal for the 31-year-old league average first baseman and another overpay for the Nats.

They've given out the two biggest signing bonuses (for a pitcher and a position player in consecutive years) in the history of the draft in the last two years, spent more than any other teams in the league on the draft in each of the last two drafts, and offered well-above-slot money to convince players to sign. With Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa and a system full of talented (though not all elite) arms (though still not a lot of position players), the Nationals are building a team that they're hoping can compete within the next two of three years, but convincing players to join in now is not going to be easy, as the Zack Greinke swing and miss showed. This isn't a surprise for Mike Rizzo, who's portayed as being frustrated with his inability to get what he wanted this winter in the Washington Post's Mr. Boswell's latest article. 

A little over a year ago, in an article by the WaPost's Mr. Boswell entitled, "Rizzo's checklist for Nationals is halfway there", the Post's sports writer noted that the Nats' GM, "Unlike many in the Nats family who've overrated what they held...knows how bad a team he inherited," and, "Even if he adds another 190-inning starter, a decent reliever and a middle infielder, the '10 Nats still won't get to .500." The Nats picked up 10 wins on their 59-103 '09 finish, ending the 2010 campaign at 69-93, and it will take a 12-game improvement to get to .500 and a near-miraculous improvement to get over the defining point of mediocrity in 2011. Rizzo had to know it wouldn't be easy to convince players to join in for the incremental improvements, that's why Washington long-ago decided to improve from within, building through the draft and only this year aggressively entering the free agent market. Hopefully for Nats fans, the climb toward competitiveness doesn't last much longer, and future free agents and trade possibilities see what Rizzo's got planned.