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Does The Washington Nationals' Starter Search End When Matt Garza To Cubs Becomes Official?

The Washington Nationals expressed interest in now-former Tampa Bay Rays' right-hander Matt Garza (above), but the starter has reportedly been dealt to the Chicago Cubs. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
The Washington Nationals expressed interest in now-former Tampa Bay Rays' right-hander Matt Garza (above), but the starter has reportedly been dealt to the Chicago Cubs. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
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The Chicago Cubs gave up the first, (RHP Chris Archer, 22), fourth (SS Hak-Ju Lee, 20) and tenth (OF Brandon Guyer, soon-to-be-25) best prospects from Baseball America's Jim Callis' most recent list of the top players in the Cubs' system this morning and threw in a catcher ranked the Best Defensive catcher, Robinson Chirinos, 26, and OF Sam Fuld, 29, a fourth outfielder by most estimations, in order to pry right-hander starter Matt Garza (and 26-year-old outfielder Fernando Perez) away from the Tampa Bay Rays. Rays' Executive VP Andrew Friedman told Tampa writer Marc Tompkin just a few weeks back in an article entitled, "Rays - still - not looking to deal a starter", that though Tampa Bay had six starters under contract, they were, "not looking to deal from that area of depth." Two days ago, Chicago Sun-Times' writer Gordon Wittenmyer reported, in an article entitled, "Cubs take lead in Garza derby", that a "major-league source" told him the Cubs were close to acquiring Garza, but others (like ESPN's Buster Olney and's Carrie Muskat) suggested that the Rays (who had a substantial return in mind) were likely to wait til the trading deadline before they'd make any deal. This morning the terms of the deal were published everywhere, though nothing was made official immediately by either team...

Garza, along with former Kansas City Royals' ace Zack Greinke, was mentioned often as a trade target for the Washington Nationals, whose GM Mike Rizzo had identified a top of the rotation arm as the Nats' no.1 target this winter. In a September 29th article by's Bill Ladson entitled, "Rizzo: Nats in process of closing gap", the Nats' general manager told Mr. Ladson he believed, "It starts with the starting rotation...Once we get that fixed right away, I think we'll get that much closer [to the Phillies]. They have three (ed. note - "Now four.") stud front-of-the-rotation pitchers, and we can't say that at this point." Garza, Greinke, Jorge De La Rosa, Cliff Lee, Carl Pavano. All of them at one time or another were mentioned as pitchers of interest for Washington, but De La Rosa returned to Colorado for less than he was offered by the Nats, Lee signed with Philly for less than he could've had elsewhere, Greinke blocked a deal to Washington, Garza's been dealt and Pavano appears headed back to Minnesota. 

Rizzo was optimistic early this winter, that if he couldn't sign a free agent starter the Nats could trade for an arm, telling's Mr. Ladson the Nationals, "...definitely have depth -- prospect-wise -- to pull off a deal for a pitcher," and according to's Jon Heyman's recent report entitled, "Angels top teams with shopping left to do before spring training", they did, as Mr. Heyman wrote that the Nats made, "the best offer to the Royals (which they accepted)," and offered a 5-year/$90 million dollar offer to Greinke which was wasn't enough to convince the 27-year-old '02 1st Round pick and former Cy Young Award winner to join a Nats team the pitcher didn't see contending any time soon.

The Nats, according to Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore in an article yesterday entitled, "The state of the Nationals' starting rotation", were not willing to include right-hander Jordan Zimmermann or infielder Ian Desmond in a deal for Garza. In a post-rumored-trade Nationals Journal post today entitled, "Could the Nationals have trumped the Cubs' offer for Matt Garza? Probably not.", the WaPost writer quoted Baseball America's Jim Callis saying not Desmond, but, "Danny Espinosa, catcher Derek Norris and Jordan Zimmermann - their projected starting second baseman, a catcher who is regarded as their third-best position player prospect and a pitcher who could emerge as their best starter this season," would have been the equivalent from the Nats' system of what the Cubs sent (or are rumored to be sending) the Rays, though Mr. Kilgore says there's no report yet of any talks having taken place between Washington and Tampa Bay. 

It was the Washington Post's Mr. Kilgore who spoke to D.C. GM Mike Rizzo after the GM Meetings in early November as well. In a Nationals Journal post entitled, "The Nationals' search for a top starter won't be easy", Rizzo, recognizing the difficulty of acquiring a top-of-the-rotation arm, and wondering candidly whether or not any trade for a starter would create so many holes on the roster it wasn't worth it, said the Nats would explore, "every avenue to get that player," but might have to just, "...wait until [2012] to obtain it, [when] Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann become that 1 and 2..."

Zimmermann's hoping to put together his first full season since 2008, having injured his elbow in the '09 campaign and rehabbed til the end of 2010 when he returned to the mound for his first major league action in over a year. Strasburg's not expected back til late August or September at best, and he's likely to be as shaky as Zimmermann was in his short time with the Nats last season. 2012 and 2013 are the years the Nats are aiming for with 2011 another year for the young roster to mature. The Nats have added Jayson Werth and today officially signed Adam LaRoche. They've acquired a bench bat in Matt Stairs, a fourth outfielder in Rick Ankiel, a flame-throwing reliever in Henry Rodriguez (in a trade from the A's), and another hard thrower Elvin Ramirez (in the Rule 5 Draft from the Mets' organization). They haven't added the ace Rizzo wanted, however.

In 2012, given that Zimmermann and Strasburg are able to come back fully from Tommy John Surgery, the Nats will have two of the three stud front-of-the-rotation pitchers Rizzo said he wanted. 19-year-old 2010 4th Round pick A.J. Cole, the highest paid 4th Round pick in Draft history and the fourth best prospect in the Nats' system on Baseball America's Aaron Fitt's recent list of Washington's top prospects, was described to's Byron Kerr by Mr. Fitt in an article recently entitled, "Nats' top prospects - No. 4: A.J. Cole", as the one pitcher, "you can envision being [a] toward the front of the rotation kind of a starter because he has premium arm strength," though he's not likely to be pitching in D.C. any time soon.

2010 2nd Round pick Sammy Solis projects as a, "...potential mid-rotation starter and in the not too distant future," as Mr. Fitt said in another recent article by Byron Kerr entitled, "Nats' top prospects - No. 6: Sammy Solis", but he too was just drafted in June and though he impressed in the Arizona Fall League he's likely to spend some time in the Minors before making his debut.

The Nationals may have wanted to make a splash by signing Werth, signing a first baseman to replace Dunn and adding a top-of-the-rotation arm. Does not getting the starter they wanted make the Winter a failure? It's always been about the future, that's why they offered Greinke an extension that would have kept him in the nation's capital past the 2012 season when his current contract expires. If they can wait for the talent already in the organization to mature and add from within with the prospects they've amassed, maybe when Greinke's contract expires in 2012 (barring an extension) the right-hander or another ace out there like him will be willing to join the Nats when such an acquisition will put Washington over the top. Til then it's likely going to be veteran arms Livan Hernandez, Jason Marquis, Yunesky Maya and (a young veteran) in John Lannan holding things together while Zimmermann seeks to prove himself and Strasburg works his way back...Not exactly the type of plan that sells tickets to already frustrated fans, but one that will (hopefully) eventually turn the Nats into a competitive franchise. In Rizzo We Trust?