The big quote that came out of Mike Rizzo's season-ending chat with the DC press corps had the general manager explaining that he thought the Nats were, "... an outfield bat away and a starting pitcher away from really being a contender in the division," as Washington Times' writer Amanda Comak quoted the D.C. GM explaining in an article entitled, "Rizzo: 'I think we're an outfield bat and a starting pitcher away from really being a contender in the division.'" Why, with Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, John Lannan, Ross Detwiler, Tommy Milone, Brad Peacock and potentially Chien-Ming Wang all in play for spots in the rotation (and Livan Hernandez still a possibility), do the Nationals need another starter? Rizzo explained:
"'(A top starter) puts everybody down a slot and makes everybody much more comfortable," Rizzo said. "This is a grind of a season and when you play a month longer than everybody else into playoff baseball, it takes a lot of starting pitchers to get through the season.'"
On the final episode of The Mike Rizzo show on 106.7 the FAN in D.C. this past Thursday, Rizzo elaborated on why another pitcher is important to getting the Nationals to a place where they can compete with the elite teams in their division.
"I see the Philadelphia Phillies," Rizzo said in response to a caller's question, "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. That's what we have to get to, and I think when we get to that, and I think that in the very, very near future, we have a chance to compete with them."
Stephen Strasburg will be on an innings limit next season of course, but with Jordan Zimmermann in his second full-season after Tommy John surgery, he should be good to go the entire year. With Strasburg limited and pitchers like Milone and Peacock at the beginning of their respective careers, the Nationals' GM told another caller that what is important is that, "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, you have a good deep system where you can reach down and grab them."
"It kind of makes me laugh," Rizzo continued, "when teams talk about they have too many starting pitchers. That's always the statement in Spring Training, it's never the statement in September."
As for the Nats' 2012 staff, the Nationals' GM explained that, "In our situation, we believe that we've got a good deep farm system, which is a good thing... but it takes eight or nine starting pitchers, really, to get through a major league season if we're going to perform at the highest level. We feel that we have that type of depth, finally, in the system, and Davey Johnson is a master at it and he's done it many, many times before and we'll expect him to do it again in 2012."
That pitching depth, Rizzo told reporters, including Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore who quoted the GM in a Nationals Journal Post entitled, "Nationals, Mike Rizzo want to acquire outfielder, starting pitching this offseason", could also allow the Nats to deal for the pitcher or the bat the general manager feels they need: "'Our pitching depth is the best I’ve seen since I’ve been around here, since the Lerners acquired the team,' Rizzo said. 'We certainly would discuss trades to fill some of our needs, if the trade makes sense.'"
This is the same situation the Nationals found themselves in heading into the winter of 2010-11, when they pursued Cliff Lee, explored a trade for Zack Greinke and at least inquired about free agents like Matt Garza before acknowledging the difficulty of acquiring the top-of-the-rotation arm they felt they needed. Have the improvements the Nationals made turned them into a more desirable destination for this year's potential targets? Or will the Nationals reach the same conclusion they did after surveying the market last winter?