Asked about the Washington Nationals' rumored pursuit of starting pitchers this winter, GM Mike Rizzo told reporters last month that the interest was "tepid", though rumors have persisted that the Nats remain in the market. So what does that mean for the arms at the back end of the rotation?
"It's not a necessity for us right now," Rizzo explained, "but we're always in the market to improve the ballclub in any way we can. If we have to strengthen a strength or try to refine a weakness, there are different levels and different strategies that are going on all the time."
"We think that we have five qualified and quality starters that we match with anybody in the division," he said.
"We have the primary, secondary pitching depth that we have in the Taylor Jordans, the A.J. Coles, those prospect type of guys and of course we have the second wave of prospects coming with [Lucas] Giolito, [Austin] Voth, [Reynaldo] Lopez and that group."
Rizzo was asked at the Winter Meetings if he counted Tanner Roark as one of the five members of the rotation along with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Joe Ross after Roark was pushed into a bullpen role last season when the Nats signed Scherzer.
Roark, 29, made twelve starts in 2015, but spent most of his time in the Nationals' pen, putting up a 4.38 ERA, a 4.70 FIP, 26 walks (2.11 BB/9) and 70 Ks (5.68 K/9) in 111 innings.
"I think he's still valuable because he's flexible in that sense," Rizzo said of the Roark's versatility in whatever role he's been asked to fill. "But with that said we consider him a part of the rotation at this juncture of the offseason."
New Nationals' pitching coach Mike Maddux said he expects that Roark will be part of the rotation this season after he came out of "nowhere" three seasons, back, debuting in the majors in 2013 and winning fifteen games in 2014.
"It's his job to lose," Maddux told reporters. "I mean, he's come out of, like I said, nowhere a couple of years ago and won fifteen ballgames and then there were some acquisitions and some health -- that there was some resurgence of guys added to the roster last year that kind of knocked him out. But you've got to admire a guy like him, holy cow.
"I mean, talk about the typical blue collar layman that goes out and wins fifteen ballgames and makes a little notch in his belt for him. That's pretty good. Easy to root for, and I'm rooting for him big time."
Joe Ross didn't exactly come out of nowhere, but the role he played in 2015 was something of a surprise.
Though he wasn't the marquee name in that trade, Rizzo, in August, told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier that he was a high priority in the deal.
Ross went (5-5) overall on the year, with a 3.64 ERA, a 3.42 FIP, 21 walks (2.47 BB/9) and 69 Ks (8.10 K/9) in 76 ⅔ major league innings, after starting the season at Double-A.
"He's got good stuff to go along with good command and doesn't get rattled very easily and is not afraid to get major league hitters out on the white part of the plate which is key to the progression of going from the minor leagues to the majors leagues," Rizzo said.
"He's been great for us," Rizzo continued when asked if the right-hander exceeded the Nationals' expectations.
"I wouldn't say he's exceeded our expectations," he explained. "Our scouts -- when we scouted him before we had him in the organization -- he was a priority-type of acquire for the club and he's really pitched as well as any of our minor league pitchers and prospects have."
Ross said this winter that he wasn't surprised how quickly he rose through the ranks or where he ended up in 2015.
He debuted in June, came back up in July and remained in the rotation, forcing Doug Fister to the bullpen toward the end of the season, then pitched out of the bullpen late in the year.
"I wouldn't say surprised," Ross told reporters. "It was kind of like my goal, I guess, going into last year, was hopefully getting called up. I can only do so much to control that, you kind of have to have the pieces fall into place. But I'm obviously really happy with how last year went and it will be interesting I guess to see what happens this year coming into Spring Training and stuff like that."
Ross said he didn't foresee changing his approach this winter, as he prepared for the 2016 campaign, considering how well things went last season. He'll go into Spring Training just like he has in previous years.
"You try not to get relaxed. It's that same mindset, you know, go out and earn that spot next year in Spring Training," he said.
"And you're always working on something over the offseason, so I just try to take that same mindset.
"Obviously, a little more -- I wouldn't say comfortable, but, you know, 'confident'. Having last year, and getting some time in the big leagues, so just the same mindset really and just looking forward to Spring Training."
Will the Nationals make additions this winter, knocking either Roark or Ross out of the rotation? Should they? Wei-Yin Chen? Ian Kennedy? Do any other remaining free agent arms make sense in D.C.?
Will the Nats consider trading Stephen Strasburg, who has one year of team control left? Will they seriously consider dealing Gio Gonzalez this winter? Will Rizzo and Co. attempt to "strengthen a strength" as they did last winter when they added Max Scherzer to an already strong mix of starters?