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Mike Rizzo makes a No. 1 starter the Nationals' offseason priority

After fielding one of the least productive starting rotations in the majors this season and with Stephen Strasburg's Tommy John surgery creating a one-season void, the Nationals will make landing an elite, No. 1 starting pitcher their first priority this offseason, Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo said this afternoon.

Last offseason, Rizzo sought a veteran who could stabilize their rotation and signed Jason Marquis to a two-year, $15 million contract. This year, Rizzo wants "more of a premium type" starting pitcher to head the rotation, not simply suck up innings.

"I think as we've been saying for a while now, starting pitching is our biggest need," Rizzo said. "We need a guy to head the rotation, a front-of-the-rotation guy to put everybody in what we feel is their proper place in the rotation. That's the No. 1 priority going into the offseason."

Finding that kind of pitcher, though, will be a considerable challenge. The market of elite, ace-level starting pitchers who could become available this winter is thin. Rangers left-hander Cliff Lee, 32, is the lone free agent who meets Rizzo's description, and he will surely receive immense interest from several big-market teams. James Shields, Matt Garza and Zack Greinke could become available in a trade.

"I think it's obtainable either way," Rizzo said. "Free agency is obviously the easier option. All it costs you is money. 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. I certainly think we have depth, prospect-wise, now in our minor-league system to pull off a deal for a pitcher."

This season, Nationals starters have posted a 4.62 ERA, fifth-highest in the majors. They won 42 games, more than only two teams and a reflection, mainly, of their inability to pitch deep into games. Nationals starters have accounted for 847 innings entering tonight, second-fewest in the majors and only one inning more than the Pirates.

"If you're going to win more games, it generally comes back to pitching," Manager Jim Riggleman said. "Mike is dedicated to that. Our starters, you see growth there. But to really take a next step, to add 10 more wins, we're going to have to up it a little bit in the starting rotation. Your starters have got to go out there and go six, seven innings. If you go five innings, 5 1/3, that type of stuff, you really need to add another bullpen guy. We need to make that next jump."

This season, the Nationals counted on John Lannan and Marquis as their top two pitchers before Strasburg arrived and Livan Hernandez blossomed as a surprising ace. Marquis and Lannan each missed considerable owing to either injury or ineffectiveness, but "there's a little bit of hoping going on there," Riggleman said. "You're hoping what you saw there the last six or eight weeks is what you're going to see next year. If what we see from those guys is what we saw there in April and May, that's not going to work."

With Strasburg out for all of the 2011 season, the Nationals will need to look outside their current rotation, which also includes Yunesky Maya, Ross Detwiler and Jordan Zimmermann.

"We certainly need somebody at the top of the rotation, whether it's the top, a No.1 type guy," Riggleman said. "We certainly need another guy that we think can go out there, win 14, 15 ballgames, pitch 200, 220 innings. Mike talks about it at all the time and he's dedicated to do that. Those guys just don't show up for you."

By Adam Kilgore  | September 29, 2010; 6:50 PM ET
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Next: Game 159 discussion thread: Nationals vs. Phillies


I'll belive it when I see it.

Posted by: Dogface13 | September 29, 2010 6:55 PM | Report abuse

that's "believe", sorry.

Posted by: Dogface13 | September 29, 2010 7:00 PM | Report abuse

Did somebody say something?

Posted by: Brue | September 29, 2010 7:40 PM | Report abuse

Betcha he's only saying this to drum-up interest in season ticket sales for next year.

The odds of getting James Shields, Matt Garza and Zack Greinke, or any good FA pitcher are below slim and none. Try nonexistent.

Posted by: Poopy_McPoop | September 29, 2010 7:43 PM | Report abuse

>Betcha he's only saying this to drum-up interest in season ticket sales for next year.

Posted by: Poopy_McPoop

It's way too late for that. Even though they're currently asking for 'deposits' for next year. It's not like they can pan over to Showalter when they run a promo for season tickets. There's not even the inkling that anything is worth paying for next year.

Posted by: Brue | September 29, 2010 7:56 PM | Report abuse

All the "experts" are saying that Cliff Lee will go to whoever gives him the most money, I guess we will find out if the Lerners are still cheap.

But if we did try to pull off a trade for Shield, Garza, Grienke, etc. who do you think we would have to give up? I'm guessing any trade starts with Derek Norris and maybe Detwiler, and another minor league pitcher. Would that be enough? We've never had minor league talent before this is new for us.

Posted by: peteywheatstraw | September 29, 2010 8:02 PM | Report abuse

The team can chase Cliff Lee (highly doubtful, at best), or look for a #1-2 via trade (more likely, but still improbable). Just don't bring another non-tendered, over-priced #3-5 & try to sell him as a #1-2. We're not gonna take it.

Posted by: BinM | September 29, 2010 8:03 PM | Report abuse

> I'm guessing any trade starts with Derek Norris and maybe Detwiler, and another minor league pitcher. Would that be enough? We've never had minor league talent before this is new for us.

Posted by: peteywheatstraw

What the hell would Tampa do with Detwiler? Or Norris for that matter? Norris is going to have chronic weight problems because of his build. There's nobody in the system. They'll be lucky if they get 1 or 2 guys coming up tp the bigs the next few years.

Posted by: Brue | September 29, 2010 8:09 PM | Report abuse

Depending on who Rizzo has in his sights, requested returns would probably begin with a 4-5 man combo of Desmond/Espinosa(MI), Norris/Ramos(CA), Marrero/Moore(1B), JZimm/Milone/Detwiler/Martis/Rosenbaum(SP), Storen/Clippard/Balester/Morris(RP), or Bernadina/Perez/Hood/Burgess(OF).

Getting a real #1 for 2011 could be painful; Be prepared.

Posted by: BinM | September 29, 2010 8:23 PM | Report abuse

"I think as we've been saying for a while now, starting pitching is our biggest need." WOW, that is funny at least three different ways. Rizzo has lost me.

He knows baseball talent, no doubt, very solid resume as a scout, but as a GM? -- he is no PR guy, he is no horse trader, so far he has not pulled off any coup of a deal (Ramos may turn out to be a very good deal, we'll see) and he seems to lack the gravitas in the organization to make real change.

And the "all it costs you is money" comment is insulting. The Nats have a lot of my STH money. It is a freaking joke that this bottom third payroll -- top third ticket price -- club playing in a publicly financed park has a GM that glibly talks about the ease of spending money to get talent. And this after Rizzo spent lightly by adding an inngings eater in Marquis, a cast off closer in Capps and a part time 38 year old catcher in Pudge last off season. Those guys were pretty much all he added to a historically awful club. He came out of spring training with no RF, a knocking on 30 yr old CF who had never played a full year in the bigs, a guy at 2B who never played the position in and a rookie SS -- as if that club was going to compete with the Braves or Philles, much less the Marlins or Mets. He pretty much spent the money to hope to finish 4th.

And NOW he tells us that an ACE is a priorty? No kidding. Good thing you make the big bucks to have that huge baseball brain it takes to come up with that ingenious thought, Mike. For which club is having a "premium type" Ace not a priority Mike? Wake up and smell the stench of your club. The Nats don't have one starter for 2011 that projects in the top dozen starters in the NL East.

Posted by: dfh21 | September 29, 2010 8:40 PM | Report abuse

>He knows baseball talent, no doubt, very solid resume as a scout

>And NOW he tells us that an ACE is a priorty? No kidding. Good thing you make the big bucks to have that huge baseball brain it takes to come up with that ingenious thought, Mike.

Posted by: dfh21

So which is it? I don't even think he knows talent.

Posted by: Brue | September 29, 2010 8:58 PM | Report abuse

And if he doesn't get that ace? At least he tried.

Posted by: EdDC | September 29, 2010 10:00 PM | Report abuse

Brue -- I guess what my ambling rantings were trying to get at, is that just because the guy has been out there evaluating talent and working the farm for this or that club over the years, it does not mean that he has the chops for the GM gig. He is likely good at charting the progress of our AA relief corps, but assembling a big league club is simply nothing he has ever done before 2 years ago. The roster coming out of the spring this year were dead men walking and that has to come back on Rizzo. Even if the Lerners had him on some short payroll leash, he decided where to spend the coins and his choices did not pan out very well. Capps was a nice add, but trading away an arb eligible closer may not have been the thing to do at the end of the day - -we'll see. Marquis, bust. Pudge a push at best (and when you figure the money he got -- a loser move). Kennedy -- slgiht loss as not much was really expected there. But Riggleman having to plug a bunch of questionable upside rookies into big roles from day 1, with a rotation of thin experience, questionable health and effectiveness, etc. Rizzo's fault to some large extent. I just have not seen how this baseball insider guy has shown us he has the skill set to succeed. It is pretty sad. I mean no effing kidding we need an Ace!

Posted by: dfh21 | September 29, 2010 10:10 PM | Report abuse

So does this mean that 12 months ago, we didn't need a front line starter? That a year ago we needed a #4 innings eater type like Marquis?
Do we need a #1 starter now because of the roster makeup? Or is it because of the state of season ticket sales?

Posted by: Sunderland | September 29, 2010 10:32 PM | Report abuse

hahahahahahahahahahahaha....DELUSIONS and DENIALS are ENDLESS in NOTStown....o' by the way...How did Marquis work out for you? I can't wait for the next phoney baloney story about the FAILED but HUGE OFFER they made to Cliff Lee......It will be Teixiera deja' vu ...all over again..... hahahahahahahahahaha.. LAST PLACE in 2011 !

Posted by: GRIMReaper55 | September 29, 2010 10:49 PM | Report abuse

I think the Nats will go after Cliff Lee but end up with Brandon Webb. Ok, Sean Burnett be ready to give up the # 17

Posted by: 4U2Know | September 29, 2010 11:09 PM | Report abuse

How many 2-0, 1-0, 2-1 or similar games did these guys lose? The problem was the lack of timely hitting, not the lack of decent pitching. Yeah, they need a starter, but the really need a couple guys who hit .300 or close at the top of the line up and another big bat who can play an entire season, unlike Willingham.


Posted by: arlingtontwb | September 29, 2010 11:27 PM | Report abuse

arlingtonwb: you are right about the hitting but everybody is also right about the pitching.

Which shows just how badly things have worked out. Four or five years into the "Plan," depending on how you count, they are a last place team in disarray. Remember when we thought that by the second half of this season we would have too much starting pitching? Now a shambles. Hitting and run production were certainly expected to be stronger. Defense poor. Only bright light was the (overused) bullpen. And of course the Strasburg injury.

VERY difficult to find cause for optimism for 2011, which as early as this year's spring training was being touted as the breakout season.

The idea that we could see losing seasons stretching out through the decade is starting to be a possibility. The Lerners need to do some radical things to convince me we are not headed for 15+ losing seasons. It's less a question of "are they cheap?" than "are they bold?"

Posted by: Meridian1 | September 30, 2010 6:47 AM | Report abuse

Timely hitting was indeed the problem, second only to horrible defense. At least we wont have the specter of seeing Guzman playing right field this upcoming season.
Trading for a number one starter is unlikely because we dont have the assets to give away that the other GM would want. There is less than a handful of real quality free agents available and everyone's money will be chasing them. My prediction is that we will see little turnover and that centerfield will be the major upgrade.

Posted by: driley | September 30, 2010 7:01 AM | Report abuse

Maybe Patterson or Perez are available :)

Posted by: fearturtle44 | September 30, 2010 8:29 AM | Report abuse

Wow, all you guys are simply a blast of fresh air to read. Who whizzed in all your cheerios?

Lerners are cheap.
Rizzo knows nothing.
Stan didn't matter.

The opinions expressed here are just rank. And once I have the time later to call ALL of you on the carpet as to why EACH of you are in the Poopy McPoop class of Nats fans, I certainly will.

Change the tone people, or be gone!

Posted by: dand187 | September 30, 2010 8:55 AM | Report abuse

Here's the list of SP avalible:

* - player whose current contract includes 2011 option

Starting Pitchers
Bronson Arroyo CIN *
Kris Benson ARZ
Jeremy Bonderman DET
David Bush MIL
Bruce Chen KC
Kevin Correia SD
Jorge De La Rosa COL
Justin Duchscherer OAK
Jeff Francis COL *
Freddy Garcia CWS
Jon Garland SD *
Aaron Harang CIN *
Hiroki Kuroda LAD
Cliff Lee TEX
Ted Lilly LAD
Braden Looper MIL
Noah Lowry SF
Brian Moehler HOU
Kevin Millwood BAL
Jamie Moyer PHI
Vicente Padilla LAD
Carl Pavano MIN
Brad Penny STL
Nate Robertson PHI
Ian Snell SEA *
Jeff Suppan STL
Hisanori Takahashi NYM
Javier Vazquez NYY
Brandon Webb ARI
Jake Westbrook STL
Dontrelle Willis ARI
Chris Young SD *

If you mix Rizzo's wants with the Learner's frugalness you get the following players:

Jon Garland SD *
Aaron Harang CIN *
Bronson Arroyo CIN *
Brandon Webb ARI

Alas, given the history of this ball club and its masochistic propensity to force us to watch reclamation projects, one would have to assume that it will be:

Dontrelle Willis, since they could say he was a 22 game winner.

Posted by: hansenjo | September 30, 2010 9:44 AM | Report abuse

What a crock. They always talk about pitchers throwing more innings. How can they with that yank-happy baffoon Riggleman? He'd pull Walter Johnson just so he could make his beloved double-switch or pinch hit with one of his five .170 bench hitters. He's a retread loser with the record to prove it and always will be.

Posted by: lp_lodestar | September 30, 2010 10:38 AM | Report abuse

i vote for Grienke, cuz he's still young, trading the farm for a one year rental ace is not a good idea... but if Greinke has a good year for us we could then sign him long term and make him another piece of the puzzle, go get him Rizzo!

Posted by: destewar | September 30, 2010 1:02 PM | Report abuse

Is there any reason to think Chen Ming Wang, or however you spell it, will be ready by next season? If so, that might be part of the answer. Yes, I still have faith that Mikey Rizzo will be good for the future of this club, but it seems 2012 is the season we're all really waiting for, does it not?

Posted by: cokedispatch | September 30, 2010 2:00 PM | Report abuse

That's all well and good, but has anybody looked at their offense lately? When you get shut out as many times as they have this year on 2 or three hits, What's the starting pitchers name that can over come that

Posted by: pstotts15 | September 30, 2010 3:24 PM | Report abuse

Good. The pitching after Strausberg is a joke and we will never get ANYWHERE with them.

We need more pitchers as we have some young guys who can produce in the future

Posted by: Bious | October 1, 2010 1:00 PM | Report abuse

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