Posted on November 14, 2016 by Bryan Zarpentine
On the surface, the Washington Nationals have what some might call a surplus of starting pitching heading into 2017. At the very least, they have a strong contingent of starters with substantial depth waiting in the minors to guard against injuries. However, apparently nobody in Washington has told GM Mike Rizzo about all of their pitching, because he is not ruling out the possibility of the Nationals making an effort to acquire a starting pitcher or two this offseason, either via free agency or trade.
Right now, the Nationals have a formidable duo on Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg at the top of their rotation. They also have an experienced and reliable lefty in Gio Gonzalez and a dart-thrower in Tanner Roark who won 16 games in 2016. That’s already a group of four starters that would make at least half the teams in baseball envious.
Beyond those four, the Nationals also have plenty of options. Joe Ross would likely be penciled in as their no. 5 starter right now, with prospects Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, A.J. Cole, and Austin Voth waiting in the wings. That gives Washington at least nine options for the starting rotation in 2017. But that doesn’t seem to be enough for Rizzo.
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“We never stop looking for starting pitching,” Rizzo said last week at the GM meetings. This obviously isn’t a guarantee that the Nationals will make a move to acquire more starting pitching, but considering Washington’s other needs this offseason, it would be odd to see them put substantial resources into adding another starting pitcher.
In fact, most thought heading into the offseason that the Nationals may look to trade Gonzalez, the only lefty of the bunch, after picking up his $12 million option for 2017. Considering the dearth of pitching on the free agent market this offseason, the fact that Gonzalez is a lefty, and his general consistency over the course of his career, Gonzalez could be one of Washington’s more valuable trade chips this winter. But once again, no one has told Rizzo.
“I would not describe him as expendable at all,” Rizzo said about Gonzalez. “To me, he’s a reliable starter that takes the mound every five days, and those guys are worth their weight in gold.” So, Rizzo at least admits that Gonzalez is a valuable player, but his words would indicate that the southpaw is more valuable with the Nationals than he is being used as a trade chip, which may not necessarily be the case.
Of course, other than the fact that he’s making $12 million in 2017, there appears to be little that guarantees Gonzalez a spot in Washington’s rotation. The competition for the final two or three spots figures to be fierce, and considering the consistent drop off in his performance from one season to the next over the past few years, Gonzalez could be at risk of being usurped by some of Washington’s younger pitchers who possess a much higher ceiling than what the lefty is capable of bringing to the table at this stage in his career.
In that sense, trading Gonzalez this winter would make the most sense. Yet, that’s not what Rizzo is thinking about; he doesn’t want to trade away pitching. Instead, he wants to bring more of it in. “That’s the currency of this game — starting pitching,” Rizzo explains. “The more controllable good starting pitchers you can find is what it’s all about. We’re always on the hunt for it.” We’ll just have to sit back and see how Rizzo goes about adding to his already formidable arsenal of starting pitchers.