They've managed to add a Hall-of-Fame catcher, a workhorse right-hander, a closer with a fairly solid track record, a veteran second baseman and several established relievers during what even cynics would have to agree has been a productive offseason.
But if the Nationals are going to make any significant strides in 2010 and perhaps escape the basement of the NL East, there's one more piece that must be added to the puzzle: a No. 3 starter.
Because right now, they don't have one.
Sure, John Lannan and Jason Marquis will serve as important anchors to Washington's rotation and can pretty much be counted upon to pitch with some level of effectiveness. But after those two, the projected rotation looks mighty suspect. Yes, there are some intriguing names in the mix who could fill the gap -- Scott Olsen (if he's healthy), Ross Detwiler (if September wasn't a fluke), Craig Stammen (if he can build off a solid rookie season), Garrett Mock (if he can find some level of consistency), Stephen Strasburg (if he lives up to the hype). Is there a single name among that group, though, that you feel confident enough to pencil in for 175 innings and a sub-4.50 ERA? Didn't think so.
The importance of a reliable No. 3 starter can't be overstated. Try finding a competitive ballclub that doesn't have one. They're few and far between.
Remember the 2005 Nationals, who despite obvious roster limitations somehow had the NL's best record at the All-Star break and were on pace to win 100 games? (Yes, I know this feels like eons ago.) What, more than anything, put them in such a position? The fact they had three quality starting pitchers: Livan Hernandez (15-10, 3.98 ERA, 246 1/3 IP), John Patterson (9-7, 3.13 ERA, 198 1/3 IP) and Esteban Loaiza (12-10, 3.77 ERA, 217 IP).
Indeed, the correlation between solid No. 3 starters and overall success is significant. Here's a rundown of all 30 MLB teams in 2009, ranked by the total innings pitched by their top three starters...
OK, there are a few anomalies within there -- the Pirates ranking in the top 10, the Mariners ranking in the bottom 10 -- but for the most part, the theory holds true. The more innings you get out of your top three starters, the better your team is likely to be.
Is it any surprise the Nationals got the lowest number of innings from their top three starters in 2009? Not in the least.
And is it any surprise they're making a real push to acquire an established, veteran starter before camp opens next week to help fill the void? They'd be crazy not to.
This is why the Nats have been so aggressive in pursuing free agent right-hander Chien-Ming Wang, who baseball sources say is deciding between either Washington or one other yet-to-be-revealed finalist. Wang may be an injury risk, having made only 24 combined starts the last two seasons for the Yankees and having gone an abysmal 1-6 with a 9.64 ERA in 2009 before undergoing shoulder surgery. But if he's healthy -- and all signs point to him being close to 100 percent and shooting for a May return to the majors -- Wang is an established, big-league pitcher who should be able give the Nats exactly what they need.
If they ultimately don't sign the Taiwanese right-hander, the Nationals will hope to get those precious quality innings from someone else in-house. Or maybe they'll make a run at one of the few other available free agents, though there aren't many appealing options.
But one way or another, the Nats will need to find a No. 3 starter at some point if they intend to take a significant step forward in 2010.