Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The Nats' offseason needs would look a lot different if Stephen Strasburg was healthy.
We've addressed the Dunn issue plenty, and I'm sure we'll be addressing it more in the weeks to come. And we've addressed the pitching issue, though it occurs to me there's another angle to this whole thing that hasn't been addressed head-on.
We wouldn't be having this conversation if Stephen Strasburg was healthy and prepared to start on Opening Day 2011.
Your first reaction to that statement might be, "Well, duh," but it's worth pointing out. The impact of Strasburg's torn elbow ligament cannot be understated.
Put a healthy Strasburg in the Nationals' 2011 rotation, and here's what you've got: 1) Strasburg, 2) Jordan Zimmermann, 3) Livan Hernandez, 4) John Lannan, 5) Jason Marquis. And you've still got Yunesky Maya, Ross Detwiler and a bunch of others trying to squeeze their way in.
Is that a championship-caliber rotation? Probably not. But I certainly wouldn't call it a terrible rotation. It's got the most dominant young pitcher baseball has seen in a while at the top, a potentially strong No. 2 guy with a bright future and three workhorse innings-eater rounding things out. Plenty of other clubs would take that rotation, and Mike Rizzo wouldn't be feeling pressure right now to add another front-line pitcher to that quintet.
Once you take Strasburg out of the equation, of course, that solid rotation suddenly looks bleak. There's no ace anchoring the group. And aside from the unproven Zimmermann, there's no other power arm in the mix. A rotation of Zimmermann, Hernandez, Lannan, Marquis and either Maya or Detwiler doesn't appear to offer much hope for even a .500 record in 2011.
Thus, Rizzo feels pressure to acquire a front-line starter who can pitch on Opening Day and bump everyone else down to their proper slot.
The problem is, there just aren't that many front-line starters to be had, especially for a perennially last-place club that will struggle to escape the basement next season. Rizzo can make offers to Cliff Lee and Jorge de la Rosa and Carl Pavano and Javier Vazquez til his throat is sore, and he can even offer more money than other clubs (as perhaps was the case with de la Rosa and Vazquez). It doesn't matter if none of those pitchers wants to come to Washington in the first place.
What about a trade? Well, Rizzo can offer Zimmermann, Ian Desmond and Derek Norris to the Royals and perhaps acquire Zack Greinke's services for the next two years. In the process, he'll be trading away the guy who could be his No. 2 starter for the next four years, the guy who could be his starting shortstop for the next five years and the guy who could be his starting catcher from 2012-17.
That's not exactly a move that benefits a franchise over the long term. It's a move of desperation to try to make 2011 more palatable, then perhaps make 2012 an all-or-nothing year with a Strasburg-Greinke duo leading the way before it's broken up that winter when Greinke becomes a free agent.
Do the Nationals sorely need a front-line starter in 2011? Yes. Are they going to be able to acquire one without mortgaging their future? Probably not. Would this all be moot if Stephen Strasburg was healthy enough to pitch before September? You bet.
Sure, there's nothing anyone can do about that now. But it's worth remembering just how crushing the Strasburg injury is to the Nationals, not to mention how difficult it is to acquire pitchers like him in the first place.