|USA Today Sports Images|
Do they give Haren another shot once he's deemed healthy, or have they seen all they need to see out of him? Do they have a viable alternative in-house, whether a journeyman veteran like Ross Ohlendorf or a highly touted (though still really green) prospect like Nate Karns or Taylor Jordan? Or does Mike Rizzo need to go look outside the organization and make a bold deal for another starter before the July 31 trade deadline?
Before we get to the long-term question, let's quickly address the short-term one. The Nationals don't have to make an immediate decision, because they don't need a replacement starter until Saturday in New York at the earliest.
The easiest answer would seem to be handing the ball to Ohlendorf, who has been great in two appearances so far (one start, one long-relief outing) and has certainly earned the right to get another look. Davey Johnson, though, seems to prefer the veteran right-hander out of his bullpen, not wanting to put a younger pitcher in the awkward role of "long man."
So the choice could come down to Karns or Jordan, each currently pitching at Class AA Harrisburg. Karns has made only one appearance for the Senators since his demotion from D.C. following three up-and-down starts; he lasted only four innings in a loss to Bowie.
Jordan, meanwhile, has been the shining star of the farm system this season, going a combined 8-1 with an 0.95 ERA in 14 games (13 starts) between Harrisburg and Class A Potomac. The 24-year-old right-hander has gotten better as his season progressed, has 42 strikeouts to only eight walks since arriving at Class AA and is seen by many in the organization as a future stud.
The problem: Jordan pitched only 54 1/3 innings last season after recovering from Tommy John surgery, he's already thrown 85 1/3 innings this season and you know how Rizzo and this organization handle young pitchers returning from that major elbow procedure.
If the Nationals are interested in Jordan only for a couple of spot starts, he seems like a viable choice. If they need somebody to take over Haren's spot long-term, the potential risk appears to outweigh the potential reward.
Which raises the possibility of a trade. The Nats didn't necessarily think they'd be in the market for another veteran starter come July 31, but circumstances have changed and this has now become one of, if not their greatest need entering the summer trade season.
The problem, as always: Nothing is more expensive this time of the year than a quality starting pitcher. There aren't many of them in supply, and plenty of teams want them.
Who's potentially on the market this summer? Let's forget about Cliff Lee, making $25 million this season and each of the next two seasons and likely to be guaranteed $27.5 million in 2016 basically if he stays healthy.
The next tier of starters has some intriguing names who aren't tied up for much money: Ricky Nolasco of the Marlins, Matt Garza of the Cubs, Bud Norris of the Astros, Yovani Gallardo of the Brewers. Any would be an upgrade for the Nationals, and certainly capable of holding down the No. 5 spot in their rotation for the remainder of the season.
First things first: The Nats need to figure out who's taking Haren's spot this weekend. But once they get a Band-Aid on that wound to temporarily stop the bleeding, don't be surprised if Rizzo goes out and tries to get a more experienced long-term solution, someone who could serve as a thread of stitches, sealing up this suddenly gaping hole for the rest of the year.