The Nats came into this offseason clearly needing a bunch of things; a middle infielder, bullpen help, at least one starter. Notice the phrase was "at least" and not "at most" or "exactly", these things are important in coding and also, for some strange reason, running a major league baseball team. After signing Jason Marquis early, Nats fans were excited. Rizzo had months to bring in a second decent starter and then the Nats would have their best Top 3 since the magical 2005 season with a solid Livan, a surprising Loaiza and a healthy John Patterson. (Second best? Arguably 2007s' Lannan, Hill/Redding, and Bacsik combo. That's right. The Nats 2nd best Top 3 of the past 5 years is one that includes Mike Bacsik, the Everlasting Suckstobber.) Except that 2nd starter never came. (Neither did a save from a Guzman-Dunn-Willingham defense, or that last good reliever, or a pitching mentor for Strasburg. Baby wanted 12 lemons, Rizzo. - Yes, I'm quoting "The Breakup". No, you can't shame me.)
Instead we got the familiar retread parade. Batista, Estes, maybe Wang, maybe Benson. Guys who should be battling for a long relief spot to earn money for a new speedboat are instead going to go into camp looking to be the Nats #3. Disappointing to say the least.
But why did this happen? Surely it wasn't a money issue, right? FJB pointed out several reasonable pitching deals that went down this season. Why didn't the Nats fix this problem?
It could be that the Nats truly believe in... someone. I'm not sure who exactly. JD Martin is the first choice, as he did do decently in his two month audition, but he doesn't miss enough bats, and gives up too many homers. Garrett Mock has major league stuff but not major league control. Craig Stammen held down a rotation spot, but I'm not sure anyone noticed he was out there and he got injured. All these guys are 25/26 too, a bit old to expect a revelation. Maybe they love Detwiler or Martis, who at least have the benefit of youth, but if they do, they are seeing something that no one else is.
Maybe they didn't sign the second starter because they'll be going after a top-line starter hard in the next offseason. Assuming all goes to plan (and it always does, right?) the Nats have 4 out of 5 rotation spots sewn up for 2011. Lannan, Marquis, Strasburg, Zimmermann. Anyone brought in now would just be a one year rental, a place holder for that spot, so why not save that cash? Who fits the bill of who could be available? Josh Beckett (who's signing was a big part of my "Phil Dunn magical mystery tour" post that never happened), Cliff Lee, Brandon Webb, Javy Vazquez maybe. This would be a bit of a shocker though. Kasten has voiced a disdain for paying out top dollar, long-term deals for pitching. Plus each of these guys will be on the other side of 30 come next offseason. And if you are going to plan on getting one of these guys, that means you are willing to go all in, and seriously overpay. Offering that type of money for a batter (Teixeira) is one thing, offering it to a pitcher is another. The Nats front office has shown itself to be nothing if not... thoughtful with money. Can they be reckless for the chance at a few more wins?
It could also be that the Nats just don't care. The improvement is going to come this season. It almost HAS to. The team should have scored more runs, should have given up fewer, should have done better based on the runs they did score and give up. There has been improvement on offense, if small, and pitching. It's nearly impossible to imagine this team losing 100 games again, barring injury. So the team is going to be 5, 10, maybe 15 wins better. Maybe they figure that's enough. Maybe they aren't looking at 2011 yet, in terms of a non-Strasburg young pitcher they like or in terms of a free agent signing. Maybe they want to play out this season see how Strasburg is coming along, how Zimmerman returns from injury, and then think more about the rotation. Maybe they want to save a few bucks, because what are 2-3 more wins going to get them?
Whatever the reason the Nats continue to have a festering gaping hole starting in the middle of their rotation and continuing all the way through to the end. There is no safety net. A bad year by Lannan or Marquis, or a failure of anyone to develop, would lead to once again having a 14th, 15th, 16th best staff in the NL. For the sake of the fan's sanity, let's hope the Nats are lucky for once.