Monday, January 17, 2011

Rizzo waves white flag on pitcher search

Nationals Baseball: Rizzo waves white flag on pitcher search

I don't consider the inability to acquire a #1 type starting pitcher this off season to be all that much in terms of importance.

The market was rail thin and the competition for those available was strong. Philly will regret the Lee deal eventually (can't wait till they are paying Howard and Lee staggering amounts for minimal production).

I can't castigate Philly for its choice -- they are playing for 2011 knowing the window is narrowing (Rollins, Utley and Howard aging and their best pitchers on the bad side of 30). IMHO, they made the right decision for them.

Brewers too. They have a chance in their division, they have Prince Fielder in the middle of their lineup for another year and they really didn't pay a huge price in prospects. And in 2 years they'll get two picks when Greinke leaves.

But what would either of these deals done for our Nats? Mostly it would have given them a "Champs of the offseason" title -- and we already have 10 or so of those banners flying over at Fed Ex field. No replacement for playoff wins.

The 2011 season died the moment SS's elbow snapped. So once again, we have a season where the vital commodity is playing time. It should be used judiciously -- young players get seasoning and vets are showcased for trades. Nats need to know by the end of 2011 if Desmond's glove can be relied upon at short. Can Espinosa handle regular work at 2nd. Can Zimmermann handle 200 IPs and be a true #2 starter? Can Drew Storen handle closing chores? Is Wilson Ramos the catcher of the future? If he is, can they move Derek Norris to 1B and accelerate his ascent to the bigs? Or do they leave him at catcher and use him as a powerful trade chip in the 2011-2012 offseason (a catcher who can hit is a very valuable piece moreso than an OF or CI or RP).

The other task I'd give Rizzo for 2011 is to find a CF who can play defense and get on base. A true leadoff hitter is one gaping hole in the lineup right now and CF is the place where that guy can be added. Granted, aside from #1 starters, a CF who can do both those things is hard to come by. But you've got all this season to identify that guy (I am thinking you look in other organizations I have no confidence in Eury Perez) and you go get that guy.

By 2012, you hopefully have your MI sorted, have Strasburg back at the top of the rotation and have Harper banging on the door to be a third big bat. Also, you'd have considerable payroll flexibility to add an FA starter. Then you'll have the makings of a .500 club with aspirations of contention if luck goes your way.

True that a lot of things have to go right -- young players develop as expected (Harper, Desmond, Ramos, Espinosa Zimmermann) and the pocketbooks have to open but to my mind the way to contention is there. The only question is Will they have the discipline to stay on the road and will they get lucky enough to avoid any potholes (read injuries/regressions)?

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