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State of the rotation

Jan 18, 2011, 2:32 PM EST

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Jordan Zimmermann will be the least-experienced member of a deep 2011 rotation.

Mike Rizzo spent nearly three months trying to acquire a starting pitcher. The Nationals general manager's preference all along was to land a legitimate front-line hurler, one who could anchor Washington's 2011 rotation and bump everyone else down a notch into a slot befitting their abilities.

Rizzo wasn't able to get his man. Cliff Lee signed with the Phillies. Jorge de la Rosa stayed with the Rockies. Zack Greinke exercised his no-trade clause until he had an opportunity to move to a Brewers club better-positioned to win now. Matt Garza's price was too steep, though not too steep for the Cubs to acquire his services.

There were no longer any front-line starters to be had. Rizzo, though, was adamant about improving his rotation, even if only by a tick or two. The last thing he wanted to do was enter 2011 with the same quintet of starters that closed out 2010: Livan Hernandez, Jason Marquis, John Lannan, Jordan Zimmermann and Yunesky Maya.

So when Tom Gorzelanny became available — thanks in large part to the Cubs' acquisition of Garza — Rizzo jumped at the opportunity to pick up the 28-year-old left-hander. It cost three minor-leaguers (outfielder Michael Burgess and pitchers A.J. Morris and Graham Hicks) but that wasn't nearly as steep a price as it would have takenRead more »

  1. NatinBeantown - Jan 18, 2011 at 2:42 PM

    Newposted, but more appropriate under this post anyway…NatinBeantown said… So now Crasnick has us linked to Aaron Heilman. It's looking more and more like a spring training casting call for the rotation, except this time (as opposed to JimBo's '07 circus*) with actual major leaguers, each trying for a good showing in '11.-Lannan trying to prove he's not the pitcher of the first half of 2010-Detwiler trying to prove he's ready-Wang trying to prove he's finally over his shoulder surgery and can get back to the top-Gorzelanny trying to prove he's really the high-K, low HR-rate guy he's occasionally shown-Maya trying to avoid the meltdown inning and prove he can get MLB hitters out-Livo proving he's still got gas in the tank-Heilman trying to prove he can be a reliable starterOne thing about quantity, I have much more confidence in one or two of these happening than in all of them.*whenever I think about that rotation audition in 2007, I always imagine the scene in Blazing Saddles where Taggert is recruiting bandits, and I chuckle. Then I weep.

  2. NatsJack in Florida - Jan 18, 2011 at 2:47 PM

    At least I won't have to endure any of these potential starters bouncing the ball 55' and 6' wide of home plate like I did with Daniel Cabrera in the Spring of '09.

  3. JamesFan - Jan 18, 2011 at 3:00 PM

    The Nats do not have a closer, and they have the most questionable starting rotation in the NL. They do have a lot of options. That's it. Good luck Riggleman and McCatyy. Let's see what happens.

  4. Big Cat - Jan 18, 2011 at 3:00 PM

    Yeah but Cabrera had a live arm and hit 98 on the jugs gun. Blah blah blah. where is Daniel now? Is he done? How about Patterson?Wang!? Jiminy Christmas… see loch ness more than Wang.Jack, how do you like Cole Kimball?

  5. Gus in FFX - Jan 18, 2011 at 3:15 PM

    Favorable comparison made between Garza and Gorzo (beyond similarity of abbreviated names) numbers.

  6. Bratislava, Slovakia - Jan 18, 2011 at 3:20 PM

    Here's my $8 (or so)-million-dollar question: If the Nats use Spring Training to hold an honest, open, fair competition for their five-man rotation and — as I suspect — Jason Marquis ends up number six or seven in the mix based on performance, will they be willing to eat the second half of his $15 million contract? Or will they feel compelled to include him in their regular season rotation because of said contract? To me, the willingness to absorb a bad contract is every bit as valuable a use of the money as adding yet another average arm or bat.

  7. HHover - Jan 18, 2011 at 3:26 PM

    I've seen that Gorzelanny-Garza comparison, and it's worth noting that it's based solely on 2010 #s, and that their career #s–ERA, FIP, WHIP, IP, etc–show Garza ahead in pretty much every category, tho still not a top of the rotation guy.Overall, that doesn't mean this was a good pair of trades on balance for the Cubs (which is the point of the blogpost that Gus links). But there's really no question that Garza is the better pitcher of the two.

  8. David - Jan 18, 2011 at 3:30 PM

    Mark,Nice breakdown. If you can put a legitimate MLB starter on the mound for every game and have a line up with no automatic outs in it and your defense does not exceed the league average in errors your team can play .500 ball. Will it happen? Who knows, but barring key injuries and possible trades I think they have a chance. I too am a little concerned about the closer role. @NatinBeantownthe Blazing Saddles reference made me laugh in a gallows humor type of way. I guess that shows progress?

  9. Anonymous - Jan 18, 2011 at 3:31 PM

    I like Gorzelanny as much as the next person… but a post saying the Nats now have depth because they added a pitcher that has trouble keeping a 4.50 ERA is about as close to being a biased article as possible.Rizzo failed in his only stated goal of the offseason… until the media addresses this, we the fans have no reason to get excited over these fluff pieces.

  10. LoveDaNats - Jan 18, 2011 at 3:32 PM

    Mark,So the likely opening day pitcher will be ……..whom?

  11. Stranded_in_Philly - Jan 18, 2011 at 3:48 PM

    Another lefty is a nice addition at least. Do we try our best to get a lefty/righty flip throughout? Livo, Lannan, JZimm, Gorzo, Marquis/whoever else?I'd love to have the optimism to put JZimm number one, I just want to see how he looks after TJ.

  12. Anonymous - Jan 18, 2011 at 3:54 PM

    Though Rizzo tried hard to land a front line starter I feel it just wasn't about to happen in 2011. I still contend that 2012 will bring a much higher probability of that happening IF SS is healthy and ready to resume the position of #1. Washingtons chances of taking a major step up in the NL East and becoming a more attractive landing spot for top free agents will rise markedly in 12. I applaud Rizzos' efforts this year but the SS setback really sealed his fate for 11. All that being said I think this staff can be productive this year and may even surprise us with a 4th place finish in the east. Anything beyond that would be miraculous indeed. GO NATS JTinSC

  13. Mark Zuckerman - Jan 18, 2011 at 3:58 PM

    LoveDaNats said…Mark, So the likely opening day pitcher will be ……..whom?At this point, I'd say Livo.

  14. DFL - Jan 18, 2011 at 4:11 PM

    I take the perspective that the Nats will win 75 games this season at best. The starting pitching just isn't good enough. If Gorzelanny pitches as he did in 2007, the trade might have been worth it. More than likely, he might pitch as well as he did last season, a John Lannan with a better fastball. Better to keep two young pitchers in Morris and Hicks rather than pick up another fifth starter in Gorzelanny. If Strasburg returns and Zimmerman, Solis and others make the expected strides in 2011, the Nats can make a big move in 2012. But not before.

  15. Paul - Jan 18, 2011 at 4:11 PM

    My take on Rizzo's strategy over the last years is that he has been trying to build areas strength and depth for this team that will enable the Nats to make meaningful deals in the near future. Right now the Nats have legitimate depth of no. 4 & 5 pitchers, back end arms (though no clear closers), catchers and are approaching depth in middle infielders. While this means that we will have a lot of interchangeable parts for these positions that will enable us to make deals, it is risky. The Nats really need at least a couple starters to have good years (the Nats can't usually manage to get more than one starter to pitch well for an extended period of time), and the bullpen needs to match their stuff with results (something that I am not sure will happen). If everything goes to plan and people play at least to their skill level, then we have a 75 win team AND proven big league players to trade (Marquis, Pudge, Clippard, etc.) at the deadline to really help brighten the future. If things bomb and the bullpen blows, the starters pitch like a collection of middling back-end pitchers and the young offense doesn't improve, it is going to be a very long season.In Rizzo we trust.

  16. Anonymous8 - Jan 18, 2011 at 4:11 PM

    The Nats have a log jam of #4 and #5 and AAAA starters and you hope at some point that someone will step up out of the pile to show they have it.I have debated John Lannan within my own brain so many times whether he can be a solid #3 and he was improving year over year until last year. Yes, he finished strong and this is one of Rizzo's guys. Now that the team is paying him close to $3 million the pressure is really on.Also, looks like with the past week's moves the Nats payroll will eclipse last years now.

  17. Jimmy - Jan 18, 2011 at 4:12 PM

    What's Gronzey life time record 36-37? And that includes his 14-10, record of THREE years ago. Without his record THREE years ago he 22-27. I would have rather kept our youth (Morris and Burgess) and traded old Double Swithes' boy Nyger Morgan. I'm willing to say now that a couple of our rehab pitchers will out preform Gronzey! Gronzey has been healthy and he's only been a journeyman pitcher. Some of your best moves are the ones not made! Everyone talks about the hole in Burgess swing. I think Dunn has a big hole in his swing and most cried because we didn't resign him. Burgess in Wrigley Field, in two years, will look like the steal of the decade! And, whatever Morris does will only be make us feel worse! Our best off season move would have been to fire Double Switch and hired a good young manager prospect (Ryne Sandberg)

  18. NatsJack in Florida - Jan 18, 2011 at 4:20 PM

    Big Cat…. I only saw Cole Kimball once 3 years ago in Fall Instructional League and he wasn't to impressive then but that was 3 years ago.

  19. Kenz aFan - Jan 18, 2011 at 4:21 PM

    If the Nats end up signing Aaron Heilman as a starter, I hope they let him return to his three quarter delivery and not the overhand one the Mets forced on him while he was with them. Heilman was a much better pitcher when he threw using a 3/4 motion, than he ever was throwing overhand.

  20. Souldrummer - Jan 18, 2011 at 4:24 PM

    As a lefty, I think he's similar to Lannan in that he hasn't shown any great skill in getting lefties like he'll see in Philadelphia out at any great rate (although maybe Charlie Manuel won't realize this). Career splits are .716 OPS against righties..823 OPS against lefties.

  21. NatinBeantown - Jan 18, 2011 at 4:25 PM

    Anon @ 10:31,I've read several articles about the trade this morning, and all of the local writers (Nats Insider included) have framed it the same way: Rizzo wanted a frontline starter. For a variety of reasons, failed to acquire one, so now he has made a few moves focused on pitching depth instead. How is that not the media addressing the issue? They should rake him over the coals at every opportunity because Grienke and Lee specifically chose win-now opportunities?

  22. NatinBeantown - Jan 18, 2011 at 4:32 PM

    What people need to remember about "depth" or "back-of-the-rotation" signings is that their benefit is NOT the upgrade on your current 3-4-5 pitchers. It's the HUGE upgrade on the spot starters and injury replacements. It's true: Gorzelanny might not be much more than a #4 starter. But in 2010, the Nats started 44 games with Stammen, Atilano, or JD Martin. In 2009, they started 49 games with those guys and Martis. Legitimate pitching depth means that the season doesn't go in a ditch when your projected starters don't pan out.

  23. NatsJack in Florida - Jan 18, 2011 at 4:33 PM

    And now Scott Hairston's going to the Mets.

  24. Anonymous - Jan 18, 2011 at 4:34 PM

    Who's "Gronzey"?

  25. Bowdenball - Jan 18, 2011 at 4:37 PM

    If one more person cites a pitcher's career W-L record as definitive evidence of his ability I think Bill James' head might explode.Gorzelanny has decent numbers in 2010 and career numbers better than most of the Nats' other options. Every time a prospect is traded the loss of potential seems devastating, but the fact is that it's very possible none of those guys ever spends a day in the big leagues.Here's a good Fangraphs piece on the trade:

  26. sjm 308 - Jan 18, 2011 at 4:43 PM

    I like this trade. It's not going to vault us into the playoff hunt but its a solid trade and the first I can remember where we traded prospects for an established major leaguer since we got Olsen/Willingham. Does anyone remember who we gave up for those two. NO, because they have done nothing. I realize the Olsen/Willingham move was basically a salary dump and this trade is not that.To those who say we should hold onto our prospects, neither of the two big names, Burgess or Morris have played above A ball and both are buried behinds lots of other prospect. Morris is the 7th or 8th ranked RP and was going to start in A ball again. Burgess gets rave reviews and might be OK in Wrigley but where is he going to play here. Ahead of Werth, Harper, LaRoche? Gorzelanny is not going to win the Cy Young but he has been injury free, pitched in the majors for 5 years. Does not complain about being moved to the bullpen (ala Olsen), has won 14 games for the dreadful Pirates and does give us decent depth. To me this trade was solid for Rizzo and did nothing but help us.Nats Jack – I though we wanted Jerry Hairston, not Scott.Go Nats

  27. citizen16 - Jan 18, 2011 at 4:43 PM

    I'm a little surprised by some of the negativity here. It's January, the Nats' record is still at .500 for 2011 (0-0) so we're supposed to be optimistic, right?I completely agree with the premise of Mark's article today. The 2011 pitching staff is more experienced than any of the previous opening day staffs. And the back-up plans have a lot more potential than in previous years. Will this staff scare anyone? No, but it feels like it's movement in the right direction.I would guess that Livo will regress back to his average self. But if half of the rest of the pitching staff can deliver or exceed their projected results, then I think we'll see significant improvement over 2010. Anything more than a 10 win improvement seems like a long-shot, but I think a 75 to 79 win season is possible with this team. That could be a 20 win improvement from 2009 to 2011.

  28. NatsJack in Florida - Jan 18, 2011 at 4:50 PM

    We did… I was just reporting.

  29. Pilchard - Jan 18, 2011 at 4:52 PM

    Those comparing Garza to Gorzelanny need to factor in that Garza was pitching in the AL (specifically the AL East) while Gorzelanny was pitching in the NL.

  30. Souldrummer - Jan 18, 2011 at 5:02 PM

    @sjm308You can look at the comp from two ways on the comparison to the Willingham/Olsen trade. On the one hand, Smolinski and Dean didn't pan out. We don't think Burgess and Morris are going to be much more than bench/middle reliever guys in the majors and Hicks has a long, long way to go, certainly not soon enough to help us in the time frame we need.On the other hand, Scott Olsen was the part of that deal that was emphasized at the time. He had come off of two out of three okay seasons for the Marlins and was sold as a left handed guy who could help us. Well, he became two years of a left handed guy who hurt us. Those who dislike the deal are basically saying we traded two guys for Scott Olsen and that this new Olsen *must* pitch for us. That's where this differs. If Gorzelanny struggles in the spring, he gets stashed in the bullpen and other depth comes up. When Olsen didn't pan out, we were left with running his FAIL out there time after time after time.

  31. Big Cat - Jan 18, 2011 at 5:03 PM

    Don't hear a lot about Jordon Zimmerman. I think he showed at the end of last year that he was just about back from TJ surgery. Was consistently at 93-95. Lacked location, but they say that is normal. Anyhow, barring a horrid spring from him, he's on the hill for me opening day.Was watching and they were rating the top young catchers and Ramos was in there. Guy said he is just a tremendous defensive catcher. Said hitting is gonna be a questionmark. But still, that was very good to hear about him

  32. Anonymous - Jan 18, 2011 at 5:08 PM

    I just can't believe we are going to start Dingleberry…….Morgan in center. I put Ankiel in center and hope he's got something left.

  33. Theophilus - Jan 18, 2011 at 5:18 PM

    Even assuming an injury or two, it seems reasonable to hope the Nats will get through the season without a single start from, Atilano, Chico, Mock or Martis. I would hope that, starting mid-May, if Marquis, Lannan, Wang and Detweiler, etc., are healthy, the Nats starting shedding some of these extra bodies (in this I include Gorzelanny) in exchange for some young outfielders. Perez seems promising but stands alone in that regard. Either that or pick up someone like Juan Pierre, who seems a likely salary dump, in a swing-for-the fences run for a .500 record.

  34. sjm 308 - Jan 18, 2011 at 5:29 PM

    Thanks souldrummer – I think my point was, neither of the two players we gave up for Olsen/Willingham made an impact and while I think we gave up a little more for TG I still think it was a good deal considering none of the 3 project time in the majors for at least another year or two if at all. Agree that Olsen ended up a huge disappointment and did hurt us in performance and attitude and Gorzelanny appears to be willing to pitch as both a starter and from the bullpen. Does anyone know why they have not announced the changes to the 40 man roster yet? I thought there was a strict timeline for adding LaRoche and taking someone off, and now we have also added Gorzelanny.

  35. NatinBeantown - Jan 18, 2011 at 5:36 PM

    You better believe that if Marquis and Wang look like the real deal by midsummer, one of them is getting dealt for some real prospects. We'd likely have to throw in some cash for Marquis, but we may be able to catch lightning in a bottle with one of them, especially since Marquis (2010 excluded) has been a first-half guy.

  36. Anonymous - Jan 18, 2011 at 5:50 PM

    "the first I can remember where we traded prospects for an established major leaguer since we got Olsen/Willingham. Does anyone remember who we gave up for those two. NO, because they have done nothing."Sadly, I do remember who they gave up. Bonifacio. And I remember because he did do nothing – except against the Nats. He was to the Nats like Willie Harris was to the Mets.

  37. sjm 308 - Jan 18, 2011 at 5:54 PM

    I remember that first game, I think he had a legitimate inside the park home run – not like the one Morgan contributed last year – and was hitting around .500 in that first week. By the middle of the season he was on the bench and barely playing. I think he is still with the team but I remember all kinds of negative posts about how horrible the trade was. Looking back now, not so bad.

  38. Peyton Dowdy - Jan 18, 2011 at 6:34 PM

    sjm 308, Bonifacio's inside the park homer was about as legitimate as the man playing CF when he hit. Milledge miss player the ball so bad it went way over his head and took one of those lovely bounces that happens off the CF wall in Florida. Oh how nice it is to have moved away from JimBo's toolsy players. I still agree with everyone that Morgan probably needs to go but the people who keep saying we shoulda kept the prospects and traded him obviously don't know how trades work. You have to give up something of value to get something back.

  39. Anonymous - Jan 18, 2011 at 9:40 PM

    I think this is a good trade overall.However, I would encourage everyone to be careful about comparing rotations year to year, over the seasons the Nationals have existed. The reason I suggest caution is that the NL East has changed so much. The Phillies and Braves seem to get better every year, while we're saying "Well, at least we have more stability than 200X or 200X." Stability is not the variable to focus on. The variable to focus on is how much the Phillies and Braves have improved since those years.

  40. Rabbit - Jan 18, 2011 at 10:20 PM

    NatsJack: That is funny, I forgot all about Cabrera! Like my stocks, I just hope one or two pitchers take off!!

  41. Another_Sam - Jan 18, 2011 at 10:23 PM

    Yep. Lannan and Marquis are certainly known quantities to me. Sigh. But still I say: "Play Ball." Let's go. . See you in Viera.

  42. DC Brewer - Jan 18, 2011 at 10:31 PM

    Does anyone know if Maya has options? It would certainly help with roster flexibility if he can start the season in Syracuse (barring a lights out ST).

  43. TimDz - Jan 18, 2011 at 10:52 PM

    @ DC Brewer: Since Maya was just signed to a major league contract, his arbitration clock is ticking (like SS and Harper) and he is on the 40 man roster. He he should have options, if I read this correctly:Options> If a player is on the 40-man roster but not on the active major league roster, he is said to be on optional assignment—his organization may freely move him between the major league club and the minor league club. If a player is on the 40-man roster and not the active 25 man roster for any part of more than three seasons (in which he spent 20 or more total days of service in the minors), he is out of options and may not be assigned to the minors without first clearing waivers. However, if a player has less than 5 years of professional experience, he may be optioned to the minors in a fourth season without being subject to waivers. If a major league player is ineligible for free agency and "has options" remaining, his team may option him to a minor league team without consequence. This is usually what is meant when players are "sent down" to the minors. Likewise, when a player on the 40-man roster is added to the active major league roster, he is "called up" to the majors.





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