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A few thoughts on what the Nationals will do about their surplus pitching and other notes after Thursday's signing of Edwin Jackson

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So the Nationals signed free agent right-hander Edwin Jackson on Thursday to a one-year deal worth about $10 million, (UPDATE: and he passed his physical Friday morning, so it’s official) giving them seven viable starting pitchers for their rotation. My how things have changed down on South Capitol Street.

John Lannan was the Nationals Opening Day starter in 2009 and 2010. In 2012 the left-hander, who lost his arbitration case Thursday morning as well but will still make $5 million this season, is coming to spring training to compete with right-hander Chien-Ming Wang and lefty Ross Detwiler for the fifth spot in the team’s rotation. 

Clearly the Nationals are going to have to figure something out — whether it’s a way to keep all of these pitchers in the organization or on the big league roster, or moving the right pieces to make the best ones fit, we’ll have to wait and see. For now, though, I’ve been told that reports of the Nationals “aggressively” shopping Lannan is a mischaracterization. Have they discussed their “surplus” pitching? Yes. Are they feeling the pressure to pull the trigger immediately? No.

Will Lannan end up as the guy who shifts to the bullpen as a long man? It doesn’t sound like it.

“I think John, his strength is as a starting pitcher,” said Nationals GM Mike Rizzo. “I think that he’s a quality starter that’s given us quality innings in the past and I believe is going to give us quality innings in the future.”

But he does have an option remaining if the Nationals feel they need to use it — only that doesn’t sound very likely either.

“We feel that he’s a major-league pitcher,” Rizzo said. “He’s major-league caliber. He’s major-league ready to help a contending team. We feel he’s a solid, major-league starting pitcher, and that’s what we’re going to use him as.”

Quite honestly, in talking with Nationals manager Davey Johnson Thursday, who simply said “The more the merrier!” as well as Rizzo, it doesn’t sound like there is anything imminent — nor do they look at this as a huge issue. The Nationals don’t have to have their roster down to 25 men until just before Opening Day so they’ve got nine weeks to figure this out. 

“We did not acquire Edwin Jackson to trade another starting pitcher,” Rizzo said Thursday. “We’re certainly always open to make a deal that makes sense for us and that can improve the ballclub. If in spring training or before spring training, a deal comes up that we can’t pass up and positively impacts our ballclub, we’ll certainly be open minded about it. 

“We know that we have depth in the rotation. We’ve got good, quality, hard-throwing, power pitchers that we’re going to go into camp with and if all is healthy and we have the opportunity to make a trade to improve ourselves somewhere else, we’ll certainly look into it. But I like the competition aspect of this and it’s going to be a lot of good pitchers out there in spring training this year. The best 25 guys will go north.”

Obviously it would not benefit the Nationals’ negotiating stance if they were to admit publicly they were open to moving one of their pitchers, especially before spring training — before a spring training injury can develop or something similar, whether on their own team or on another. Still, Rizzo noted that the acquisition of Jackson and the pursuit of a position player or a bat were “mutually exclusive.”

– You can look at the Nationals surplus in their pitching staff and turn your eyes immediately toward an outfield that, right now, looks to feature a platoon of Roger Bernadina and possibly Mike Cameron in center field if Bryce Harper doesn’t make the team out of camp  — or Jayson Werth if Harper does. So the initial thought is that the Nationals could use these arms to acquire something in that department.

To that end, The Orange Country Register noted that it’d be logical to fire up the speculation between Washington and Anaheim — who happens to have two excessively talented, young major league outfielders in Peter Bourjos and Mike Trout. If the Angels were willing to move either — which Angels GM Jerry DiPoto is on the record as saying that they are not — the Nationals would surely be interested. But one source, when presented with the idea, noted that it would certainly take more than just one of the Nationals’ back-end starters.

– The Nationals certainly have the pitching staff to compete this season. When asked about the reasoning behind the Jackson deal today, Rizzo immediately brought up what he termed “an innings shortage.” He was looking at Stephen Strasburg’s innings limit, Jordan Zimmermann hoping to throw over 200 innings for the first time in his major league career and Chien-Ming Wang still on the road back from major shoulder surgery. What he saw was a rotation without as many 200-plus-inning starters as he’d have liked.

Rizzo mentioned that six of the eight teams that made the playoffs in 2011 had two or more starters who broke that 200-inning mark. I checked into it and Rizzo was basically right (for St. Louis, Jackson threw 199 2/3 innings in 2011 to go along with Chris Carpenter’s 237 1/3, so we’ll let that one slide on a technicality) but his point was interesting. The Phillies had three, as did the Brewers and Diamondbacks. The Rays had two, just like the Rangers and the only two teams that had just one, New York and Detroit, had a second starter who threw 190 and 195 innings, respectively. 

His point, as well as all that’s been said and written about the Nationals moves this offseason, also brought up one overriding question: Are the Nationals in “win-now mode?” Are they going for it this year? Rizzo seems to think so.

“I’ve been in win-now mode my whole career,” Rizzo said. “We just didn’t have the players capable of winning. We feel that we’re a team that’s going to be very, very competitive in a really, really difficult division. Our goal is to play meaningful games in September and beyond. And we feel the acquisition of this kind of talent allows us and gets us a step closer to doing that.”

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About the Author
Amanda Comak

Amanda Comak

Amanda Comak covers the Washington Nationals and comes to The Washington Times from the Cape Cod Times and after stints with MLB.com and the Amsterdam (N.Y.) Recorder. A Massachusetts native and 2008 graduate of Boston University, Amanda can be reached at acomak@washingtontimes.com and you can follow her on Twitter @acomak.

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