- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 7, 2011

DALLAS — The Washington Nationals were dealt a blow to their offseason plans Wednesday afternoon when left-hander Mark Buehrle became the third big-name free agent to sign with the Miami Marlins, agreeing to a four-year, $58 million contract.

“We’re good,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said, looking calm and collected despite the news breaking while he was doing a radio interview and less than an hour after he’d seemed confident of the team’s chances in a conversation with reporters.

“We’re going to move on to Plan B and see if we can help ourselves. We feel good about the way the Buehrle thing went,” Rizzo said. “It was a good presentation and a good negotiation. He went where he felt most comfortable so we wish him well. I wasn’t comfortable going four years on him. That was an issue from the start, and we tried to work through that.”

In order to add a front-line starting pitcher and accomplish one of their main goals. the Nationals must turn to their backup plans.

Right-hander Roy Oswalt is next on their list of free agent targets. They’ve also discussed Oakland’s Gio Gonzalez, though the asking price for the 26-year-old lefty is high. Multiple sources have reiterated that the Nationals are not interested in left-hander C.J. Wilson, who reportedly was deciding between the Marlins and the Angels.

“It could be free agent, it could be trade, it could be international market,” Rizzo said of ‘Plan B.’ “We’re going to explore all our options, as we usually do, and see if we can come up with a match.

“If we can upgrade our rotation, the right guy and the right fit is a priority. If the right fit isn’t there, then we’ll shift our priorities to another need or allocate our resources somewhere else.”

They could also choose to stand pat and hope their young talent will continue to mature — an option that would suit manager Davey Johnson.

“I really like my staff,” Johnson said Monday. “I like it as it is right now. Anytime you can improve, go for it, but I haven’t been pushing in that direction.”

The Nationals were willing to give three years to Buehrle and speculated that the Marlins had a fourth year on the table. In order to match the average annual value the Marlins gave Buehrle on a three-year pact, the Nationals would have had to go to $19.3 million per season — a range that would certainly not be prudent.

If the season were to begin Thursday, the Nationals would have a rotation anchored by right-handers Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Chien-Ming Wang, and left-hander John Lannan, accompanied possibly by Ross Detwiler, Tommy Milone or righty Brad Peacock as the fifth starter.

However, the Nationals also saw pitching as an area of depth they could use to acquire another piece in a trade — possibly a center fielder — and without Buehrle they may not feel as comfortable making such a trade.

“We’ve got lines in the water and we’re in communications with people on a bunch of different subjects and positions and that type of thing,” Rizzo reiterated later Wednesday night. “It’s hard for me to tell when it’ll happen or if it’ll happen but we’re still working hard and communicating with people and trying to find a fit.”

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