It appears now that the starting rotation is almost set for 2014, with Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez and Fister the top four.
Where does this leave Ross Detwiler?
Nationals executive vice president Mike Rizzo said it is not so much about Detwiler as it is that the Nats now have options for that spot this season, where they didn’t enjoy that kind of depth in years past.
“We feel that we have got the resources to have a quality guy sitting down there,” Rizzo said. “I think the difference this year than we have had in previous years is that we have great depth at that spot. When you talk about (Ross) Detwiler, (Tanner) Roark and (Taylor) Jordan and (Nathan) Karns and (Sammy) Solis and then the younger wave of guys that could get here in the future, we feel good about where we are at.
“That was one of the reasons we felt that it made it possible to move a Robbie Ray in a trade because we have starting pitching depth close to the major leagues. That is what made it comfortable for us to move a talented, young left-handed pitcher in Robbie Ray.”
Rizzo said the Fister trade also signals that the Nationals are done shopping for a fifth starter. But that does not mean they will not need more than five starters to make it through the rigors of a six-month season.
“I think we have enough to handle the fifth spot in the rotation and have depth,” Rizzo said. “As we all know, it takes more than five starting pitchers to win in a season and we feel comfortable about the quality of depth we have in our rotation.”
With Fister added to the rotation, and the loss of top bench player Steve Lombardozzi and quality lefty relief in Ian Krol sent off as part of the deal, does this intensify the search for those spots which were identified as weaknesses last season?
Rizzo said it doesn’t change the Nats’ fundamental plan of looking to fill those vacancies in the bullpen and the bench anyway.
“I don’t think much has changed since we started the offseason,” Rizzo said. “We feel that we like to tweak the bullpen a little bit. We like to help the bench a little bit. We wanted to address the rotation, which we have done. So we still have some work to do.
“Like I said, we are not a flawless team, but we think that we have a good, talented ballclub and I think that going into the Winter Meetings we like the construction of the roster and the makeup of the ballclub and we are going to do what we have to do to improve ourselves.
“We think that we have taken the step towards that with the acquisition of Fister but we are certainly not going to be content with that. We are going to do what we have to do to get better.”
The Nationals want to improve their bullpen, especially with what the Cardinals and Braves bullpens were able to accomplish last season.
As for left-handers, Rizzo believes they have some candidates available on the roster, even with the departure of Ian Krol and Fernando Abad. This move could help Xavier Cedeno’s stock.
“We think that is one of the things we need to address,” Rizzo said. “We feel that we have some in-house options there. I think we are better suited this year going into spring training with our left-handed bullpen than we were last year.
“But it is something that we are looking into the free agent market or the trade market and we are trying to upgrade at the spot that we feel that we would like to upgrade at.”
Last season, the Nats went into opening day with Zach Duke as the lone left-handed reliever, and he was really more of a long reliever or starter.
Rizzo said the need for a left-handed specialist comes down to many factors, and they want to allocate the dollars to that spot with the correct choice.
“I think it is a preference according to what the manager’s preference is,” Rizzo said. “I think that in our division it is important to have both, to have a guy who can really go out and get a good left-handed hitter out. We have a lot of good left-handed hitters in our division (and) in our league. But it is also important for a left-handed (reliever) to get out right-handed hitters, too, in our league. So it is a fine balance.
“I think you have to put your assets, the money, where you think you get the most bang for your buck and that is what we are looking to do.”
With Lombardozzi vacating the bench, would the Nationals seek a left-handed or switch-hitting outfielder? Corey Brown could finally get that shot.
In the infield, Rizzo spoke about a very familiar name who was the starter at second base last year in Danny Espinosa. Could the veteran be a possible bench player in 2014?
“Danny Espinosa is going to go to spring training and battle for a spot on the roster,” Rizzo said. “He is an excellent defender, Gold Glove-caliber at second base and shortstop. He gives us speed. He has hit 20 home runs in a season so far in his young big league career.
“He had a down season last year, but he is a makeup guy, he is a grinder, a guy that his personality and his makeup plays well on this club, and I have always been a Danny Espinosa fan and I still am. I think he is going to have a good major league career.”
He likes their depth at second base and believes they have enough depth at that spot in the minor leagues.
Rizzo said Anthony Rendon will go into spring training as the Nationals’ starting second baseman, but also said there will be some opportunities for guys to make the team in February and March.
“There will be competition for several roster spots,” Rizzo said.