No bid on Darvish; now what's the Nats' pitching plan?

According to a baseball source, the Nationals were not one of the teams to place a bid on Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish through the posting process, which ended at 5 p.m. Wednesday. That takes the Nationals out of the mix for a right-hander, who is described as the best pitcher not currently in the major leagues and helps to better explain general manager Mike Rizzo's hesitance to address the subject publicly. The news was first reported by The Washington Post.

If Darvish isn't in Washington's future - the price tag of upwards of $120 mlllion once the estimated $50 million posting fee and a contract are combined was apparently judged too rich by the Nationals - where does the team go to address its need for a front-line starting pitcher?

No doubt, one of the first calls RIzzo will make this afternoon will be from Bob Garber, the agent for free agent right-hander Roy Oswalt. The veteran has been on the Nationals' radar all offseason, though Rizzo said at the Winter Meetings that lefty Mark Buehrle was tops on his shopping list. The sticking point with Oswalt is the fact that he wants a three-year deal; the Nats would probably be more comfortable with two years and a team option. Oswalt's best years are behind him, and he's no longer viewed as a No. 1 starter, but he could certainly serve as a mentor to the young pitchers on Washington's staff and give the team's top minor league arms some additional time to develop. But a lot of clubs will be in contact with Garber, and Oswalt will have a choice of destinations.

Expect the Nationals' name to be added more prominently to the list of suitors for A's lefty Gio Gonzalez, a 26-year-old whose age and upside have Oakland GM Billy Beane entertaining trade offers. The A's are in a holding pattern while they await news on a possible new stadium in San Jose, and Beane wants to restock the farm system. The price would be high - he's been asking for a package including two of the top prospects from teams kicking the tires on Gonzalez. Now if Beane whispers Bryce Harper's name, talks will end; but would a request for, say, Derek Norris and Brad Peacock or Tom Milone be enough to keep the conversation going? Time will tell - if the A's are serious about dealing Gonzalez and if Rizzo is willing to part with potential gems from the farm system.

The teams that didn't bid on Darvish will probably turn their attentions en masse to southpaw Joe Saunders, who was non-tendered by the Diamondbacks earlier this week. Don't expect the fact that Saunders is a native of Falls Church to help the Nats much - when teams like the Red Sox and Angels are linked to an available pitcher, his price will be driven up. And Arizona may try to re-sign Saunders.

Don't discount the notion of Milone or Peacock breaking camp in the rotation, either. While the Nationals would probably prefer to season them a little longer, a standout spring training could force the hands of Rizzo and manager Davey Johnson. Old-school types like Johnson like it when a youngster bucks the odds and horns his way into consideration. Rizzo might prefer a veteran spaceholder, but watching one of those rookies mowing down major league hitters during Grapefruit League play might be too tempting to resist - especially if no other solution pans out.

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