With Jackson on board, Nationals add more depth to rotation

Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo stated on his conference call Thursday that he’s “always been in ‘win now’ mode for his entire career,” he simply hasn’t been fortunate enough to have the players capable of giving him that opportunity.

Does somebody want to answer the door? I’m pretty sure opportunity is knocking.

A week after introducing pitcher Gio Gonzalez, whom the Nationals acquired via trade from the Athletics, Rizzo announced Thursday the acquisition of coveted free agent pitcher Edwin Jackson. Jackson, who has a World Series ring and a no-hitter to his resume, will join a pitching rotation that seems to be getting wealthier by the day.

As a complement to Gonzalez, veteran Chien-Ming Wang, John Lannan and the dynamic duo of Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, Jackson’s arrival in Washington helps solidify the Nationals’ rotation as one of the top contenders in baseball.

“We saw an opportunity to acquire a young, hard-throwing, power-pitching, innings-eating type of pitcher and we thought it was a good value and on good terms,” Rizzo said. “You can never have enough quality starting pitching and we thought it was a good enough value to make him a National.”

Jackson and the Nationals agreed to a one-year deal, estimated to be worth around $10 million, pending a physical. In nine seasons, the 28-year-old has posted a 60-60 record with a 4.46 ERA.

And yet while snatching the right-hander, who just 24 hours ago was one of the top remaining free agents on the market, brings another powerful arm to Rizzo’s fleet, it was quickly clear that when it comes to a spot in the starting rotation, there aren’t exactly enough life jackets to go around.

“We’re certainly going to have great competition in spring training,” Rizzo said. “We’re going to be bringing the best 25 north with us and it gives us depth and options, not only in the rotation but in the bullpen.”

Depth and options are certainly nice to have, but the acquisition of Jackson does raise questions as to the futures of some of the team’s other pitchers, namely Lannan. Earlier today, the Nationals won their arbitration meeting with Lannan, meaning the left-hander will earn $5 million in 2012. Shortly after, it was rumored the team was “aggressively shopping” the 27-year-old, presumably to make room for Jackson.

Despite those scenarios, Rizzo stressed more than once his goal to keep Lannan in the starting rotation. He made sure, however, not to guarantee that Lannan wouldn’t be traded in the coming weeks, rather pushing Jackson’s role as an innings eater for a collection of arms still getting adjusted to a full season on the mound.

While Rizzo may have downplayed the rumors of putting Lannan on the trading block, his point about the young staff is not far off. Strasburg will remain on an innings limit this season, while Zimmermann is coming off a 160-inning season and will likely be asked to do more. Wang, despite his reemergence a year ago, spent numerous months at less than perfect health and as the coaches, players and fans know with Strasburg’s injury in 2009, all it takes is one bad pitch or outing to be lost for the season.

“We did not acquire Edwin Jackson to trade another starting pitcher,” Rizzo said. “If in spring training or before spring training a deal comes up that we can’t pass up and positively impacts our ball club we’ll certainly be open-minded about it.”

Having Jackson on the team is a great pickup, but when it all boils down, there are only so many spots in the starting rotation, with too many starting-capable arms on the roster. Add to that the fact the Nationals could use a bat or two, and Lannan’s future with the team, even with Rizzo’s intentions to keep him around, could change in the near future. For now, however, the Nationals have scooped up another key free agent and have once again firmed their commitment to “winning now.”

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