Another way to look at the search for a starter

I mentioned yesterday that the emergence of young pitching talent in the Nationals organization could cause general manager Mike Rizzo to view the plans for the back of the rotation differently.

Instead of going out and spending a large chunk of money for an experienced free agent starter, like the Nats have the last two offseasons when they acquired Edwin Jackson and Dan Haren, Rizzo could go a different route. He could decide that with Tanner Roark, Taylor Jordan, Nathan Karns, A.J. Cole, Matt Purke, Sammy Solis and others having taken the next step in their development this season, he has enough talented pitching depth that the No. 5 spot in the rotation can be handled in-house.

There is, however, yet another way to look at things.

Now that the Nats have a bunch of young arms that have either gotten a taste of big league action or impressed at the minor league level, Rizzo could package some of that young talent and make a trade for a big-name starter.

We’ve seen Rizzo pull that type of move before. In December 2011, with people wondering what free agent starter the Nats might look to sign, they instead shipped four minor leaguers (Tommy Milone, Brad Peacock, Derek Norris and Cole) to the Athletics for Gio Gonzalez.

The deal has worked out pretty well for both sides so far, but it left the Nats a bit short of major league-ready arms at the higher levels of their farm system in 2012. Milone, Peacock and Cole were three of their top pitching prospects, and after those three left (in addition to right-hander Alex Meyer, who was sent to the Twins in the Denard Span deal), the Nats lacked guys who were able to come up and help the big league club in a pinch.

Now, Cole is back in the Nats’ system after being re-acquired in the Michael Morse trade. Roark and Jordan looked impressive in their initial major league stints. Karns has potential, either as a starter or possibly a power arm out of the bullpen. Purke and Solis came back after injuries and finished the 2013 season healthy.

The Nationals have more bullets in their system, so to speak, and it could allow Rizzo to go out and use these arms to bring in another established starter to add to the rotation.

“You know, we’re always looking for a way to improve ourselves, and we’ve shown that we’re not afraid to pull the trigger and make a trade,” Rizzo said late in the season. “We’re going to certainly be involved in the trade market and the free agent market and the international market.”

Rizzo did say that he doesn’t really look at the Nats’ farm system as now “having enough bullets to make a trade.”

But it’s clear the Nats are in a better position than they were a year ago when it comes to talented, healthy pitching prospects, and those are often the guys that can form the centerpiece of trades. Again, it gives Rizzo options, which is never a bad thing.

“If a trade makes sense, we’ve been known to make a trade,” Rizzo said. “If a free agent acquisition makes sense, we’ve been known to do that, too. But also, it’s good to have a lot of good players coming to help us in different waves.”

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