DALLAS - Mark Buehrle was the guy the Nationals wanted. However, in the wake of the left-hander's decision to spurn a three-year offer for between $42-$45 million from Washington to sign a four-year deal with the Marlins on Wednesday, Nats general manager Mike Rizzo isn't too heartbroken that the deal never came to fruition.
"We weren't - I wasn't - comfortable going four years on him as a starting pitcher," Rizzo said Wednesday night, less than two hours after finding out that weeks of courting Buehrle had gone for naught. "That was an issue from the start. We tried to work through that. Once he became comfortable with the fit in Miami and the term was right for him."
The Marlins, who are now managed by Ozzie Guillen - Buehrle's old skipper with the White Sox - went to four years and $58 million to land the lefty. Now Rizzo has to go in a different direction to find the starting pitcher he's long sought. He got the news while doing an interview on MLB Network Radio with former Nats GM Jim Bowden, and spoke to Jeff Berry, Buehrle's agent, before and after the deal was made official.
"It could be free agent, it could be trade, it could be international market," Rizzo said. "We're going to explore all our options as we usually do and see if we can come up with a match."
If they weren't comfortable with giving Buehrle four years, the Nationals are probably out on lefty C.J. Wilson, who wants a six-year deal. If they don't want to make a run at free agent right-hander Roy Oswalt, that leaves the trade market as the next most likely option.
Rizzo acknowledged that he's had talks with the A's about lefty Gio Gonzalez, a 26-year-old who went 16-12 with a 3.12 ERA and 197 strikeouts in 202 innings for Oakland in 2011. Gonzalez is under control through 2015, made $420,000 in 2011 and is in first year of arbitration eligibility as a Super Two.
"Gio fits what we're looking for: He's young, controllable starting pitcher that's got a proven track record," Rizzo said. "With that said, those guys come at a cost. We have to balance what the cost is and what the gain is to the club in the long term."
Oswalt was considered among the top three free agents available heading into the Winter Meetings. He's looking for a three-year deal, but the Nats might only be willing to offer two plus an option year for a guy who is 34 and has a recent history of back problems.
"We're not specifically targeting Oswalt as Plan B," Rizzo said. "Plan B is to look at all of our options and he'd be one of the options that we would look at."
If Rizzo can't make hay out of trade or free agency, he'll think about turning to the international market. The Nationals have scouted Yu Darvish, the Japanese pitcher who may be posted by his foreign team later this month, and maintain at least an interest. Darvish, however, will cost upwards of $100 million, between the posting fee and the contract he will command.
"If we can upgrade our rotation, the right guy and the right fit is a priority. If the right fit isn't there, we'll shift our priorities to another need or allocate our resources somewhere else," Rizzo said. "It's hard for me to tell when it will happen or if it will happen. But we're still working hard and communicating with people and trying to find a fit."