Rizzo says Nationals have the means to get a No. 1 starter

Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo held court with reporters this afternoon, going through a long discussion of the team’s biggest needs for next season and his evaluation of the 2010 season. The biggest takeaway from that discussion was nothing new: the Nationals want a No. 1 starter.

But Rizzo did make an interesting addendum to that point: He said the Nationals have the ability to go get one, either by spending money on a pitcher in free agency or dealing prospects for a top-end starter.

“I think it’s obtainable either way,” Rizzo said. “Free agency is obviously the easier option. All it costs you is money. And trade opportunities come in lieu of players that are probably going to help you on the big-league level, too. But I think both ways, they’re obtainable and I think we’re going to explore every avenue to get that.”

The Nationals’ rotation will already be crowded next year, with returning veterans (Jason Marquis, Livan Hernandez and John Lannan) and less-experienced players expected to take a step forward (Jordan Zimmermann, Yunesky Maya). But the loss of Stephen Strasburg to Tommy John surgery clearly leaves a hole at the top of the group, and Rizzo knows it.

“We need a guy to head the rotation, a front-of-the-rotation guy to put everybody in what we feel is their proper place in the rotation,” he said. “That’s the No. 1 priority going into the offseason.”

And asked specifically if he thought the Nationals had the prospect depth to offer a competitive package for a top starter, Rizzo said, “I certainly think we have depth prospect-wise now in our minor-league system to pull off a deal for a pitcher.”

The free-agent market is thin on aces, with the Rangers’ Cliff Lee being the big prize. The former Cy Young winner is could command upwards of $100 million this winter, with the Yankees expected to be among his fiercest pursuers.

The Royals are also thought to be open to dealing 2009 Cy Young winner Zack Greinke, who is due $27 million over the next two years and has a limited no-trade clause expiring after this season. The right-hander has regressed this season, posting a 4.13 ERA - which is nearly two runs higher than his mark last season. And there’s a chance the Rays would part with either Matt Garza or James Shields in a trade to make room for prospect Jeremy Hellickson.