The Nationals' trade for Tom Gorzelanny yesterday certainly doesn't bring them the No. 1 starter they've been seeking all offseason. What it does is drop another entrant in what's already a crowded race for one or two rotation spots.
There's no guarantee Gorzelanny will be in the rotation, though his left-handedness and his relative health (compared to some of the Nationals' other candidates) gives him a strong chance. The Nationals, though, will have plenty of other pitchers to evaluate this spring, and Gorzelanny's arrival only makes it harder for them to get at all of them.
Let's assume four spots in the rotation are already more or less spoken for: Livan Hernandez, John Lannan, Jordan Zimmermann and Jason Marquis (to those of you saying Marquis might not make it, I say: Not likely. At the very least, the Nats need to show him off to other teams and prove he's healthy. If he's terrible, that's one thing, but when he's making $7.5 million and can't be hidden anywhere else, he's going to get the benefit of the doubt for a spot).
If that's the case, you've got Gorzelanny, Yunesky Maya, Ross Detwiler and (I guess) Garrett Mock for one spot, with Chien-Ming Wang possibly entering the picture by May. I'm also not sure where Craig Stammen and J.D. Martin factor into things.
The Nationals are holding out hope that Maya can be an effective major league starter; general manager Mike Rizzo said again last week he thought he rushed the Cuban right-hander to the majors last year, and pointed to Maya's excellent winter league performance as evidence he's ready to go. But Maya has always pitched well at that level of competition, and it remains to be seen whether he's got the put-away pitch to excel in the majors.
Detwiler and (especially) Mock are running out of time. Detwiler will get a longer look than Mock, simply because he's still higher in the Nationals' pecking order. But Mock could be out of options, depending on how Major League Baseball handles his Sept. 3 option last year. In either case, he's about to turn 28, and I don't see much of a future for him in the Nationals' rotation.
Gorzelanny also pitched out of the bullpen last year for the Cubs, and he could be a long reliever for the Nationals, as well. That would move Stammen out of his most obvious role and clear a spot for Maya in the rotation. (Anyone else see how poorly the Nationals' homegrown pitchers are faring in this hypothetical competition? There's a reason why the team is being so aggressive in its pursuit of outside help for the rotation - because save for Zimmermann and Lannan, the early returns on their develop-pitching-from-within strategy haven't been good.)
But I'm not sure you give up three prospects for a long reliever. So consider Gorzelanny and Maya the front runners for the final spot right now, with Detwiler (and, to a lesser extent, Mock) also in the running and Wang a possible option by May or so. That's how I'd handicap things at this point.
By the way, the third prospect in the Gorzelanny trade is left-hander Graham Hicks, the team's fourth-round pick in 2008. He still has some intrigue as a big lefty, but he hasn't pitched above Single-A Hagerstown yet and had a 5.26 ERA there last year in 15 starts. See my previous point on the early returns of the homegrown pitching crop.