Rizzo must decide if rising price for pitching is too high

Part of being a successful front office executive in Major League Baseball is the ability to flip on the fly. General managers have to be able to adjust their line of thinking to the game’s ever-changing landscape. Those who do receive the opportunity to constantly improve their teams; those who stick to their guns just a little too long are left in the dust as their peers zoom ahead of them in both activity and in the standings.

We’ve spent a lot of bandwith this offseason talking about the Nationals’ search for starting pitching - flirtation with free agents, the decision not to bid on the Yu Darvish posting, whether a trade is the best way to fill the hole. General manager Mike Rizzo hasn’t been idly watching from the sideline, but the game is changing and now he’s got to decide whether to adapt or stand pat.

Yesterday’s blockbuster trade - the Padres sent starting pitcher Mat Latos to the Reds for a whopper of a package, including top catching prospect Yasmani Grandal, potential future closer Brad Boxberger, blocked first baseman Yonder Alonso and established major league pitcher Edinson Volquez - sets the bar high for teams interested in dealing for front-line pitching.

It also means Rizzo must decide quickly whether to react and consider whether to try and swing a similar swap or whether he thinks it’s more prudent for the Nationals to stand pat, give youngsters like Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann another year to mature and recover from injuries and hope the landscape is more palatable next winter.

Folks, the price for guys like Gio Gonzalez of the A’s and Matt Garza of the Cubs just got bumped up a notch. Lefty Gonzalez is only 26, under control through 2015 and has topped 200 innings for the past two seasons. At 28, Garza has a tangible history with three seasons in double-digit wins, two campaigns at 200 or more innings (and two innings short of that plateau in 2010) and a bulldog mentality. There are other staring pitchers available that would fill the Nats’ needs, but Gonzalez and Garza are two guys who are available - for the right price.

Now Rizzo has to weigh whether a potential acquisition is important enough to part with an established major leaguer and two or three top prospects. It’s a slippery slope, because pitchers can be prone to injury and it’s difficult to watch your former farmhands contributing somewhere else while the guy they were traded for is on a minor league rehabilitation assignment against Single-A hitters. And because the environment is ever-shifting, there’s no telling whether you could have used that young catcher or left-handed starter you dealt a season or two in the future. Yes, every move has consequences, short- and long-term.

Rizzo has to decide whether he thinks he can make a go of it with the current rotation, perhaps with the addition of a lower-tier free agent or a lesser pitcher acquired through a trade, or make a big splash. Both lines of thought come with a cost; now, Rizzo has to decide whether one is too high for his liking.

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