The Nats currently have what may well be the best rotation in the entire Major Leagues. Nobody is going to rank them any worst than 3rd or 4th in MLB, and even that might be considered low by everyone. However, if there is one knock on the group, it’s the lack of depth. They have 3 studs in Strasburg, Gio and JZimm, but there are questions after that.

It would be great if Detwiler is as good in 2013 as he was in 2012, but in reality all he has to do is be good enough to be a #4 or #5 guy and start most of the year. We don’t really know if he can do that, although I suspect he will be that and more. As for Haren, that move is exciting for the potential to have a top flight guy at the bottom of the rotation. But it is also a little scary due to injury history and a poor 2012.

Regardless of the health of the rotation in general, and even if Haren starts 30 games, it is highly unlikely that they will only use 5 starters the whole year. John Lannan was their first backup plan, but now that he’s gone, who do they have?

The first choice might be Zack Duke, who started 26 games in AAA last year and has been a starter all of his career. Unless he ends up being their only reliable lefty relief man, in which case he’s going to be needed elsewhere. Christian Garcia is another option – a converted reliever who was successful in a limited 2012, but hasn’t recorded a start in 2 seasons. Of course, there’s Yunkesy Maya, who had a decent 2012 in AAA, but was nothing special there. Almost all of his MLB appearances have been pretty rough. Jeff Mandel started some games and did well in AAA, so could get a shot as well. That’s about all I see from the obvious choices. Another route would be to go after a free agent.

A Potential Big Name

They need someone who might be able to be used in a pinch, and, in a much worse scenario, if one of the top 5 guys are out for an extended period. There are people out there who might be able to give you innings and a league average or just below ERA, and it wouldn’t hurt to go out and grab one. A name that has come up recently is Javier Vazquez, who has been strong in a Puerto Rican League comeback.

Mike Rizzo went to watch him pitch in San Juan, although as a fellow Tommy Bahama shirt owner, and someone who has been there three times, I think it might have just been an excuse to go to San Juan. And the Nats were impressed with his performance, which in leagues like this mean much more than his good numbers (23 IP, 30 K, 6 BB, 3.52 ERA). Vazquez is going to be 36 this year, and before taking 2012 off (but specifically stating he wasn’t retiring for sure), he had a strong season in Florida, starting 32 games in 2011, with a 3.69 ERA, 162 K and 50 BB in 192.2 IP.

Vazquez would definitely be a great addition to the team, and I’d have no problem with a 3 man battle for the 4th and 5th spots in the rotation that includes him. But he has stated that he isn’t planning on signing/making a decision until after the World Baseball Classic, which is over March 19. You wouldn’t have to worry about him missing spring training, he’s going to be a top starter on Puerto Rico, so he’ll be pitching in competitive games early in the month. The real question is whether he’d want to go to the Nats.

There was a mention in that WaPo story that he’d sign a deal that would allow for his unconditional release if he didn’t make the major league roster by a certain date. Without that, I’m not sure why he’d come. He isn’t going to come back to languish in the minors, and the appeal of Washington is that they are legitimate World Series contenders. He might pick them over, say, the Mets, who would have room for him at the top of their rotation, but not if he isn’t going to get to play. There are better teams than the Mets that will want him if he comes back. I think it’s a longshot that he ends up with the team, but they clearly are interested in him, so it’s possible they make something happen.

Then There’s the Universe of Free Agent Pitchers

There are a few other possibilities out there. They aren’t obviously aren’t going to break the bank for Kyle Lohse, who may not have great leverage but is still going to make some loot. But there are other guys who there who would make a good 5th/6th starter. There are a few guys that will probably only sign with teams that guarantee them a rotation spot, such as Lohse, Shaun Marcum, Derek Lowe and Joe Saunders. But there are some other guys who might settle to be a reliever/swing man/fill-in starter on a real contender like Freddy Garcia, Chris Young or maybe even Kevin Millwood.

Then there is Dallas Braden, of Bradenia, who is only 29 and somehow threw a perfect game, but is coming off a shoulder injury and is planning on missing the early part of 2013. They could take a chance on a minor league deal with him at little cost and could get a very solid starter. Speaking of people with bad shoulders, Erik Bedard is still out there, but he was awful with Pittsburgh last year and may also need to work something out in the minors before being allowed back on a big league mound. Aaron Cook is another possibility.

Pick a Garcia

What is interesting about this list of names is how different the perspective on them can be. Even just two years ago, I would have never advocated anyone on this list other than Vazquez. I would want young stars to get experience in the majors, other guys to get a shot to prove themselves, and give the Nats a chance to discover a surprise success out of guys they never suspected had real talent. But now, what matters is winning the World Series.

If Javier Vazquez gives them the best chance, even better than Detwiler, than they should use him. I would love Detwiler to develop into a strong lefty starter. But their rotation is so good without him, they shouldn’t be betting the season on him. We’re not talking about Strasburg’s recovery here, where the wrong approach could cost the career of one of the most promising pitchers in a generation. This is about filling out a roster, and anyone who can add to the club’s chances of winning should be considered.

Additionally, let’s not get down on guys like Freddy Garcia or Kevin Millwood. Yeah, if you are relying on them to start 32 games a year, you are making a mistake. But they have enough ability to start 10 games and pitch well enough to give the Nats a chance to win. What Rizzo’s job is to do now is to determine if any of them can do better than the minor league options they currently have. Which Garcia should get plan on using when someone tweaks an ankle, Christian or Freddy?

By Charlie