Nats' Top Offseason Priority: No. 1 Starter

Nats' Top Offseason Priority: No. 1 Starter
September 29, 2010, 11:03 pm
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Wednesday, September 29, 2010, 7:03 p.m.
By Mark Zuckerman
CSNwashington.com

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The Nationals thought they had their No. 1 starter set in stone for years to come. But Stephen Strasburg's Tommy John surgery will leave a massive void at the top of Washington's 2011 rotation and will leave general manager Mike Rizzo searching for a replacement this winter.

Rizzo said acquiring a No. 1 starter is his No. 1 priority this offseason.

"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," Rizzo said Wednesday before the Nationals' final home game of the season. "That's the No. 1 priority going into the offseason."

The pickings on the free agent market are pretty slim. Cliff Lee is the prize catch of the group, and the left-hander is expected to be pursued by baseball's top clubs, most notably the New York Yankees. Other potential free agents include Kevin Millwood, Bronson Arroyo, Javier Vazquez, Ted Lilly and Jake Westbrook.

Rizzo did say he felt it could be possible to acquire a front-line starter via a trade and expressed confidence that the Nationals' major-league and minor-league rosters boast the kind of depth now that would allow for a significant trade.

"Free agency is obviously the easier option; all it costs is money," the GM said. "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."

Rizzo's other primary task once the season ends will be ensuring he has a power-hitting first baseman on his roster. He insisted he still prefers to re-sign Adam Dunn, though a year's worth of negotiations with the pending free agent haven't yielded a deal yet and could force him to look elsewhere.

"We need to get a 4-hole hitter that plays first base. We understand that," Rizzo said. "We want it to be Adam Dunn. But if it isn't, we need to address that situation."

Whether they re-sign Dunn or not, the Nationals believe they need to improve their offensive "balance" by getting higher on-base percentages from the top two spots in their order, providing more RBI opportunities for Ryan Zimmerman, Dunn (or another cleanup hitter) and Josh Willingham.

Whether Nyjer Morgan figures into that equation remains to be seen. Rizzo said the center fielder -- who regressed at the plate, in the field and on the bases this season -- will get a shot at retaining that job, though he's not assured of it.

"I think if he gets back to his norm as far as batting average, I think he'll be the type of on-base percentage we need," Rizzo said. "But we're certainly going to give him the opportunity to do it. We've always said there's going to be open competition at a lot of spots, and that will be one of them."