Though he believes his club already has "six or seven quality guys that we can call upon to start in the major leagues," Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo acknowledges he's still looking to add another veteran to his suddenly deep rotation.
Rizzo -- in formally announcing the re-signing of right-hander Chien-Ming Wang to a one-year, 4 million contract this afternoon -- spoke glowingly about the pitching depth the Nationals have assembled while at the same time hinting at the type of free agent he'd still like to add this winter.
What type of pitcher is that?
"The type of pitcher we're looking for is a good leader," Rizzo said. "That throws a lot of innings. That has shown that he can win in the big leagues. And can really lead our staff, not by having the best stuff on the staff, but by showing how to be a professional and how to be a winner and how to pitch 200 innings in a season many, many times in your career. That's kind of what we're looking for."
Rizzo didn't specify the names of any potential targets, but one available free agent that particularly fits that description is Mark Buehrle. The 32-year-old left-hander has made at least 30 starts and thrown at least 200 innings in each of the last 11 seasons with the White Sox, posting a 161-119 record and 3.83 ERA despite a fastball since 2007 has averaged only 86.1 mph.
Buehrle, who is expected to receive strong overtures from the White Sox to remain with the only organization that has ever employed him, is just one of several free agents the Nationals have discussed. Rangers ace C.J. Wilson, Cardinals right-hander Edwin Jackson and Japanese sensation Yu Darvish are also on their radar.
Even if they don't add another starter, the Nationals could be looking at an overcrowded rotation come spring training. Wang rejoins Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and John Lannan as the club's top four starters at the moment.
Left-hander Ross Detwiler, who is out of minor-league options, is the current front-runner to win the No. 5 job. That still potentially leaves prospects Brad Peacock and Tom Milone, plus veterans Livan Hernandez and Tom Gorzelanny on the outside looking in. (Hernandez is a free agent and may not be offered a contract to return, and Gorzelanny is a candidate to be non-tendered next month.)
"I really like the way the rotation is set right now," Rizzo said. "I think we have great depth there and great talent. We have upper-rotation guys. We have middle-rotation guys. And we've got some back-of-the-rotation guys. We've got great depth in our minor league system. We've got guys that are knocking on the door and probably should be pitching in the big leagues this coming season and may not be."
Wang's return seemed a foregone conclusion since late-September, once the right-hander established his full recovery from a shoulder injury that sidelined him more than two years. After going 4-3 with a 4.04 ERA in 11 starts, the Taiwanese hurler expressed his desire to stay with the only organization that offered him a major-league contract following his surgery.
"I am appreciative of the opportunity and all the support the Nationals gave me to make the comeback," he said in a statement. "I am excited about next season, playing together with my teammates, and look forward to doing my best to help the Nationals to the playoffs."
Wang, who is currently in Taiwan and is scheduled to pitch for his native country Sunday against a team of MLB players on a goodwill tour, won't be on any innings or pitch restrictions in 2012.
"He's a veteran horse that we're going to count on," Rizzo said.
Though negotiations were amicable and progressed in a timely fashion, there was one sticking point. The Nationals preferred to include a 2013 club option on the contract, ensuring their ability to retain Wang for another season if he makes a full return to his old form.
Wang and his agent, Alan Nero, would not agree to the option, wanting to make sure the pitcher can become a free agent again next winter and command whatever contract the market is willing to give him.
That said, the Nationals were given some assurances they would have the first opportunity to re-sign Wang next winter, as was the case this year.
"He wants to prove that he's a healthy pitcher and get back in the market as a healthy starter with a full, healthy season under his belt," Rizzo said. "And I would imagine that we would get first right of refusal and the best chance of re-signing him if in fact that situation came about."