“We’ve done a little bit of both,” Rizzo said. “We’ve touched base with some agents. We’ve touched base with some teams. Just the general conversations is what we’ve done so far.”
The Nationals have started to narrow their focus, but they have not yet identified their primary target. Rizzo, at this point, has no particular criteria in mind in his search. He said he wants simply to acquire, “the most impactful guy that we can get.”
Rizzo gave the Nationals backup options and depth. Monday, they re-signed Zach Duke to a one-year, major league contract. Duke, who went 15-5 with a 3.51 ERA at Class AAA Syracuse last year, will likely replace Tom Gorzelanny as the Nationals’ long left-handed long reliever. But Rizzo said Duke will work as a starter in spring training to give the Nationals extra depth. Christian Garcia, outstanding in relief last season as a September call-up, will also take on a starter’s workload in spring training.
Either Duke or Garcia starting the year in the Nationals’ rotation would mean something has not gone to plan. When Rizzo says he wants an “impactful” starter, there is reason to believe him. Last winter, the Nationals packed their rotation with six capable starters by the end of January . . . and then gave Jackson $11 million to throw his high-90s heat for one year.
Rizzo will not let the conventions of a fifth starter limit his search for a starter. As such, the two pitchers the Nationals are most enamored with are the two at the top of the class: free agent Zack Greinke and potential trade target James Shields of the Tampa Bay Rays.
Both would require enormous costs to acquire, cash in Greinke’s case and quality players in Shields’s. The Nationals may find the price too high and move on. But they will test the waters for both.
The Rays are the rare team with a surplus of starting pitchers, they desperately need offense and Shields’s contract is set to become expensive for their small-market budget. “I’ve come to grips it may happen,” Rays Manager Joe Maddon said. Shields, a 31-year-old workhorse, will make $9 million in 2013 and has a $12 million team option for 2014.
Shields would be a perfect match with the Nationals’ four young fireballers — Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler. Shields has been a leader on the Rays’ young staff for years — “the best teammate I have ever seen,” Maddon said. He will still be in his prime, or at least the back end of it, for the next two seasons. Over the past six years, he has averaged 222 innings per seasons while punching up a 3.80 ERA.