Pete Kerzel of MASN wrote, "There's no way around it: The Nationals have at least one more starting pitcher than spots in the vastly improved five-man rotation that will break camp from spring training in Viera, Fla., in early April."
And Kerzel made that statement before Jackson was added to the mix. At the time, their starters included Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Chien-Ming Wang, Ross Detwiler, John Lannan, Tom Gorzelanny and Craig Stammen, with Yunesky Maya, Matt Purke and others waiting in the wings.
Push Jackson into the mix—likely as the number two starter—and another pitcher has to drop off the end of the rotation.
Which pitcher is most likely to go, and what would Washington want in return?
On February 8 Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post wrote that the Jackson deal "seemed to blanket John Lannan’s future here in uncertainty." He reinforced Kerzel's point that the Nationals have seven or eight viable starters competing for five spots. "Based on contract and service time considerations," Kilgore concluded, "Lannan became widely regarded as the Nationals’ most expendable (read: tradeable) starter."
Don't be surprised, however, if a deal gets done late—just before the start of the season. They want to get a good look at all their pitchers before making a decision. Washington does need some insurance, with Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Chien-Ming Wang all coming off recent surgeries.
Strasburg is on a 160-inning limit and will be shut down once he reaches that mark. Wang hasn't pitched 100 innings since 2007, and it is unknown how many innings Jordan Zimmermann (who was limited to 160 in 2011) will be able to throw in 2012.
Everything I'm writing here is predicated on the initial presumption that the Nationals have too many starting pitchers. But isn't that what folks said about the Red Sox last year? Look what happened.
Washington also wants to get a look at center field—their area of greatest need. So much need, in fact, that they signed former Red Sox bust Mike Cameron as a non-roster invitee, and re-signed former pitcher Rick Ankiel to compete with the immortal Roger Bernadina for the spot until rookie phenom Bryce Harper is deemed ready for the majors.
Washington also looks to add bench strength, especially a left-handed bat.
The Nationals are now supposedly shopping Lannan aggressively, and have apparently spoken with the Angels about Peter Bourjos—but the Angels would need a lot more than one of those extra pitchers for that great outfield prospect. On FanGraphs, Dave Cameron wrote, "But, even if we assume that the Angels should entertain offers for Bourjos, the idea of swapping him for John Lannan is still absolutely insane."
Orioles reporter Amber Theoharis suggested John Lannan and Ross Detwiler for Adam Jones, while her colleague Roch Kubatko suggested second base prospect Steven Lombardozzi along with Lannan and a pitching prospect for Jones.
Neither of those deals is likely to happen.
On the surface it does not appear that the Red Sox are an ideal match because their expendable outfielder who might appeal to Washington—Ryan Kalish—won't be ready for the start of the season.
According to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, however, there is reason to believe that a trade could still happen. "It doesn’t have to be a center fielder,’’ one major league source told Cafardo. “They don’t have to get a center fielder in that deal as long as they get a center fielder some other way. The Red Sox make a lot of sense.’’
Or, perhaps the Nats would take Kalish and muddle along with Ankiel/Cameron/Bernadina until Kalish is healthy enough to play. If Washington adds a low-level pitching prospect, the Red Sox could throw in Lars Anderson, a left-handed hitter with potential, to sweeten the deal.
Washington may also wish to address another glaring need: on base percentage. As the February 13 issue of Sports Illustrated points out, Washington was 12th in the NL last year in runs and OBP, and they didn't add anyone to help those numbers. The leadoff and number two hitters were particularly hideous, combining for a .285 OBP. (Kalish has a minor league career .365 OBP, while Anderson's is .372).
Another reason Washington might deal with the Red Sox is because other teams would press them harder for some of the Nats' top prospects.
With all those caveats in mind, here's a look at four Washington starters the Red Sox might pursue.