Nats put rotation atop offseason priority list

Nats put rotation atop offseason priority list

WASHINGTON -- General manager Mike Rizzo informed the local media that starting pitching is the top priority for the Nationals this offseason.

Rizzo believes he could get a top-of-the-rotation pitcher via trade or free agency. Rizzo said that he could trade some of his prospects for a frontline starter, not a pitcher like right-hander Jason Marquis, who would give a team innings, but is not known for racking up victories.

The Nationals thought they had an ace in right-hander Stephen Strasburg, but he is out for most of next season after having Tommy John surgery early this month.

"We need a front-of-the-rotation guy to put everybody in their proper places in the rotation," Rizzo said. "That's the No. 1 priority going into the offseason. We definitely have depth -- prospect-wise -- to pull off a deal for a pitcher."

Rangers left-hander Cliff Lee is the only stud pitcher on the free-agent market this offseason, and the Nationals will have a lot of competition for his services. It is more likely Washington will trade for a top pitcher.

Rizzo also mentioned that he would like a bat at the top of the order to set up the sluggers to drive in runs. He said that center fielder Nyjer Morgan will be given every opportunity to fill that spot during Spring Training. Morgan had his worst season in the big leagues, hitting .257 with a .319 on-base percentage entering Wednesday. Rizzo also wants hitters who can grind out at-bats.

"We need more balance," Rizzo said. "We certainly need to set the table for the middle of the lineup -- for the big hitter to drive in runs. I think we need to have a lineup that grinds out at-bats, drive up pitch counts on starting pitchers to get into bullpens."

Rizzo didn't say how much money the Nationals would spend during the offseason. The club is not going to settle on a payroll until after the season comes to an end.