Nationals in no rush to acquire left-hander

Nationals in no rush to acquire left-hander
December 9, 2013, 6:45 pm
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Though he admits he's "actively" trying to acquire a left-handed reliever, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo suggested he isn't facing any urgency to make a move this week during the Winter Meetings.

"I think we're going to take our time with it and get the right fit and see where the market is," Rizzo said Monday afternoon in his suite at the Dolphin Resort at Walt Disney World. "I'm not saying it can't happen in the next couple of days, but I'm certainly not going to put any kind of restriction on it."

Perhaps one reason Rizzo doesn't feel rushed in this department is the depth of lefties still at the moment. Though three free agent relievers (Javier Lopez, Manny Parra, Wesley Wright) already signed with clubs in advance of the Winter Meetings, at least five more lefties remain on the open market: Eric O'Flaherty, J.P. Howell, Boone Logan, Scott Downs and Oliver Perez.

And that doesn't even take into account any left-handed relievers who could be available via trade, an avenue Rizzo continues to explore.

"We're still open-minded to either way, depending on what the value is of the player," the GM said. "Obviously, a free agent is easier to acquire because you don't have to give up a player. You're just paying the free agent's salary. But if we feel there's an opportunity to better ourselves through a trade for a reliever, we will."

Rizzo did outline the type of pitcher he seeks: Someone who can retire the NL's toughest left-handed batters in crucial situations while also being effective enough against right-handed hitters to pitch a full inning of relief instead of only one batter at a time.

That's what makes O'Flaherty such an intriguing option. The 28-year-old has been among the league's best relievers (right-handed or left-handed) the last five seasons and has faced an average of 3.6 batters per appearance during his career with the Braves.

The only hang-up with O'Flaherty: He is recovering from Tommy John surgery performed by orthopedist James Andrews on May 21 and isn't likely to be ready to pitch in a big-league game until at least 12 months after the procedure.

Rizzo wouldn't go into specific detail on O'Flaherty except to say "we've got all the medical reports on him."

More generically, Rizzo did say the timetable for relievers returning from Tommy John surgery is faster than for starters, suggesting O'Flaherty could rediscover his peak form sooner than others.

One other potential sticking point: O'Flaherty would prefer a one-year deal, according to a source familiar with his thinking, hoping to re-establish his value and then earn a better contract next winter. The Nationals, though, might want to include some type of option on a contract for O'Flaherty, retaining the right to bring him back in 2015 if he does make a full recovery.

Whether he can find common ground with O'Flaherty or not, Rizzo remains confident he'll find his much-coveted lefty somewhere over the course of the winter.

"We're actively trying to either trade for one or sign one as a free agent," he said. "I don't know for sure if we're going to get a guy, but we feel good that there's enough depth out there and enough people that we're interested in that we feel good about the fact we can get one. But the deal has to make sense for us to make it. And we're not close to accomplishing that yet."