Phil Wood: Looking for a fifth member for the Nationals' rotation

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As the Washington Nationals' brain trust begins to pick up the pieces of their NLDS loss to St. Louis and re-assemble the roster for 2013, one of their priorities will certainly be the starting rotation.

Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler are all near-mortal locks to return to their 2012 roles, though perhaps not in that exact same order. But who's the fifth member of that band?

I don't believe it will be Edwin Jackson. The Nats didn't get their money's worth from Jackson in 2012. They were likely seeking numbers that would've dwarfed those compiled by John Lannan in 2011, but that didn't happen.

I suspect Lannan won't be the fifth guy either, though his contributions to the success of 2012 can't be underestimated. This club loves power arms, and that's not Lannan's forte. He's a groundball guy, and, if not with the Nats, he'll start for someone.

A couple of years ago the Nationals went hard after Zack Greinke when he was being shopped by the Royals, his original team. They proposed a trade that would've sent four players, including Zimmermann, Drew Storen and Danny Espinosa, to the Royals for Greinke and some other serviceable player. That deal didn't go through, mainly because Greinke had some say-so in the matter with his no-trade clause, and he determined the Nats were not quite ready to win yet and were giving up far too much for him.

Greinke is now a free agent, and the young right-hander -- he turned 29 on Sunday -- will be heavily courted by several clubs this winter. The Nationals will probably make a call or two, but Greinke, who's 31-11 over the past two seasons, will be pricey -- likely approaching the $18-20 million annual range. He may well be worth every penny, but there's another free agent righty out there who's a better fit.

Anibal Sanchez, who will be on display in a Tigers' uniform during the World Series, has been a Nats-killer over the course of his NL career with the Marlins. In 19 career starts against Washington, he's 8-0 with a 1.97 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP. In games played at Nats Park, he's 3-0 with a 1.13 ERA and 0.93 WHIP.

Sanchez will turn 29 in February, so he and Greinke are essentially the same age. During their careers, Greinke has a 3.77 ERA while Sanchez's is 3.75, so that's a push. Both pitchers have had notable DL stints: Sanchez had surgery for a torn labrum in 2007, and Greinke suffered from social anxiety disorder in 2006, a condition that required anti-depressant medication. Both pitchers rebounded nicely and have enjoyed productive careers.

Sanchez won't be cheap but should cost less than Greinke. His experience in the NL East is a huge plus.

In the final analysis, however, if you can't beat him, join him.

Examiner columnist Phil Wood co-hosts the "Mid-Atlantic Sports Report" and is a regular contributor to "Nats Xtra" on MASN. Contact him at philwood@washingtonexaminer.com.

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