Nationals In Need Of A Bat, Bullpen Depth

Many people expected the Nationals to be legitimate contenders this season for the first time since moving to town, but I don’t think many expected them to have the second best record in baseball more than one-third of the way through the campaign. The Nats came into Wednesday’s action with a 37-23 record to go along with their +38 run differential, the fifth best mark in the game. They’ve relied on utterly dominant starting pitching so far, riding a staff that owns baseball’s best ERA (2.94), FIP (3.15), and WAR (8.3).

Great starting pitching only goes so far though, and Washington is really lacking in the run creation department. Their offense owns a .307 wOBA (sixth worst in MLB) and a 90 wRC+ (seventh worst) through their first 60 games, resulting in a 3.90 runs per game average that is the second lowest among teams with a .500+ winning percentage. Bryce Harper has been nothing short of brilliant so far — 153 wRC+ and 1.3 WAR through 172 PA — and Michael Morse‘s recent return from the disabled list should provide a boost as well.

With Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche, Danny Espinosa, and Ian Desmond entrenched on the infield and the duo of Harper and Morse in the outfield, the Nats really only have two obvious spots to add an offensive upgrade: catcher and in the outfield. Harper’s flexibility allows them to pursue either a center fielder or corner bat depending on the market. Jayson Werth isn’t expected back anytime soon and while Steve Lombardozzi has been solid (95 wRC+), there is obvious room for improvement.

Xavier Paul (125 wRC+), Corey Brown (167 wRC+), and even Mark Teahen (113 wRC+) have had strong seasons down in Triple-A, but the Nationals have already fired their top homegrown bullet in Harper. Any sort of impact bat will have to come via trade, so thankfully the market figures to be saturated with outfield bats. Carlos Quentin is the most obvious name, an impending free agent who is off to a ridiculous start (297 wRC+) with the Padres after missing most of the first few weeks of the season with a(nother) knee issue. Josh Willingham (168 wRC+) is having the best year of his career with the Twins but is under contract for two more seasons. That may or may not fit into what GM Mike Rizzo wants to do long-term, though he’s obviously familiar with Willingham given his time in the nation’s capitol.

The secondary market offers up names like David DeJesus (106 wRC+) and Bryan LaHair (153 wRC+) of the Cubs, Seth Smith (123 wRC+) of the Athletics, and Jeff Francoeur (92 wRC+) of the Royals. Some are obviously more desirable than others. Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has hinted that a fire sale could be coming if his team doesn’t improve, though I have a hard time thinking he would discuss Shane Victorino (104 wRC+) or Hunter Pence (122 wRC+) with a division rival. Rizzo traded away many of his most tradable assets for Gio Gonzalez this winter, but he still has enough prospects to swing a deal for a quality hitter.

In addition to the outfield, the Nationals could also seek an upgrade behind the plate. Wilson Ramos‘ season-ending injury has forced Jesus Flores (63 wRC+) into everyday action, but quality catching is very difficult to find. I’m sure the Cubs will make Geovany Soto (44 wRC+) available when healthy, the Padres could peddle Nick Hundley (40 wRC+) or John Baker (76 wRC+) with Yasmani Grandal on the doorstep, maybe the Mariners put John Jaso (117 wRC+) on the block … otherwise there’s really not much to see in the catching department.

While the offense figures to be Rizzo’s primary focus leading up to the trade deadline, bullpen depth should be on the shopping list as well. The Nats have gotten 1.6 WAR out of their relief corps so far (tenth most in baseball) thanks to now-closer Tyler Clippard (1.1 WAR), left-hander Sean Burnett (0.5 WAR), and right-hander Craig Stammen (0.5 WAR). Henry Rodriguez (-0.2 WAR) and Brad Lidge (-0.2 WAR) were penciled into late-inning roles when the season opened but have been ineffective when not hurt. Drew Storen has resumed throwing after elbow surgery but is still several weeks away from returning.

The bullpen trade market is very fluid and there figures to be a ton of quality relievers available. Going back to the Cubs, I’m sure they’ll make Shawn Camp (0.5WAR) available quite soon so he doesn’t turn into a pumpkin on their watch. The Athletics have Grant Balfour (0.2 WAR) and Brian Fuentes (0.0 WAR) to deal, though neither has done much to help their trade value this year. Matt Capps (0.2 WAR), Jonathan Broxton (0.3 WAR), Matt Belisle (1.0 WAR), Rafael Betancourt (0.5 WAR) … name a non-contender and they’ll likely have some relievers available. The Nationals are in good shape at the moment and can afford to be patient with their bullpen, but adding a reliever should at least be a consideration.

Rizzo has shown a willingness to be aggressive — very aggressive at times — to improve his club and he will have ample opportunity to do so in the coming weeks. Adding an impact bat to the outfield should be priority number one for Washington while an upgrade behind the plate and in the bullpen are a little further down the list. The Nats are in the middle of their best and most exciting season since leaving Montreal, but Rizzo has to balance going all-in with planning for the future. It’s an unenviable but doable task.

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Mike writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues and baseball in general at CBS Sports.

52 Responses to “Nationals In Need Of A Bat, Bullpen Depth”

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  1. Kevin R says:

    Let’s not forget that within 4 weeks, they also expect to get Werth, Chad Tracy, Mark DeRosa, Ryan, Mattheus, Sandy Leon, and Drew Storen back. Those additions are probably about as good as they can expect to find on the waiver wire or through any non-blockbuster trades.

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    • Pig.Pen says:

      While I agree with the overall sentiment, let’s not forget that Mark DeRosa only has one functioning wrist. I would rather have a AAAA player with pop than Flappy.

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      • Natty Bumppo says:

        “I would rather have a AAAA player with pop than Flappy.”

        Someone like, say, Tyler Moore. Who happens to be right there on the roster. Don’t know why he doesn’t get more of a shot.

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  2. 23553 says:

    Actually, Werth is expected back pretty soon after the trade deadline, so a trade for an outfielder doesn’t make alot of sense.

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    • Dan says:

      Two things about Werth’s return:
      1. Last time he broke that wrist it took him more than a year after he was back to regain his old form.
      2. Counting on him (and Storen) to smoothly continue through rehab without any setbacks seems unwise.

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  3. Snowblind says:

    I’d love to see the Nationals take Wells, League and Figgins from the M’s and send back possibly some AA middle infield depth. But especially send back some major-league innings-eaters for starting pitching, or at least solid AAA guys so the M’s can get early looks at some guys.

    Major league starting pitching is what I’d be most interested in, though, so that Walker/Paxton/Hultzen don’t get rushed to the majors, and so that the M’s can send Vargas and (when healthy again) Millwood off for more parts, and keep Noesi and Beavan down to work on a few things, and so on.

    Anyway. Wells is a good 4th outfielder and might break out with the Nats the way Morse did. League has pretty well figured it out again and when he’s on, he will be as good a setup man or closer as you could find among non-contender trade partners right now. Figgins… well, a selfish pipe dream there given he’s worn out his welcome in Seattle, but on a contender he’s a perfectly serviceable rest-some-guys, once-a-week utility man and I’m sure Seattle would eat the cost on him at this point.

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    • short says:

      If the Nats take Figgins and his salary they wouldn’t have to send much of anything else in return on that deal. Basically the only one of those players the M’s will want in the future is Wells and if getting rid of him saves them ~$13 million they wouldn’t need much more than a middling prospect in return.

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  4. I Agree Guy says:

    How about Ryan Doumit?

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  5. Sen-Baldacci says:

    How can the conclusion of this article be that they need to trade for an OF bat when their million dollar man Werth is coming back after the all-star break which is fast approaching? That sounds like a pretty dumb move to me, unless you have some garbage to give up for another OF bat. The pitching is carrying this team. Give it a few weeks. Storen will round out the bullpen. They are looking good

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  6. Marcus says:

    Nats need a bench bat, OF, back up catcher, and another arm for the bull pen. Most of this the Nats already have on the disabled list:
    OF: J. Werth
    Bench Bat: C. Tracy
    Bullpen: Drew Storen/Mattheus/Rodriguez

    Unless the trade is for a longterm solution in CF I really don’t see Rizzo making any big moves at the deadline. Even at CF Rizzo needs to figure out if he’s ok w/ Bryce playing CF for another year while he figures out who he wants longterm in Morse/Laroche. If Rizzo believes Harper can handle CF we no longer need to trade for a CF and it’ll give us another year to see what we have in Goodwin/Taylor/Perez.

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  7. Rex Manning Day says:

    It’s also worth noting that Zimmerman is severely underperforming his career numbers so far this year. Obviously he might not bounce back this year, but if he does regress back to a better semblance of his former self the Nats are going to get a pretty nice offensive bump.

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  8. camelot says:

    Seth Smith and Grant Balfour could help nats. if they are willing to take on some money maybe coco crisp or kurt suzuki

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    • philosofool says:

      Kurt Suzuki would not be enough of an upgrade over Flores.

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      • Kevin R says:

        “Kurt Suzuki would not be enough of an upgrade over Flores”

        Kurt Suzuki would not be enough of an upgrade over my mom.

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  9. hifilofi says:

    TYLER MOORE!!!111 unleash the beast

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  10. Robbie G. says:

    Unless you honestly believe that Adam LaRoche will keep up this pace, then an obvious spot to upgrade is 1B. There are two teams (Detroit and Boston) who are paying big money to not one but two first basemen. And I am just not seeing how Detroit (or any team) can justify paying a big salary to both Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. If the Nationals want to really go for it, they should pursue Cabrera, who presumably becomes available if the Tigers are still playing mediocre baseball in mid-July. Kevin Youkilis would presumably be a less costly acquisition, though.

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    • cs3 says:

      you really think the Tigers are trading Cabrera for anything that the Nats would give up?

      better think again, because thats ridiculous

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    • BJ says:

      You don’t sign Prince Fielder to a $200m contract in the winter and then decide you can’t afford Miggy and Prince together. They obviously thought this out well in advance. I’m sure there is money in the budget for both. Might not be the best way to spend the money but they aren’t looking for salary relief.

      The Red Sox situation is a little different. Youk could be had I’m sure. I’m less sure that he is an upgrade in 2012 over LaRoche (who will most likely cool down).

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      • rarumberger says:

        Laroche has cooled down. He’s more or less on pace to provide exactly the same numbers he has through every season of his career, ie, pretty good for any position except 1B, where he’s around average.

        I don’t think Youkilis would really be an upgrade over him, but even if he was, it wouldn’t be enough to justify sending the Sox a legit prospect.

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    • Skob says:

      I don’t know how you combine the utterly ridiculous notion of trading for Prince with the very sensible thought to made a deal for Youkilis. Maybe to help their bullpen they should really go after either Jonathan Papelbon or Jon Broxton? Come on man!

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  11. everdiso says:

    I may not be the commenter fangraphs needs, but I am the commenter fangraphs deserves. I am: Foreverdiso!

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  12. Craig says:

    Crazy thought: With Strasburg going to be shut down some time in August, with Wang underwhelming based on a small sample size so far, and with a team that was being built to win in 2013 looking like it may be a serious player this year, is it crazy to think of adding a top line starting pitcher (Dempster? Greinke?) at the deadline to a team already overflowing with starting pitching?

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    • rarumberger says:

      The Nats have been hot for Greinke for a few years, but the big question is whether they’re willing to pay for him. If they hadn’t made the Gio trade, I’d expect Greinke in DC any day now, but I don’t see Rizzo being willing to give what it would take to get him, unless the Brewers are looking to get Cutter Dykstra back.

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      • John C. says:

        I think the Nats may well be willing to pay for Greinke – but just money, and in the offseason. I’d be shocked if Rizzo gave up any significant prospects for a three month rental.

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    • Jason B says:

      “With Strasburg going to be shut down some time in August,”

      File under: will believe it when I see it.

      (I expect they will do some things to stretch him out through the year – extra days off here and there, extra rest around the all-star break, perhaps skipping a start here and there, maybe even limiting him to 6 IP on up in September. But a total shutdown in the midst of a pennant race? Very unlikely.)

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      • Aaron (UK) says:

        If they keep pulling clear they could consider shutting him down at the ASB and re-activating him in mid-September, if they think this is compatible with their medical plans (doubtful, perhaps).

        If the Nats are say 7/8 games ahead then each Strasburg start post-ASB is worth far less in terms of World Series Probability Added than if they were neck-and-neck with the Braves.

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  13. Matt P says:

    Yeah, yeah, yeah. They’re going to be better because they’re getting Werth back and because Morse and Zimmerman haven’t started hitting yet.

    Unfortunately, Zimmerman hasn’t been an elite bat since 2010. In 2011, he had above average numbers of .289/.335/.443 but that’s not close to the numbers he put up in 2009 and 2010 where he flirted with a .900 OPS. It’s early to say he’s no longer elite but provided he doesn’t put up an excellent performance for the rest of year, it will be two years in a row that he wasn’t elite but merely good. He’s been elite for two years.

    After putting up elite numbers for four years in a row, Werth also is struggling. He was awful last year and he’s been good this year. But this is the third year in a row where he’s been unable to hit for power and he’s on the decline.

    Desmond, Espinoza and Ramos will all be lucky to hit league average. LaRoche has gone cold after a sizzling start to the season. If you’re the Nats, you’re depending on Morse to heat up and for Harper to keep it going. Gotta think that this team has to start looking for another elite bat to help out Harper.

    The pitching can win a WS. The hitting won’t. They’ve got to make a big splash to get the elite middle infielder they need to get over the top.

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    • Will says:

      Check out the 2010 Giants line up to see what it takes to win a World Series.

      Long story short: not much. Pitching wins ball games.

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      • Natty Bumppo says:

        “Pitching wins ball games.”

        Actually… some sophisticated sabermetric analysis involving Principal Components and multidimensional linear algebra has provided pretty convincing evidence that “scoring more runs than the opposition wins ball games”.

        It turns out that your pitching can be awful, if your hitting is epic. True story.

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      • Sam Samson says:

        And your hitting can be mediocre if your pitching is extremely good. Which was point.

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      • Sam Samson says:

        *the point.

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      • Matt P says:

        Considering the 2010 Giants scored about .4 runs more per game than the 2012 Nats, I’d say that they’re superior.

        Seriously, you’re right that all you need to win a WS is to be enough to make the playoffs(which the Nats are) and to go on a tear (anything is possible). It’s just easier to do it with good players than with guys who are mediocre.

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  14. KJ says:

    I’d think between Corey Brown and Tyler Moore they can put together a good bat. Maybe not Willinghamesque, but close for power and run production.

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  15. Pig.Pen says:

    The problem with averages is that they are an average of what has happened to this point, not a predictor of what will happen in the future. The Nats haven’t hit a ton so far this year, but with their pitching they don’t need to. That being said, the Nats started the season without Bryce Harper or Michael Morse, both of who expect to be heavy contributors to the offense moving forward. Ryan Zimmerman and Danny Espinosa have both gotten off to terrible starts, and have both started to turn it around over the last week or so, but the point is they expect to be better moving forward than they’ve been. LaRoche is doing a little better than expected, but not a ton and Werth will be back in late July early August, so why make a deal to improve on Lombo’s 95 wRC+ to someone who will likely put up a wRC+ of 110 for a month and could potentially be a downgrade on defense.

    As for adding a bullpen arm, the Nats bullpen has an ERA under 3.00 and Drew Storen will be back in a couple of weeks, I doubt they’re going to pick up a difference maker there either.

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    • John C says:

      I agree with this. The real reason the Nationals overall offense looks bad is because they had Ankiel, DeRosa, and Nady getting around 300 PA combined. Those guys aren’t playing as much now that Lombo, Harper, and Morse are in the outfield for most NL games.

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      • Kevin R says:

        I agree with you on this one. Now, chances are LaRoche, Desmond and maybe Espinosa will cool off a bit. And Lombo has very little power, especially for an LF. But he gets on base a lot, and that’s acceptable. I’m concerned about Werth’s production when he gets back (wrists can be problematic, though this isn’t the hamate bone, so that’s fortunate) and they’re probably not going to improve much on Ankiel’s hitting. (Which, that’s ok given his defensive abilities and some pop.) So it’s definitely not murderer’s row, but it’s going to be a kinda-OK offense, which paired with that pitching should be fine.

        I’ll be eager to see how they do against the Yankees this weekend. That’s the last really high-powered offense they’ll see in a while. If they can shut down those hitters, then we’ll really know how good that team can get.

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      • monkey business says:

        Go to the team stants page for batting, do the last 30 days split and sort by wRC+ (WAR includes fielding, so is a poor choice to default sort by when I selected, “batting”) and there the Nationals are, right in the middle of the pack.

        Side note: the so called, “comedy central” (ALC) has the top three teams in the last month.

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  16. JDub says:

    Bullpen help tends to be very overvalued at deadline time. Don’t make the same mistake the Twins did when they gave you Wilson Ramos for Capps.

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    • monkey business says:

      Maybe they could do a “free backs” on that one.

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    • BX says:

      Eh, it gets overvalued in the offseason as well.

      3+ year deals to relievers, 25MM+ guaranteed to relievers, starting caliber players (even if they’re unproven with major warts) traded for closers, etc.

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  17. Zarry Bito says:

    Catcher seems like the most glaring need for an upgrade. Flores has had to play a lot of games recently and getting a second guy to share the load would be good. Only a 1-year rental though cos’ of Ramos returning.
    When and if Werth returns healthy they could upgrade the MI by platooing Lombo and Espi- Lombo has hit well against RHP and Espi has mashed LHP (his figures against righties are the problem – his swings and misses look ugly from that side too). Or maybe Lombo can become a super utility as Espi is heating up.
    With the bullpen and rotation a lot depends on Strasburg and his inning limit. If he’s shut down the rotation becomes Gio, J-Zim, Jackson, Wang and Lannan so maybe they could upgrade. If they move him to the pen to preserve his innings he could become what Ogando was last postseason.

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  18. Curtiss says:

    The Nationals need bullpen depth. I actually had to read that line several times. In all honesty, I cannot think of anything that could be more incorrect. The problem with their bullpen right now is that they lost Storen, their closer, to injury. This combined with the missed time of Rodriguez, Lidge, and Mattheus does make their bullpen appear thin. The only thing is that even with all of those pitchers missing they still have one of the best pens in baseball.

    Stammen and Gorzelanny are a great Righty Lefty duo coming out of the pen who both regularly throw multiple innings due to being converted starters with multiple pitches. They are great depth in the pen, and both are very trusted in terms of usage which might inflate their numbers somewhat.

    Detwiler is a power throwing lefty who is another converted starter. Once he gets better command of his changeup and slider he will be back in the starting rotation.

    Mattheus is a power throwing righty who relies on a slider and sinker. Not as overpowering as his stuff appears, but reliably gets outs anyways.

    Rodriguez is, in terms of pure stuff, the second best reliever in baseball behind Aroldis Chapman. When he is throwing strikes he is absolutely unhittable, but when he is throwing balls he will walk in runs.

    Tyler Clippard is a very very good reliever. Probably destined for the allstar game again this year.

    Brad Lidge is a veteran bullpen arm who was closing for Philadelphia not to long ago. Even with that said he is one of the weaker relievers in this pen, if not outright the weakest. That impression may have been contributed to due to his trying to pitch through his injury however, so we will see if he improves. His appearance against the Blue Jays looked good today.

    Drew Storen is a great reliever who is currently working his way back from injury. While by no means unhittable, he would still slot into any bullpen in MLB with ease.

    That is 8 relievers on the roster that are all at least MLB average. There are only 7 spots in a major league bullpen, and with this composition they might be able to get away with only 6. Therefore there is no shortage of Bullpen Depth.

    As for the bat side once the likes of Xavier Nady, Mark DeRosa, and Rick Ankiel stop collecting at bats the lineup will improve dramatically. In the last 2 weeks they have already greatly improved, and they can improve more once Zimmerman and Morse return to form and start hitting at their career average.

    TLDR: The nats do not Need and upgrade at any single position. Once they get healthy and game fit they will be in great shape for the rest of the year.

    Rant over

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  19. LHomonacionale says:

    The Nats’ need to acquire a bat is grossly overstated. Injuries have taken some runs out of the lineup, but their run production has never tanked at any point in the season, showing that the Nats have capacity to absorb the injuries. This is at least one benefit of the strong farm system so many propose to deal away.

    More run creation is necessary, of course, but you can probably factor in the increased run creation coming from the development of the Nats’ youth. The same prospects that could bring over an established player could become great players themselves. Only two of the potential trade candidates for catcher had a higher wRC+ than Flores, who isn’t bad himself and has seen his stats improve in the month since Ramos’ injury forced him into more regular playing time.

    If the Nats really need help with the bats it’s off the bench. Ankiel is serviceable and a great clubhouse presence; but Bernadina hasn’t been special, DeRosa wasn’t hot before he got injured, Nady has been awful, and Tracy produces well but is injury-prone. While the Nats might see a good corner outfielder bloom right in front of their eyes as they saw Morse bloom last year at first base, nobody on the back of the bench is going to surprise anybody this year. And for the back of the bench there are cheaper ways to find production than dealing away the farm.

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  20. Randy says:

    The Nats don’t need bullpen depth. That’s not to say any team couldn’t add a bullpen arm at any given time, but of all the teams in MLB the Nats are one of the deeper bullpens.

    I agree they need a bat, though it isn’t clear at which position. If everyone is healthy, they need to find at bats for LaRoche, Morse, Harper, and Werth. That means they’d have Ankiel, Bernadina, and Nady on the bench (maybe Moore). It doesn’t make sense to add an outfielder unless there is an injury or they plan to move one of those players. They could use a centerfielder, but it’s doubtful it would be anyone with some pop since CFers that play defense and have pop are hard to come by and anything less wouldn’t be an upgrade over Harper.

    I think they need to score more runs, but I also think Davey Johnson likes his roster as it is constructed. I’m skeptical that they will make a major move.

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  21. ezb230 says:

    “Going back to the Cubs, I’m sure they’ll make Shawn Camp (0.5WAR) available quite soon so he doesn’t turn into a pumpkin on their watch.”
    The beauty of this is that the Cubs probably actually will try to deal him. I’m still adjusting to the Cubs having a sound decision-making process. The Cubs I grew up with would have signed Camp to a three-year extension. This is better.

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    • ezb230 says:

      I mean, Joe Borowski, Carlos Marmol, Kevin Gregg, Mel Rojas… each traded for or re-signed when they should have been dealt not acquired, and all because the Cubs didn’t know how to value relievers. This is so much better.

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  22. tommy b says:

    The Nays are stacked. When Morse and Zimmerman come around they will be hitting on all cylinders.The perfect player for the Nats is one they can’t get this season. Michael Bourn.

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  23. Dennis Easton says:

    This article seems like it is written because they need to write an article… none of the suggestions are good or necessary. As many have mentioned, the reserves are coming back soon and none of the suggestions fit with the long-term plans.

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  24. NatsLady says:

    Also must mention Mike Gonzalez in the bullpen, and Ryan Perry who is in AAA, plus a couple of other guys (e.g., the Emperor) who could be called up if needed. I don’t see Rizzo spending $$ or prospects on the bullpen.

    Catcher–yes, if he can find one. Jesus Flores a thin–though good–reed. Solano seems solid but has had back problems. Sandy Leon (hopefully back soon) is an unknown quantity.

    A rental for a hitter would be nice, but I’m sure the Nats aren’t the only ones with that idea and Rizzo does not like to get into bidding wars.

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