Washington Nationals: Center Fielder And Pitcher Away? Or Already There?

Surprised by the Washington Nationals' relative inaction thus far this winter? They did sign Chien-Ming Wang early. They non-tendered Doug Slaten and offered contracts to Jordan Zimmermann, John Lannan, Tyler Clippard, Jesus Flores and Michael Morse. Washington signed outfielders Jason Michaels and Brett Carroll, traded reliever for reliever with Detroit in the deal that sent Collin Balester to the Tigers for Ryan Perry, inked right-handed reliever Jeff Fulchino and added infielder Andres Blanco. When the Nats announced Friday that they hadn't bid on Yu Darvish another potential rotation addition's name was crossed off the list. Mark Buehrle was reportedly the top target this winter, but he signed in Miami. Roy Oswalt wants a multi-year deal the Nats apparently aren't comfortable handing out and other teams like the A's who have pitchers to trade are asking too much...

When Nats' skipper Davey Johnson was asked about adding pitching this winter during an interview on 106.7 the FAN in D.C. he responded by asking rhetorically, "Did you pay attention last year? Did you see how [Brad] Peacock pitched? Did you see how [Tom] Milone threw the ball? We've got a guy named [Stephen] Strasburg and another guy named [Jordan] Zimmermann. This is a pretty good crop of guys." Barring any additions, D.C. GM Mike Rizzo told MLB Network Radio hosts Jim Bowden and Casey Stern in an early November interview that the Nats see, "[Stephen] Strasburg, [Jordan] Zimmermann, [John] Lannan, [Chien-Ming] Wang and one of the young pitchers, [Ross] Detwiler, [Tommy] Milone or [Brad] Peacock as our five starters."

The GM admitted in the interview that he felt that in order to, "... combat the rotations of the Braves and the Marlins and the Phillies and even the Mets, we have to strengthen our rotation a little bit," with what he once described as a veteran/mentor-type inning-eating sort of pitcher and more recently described as, "... an arm that could fit in with Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann and give us a real potent top three guys in the rotation." The Nationals haven't found that pitcher yet, however, passing on Yu Darvish and thus far failing to find a trade partner amongst those teams looking to deal a top-of-the-rotation-type arm.

Davey Johnson told 106.7 the FAN's Mike Wise and Holden Kushner he didn't know if the center fielder the Nationals were after was out there either, explaining not long after he was officially announced as the 2012 manager that, "I don't foresee us doing that in the free agent market. I see us maybe picking up an outfielder out of the free agent market, but I don't so much see us getting a front-line starter that way."

The Nats revisited talks with the Tampa Bay Rays but any attempt to acquire B.J. Upton fell short once again. No one knows how international options like Cuban center fielder Yoenis Cespedes or Yakult Swallows' center fielder Norichika Aoki's talents will translate to the major league game. Are either of the two unproven outfielders options for a team that entered the winter saying they felt they were one or two players away from competing in the NL East? Davey Johnson boldly told reporters when his return was announced that he thought the Nationals already had the talent to compete in 2012 and he said his goal will be nothing short of an NL East title.

"A pennant," Johnson said when asked what his goal was for the upcoming campaign, "Winning the pennant. Winning the division. Winning the National League. I couldn't have said that last Spring. I didn't think the talent was ready, but after being there and seeing the progress that some of the young players made, I think we definitely can contend and I would be sorely disappointed if we didn't do just that. The talent's there."

There are still issues to be sorted out in the outfield, however, with Johnson pushing for Bryce Harper making the Opening Day roster, and the Nats saying they could always go with Jayson Werth in center if they have to. The Nationals have to rebuild their bench. Rizzo's been clear about the need to add pitching all winter, but both he and Davey Johnson have said they're comfortable with the arms the Nats already have if they can't find what they're after or don't like the cost.

Chris Marrero was supposed to play a role, in Johnson's mind at least, and he's out until the All-Star Break according to most reports (torn hamstring). Adam LaRoche's recovery and return isn't the foregone conclusion some seem to think it is. There are question marks at the top and back of the rotation. Another solid season from the bullpen's not guaranteed. There's no doubt Michael Morse can duplicate his 2011 stats, right? Is Davey Johnson right that the talent's already there? Can the Nationals afford to stand pat?

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