MIAMI GARDENS, FL - SEPTEMBER 27: Jayson Werth #28 of the Washington Nationals makes a catch during a game against the Florida Marlins at Sun Life Stadium on September 27, 2011 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Starter? Check. Center fielder? Still searching. D.C. GM Mike Rizzo told reporters last week Washington would continue to look for the right deal or player to fill the hole at the top of their lineup and in the middle of their outfield, but Rizzo once again reiterated that the Nats had options. "We feel that if the right fit for us for a center fielder," Rizzo said, "a long-term center field piece came to us, we would certainly be aggressive and address it and go after it either via the free agent market or the trade market."
It's a search that's gone on for two years now since the Nats decided to part ways with Nyjer Morgan rather than wait for him to figure things out. Boston Globe writer Nick Cafardo mentioned the Nationals in connection with four of the eight outfielders he wrote about on Sunday in an article entitled, "MLB teams haven’t finished shopping yet." 26-year-old international free agent-to-be Yoenis Cespedes should be available any day (or week) now, and the Boston Globe baseball writer reports that among teams showing interest in Cespedes, "The Marlins are being very aggressive, and the Nationals are right behind them."
Is B.J. Upton still an option? The Nats' GM said not much had changed in those discussions when they were revisited during the Winter Meetings, but as the Boston Globe's Mr. Cafardo notes, "The rumors with the Nationals have been endless." The 27-year-old Rays' center fielder is headed for arbitration and due a substantial raise to an estimated $7-$8M dollars this season, but he's a free agent after this year and Tampa Bay can try to trade him again in July if they don't find a deal they like this winter once they know if the Rays are going to compete in the AL East.
32-year-old outfielder Coco Crisp spent the 2010 and '11 seasons in Oakland where the outfielder had a combined .269/.314/.379 line in 211 games and 911 plate appearances. Bill James' projections have Crisp at .271/.333/.395 in 2012. Crisp tied for the AL lead in stolen bases with 49 in 58 attempts in 2011. The Boston Globe's Mr. Cafardo says the free agent who signed for 2-years/$10.5 in Oakland in 2010, "... would seem a fit for the Nationals or Rangers."
Another "good fit for the Nationals," in Mr. Cafardo's opinion? Peter Bourjos. There was talk of the Nats' interest in the 24-year-old outfielder the Boston Globe writer says is on the outside of an outfield trio in Anaheim that's likely to include top prospect Mike Trout, Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter. FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal's (@Ken_Rosenthal) wrote about Washington's interest in Bourjos in early December, noting on twitter that the, "Nationals' CF targets include Bourjos, Upton, maybe Pagan if non-tendered. Cespedes also possibility."
Bourjos, an '05 10th Round pick, who hit 26 doubles, 11 triples and 12 HR's last season, stole 22 bases and put up a .271/.327/.438 line in 147 games and 552 plate appearances with the Angels, is considered a part of the Angels' future however, as NatsInsider.com's Mark Zuckerman reported during the Winter Meetings, so his availability is questionable and even if LA/Anaheim made him available the price would be steep.
The Nationals have explored each trade option and they've scouted Cespedes, though their level of interest in entering a bidding war for the outfielder is unclear. Washington's still looking for a center fielder though as the Nats GM told reporters last week, "We still haven't gotten off that. We still feel that that's a need for us. We do feel that we have in-house candidates right now that can fill that position very effectively." As the general manager's mentioned before, the Nats are fine going with Jayson Werth in center if they can't find the right outfielder this winter, so the Nationals don't seem too desperate right now.
After all, with Werth in center that could open up right field for the Nats' top outfield prospect...
The Boston Globe writer mentions elsewhere in his article that one of the big questions in baseball is just when the Nationals plan to bring Bryce Harper to the nation's capital? "When to spring him loose in the majors?" Mr. Cafardo writes, "That’s the question the Nationals will be struggling with." The 19-year-old 2010 no.1 overall pick finished his first pro season with a .297/.392/.501 line after 72 games and 305 plate appearances at Class-A Hagerstown and 37 games and 147 PA's at Double-A Harrisburg before a hamstring injury.
Harper played in the Arizona Fall League for the second-straight season, posting a .333/.400/.634 slash with six doubles, two triples, six HR's, 26 RBI's, 11 walks and 22 K's in 25 games and 93 at bats. Davey Johnson's told Mike Rizzo to keep an open mind heading into Spring Training and the Boston Globe's baseball writer reports that a "talent evaluator" with another MLB team told him, "'There are people in their organization who think he should make the team out of spring training," but, Mr. Cafardo writes, "Washington GM Mike Rizzo is going to be a bit more cautious and let him develop."
There's one other Nats mention in the Boston Globe writer's Nationals-filled Sunday column...as a potential destination for Prince Fielder. "The Nationals are very active and seem to have a lot of money to spend," Mr. Cafardo writes, but so are the Rangers, Cubs, Orioles and Mariners. Will Prince Fielder be the next big name to sign?
• One more thing...Brad Peacock and Tom Milone were both expected to play a role in the 2012 Nats' rotation whether or not they started the season in D.C. (or Chicago more accurately), but they were both dealt to Oakland in last week's trade for Gio Gonzalez. Gonzalez fits in atop the rotation and replaces one of the two, but would the Nationals consider signing another pitcher to give them back some of the depth they lost in terms of MLB-ready arms?
Washington was mentioned recently in a Daily Sports report translated at Yakubaka.com as a potential suitor for 30-year-old Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles' right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma who went through the posting process last season but failed to work out a deal with the Oakland A's. Iwakuma returned to Japan for the 2011 season, and missed time with a shoulder injury, but the 11-year-veteran was (6-7) in 17 starts with a 2.42 ERA, 19 walks (1.44 BB/9) and 90 K's (6.80 K/9) in 119.0 IP, and the 6'3'', 190-pound right-hander has an Eiji Sawamura Award (Japan's Cy Young) on his resume after a 2008 season in which he was (21-4) with a 1.87 ERA and 159 K's (7.10 K/9) in 28 games and 201.2 IP.
Though they didn't mention Washington, MLBTraderumors.com reported yesterday that four teams were talking to Iwakuma, who's now a free agent. Could the Nats, who passed on the bidding process for Yu Darvish sign a pitcher considered by some the second-best pitcher in Japan for $110-$115 million less than the Rangers are about to pay for Darvish?