ST. PETERSBURG - APRIL 25: Outfielder B.J. Upton #2 of the Tampa Bay Rays doubles against the Toronto Blue Jays during the game at Tropicana Field on April 25, 2010 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
The Washington Nationals, having parted ways with one of their presumptive starting outfielders in Spring Training, are mentioned in rumors as being in the market for any outfielders who might be available. The Nats make the decision cut their ties to an outfielder whose stay in the nation's capital ends whether because of some behind the scenes tensions that are whispered about but never fully disclosed or because they've decided that they can't produce what the team needs from them. The D.C. Front Office opts to go with one of the other outfielders on their roster, whether it's a young and unproven talent like Roger Bernadina, a project like Michael Morse, or one of the veterans acquired to push their young outfielders to finally realize their potential. It's April...2010.
In an April 3, 2010 article entitled, "As Nats enter the season, status quo in right field", MASNSports.com's Ben Goessling wrote about the Nats' interest in acquiring a replacement for Elijah Dukes. The Nats, Mr. Goessling reports, released Dukes knowing that, "...they opened themselves up to the possibility that they would start the season without an everyday player in right field." Bernadina, Morse, Willie Harris and Willy Taveras were already in camp competing for time in right field, but the Nats, "a club source" told the reporter, had talked about possibly acquiring Corey Hart from the Brewers, Kosuke Fukudome from the Cubs, and, as Mr. Goessling wrote at the time, "...even inquired about Rays outfielder B.J. Upton, though they came away feeling Tampa Bay wouldn't part with the 24-year-old speedster unless it was out of the AL East race this summer."
The 2011 Nats' outfield drama started when the Nats signed Rick Ankiel last winter and immediately announced that he'd been brought in to compete for a starting job, pushing Nyjer Morgan in center and both Michael Morse and Roger Bernadina in left, though the two had been talked about as platoon in left since Josh Willingham had been traded to Oakland. When Morgan, in spite of a concerted effort to turn him back into the outfielder Nats fans saw before he broke his hand in 2009, was traded to the Brewers for prospect Cutter Dykstra, Ankiel was the clear favorite to win the starting spot in center, having outplayed Bernadina this Spring and earned the trust and respect of several members of the coaching staff long before he'd ever signed with Washington.
Ankiel, however, "...profiles more as a platoon player against right-handers than a regular," and the Nationals, FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal wrote yesterday in an article entitled, "Nationals: Seeking help in center," who, "...rank 14th in the NL in OPS from center field, are searching for potential upgrades, major-league sources say."
The Nats' decision-makers are, according to Mr. Rosenthal's sources, split when it comes to Bernadina and aware of Ankiel and Jerry Hairston's limitations, so, "Expect the Nats to be linked to any and all available center fielders," including B.J. Upton, though Tampa Bay, "will not entertain moving Upton unless they fall out of contention," as Mr. Rosenthal reported yesterday, and, of course, "If that happens, the Nats hardly will be the only team interested."
D.C. GM Mike Rizzo, of course, has history with the Upton family. In a recent MLB Network Radio interview, the Nats' General Manager compared 2010 no.1 overall pick Bryce Harper to '05 no.1 overall pick Justin Upton, B.J.'s young brother, who signed for $6.1M with Arizona while Rizzo was the D-Backs' Director of Scouting. It makes for a good narrative should the Nationals pursue a deal with the Rays, but until Tampa Bay's eliminated from contention in the AL East or another center fielder becomes available, the Nationals are going to have to go with what they have and live with the decision they made to part ways with Nyjer Morgan. Though there aren't too many in the nation's capital questioning the decision in spite of Morgan's hot start with the Brewers...