WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 03: Manager Davey Johnson #5 of the Washington Nationals heads to the mound to remove starting pitcher Jason Marquis #21 (not pictured) during the second inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Nationals Park on July 3, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Davey Johnson often talks as if he'll be back on the bench with the Washington Nationals next year. MLB.com's Bill Ladson reported recently on possible managerial candidates should the 68-year-old Johnson not return to manage the Nationals next season, however, no decision has been made as of yet. Johnson signed a three-year consulting contract when he took over for Jim Riggleman, so one way or another he'll be in the organization for the near future.
When he was asked Friday afternoon about what questions remain about the 2012 roster, Johnson told reporters, "I think in everybody's eyes, a lot of guys have laid claim to starting positions in the regular nine, [but] we still have some spots that are open. The bullpen has really done a great job and has kind of taken a really definite shape, and there's some spots up for grabs in the starting rotation that some guys are pitching very well for, and so, I think there's going to be very few question marks going into next Spring which is a great thing."
MLB.com's Bill Ladson also reported last night that he'd heard from Chien-Ming Wang's agent Alan Nero that the Nationals and the right-hander were in the "preliminary stages" of discussions about an extension, which would likely mean one less rotation spot open for competition next year. Wang gets the start this afternoon. After his last start when talk of the right-hander returning came up, Johnson endorsed the idea, saying he'd been impressed with Wang's progression through his rehab from shoulder surgery. "As far as I'm concerned," Johnson told reporters, "ever since he's started throwing again, he's a keeper."
Asked this morning for his thoughts on what Wang's accomplished this year, the Nats' Skipper said, "I think he's getting more confidence that his shoulder's going to hold up, and that's the big thing. The last couple of games he's started, he started a lot sharper early in the game, so that tells me he's getting loose easier and he's trusting it, but I think the best is yet to come from him. He's had a great comeback, I love where he's at and I look forward to [him] signing over the winter and he'll be back with us next year."
The Nationals have had both Rick Ankiel and Jayson Werth playing center as the season winds down, but they've often discussed an interest in adding a center fielder, and Johnson acknowledged on Friday that a center fielder or outfielder in general is still something the team still might look for this winter. "I still think one of the areas that the Nationals are lacking is depth in the outfield position. The minor league system has a lot of good young outfielders, but they're not knocking on the door yet, so that's an area that we can pick up somebody that can fill that role that would be good."
D.C. GM Mike Rizzo talked about the search for a center fielder in a post trade deadline interview on The Mike Rizzo Show, telling 106.7 the FAN's Danny Rouhier he believes the Nationals, "... have guys in place that are developing as we speak that I feel confident saying will be that answer for us in center. Now, because all developmental curves are different, I don't know exactly when that time frame is."
In discussing the names that were tied to the Nats before the Non-Waiver deadline, Rizzo, without naming names, said, "... we feel that would have been a bridge to one of these younger players in our system [that] we believe has the ability and the temperament and the skill set and the tools to take over as an everyday center fielder [and] top of the order hitter."
"I felt if there was an opportunity to accelerate that curve," Rizzo continued, "and get us a guy now that's young enough and controllable enough that it would be worth the risk of giving up a player or two [for] the Nationals because we're finally at a point where we have depth in our system that can kind of counteract any losses that we have."
Will the Nationals sign an outfielder to bridge the gap until their outfield prospects (Bryce Harper?) are ready to make the jump, rearrange the outfielders they have now to hold the spots until their young prospects are ready? Will they sign a free agent pitcher? With less than a week left in the Nats' season it's getting close to time for some of those questions to be asked. When the question was put to Davey Johnson this morning, "What is your biggest need for next year?" the manager declined to answer, telling reporters they were a week early with the question, "I'll be posing that question, I'll be posing that answer to the General Manager and ownership. I think I'll keep that to myself."