Washington Nationals: Top 5 Winter Story Lines - Davey Johnson? Yu Darvish? Jayson Werth?

ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 27: Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson looks on from the dugout in the first inning against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on June 27, 2011 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

5. Does Davey Johnson Return?: Following Wednesday afternoon's season-ending win over the Florida Marlins, when he was asked by reporters whether he'd be back as the manager of the Washington Nationals next season, 68-year-old skipper Davey Johnson said, "I love this ballclub, and of course, I love baseball, and I'm very attached to this ballclub." Johnson had just completed a 40-43 run that culminated in a 17-10 September in which Washington won 14 of their last 18 to end the year with the most wins since their 81-81 Inaugural season. "I'm hopeful things will work out and I'll be back," Johnson said, " I'd like that challenge."

D.C. GM Mike Rizzo, as he has from the start, reiterated that Johnson will be part of the search for a permanent manager and also a candidate for the job, and told reporters during the last homestand that it would not be a prolonged search as it had before Jim Riggleman was given the full-time job. "'I anticipate the process to be much quicker,'" MLB.com's Bill Ladson quoted the GM explaining, "'We already identified the candidates. We are going to talk to them." Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell, in his latest chat with readers, said there was no doubt in his mind that Johnson would return, "There's a search process, but it will be Johnson. No question."

• Thoughts: I've assumed Davey Johnson would return from the start. A 3-year deal was mentioned in the first reports that he'd been hired, but when he was introduced it was a 3-year consulting deal with a search to be conducted at the end of the season with Johnson a candidate and a part of the search. The Nats, I'm assuming, were allowed to hire Johnson without meeting all the requirements of the hiring process demanded by MLB since Jim Riggleman resigned during the season, but I fully expect that once the search has played out, Davey Johnson will be back. 

4. 1st Base: in his 9/25/11 Sunday Boston Globe column, Nick Cafardo looked at Prince Fielder again, noting that sources told him the Brewers might try to sign the soon-to-be free agent after all, while also mentioning that he's believed from the start that the Scott Boras-friendly Nationals were a likely destination for the 27-year-old Milwaukee first baseman who finished the 2011 Regular Season with a .299/.415/.566 slash, .303 BABIP, more walks than K's, 36 doubles, 38 HR's, +5.5 WAR, -5.1 UZR/150, etc...More interesting than the speculation about Fielder landing in D.C., however, was what Mr. Cafardo had to say about the situation at 1B if the Nats don't bring in a free agent: 

"The Nationals do have a logjam at first base, where Michael Morse will likely end up because he’s not a very good left fielder. They probably will deal Adam LaRoche. They also have Chris Marrero, one of the organization’s top prospects, who has looked good during his September call-up." 

Can the Nationals trade Adam LaRoche coming off a serious injury? Will they deal him at the trade deadline if he's healthy and provides offensively what the Nats expected out of him when he signed? Was Chris Marrero being showcased in September? Will Washington make the biggest splash of the winter for the second year in a row?

Michael Morse was back in left at the end of the year. When D.C. GM MIke Rizzo was asked about the team's plans in a late-July interview on 106.7 the FAN in D.C., the Nats' general manager said, ""In a perfect world we get the Adam LaRoche that we signed that's a 25-HR, 100-RBI Gold Glove [calilber first baseman]. Mike Morse goes to left field and is a 25-35 HR, 100-RBI left fielder and we've really replaced two powerful bats in the lineup." LaRoche has to come back healthy, but he's under contract for one more year and $8M dollars. Will he be the Nats' first baseman on Opening Day?

3. Starting Pitcher Search 2.0: MLB.com's Bill Ladson reported recently that the Washington Nationals were scouting free-agent-to-be C.J. Wilson, the Texas Rangers' 30-year-old left-hander who fought back from Tommy John surgery and argued his way into the rotation before taking off in the last two seasons. Would Washington make a play for C.C. Sabathia if he opts out as expected/assumed? The Washington Nationals have scouted 25-year-old Nippon Ham Fighters' right-hander Yu Darvish in the past and recently said again they would be interested in the highly-regarded starter should he become available this winter. Is he coming to the U.S.?

It's still not official, but in a recent "Full Count" video, FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal said Darvish might end up being the biggest name on the market. "The most coveted guy, if you talk to certain executives, could be Japanese right-hander Yu Darvish," Rosenthal says. He also mentions the problems with the posting process and the history of the Yankees and Red Sox' deals with Kei Igawa and Daisuke Matsuzaka, but, "Darvish though, is seen as different. He is the son of an Iranian father and a Japanese mother, so he has been living outside his comfort zone in Japan, a largely homogeneous society virtually all his life. Expect the bidding for him to be fierce." 

Darvish's 2011 stats as of 9/29? (17-5), 26 GS,  215.0 IP, 1.42 ERA, 32 BB (1.34 BB/9), 252 K's (10.55 K/9). There are other needs, other free agents, other pitchers, there are plenty of reasons not to take a chance on signing Yu Darvish, but I'll hold out hope the Nationals take a chance.

• Speaking of Strasburg, the right-hander showed at the end of the year that he's capable of coming back and competing at this level, next year he'll be limited by a team-imposed innings-limit. Do the Nationals need to sign a no.1-type starter? Davey Johnson joked that they already had a no.1 starter in the last post game press of  year when asked if what he saw in the last start of the year was a tease? "That's more than a teaser, that was fun. I mean, somebody came up with this idea, 'Maybe you'll save [Strasburg's] innings if you don't have him no. 1 on this club [in 2012].' How am I going to do that? You guys would run me out of town wouldn't you? But I don't even...How many did he punch out."

[Press: "Ten."]

Davey Johnson: "That's pretty good...[laughs]."

Should the Nats stick with the pitching they have and spend elsewhere like at the top of their order and in center? 

2. AFL: If, somehow, you're not excited by the contingent of prospects the Washington Nationals are sending to Arizona to play for the Scottsdale Scorpions or the fact that the team's pitchers will be working with Paul Menhart, who's served as a pitching coach at several stops in the Nationals' organization in the last few years, you have to be excited by the idea of Bryce Harper and Angels' top prospect Mike Trout sharing the outfield? The two are widely considered the top two outfield prospects in baseball. RHP Pat Lehman, RHP Rafael Martin, left-hander Sammy Solis, catcher Derek Norris and 2011 picks Anthony Rendon and (hopefully) LHP Matt Purke. The games start on October 4th. I'm trying to clear out a week of my schedule.

1. Jayson Werth Year Two: Was there a lingering injury he played through to justify his contract? Why was he unable to get comfortable at the plate? Why do we keep hearing about the Nats' video room? Jayson Werth finished the first year of his seven-year deal with the Nats with a .232/.330/.389 slash, 26 doubles and 20 HR's. He had a +0.2 UZR/150 in right, (up from -3.3 in 2010) and finished at +2.5 WAR, down from 5.3/5.0/5.2 in the previous three seasons. Werth told Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore the season wasn't a wash. He helped change the "culture" on the Nats as he explained, and to hear just about every young player on the Nats tell it, he did. One after another throughout the year members of the team talked about the difference he made. Will Werth be in CF next season? In right? Will he rebound statistically, or was this season the first sign of decline? What will year two of seven bring?

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