WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 05: Jayson Werth #28 of the Washington Nationals celebrates with Michael Morse #38 after hitting a home run in the first inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Nationals Park on September 5, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Washington Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo talked to MASN's (and MLB Network Radio's) Mel Antonen (@MelAntonen) on Friday (as reported via the Twitter), with Mr. Antonen writing that, "#Nats GM Mike Rizzo says he's making calls, looking for a match for CF. If no trade, [Mike] Cameron and [Roger] Bernadina and [Jayson] Werth are candidates." The Nats' general manager sounded resigned to the fact that Washington wouldn't find their center fielder/leadoff man this winter when he talked to reporters earlier this week, explaining, "I think that we have candidates in house that we'll go to Spring Training with," though he added, "That's not to say that we've abandoned the search for the right fit for us."
"But, we like the options that we have going into Spring Training," Rizzo continued, "and we do have multiple options of what to play, be it Jayson Werth moving to center or a platoon system in center field. We're not satisfied with not getting the long-term solution that we had [wanted], but we're satisfied with the in-house candidates and we feel that we're going to field the right kind of team going into Spring Training." The GM had previously said that the 2013 free agent class provided more options than this winter's to solve their center field needs, but Rizzo is apparently remaining open to the possibility of something happening this winter.
Starting the season with a Mike Cameron/Roger Bernadina platoon? As much as the Nationals continue to insist that Bryce Harper will have a legit shot at making the roster out of Spring Training, chances are he's headed back to the minors at least to start the season. The Nats' GM reiterated this week that the 19-year-old outfielder will make the move to the majors when he's ready, whenever that is. "When I believe Harper is ready to play in the big leagues," Rizzo said, "he'll be in the big leagues. We're not going to hinder his progress, but we're not going to accelerate it to a point that I think it endangers his development and curtails his overall performance."
As MASN's Mr. Antonen wrote on Twitter after speaking to the general manager, "#Nats GM Mike Rizzo tells MASN that he'll keep an open mind on #Bryce Harper starting 2012 in the bigs, but, 'He needs minor-league AB.'" The 19-year-old 2010 1st Round pick has 452 plate appearances (not counting AFL/ST PA's) on his resume as a professional, over which he's put up a .297/.392/.501 line, but he was just 37 games and 147 plate appearances into his Double-A experience when a hamstring injury ended his 2011 campaign.
Mike Cameron turned 39 on January 8th and the 17-year MLB veteran's coming off a 2011 season in which he hit ten doubles and nine home runs, but made just 269 plate appearances over 79 games between the Boston Red Sox and Florida Marlins. In a January 17th interview with MLB Network Radio hosts Jeff Joyce and Cliff Floyd, Cameron said he's not sure what his role with Washington will be. After reading up on the situation to inform himself on what's going on with the Nats, Cameron said that to him, "It sounds like [Davey Johnson] likes Jayson Werth in center, that is, if Harper's ready to play, then I'll just kind of see where I figure in somewhere in there."
Roger Bernadina's coming of a .243/.301/.362 season in 2011, pretty much producing what he's averaged over his first four years in the majors (.242/.304/.364 career slash). In a year in which he once again bounced between the majors and Triple-A Syracuse, Bernadina was unable to stake his claim on the starting job in center and the talk heading into last Spring was that the Nats liked him more in a corner spot. The Nationals have Eury Perez on the 40-Man Roster, but he hasn't played above High-A. Corey Brown, Brett Carroll, Jason Michaels and Xavier Paul have invites to Spring Training. They drafted Brian Goodwin this year, but he's yet to play a professional game. Harper's done enough for MLB.com's scouts to recognize him as the top outfield prospect in baseball, and could be the best outfielder (outside of Werth, Morse?) in camp with the Nationals this Spring, but concerns about making sure he's ready and putting off the start of free agency for as long as possible may delay his ascent a little while longer.
"We're going to bring the best 25 north, If that includes Harper, it's Harper," the Nats' GM said before explaining as quoted above that it won't be until he's ready to make the jump. But right now it seems like it's more likely to be a platoon in center (or RF) to start the year and a Michael Morse, Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper outfield as soon as Harper's ready in the general manager's eyes. But Rizzo's still working the phones and Spring Training's still weeks away...
And Rick Ankiel's still unsigned...