Washington Nationals Rumor Roundup: Center Fielders Tied To Nats Again This Winter

Evan Habeeb-US PRESSWIRE

Will the Washington Nationals stick with Bryce Harper in center field in 2013 or add a center fielder on the free agent market and move the 20-year-old Harper to a corner spot. Rumors early this winter have them tied to both Michael Bourn, B.J. Upton and Jacoby Ellsbury?

• Rumors: Though they are often mentioned as potential suitors for free agent center fielder Michael Bourn, who received a 1-year/$13.3M dollar qualifying offer from the Atlanta Braves he has yet to accept of reject, when Washington Times' writer Amanda Comak spoke to team officials this past September, the Times' beat reporter wrote that, "... team sources have indicated that the Nationals are reluctant to spend $60 million-$70 million on a position they think they can fill in-house."

With Bryce Harper able to play center now and prospects like Brian Goodwin, Eury Perez and Michael Taylor in the pipeline, the idea of giving a long-term deal to Bourn, who's rumored to be after a $100M dollar contract this winter, makes less sense than it did a year ago when the Nationals were rumored to have interest in the likes of Bourn, B.J. Upton and other center field options.

That won't stop the rumors, however. Earlier this week, CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman wrote that "baseball officials" he spoke to, "... still see the Nationals as the favorites for Bourn, while the Phillies are seen as an early favorite for Upton." Though the Nats were happy with Harper's work in center this season, Mr. Heyman speculated, if the Nationals were to lose Adam LaRoche to free agency, the 20-year-old Harper could be moved to a corner spot to make room for Bourn or another center fielder with Michael Morse moving to first base.

FOXSports.com's Jon Morosi matched the Nationals up with the Tampa Bay Rays' Upton earlier this week in a look at the Top Free agents available this winter, writing that the 28-year-old, eight-year veteran makes sense for Washington. "The Nationals have been looking for a long-term center fielder for years," Mr. Morosi wrote, "Upton, a native of nearby Virginia, should be their man." Tampa Bay Times' writer Marc Tompkin wrote this afternoon that rumors of the Phillies' interest in Upton are picking up steam with CBSSports.com's Mr. Heyman among others linking the free agent outfielder to Philadelphia.

In discussing past attempts to land a center fielder, Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore wrote earlier this week about the Nationals' talking with the Boston Red Sox about 29-year-old center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury this past summer and even placing a waiver claim on him in August, noting that it would, "... not be a surprise if they tried again for Ellsbury this winter, if the Red Sox make him available, which is a significant 'if.'"

"Ellsbury may fit into the Nationals’ long-term plans better than Bourn," the WaPost writer noted, since it's possible that Bourn, "... could receive a contract of four or five years approaching $100 million," while Ellsbury has one reasonably priced year left before he hits free agency.

Boston Globe writer Nick Cafardo mentioned Washington in connection with both Upton and Bourn this morning in an article on the free agent market, writing that Bourn's agent Scott Boras told him not to rule the Braves out in the discussion about the center fielder's destination while also mentioning the, "... Nationals, Phillies, and perhaps even Red Sox," as suitors if Boston decides to, "... part company with Jacoby Ellsbury."

A significant "if" as the WaPost's Mr. Kilgore wrote.

• Numbers: In his first pro season, Bryce Harper had a .270/.340/.477 line with 26 doubles and 22 HRs in 139 games and 597 plate appearances over which he was worth +4.9 fWAR. Michael Bourn, who'll turn 30 this December, had a .274/.348/.391 line with 26 doubles, 10 triples and nine home runs in 155 games and 703 PAs with a career-high +6.4 fWAR as he heads into free agency.

B.J. Upton was worth +3.3 fWAR in his eighth MLB season, posting a .246/.298/.454 line in 146 games and 633 PAs. Jacoby Ellsbury missed time recovering from a subluxed right shoulder and finished his sixth MLB season with a .271/.313/.370 line, 18 doubles and four home runs in 74 games and 323 PAs in which he was worth +1.5 fWAR coming off a .321/.376/.552, 46 double, 32 HR, +9.4 fWAR 2012 season with the Sox.

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