"It hasn't changed," D.C. GM Mike Rizzo assured reporters, referring to the Nats' offseason plans during a press conference on Friday. What hadn't changed, Rizzo explained, was the Nats' "... long-term offseason outlook that we'd like to improve our starting rotation, and the other things that we've always talked about that we need to do, a center fielder, on base percentage guy, improve the bench and do everything that we can to keep a strong bullpen." Davey Johnson told 106.7 the FAN's Mike Wise and Holden Kushner this week that what the Nationals would like to find is, "... a front-line center fielder," but, he said, "I don't foresee us doing that in the free agent market."
The Nationals have been searching for a prototypical leadoff man unsuccessfully since relocating to the nation's capital. Grady Sizemore's a possibility this winter according to some reports. A trade with Tampa Bay for B.J. Upton has been discussed before, or an offer to the 27-year-old outfielder if the Rays non-tender him rather than offer arbitration. Davey Johnson gave Jayson Werth a look in center late last season, and when he signed with Washington last winter, his ability to play all three outfield positions was cited by the Nats' general manager with Rizzo stating at the time, "Jayson has the ability to play center field and right field. As of today I think we have him penciled in to hit in the middle of the lineup and to play right field, but we are certainly early in the offseason and things can change from there. He has the skills and the skill set to play multiple positions in the outfield."
Having seen this season what Werth can do in center after a few seasons spent predominantly in right in Philadelphia, Rizzo told reporters last week, "I thought he played very well defensively in center. I think he's a very good defensive center fielder. In a perfect world I'd like to find a leadoff type of on-base-percentage guy that can hit at the top of the lineup that can play center field and Jayson play right field. But the reason that we put him in center was to give us more options, because now knowing that Jayson can more than handle the center field position, obviously it opens up a bigger pool of players that can play a corner position and Jayson go to the middle. But, in a perfect world I'd like for Jayson to be our right fielder."
Davey Johnson discussed the possibility of the Nationals finding an in-house solution to their outfield issues this week in the interview with 106.7 the FAN's Mr.'s Wise and Kushner, explaining that he'd asked the Nats' GM to keep an open mind about the possibility of Bryce Harper competing for a spot in the Nats' lineup out of Spring Training next year. "I know where he wants to be," Johnson told the hosts, "I can tell you that right now. He wanted to be in Washington last year."
"It was kind of humbling, definitely," Bryce Harper said in an interview that was broadcast during Saturday night's AFL Rising Stars game when asked about not making the club out of Spring Training last year. "You go in there and they're telling you you can't be in the big leagues and things like that, you know, that's your dream to be in the big leagues. But I took it and went down there. There was a lot of things I needed to work on that I didn't know that I needed to work on. I needed to work on my outfield stuff a lot. Learn the game, when to run, [when not] to run, just a lot of things, the secrets of baseball that everyone needs to know."
Harper will most likely start the season back in Double-A, work his way up to Triple-A and make his debut late next season if all goes as planned. Pressed for a date when he imagined Harper would make it to the majors, D.C. GM Mike Rizzo once compared the 19-year-old phenom to D-Backs' outfielder Justin Uption, who was drafted when Rizzo was the scouting director in Arizona. "If you ask me where [Harper] would be, I think he would be on that course to be, you know, maybe a 19-or-20-year-old big leaguer and maybe a 20-year-old All-Star like Upton was." Harper turned 19 this past October. If he's going to be a 19-year-old major leaguer it will have to be in 2012.
If the Nats' can't find a protoypical leadoff man this winter, and Harper's the best outfielder in Florida, will Mike Rizzo and the front office let Davey Johnson bring Harper to Chicago?