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Washington Nationals Still In Market For Center Fielder? Is Roger Bernadina's Future In LF?

You're going to see that snow-cone catch Nats' center fielder Roger Bernadina made on a rocket of a fly ball off Marlins' outfielder Mike Stanton's bat on Friday night over and over again for the next few weeks, months, years. The 26-year-old outfielder's turned heads since he was called up from Triple-A Syracuse for the second time this season in the wake of Opening Day center fielder Rick Ankiel's wrist injury and subsequent DL stint. Is Bernadina the long-term solution in center though? There's been chatter for some time now about the Nats' GM Mike Rizzo's search for a center fielder, and talk about Bernadina in the past has focused on how much they like the outfielder's defense in left, though he's said to be more comfortable in center field. 

The Nats' General Manager spent the winter discussing the possibility of a platoon in left field featuring both Michael Morse and Roger Bernadina, at times praising, as he did in an article by's Mark Zuckerman entitled, "Rizzo, Beane, Willingham speak", Bernadina's defense in left field in particular. "I think with Bernadina out there," Rizzo said when asked about replacing former Nats' LF Josh Willingham, "...we certainly have supreme defense in left field and a really athletic, defensive outfield." "In left," Rizzo told Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell in an article this winter entitled, "Ownership, GM are finally on same page", Bernadina, "...plays almost Barry Bonds defense." Bonds, before time (and other factors) took their toll on his legs, won 8 Gold Gloves as a left fielder, so that's particularly high praise for Bernadina's D. 

Before this season began, Bernadina had played just 51 of 153 major league games in left field for the Nationals, with a .988 fld%, and +11.8 UZR/150 in the corner outfield spot. In center, including seven games this season, Bernadina's put up a .979 fld% and a -15.1 UZR/150 in 48 games and 352.1 innings. Without a particularly large sample size in either position it's difficult to draw conclusions about where Bernadina's better off in the outfield. Right now he's playing center because the Nationals parted ways with (ed. note - "Traded.") Nyjer Morgan and because Rick Ankiel's on the DL. The Nats went with Ankiel in center out of Spring Training, but they haven't made any clear pronouncements about what the outfield will look like once Ankiel returns.

Ankiel, Laynce Nix (who's forced his way into the lineup) and Bernadina are all left-handed bats, and with Morse continuing to struggle offensively, there are some issues that need to be sorted out when Ankiel's once again able to swing a bat. The continued discussion about the Nats' search for a center fielder, if true, might shed light on the Nats' plans for the near-future, however. 

The Tampa Bay Rays' B.J. Upton was linked to the Washington Nationals in rumors several weeks back by bow-tie-sporting reporter Ken Rosenthal, who wrote, in an article entitled, "Nationals: Seeking help in center," that the Nats, who, "...rank 14th in the NL in OPS from center field, are searching for potential upgrades," including, according to his "major-league sources" the Rays' center fielder:

"In a perfect world, they would acquire the Rays’ B.J. Upton, who hails from the same part of Virginia as Nats third baseman Ryan Zimmerman."

Ankiel,'s Mr. Rosenthal wrote, "...profiles more as a platoon player against right-handers than a regular," and, his sources told him, there's a difference of opinion in the Nats' Front Office when it comes Roger Bernadina, so, "Expect the Nats to be linked to any and all available center fielders."

Boston Globe writer Nick Cafardo, in the "Updates on nine" section of a recent edition of his Sunday MLB column, "Baseball Notes", wrote that, "Rizzo is thought to be shopping for a center fielder and/or someone who can add some zest to the Nationals’ anemic offense, which was hitting .218 entering the weekend," though he made no mention the Rays' Upton by name.'s Bill Ladson followed-up on the reports of the Nats' interest in acquiring a center fielder, and Upton in particular, in an article shortly thereafter entitled, "Nats not currently interested in acquiring Upton", in which he reported that though, "The Nationals have been scouting Rays center fielder B.J. Upton, according to a baseball source, but the club doesn't have interest in acquiring him right now."

Mr. Ladson's source for the information also, "...pointed out that general manager Mike Rizzo brought Ankiel to Washington and played a major role in Ankiel playing every day." Will Ankiel resume playing every day once he returns? He was the everyday center fielder before his injuries, in spite of the fact that he continued to struggle offensively as he has for the last few seasons. The Boston Globe's Mr. Cafardo, in the latest edition of his "Baseball Notes" column, this week entitled, "Time is right for teams to ponder the match game", offers potential matches for teams around baseball looking to fill specific holes in their lineup and once again writes that the Nationals, "who could be the team to watch in 2012 and beyond, are searching for a center fielder and could even make first baseman Adam LaRoche, a good hitter, available."

Ankiel, at his age, 31, is certainly not a long-term solution in center. The Nats, at least anecdotally, prefer Roger Bernadina in center. Pudge Rodriguez, Jason Marquis, Livan Hernandez and now LaRoche all have been discussed at one time or another as potential chips come this year's Trade Deadline, with Pudge and Marquis in the second year of two-year deals and Livan back on another one-year deal. LaRoche is signed up for another year after 2011, but at a reasonable price and though he's in the midst of another slow start, strong defense at first is the appeal of the veteran infielder. Can the Nationals turn their veteran talent into a young major-league-ready center fielder? Is there another Wilson Ramos out there on Rizzo's radar?