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Nats' GM Mike Rizzo and Dusty Baker on finding the Nationals' next leadoff hitter

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Assuming Denard Span is leaving via free agency, the Washington Nationals will be looking for a new leadoff hitter for the 2016 campaign. Mike Rizzo and Dusty Baker both addressed the topic in the last week. So who will it be atop the order in D.C.?

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Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Denard Span's agent as of mid-September, Scott Boras, told reporters at last week's General Managers' Meetings in Boca Raton, Florida that they werehappy with the Washington Nationals' decision to not make a qualifying offer to the 31-going-on-32-year-old free agent outfielder:

The Nationals, according to GM Mike Rizzo, believe they have a replacement in center field in Michael Taylor, who can take over out there on an everyday basis and they're happy going into the season with a starting outfield of Jayson Werth in left, Taylor in center and Bryce Harper in right field in 2016.

"I wouldn’t think we’d be big players for one of the big free agent outfielders," Rizzo told reporters, including Washington Post writer James Wagner.

"We like the three guys that we have. We think Michael Taylor is going to be a terrific major league player."

"I don't know if we have that guy yet, because the other guys are prone to strikeouts and don't have that high on-base percentage. We had one, a very good one in Denard Span..." -Dusty Baker on finding a leadoff hitter

While Rizzo and the Nationals appear to think Taylor can take over in center, he's not a prototypical leadoff hitter at this point in his career, if he ever will be, so replacing Span (and the .355 OBP he posted in 2015 and .365 OBP he put up in limited time last season) atop the order might be a more difficult task, all arguments of the importance of a leadoff hitter duly noted.

"Someone is going to lead off for us," Rizzo told the WaPost's Wagner in another article this week.

"We think we have several guys we think can do the job," Rizzo added. "Of course, spring training is going to dictate that with a complete roster. Dusty [Baker] is going to determine who he feels most comfortable with leading off. But I think we have several candidates to handle the position."

Jayson Werth, Yunel Escobar and Anthony Rendon spent time in the leadoff spot in 2015, and Werth and Rendon at least have the requisite on-base skills for the role, but arguments about the true importance of the leadoff role aside, it appears that it's something the Nationals are thinking about as they assemble their 2016 roster.

Trea Turner, who may or may not be on the Opening Day roster though Rizzo said this week he'd have a chance to compete for a spot, told reporters this past season that he views himself as a top of the order hitter and he's put up a .384 OBP over two minor league seasons since he was drafted. But when he'll be up for good this season is one big question and whether or not you'd want to have him leading off right away is another.

Baker was asked in an MLB Network Radio interview on Friday if he thought he had or thought he would given a leadoff man to work with in D.C.

"I don't know if we have that guy yet," Baker said, "because the other guys are prone to strikeouts and don't have that high on-base percentage. We had one, a very good one in Denard Span, but I don't know if we're going to sign him or even have a chance to sign him. I haven't really talked to Rizzo or the organization yet about potential free agents or what we can do or even what the payroll is going to be.

"I'm always trying to prompt people to not only get us the best team, but the best overall balanced team. This is what I'm shooting for, trying to eliminate as many holes as we can. I'm not really sure yet what's out there because -- you know, nobody knows, because all these guys that sign in free agency -- but hey man, at the same time they can have the right to go back to sign with their old team.

"There are good years out there where there is an abundance of free agents and there are bad years out there when teams seem to overpay guys because there's so few guys of quality, so, we just have to see. Once we can see if you have to make trades -- a lot of these things are out of my control or power. I'm just one in a panel, where everybody thinks that the manager is controlling the payroll and the roster, but that's more in line of the general manager and the philosophy of the team. Hopefully I can have some positive input to try to help us be better."