File photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Livan Hernandez will be back in 2011. Will Adam Dunn?
I paused to consider the question before responding with a simple answer: "Depends on what they do with Adam Dunn."
The Dunn decision, of course, will shape the Nationals' entire offseason plan. If they don't re-sign him, their No. 1 priority has to be finding a halfway suitable replacement, both at first base and in the fourth spot in their lineup. But if they do bring Dunn back, the answer is less certain.
What would the Nats' top offseason priority be at that point? Adding another big bat to the mix? Finding a new leadoff hitter? Signing a proven starting pitcher? Bolstering the bullpen with a reliable arm?
I'm not sure there's a clear answer in there. Another legitimate bat for the heart of the order -- someone who could bat fifth or sixth and perhaps play right field -- would be a welcome addition, but there are only so many of those types out there.
Another proven starting pitcher would certainly be nice, but is there really a rotation spot available when Jordan Zimmermann, Livan Hernandez, Jason Marquis, John Lannan, Yunesky Maya, Ross Detwiler, Craig Stammen, Luis Atilano, J.D. Martin and others are already employed?
A good, solid, veteran reliever who could serve as a setup man for Drew Storen (or potentially take over as closer if Storen's not up to the job) seems like an obvious target. Then again, that's what Brian Bruney was supposed to be this season. How'd that work out?
A few weeks ago, it looked like the Nats were going to be in the market for a second baseman. Then Danny Espinosa arrived and took NatsTown by storm. Is he clearly ready to be the everyday guy in 2011? No, we haven't seen enough yet to make that determination. But his electric debut over the last week sure does look and feel a lot like Ian Desmond's arrival last September. At the very least, the Nats have to go into spring training stating the job is Espinosa's to lose, with some other veteran (either Adam Kennedy or someone else) available to step in if needed.
What about a center fielder? Well, first of all, that presumes Nyjer Morgan won't be back next year (and to date, team officials continue to insist he will despite his struggles this season). Second of all, even if Morgan is gone, the Nats could always put Roger Bernadina in center field, then look at acquiring a right fielder (unless they want to give that job to Michael Morse).
The point is, there doesn't appear to be one clear-cut position the Nationals will enter the offseason feeling they must upgrade. Sure, there are spots that could use some bolstering. But this isn't like last winter, when Mike Rizzo desperately needed to acquire a starter (Jason Marquis), a closer (Matt Capps), a catcher (Ivan Rodriguez) and a second baseman (Kennedy).
It's rare that a 90-loss team heads into the winter with no glaring holes, but that might just be the case for the Nationals ... if they re-sign Dunn.
That's really the key piece to the entire offseason puzzle. Re-sign Dunn, and the Nats will be left looking to add some strategic pieces, but not necessarily a big-ticket item. Let Dunn walk away, and they're going to be desperate to pick up a big-time bat for the middle of the order.
I'm curious what you think. What's the first move the Nationals need to make this offseason? If you believe it's the obvious one (re-signing Dunn) then tell me what you think the next most-important move of the winter will be.