In coming to terms this week with Adam LaRoche, the Nationals were able to cross off one of their big offseason needs: a first baseman to replace Adam Dunn. They had already crossed off their need for a power-hitting outfielder with Jayson Werth. And they previously addressed needs off the bench (Rick Ankiel, Matt Stairs) and in the bullpen (Henry Rodriguez, Rule 5 draftee Elvin Ramirez).
So, what's left for the Nats to do before pitchers and catchers report to Space Coast Stadium on February 15?
Let's run through the remaining areas of need heading into the offseason's final month...
I suppose this is always going to be a need. Every GM in baseball says he's always looking for more pitching. Well, maybe not the guys in Philadelphia (Ruben Amaro Jr.) or San Francisco (Brian Sabean). Mike Rizzo would certainly say he's looking for more pitching. Whether he actually acquires any before spring training remains to be seen.
There are essentially three remaining avenues for the Nationals to pick up a starter: 1) Sign a high-tier free agent, 2) Trade for an established guy, or 3) Sign an affordable pitcher off the scrap heap.
Carl Pavano is the only high-tier free agent left on the market, and though the Nats have been connected to the right-hander all winter, I've never believed he was likely to land here. Team officials have been reluctant all along to give the 35-year-old a multi-year deal, and Pavano has preferred all along to stay with the Twins (who have a standing, two-year offer on the table).
As for trade possibilities, Rizzo obviously has been working that market all winter and tried to pull out all the stops to acquire Zack Greinke from the Royals before the right-hander exercised his right to block a trade and wound up going to Milwaukee instead. Could Rizzo swing a deal for Matt Garza? Maybe, though again the price will be high and indications out of Tampa Bay are that Garza is more likely to be dealt in midsummer than midwinter.
That leaves the scrap heap, which isn't entirely a fair term because there are some quality arms available. They just all have a red flag or two dangling from their neck because of injuries or declining performances or something else. Names still on the market include: Jeff Francis, Brian Bannister, Doug Davis, Kevin Millwood, Brad Penny and Freddy Garcia. The Nationals have to decide whether any of those pitchers are better options than what they already have in-house.
The Nationals certainly could go into spring training with their bullpen as-is. There are already more than seven worthy candidates in Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett, Doug Slaten, Henry Rodriguez, Collin Balester, Craig Stammen and Elvin Ramirez (plus minor-leaguers Adam Carr, Cole Kimball and Atahualpa Severino).
But you get the feeling Rizzo and Jim Riggleman still would like to add a veteran who could close if needed or at least pitch in a setup role. Again, there are several available names still on the free agent market: Brian Fuentes, Chad Qualls, Jon Rauch, Rafael Soriano (doubtful, since he's a Type A free agent and would cost a draft pick).
Barring a trade, the Nationals are committed to starting 2011 with Danny Espinosa at second base. His job is probably even more secure than Ian Desmond's was a year ago. But you always want to have a fall-back plan in case things don't work out, and the Nats' current fall-back option at second base is Alberto Gonzalez.
That's not going to cut it, so Rizzo is still interested in picking up a veteran infielder who could take over if Espinosa is deemed "not ready" for a starting job in the big leagues. Who's still out there? David Eckstein, Willie Bloomquist and Jerry Hairston, among others.