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Mike Rizzo again suggested Jayson Werth could wind up in center field this year.
Listening to Mike Rizzo speak yesterday after the Gio Gonzalez introductory news conference, though, it sure sounded like the Nationals general manager doesn't plan on making many more moves of consequence between now and Feb. 19.
"We feel good about where we're at," Rizzo said. "You're never satisfied. We need more arms, to improve the bullpen, improve the bench, all those factors. But with that said, we're comfortable going into [spring training] with what we've got."
Those few potential additions over the next 3 1/2 weeks would be more of the roster-tweaking variety than the roster-overhaul variety. Rizzo would like to supplement his bench with another potent bat, preferably a left-handed one. He could perhaps use a veteran, right-handed reliever to help pick up the slack in the middle innings (someone to hold down the role Todd Coffey had last season). And there could be some more minor-league signings.
But the chance of the Nationals acquiring a starting center fielder before the end of the offseason appears to be slim at best. Unimpressed with the free agents on the market this winter, and unable to swing a deal for one of a few potential trade candidates, Rizzo sounds content to find his center fielder this spring from within the organization.
"I think that we have candidates in house that we'll go to spring training with," he said. "That's not to say that we've abandoned the search for the right fit for us. But we like the options that we have going into spring training, and we do have multiple options of what to play."
Those options at this point include Jayson Werth sliding over from right field, or perhaps a platoon featuring Roger Bernadina and Mike Cameron. Not exactly enviable choices, but Rizzo didn't see a better alternative available this winter.
"We're not satisfied with not getting the long-term solution that we had wanted," he said. "But we're satisfied with the in-house candidates, and we feel that we're going to field the right kind of team going into spring training."
Werth in center field would leave right field up for grabs, but it would also open the door for Bryce Harper to make the Opening Day roster. Manager Davey Johnson isn't hiding his desire for the 19-year-old to open 2012 in the big leagues, and Rizzo again didn't rule out the possibility when asked yesterday.
"We're going to bring the best 25 north," he said. "If that includes Harper, it's Harper. When I believe Harper is ready to play in the big leagues, he'll be in the big leagues. We're not going to hinder his progress, but we're not going to accelerate it to a point that I think it endangers his development and curtails his overall performance."
Unstated by Rizzo were the financial factors that will play into the Harper decision this spring. If he makes the Opening Day roster (and stays in the majors without ever getting sent down) he would become eligible for free agency following the 2017 season.
If the Nationals have Harper open the season at Class AAA Syracuse and then promote him sometime from late-April to early-June, he wouldn't become a free agent until after the 2018 season. Harper would still qualify as a "Super-2" player, though, and stand to earn several million dollars more through arbitration from 2015-18.
If the Nationals wait until roughly mid-June to call Harper up, they would both ensure he doesn't hit free agency until after the 2018 season and also save millions by preventing him from achieving "Super-2" status (much as they did with Stephen Strasburg in 2010).