Monday, December 31, 2012

Most significant moment: The end

Associated Press photo
Drew Storen and the rest of the Nats dugout were in shock as Game 5 ended.
As we count down the final days of 2012, we've also been counting down the Nationals' five most significant moments of the year. It all culminates today with the most significant moment: The late collapse against the Cardinals in Game 5 of the NLDS, abruptly and painfully ending the season. Do you agree or disagree? Rank your five moments in order of significance in the top right corner of the screen...

OK, it's probably the last local sporting event anyone wants to re-live on the morning after an especially memorable event by another local sports franchise -- by the way, who would've guessed that the least surprising D.C. division champion in 2012 would be the Nationals? -- but bear with me here as I attempt to spin the most devastating loss of the year into a potentially positive development moving forward.

You already know how Game 5 of the National League Division Series played out. How the home team stormed out to an early 6-0 lead that left Nationals Park bouncing and shaking with anticipation of a celebration at night's end. Then how Gio Gonzalez labored to

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Most significant moments: The walk-off

Associated Press photo
Jayson Werth's walk-off homer kept the Nats' season alive for another day.
As we count down the final days of 2012, we're also counting down the Nationals' five most significant moments of the year. It all culminates tomorrow with your vote for the most significant moment of 2012. But before we get to that, today we focus on Moment No. 2: Jayson Werth's walk-off homer in Game 4 of the NLDS...

It was, unquestionably, the high point of a remarkable season. Not to mention the high point in the Nationals' eight-year history. Really, the high point for Washington baseball in nearly eight decades.

When Jayson Werth battled his way through an epic, 13-pitch at-bat against the Cardinals' Lance Lynn to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 4 of the National League Division Series, finally belting Lynn's 13th pitch into the left-field bleachers, D.C. baseball fans got to experience something they likely never had before: Pure, unadulterated joy at the ballpark.

It was the kind of moment every kid dreams of, rounding the bases to the roar of 45,000 fans, the opposing team trudging off the field in disgust, a throng of teammates forming a semi-circle around the

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Most significant moments: The clincher

Photo by Bob Youngentob /
Even in defeat, the Nationals clinched the NL East title on Oct. 1.
As we count down the final days of 2012, we're also counting down the Nationals' five most significant moments of the year. It all culminates on Dec. 31 with your vote for the most significant moment of 2012. Today we focus on Moment No. 3: The Nats' clinching of their first NL East title...

This city waited 79 years to experience something like this, the local ballclub popping champagne corks and celebrating a championship. So when it finally happened Oct. 1, it mattered not one bit to the Nationals nor their fans that it happened in spite of a loss.

Decades from now, few will remember that the Nationals clinched their first NL East title -- the first baseball title of any kind for a Washington major-league team since 1933 -- by virtue of the Braves losing 2-1 to the Pirates only moments before the Nats were shut out by the Phillies, 2-0.

"The way it happened tonight, it doesn't matter," a soaked Ryan Zimmerman said on the field at Nationals Park some 45 minutes

Friday, December 28, 2012

Report: Gonzalez signs with Brewers

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Michael Gonzalez posted a 3.03 ERA in 47 games with the Nationals last season.
The Nationals' options for left-handed bullpen help are dwindling after another southpaw from their 2012 staff chose to sign elsewhere.

Veteran Michael Gonzalez has come to terms on a one-year deal with the Brewers, according to's Ken Rosenthal. He joins Tom Gorzelanny, another member of the Nationals' bullpen who migrated to Milwaukee this winter, and Sean Burnett, who got a two-year deal with the Angels.

Gonzalez had interest in returning to Washington next season, and the Nationals shared that interest, though apparently not enough to complete a deal.'s Scott Miller reported the Brewers offered him $2.25 million.

The 34-year-old posted a 3.03 ERA in 47 games, striking out 39 batters in 35 1/3 innings, and becoming a popular figure in a clubhouse that didn't boast many veteran pitchers.

The defections of Burnett, Gonzalez and Gorzelanny leave the Nationals scrambling a bit to fortify their bullpen with left-handers. At the moment, they have only Zach Duke (re-signed after a strong

Most significant moments: The debut

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Bryce Harper dazzled at the plate and in the field during his debut weekend in L.A.
As we count down the final days of 2012, we're also counting down the Nationals' five most significant moments of the year. It all culminates on Dec. 31 with your vote for the most significant moment of 2012. Today we focus on Moment No. 4: Bryce Harper's debut...

The Nationals never intended to promote Bryce Harper to the big leagues quite so soon. Sure, they were confident the 19-year-old would make an impact at the highest level of the sport at some point in 2012, but the plan was to hold off a bit longer, perhaps until June or July before summoning the game's top prospect from Class AAA.

But after a spate of early season injuries to, among others, Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse, general manager Mike Rizzo felt he had no choice but to promote Harper on April 28 and give the kid a chance to play every day for a team that had already stormed out of the gates to seize first place in the NL East.

"Suffice it to say, this isn't the coming-out party for Bryce that we had in mind," Rizzo said in announcing the roster move one day

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Most significant moments: The shutdown

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Stephen Strasburg was forced to watch the season's final month from the dugout.
As we count down the final five days of 2012, we're also counting down the Nationals' five most significant moments of the year. It all culminates on Dec. 31 with your vote for the most significant moment of 2012. But first, we begin with Moment No. 5: The shutdown of Stephen Strasburg...

Everyone knew it was coming. Mike Rizzo had made it clear as far back as Sept. 2011, saying the Nationals would hold Stephen Strasburg to an innings limit the following year, shutting him down before season's end.

Nobody, though, could have known just how big a deal the Strasburg Shutdown would become, perhaps the biggest story in baseball through late-summer and early-September.

And when it finally occurred on Sept. 8, with manager Davey Johnson pulling the plug sooner than the club initially planned, reactions and emotions ran the full spectrum, starting with the player at the center of all the hubbub.

"I don't know if I'm ever going to accept it, to be honest with you," Strasburg said hours after learning of the decision. "It's something

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Morse or LaRoche: A comparison

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Michael Morse could provide similar offensive numbers to Adam LaRoche.
As we move past Christmas and toward New Year's with no resolution yet to the Adam LaRoche saga, it's worth remembering that the Nationals have a perfectly viable backup plan at first base should the reigning NL Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards winner ultimately choose to play elsewhere in 2013.

How many ballclubs out there could afford to let a key cog like LaRoche walk and simply plug a guy like Michael Morse into his spot? Not many.

In fact, there are some who would say Morse is capable of outperforming LaRoche in 2013 anyway.

Is that actually true? Well, yes. Morse is perfectly capable of outperforming LaRoche. He did it in 2011, posting a .910 OPS that easily trumped LaRoche's .853 mark this season.

The more appropriate question, though, doesn't involve asking

Monday, December 24, 2012

Becoming a baseball town

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More and more fans wearing Nats gear have been seen around town this winter.
You may have heard something about the local football team playing a fairly important game next Sunday night, with a division title on the line in the latest reincarnation of one of the league's great rivalries.

Indeed, Redskins vs. Cowboys for the NFC East crown might just be the biggest game in the history of FedEx Field, certainly the biggest game of this millennium, and will be the talk of town all week.

There's very little news the Nationals could make this week that would trump anything that comes out of Redskins Park. Adam LaRoche could re-sign. Michael Morse could be traded. Bryce Harper could answer a clown question. It probably wouldn't matter. The Redskins, fairly or unfairly, will get top billing all week.

Let's face it: Washington is a football town, first and foremost. The same could be said for almost any major city in America, where the local NFL team is the unquestioned king and most-popular team.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

When will Rendon make the majors?

Photo by USA Today Images
At 22 years old and the best prospect in the Nationals’ organization, it should not be long until Anthony Rendon makes the major leagues. If he wasn’t part of a franchise that finished 2012 with a league-best 98 wins, he may have been called up last September. Right now, however, the Nats’ starting lineup is all but set for 2013 and there isn’t a clear path to the big leagues for the young infielder.

But what happens if the Nationals have to deal with a major injury next season? Given the team’s recent history, it could certainly happen. Rendon can play third base and could be a second baseman long-term, he has some versatility. If the Nationals suffer an injury at second base, shortstop, or third base, Rendon could be the next man up to take a roster spot.

Bryce Harper reached the majors in late April of 2012 based on a pressing need out of injury. Michael Morse was out with a lat strain and Ryan Zimmerman had just been sent to the disabled list. They needed a spark and Harper provided it, even if it was early than any had anticipated. It was a move Mike Rizzo felt he had to make and who is to say he wouldn't try it again.

The Nationals could be presented a similar situation this season and Rendon is their most MLB-ready top prospect. He has only appeared in 43 minor league games because of injury, but shined in the Arizona Fall League and is regarded as one of the best pure hitters in the minors. A .338 average and .930 OPS in the AFL was convincing proof.

MLB Rumors: Around the N.L. East

Photo by USA Today Images
Washington Nationals

The Nationals and Adam LaRoche continue to talk, but how close they are is hard to tell. If there really is a Christmas deadline then we should see something go down in the next few days. It is, though, a self-imposed deadline at the end of the day.

In their search for a left-handed reliever, J.P. Howell is still out there and mutual interest is said to exist. But right now, half-way through the offseason, Howell is the best lefty reliever still available on the free agent market.  He’s also just 29 and probably wants a multi-year deal.

Earlier this week it was reported that five teams are looking into Howell and that could drive the price up. If Howell’s demands are too high, the Nats’ need for a lefties in the bullpen could be solved whenever the first base situation is settled via trade.

Another lefty possibility is Mike Gonzalez who had a comeback year of sorts in Washington in 2013, but the Reds are also interested. This was reported by Jim Bowden who knows both organizations very well.

Philadelphia Phillies

The Phils may be looking to add a familiar face in Raul Ibanez, a member of their team from 2009-11. They are the only National League team being linked to the 40-year-old so it would seem like an outside possibility he signs with his former team. Ibanez is probably best served as a designated hitter at this point in his career.

Friday, December 21, 2012

No LaRoche resolution in sight

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Adam LaRoche is holding out for a third year nobody seems to want to give him.
Earlier this month, when talks with Adam LaRoche seemed to be progressing, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said he wanted resolution to his No. 1 offseason task by Christmas.

We're now four days from that self-imposed deadline, and with few developments over the last few weeks, there's little reason to believe resolution is near.

The sticking point remains the same thing it's been all along: LaRoche wants three guaranteed years, Rizzo isn't willing to go beyond two. Throughout the process, other clubs have been mentioned as potential alternatives for the 33-year-old first baseman, yet none has emerged as a serious threat.

The Rangers appeared to be LaRoche's best non-Nationals option, especially after star slugger Josh Hamilton bolted for Anaheim last week, but they've hit the same sticking points that has scared off

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Jackson to Cubs for $52 million

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Edwin Jackson parlayed one season in Washington into a huge deal with Chicago.
Edwin Jackson wanted a long-term contract last winter, one commensurate with those given to some of the better pitchers in baseball. In the end, the well-traveled right-hander settled for a one-year deal with the Nationals, hoping to then parlay that into something much bigger this winter.

That strategy most certainly paid off, because today Jackson and the Cubs came to agreement on a four-year, $52 million contract, according to

The deal is still contingent upon Jackson passing a physical, but once he does he'll be under contract through 2016 earning an average of $13 million per season (18th-most among all major-league pitchers).

The Nationals never showed any serious intention to bring Jackson back after a mostly impressive -- if often erratic -- season in D.C. Signed on Feb. 2 for $11 million to serve as their No. 4 starter, he

Gorzelanny gets 2 years from Brewers

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Tom Gorzelanny was non-tendered by the Nationals last month.
The Brewers have come to terms with Tom Gorzelanny, signing the veteran left-hander to a two-year contract after he wasn't tendered a contract by the Nationals last month.

The deal, reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, is still contingent on Gorzelanny passing a physical, which is scheduled to take place Friday. Financial terms aren't yet known, but by signing him through 2014 the Brewers are buying out his first year of free agency. [UPDATE AT 2:30 P.M. -- Gorzelanny's deal will total roughly $6 million, according to]

Gorzelanny, 30, was an effective long reliever for the Nationals this season, going 4-2 with a 2.88 ERA in 45 appearances (one of them a late-season spot start after the Nats clinched the NL East title).

But with a $3 million salary entering his final season of arbitration, he stood to earn a raise for 2013 and the Nationals didn't believe it was worth it to spend that much money on ostensibly a mop-up

Projecting future rosters

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Bryce Harper certainly will be a part of the Nats' lineup in future years.
I wrote yesterday about the state of the Nationals' farm system, tied in with Baseball America's release of the organization's Top 10 Prospects list. One of the always-interesting features of that annual piece is the magazine's predicted lineup for the club three years down the road.

It's often a fruitless exercise, because so much can change over the course of three years and the BA writers don't account for any potential trades or free agent signings. But I was particularly intrigued by their predicted 2016 lineup for the Nationals:

C Wilson Ramos
1B Ryan Zimmerman
2B Danny Espinosa
SS Ian Desmond
3B Anthony Rendon

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Beltway Baseball -- 12/19

The state of the farm system

Associated Press
Anthony Rendon should be rated the Nationals' top prospect entering 2013.
[UPDATE AT 11:30 A.M. -- Baseball America's 2013 top prospects list is now out. The Nats' top 10: Anthony Rendon, Lucas Giolito, Brian Goodwin, Matt Skole, Nathan Karns, Christian Garcia, Eury Perez, Sammy Solis, Matt Purke, Zach Walters. Here's a link to their full story, though you'll need to be a subscriber to access the full scouting reports on each player.]

It was roughly one year ago when Baseball America deemed the Nationals' farm system as the sport's preeminent assemblage of talent. For Mike Rizzo and his team of scouts and instructors, who for years had worked to rebuild a tattered system, it was the highest praise possible.

Later today, Baseball America will unveil its top 10 list of Nationals prospects for 2013, a list that won't be nearly as deep in talent as last year's was, certainly nowhere close to retaining the crown as the best farm system in baseball.

The Nationals aren't to blame for this drop-off. There are two perfectly good reasons for it: 1) Bryce Harper, Steve Lombardozzi and Tyler Moore are now established big leaguers and no longer considered prospects, and 2) a host of top prospects has since been traded away to acquire more established big leaguers who are

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Evaluating the NL East

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R.A. Dickey's trade to Toronto makes the Mets better down the road, but not in 2013.
We're roughly halfway through the offseason, and though there are still plenty of significant decisions to be made before pitchers and catchers report for spring training, most teams' rosters already resemble something close to what they will in 2013.

It's been a particularly eventful Hot Stove League so far in the NL East, with all five clubs making major moves to reshape their rosters (some for the better, some for the worse).

The Nationals, actually, have been the least active team in the division, their only big-league acquisitions so far coming in the forms of Dan Haren and Denard Span. Of course, no team in the East entered the offseason with as few question marks, who were aggressive in plugging two of their only roster holes.

The Braves and Phillies have been a bit more active, trying to make the additions that will catapult them ahead of the division's new powerhouse. The Mets and Marlins, meanwhile, have been in

Submit questions for Beltway Baseball

It's been a quiet couple of weeks for the Nationals since the Winter Meetings wrapped up. There's still no resolution to negotiations with Adam LaRoche. There's still no new left-handed reliever to replace Sean Burnett.

But the lack of recent news doesn't mean there still isn't plenty to discuss about the Nationals. So's Chase Hughes and I will be tackling a variety of subjects later today when we tape our latest edition of Beltway Baseball.

As always, we'll answer some of your questions. Submit them here and we'll pick the best ones to include on the show, which will be posted first thing tomorrow morning.

Monday, December 17, 2012

How will Storen bounce back?

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Drew Storen was brilliant down the stretch last season ... until Game 5 of the NLDS.
In the solemn minutes that followed the most crushing defeat he had ever experienced, Drew Storen admitted how difficult the task he now faced would be.

"There's a bad taste in my mouth," the young closer said after blowing the Nationals' two-run, ninth-inning lead in Game 5 of the NLDS against the Cardinals. "That's gonna stay there for a couple of months. And it's probably never going to leave."

It's now been more than two months since that fateful night at Nationals Park, and there are still nearly two months until Storen and his teammates take the practice fields in Viera, Fla., for the start of spring training, about 3 1/2 months until they head north for Opening Day.

So there's still plenty of time for Storen to re-live his nightmare ninth inning, the three hits and two walks he issued, the just-off-the-plate pitches he delivered, any of which might have wrapped up the series for the Nationals instead of moving them a step closer to one of the

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Lannan headed to Philly

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John Lannan is 2-5 with a 6.49 ERA in eight career starts in Philadelphia.
The team -- and the town -- that has tormented John Lannan more than any other in his career is now his new home.

Lannan has agreed to terms with the Phillies on a one-year contract that guarantees $2.5 million in salary with an additional $2.5 million in incentives, according to a source close to the left-hander.

The deal is still contingent on the 28-year-old (who was not tendered a contract by the Nationals last month) passing a physical.

Nobody has made more starts for the Nationals in their eight-year history than Lannan, a member of the organization's first draft class of 2005. And the lefty faced no opponent during his six seasons more than the Phillies, with 19 of his 134 career starts against

Friday, December 14, 2012

Minor-league staffs announced

The Nationals will bring back the vast majority of their minor-league coaching staffs in 2013, shuffling only a couple of instructors around their farm system.

Tony Beasley will return for his second season as manager at Class AAA Syracuse. The well-respected instructor was the Nationals' third base coach in 2006, then returned to the organization in 2011 to serve as manager at Class AA Harrisburg.

Former Nationals catcher Matt LeCroy also returns for his second season as Harrisburg manager, having worked his way up the organizational ladder with previous managerial stops at low-Class A Hagerstown and high-Class A Potomac.

Potomac will have a new manager next season, with Brian Daubach promoted from Hagerstown to take over for Brian Rupp, who was demoted to low-Class A hitting coach. Daubach spent the last two years in Hagerstown, serving as Bryce Harper's first professional skipper.

Tripp Keister, who managed the rookie Gulf Coast League Nationals,

Slow market for Nats free agents

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Edwin Jackson, like several other ex-Nats, remains unsigned.
We've spent plenty of time already this offseason trying to figure out when and with whom Adam LaRoche will sign. (The latest on that front: With Josh Hamilton now a Los Angeles Angel of Anaheim, the Rangers have renewed interest in LaRoche, and according to a source close to that organization might be willing to offer a three-year contract.)

LaRoche, though, is far from the only Nationals free agent who has yet to sign this winter. In fact, the only ones who have to date are Sean Burnett (Angels) and Zach Duke (re-signed with the Nats).

That leaves a lengthy list of prominent 2012 Nationals who currently don't have employment for 2013, including Edwin Jackson, Michael Gonzalez, John Lannan, Jesus Flores, Tom Gorzelanny and Mark DeRosa.

Jackson is the biggest name of the bunch, but the veteran right-hander may find himself in a spot not all that unlike the one he was in last winter, seeking a long-term contract but perhaps finding

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Nats sign teenager for $225,000

Associated Press file photo
The Esmailyn Gonzalez scandal set the Nats international efforts back for years.
Leery of delving into the international market after getting burned by a young shortstop who falsified his name and age in order to secure a $1.4 million signing bonus six years ago, the Nationals have decided to dip their toes back into the Dominican Republic pipeline and have committed a healthy amount of money to sign another teenage infielder.

The Nationals have signed 16-year-old third baseman Neivy Pilier for $225,000, according to a club source, one of the largest bonuses they've paid to an international free agent since that $1.4 million mistake in 2006 to a young Dominican shortstop who claimed to be named Esmailyn Gonzalez.

Pilier, 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds, has "a quick bat with lift and occasional power in his right-handed swing," according to Baseball America. Having just turned 16 on Aug. 1, he has a strong arm to play third base but still needs to refine his footwork.

Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo -- who ascended to that

Why LaRoche won't be rushed

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Adam LaRoche has been content to remain unsigned since season's end.
It's been more than six weeks since the Giants won the World Series and Adam LaRoche became a free agent, more than six weeks of the Nationals saying how much they want LaRoche back and of LaRoche saying how much he wants to come back.

So why don't the two sides appear to be any closer to a new contract than they were at season's end? Because LaRoche, plain and simple, doesn't feel like he needs to make the decision quite yet, not until he's convinced every best offer has been presented to him.

And it's entirely possible the best offer has yet to be made ... by the Rangers.

All along, the Nationals' biggest competition for LaRoche has probably been Texas, the only other likely suitor who could offer the 33-year-old both a fair contract and a realistic opportunity to obtain

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Plenty of contenders in NL

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Dusty Baker's Reds and Don Mattingly's Dodgers each have made bold moves.
As much as the Nationals have been lauded in recent weeks for assembling a roster that is positioned as well as any in baseball to contend for a World Series title both now and in future seasons, it should be pointed out Washington is going to have plenty of competition to reach the Fall Classic out of the National League.

All around the NL, teams have been bolstering rosters and positioning themselves to compete for a championship in 2013. The Nationals are hardly alone.

The Dodgers have received as much attention this winter as anyone, and for good reason. Behind a new, deep-pocketed ownership group that includes Magic Johnson and Stan Kasten, L.A. is handing out nine-figure contracts like candy canes at an office holiday party.

The Dodgers already added high-priced players like Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Hanley Ramirez last summer. They

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Detwiler, Stammen join USO tour

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Ross Detwiler caught Gen. Martin Dempsey's pitch before Game 5 of the NLDS.
When newlyweds Ross and Keri Detwiler boarded a plane for Hawaii last week, neither could have anticipated a development that would force them to cut their honeymoon short.

Certainly not a development that included a seven-day, four-country tour of military bases alongside the most powerful general in the U.S. Army.

"When I got the phone call, I just said: 'I'm going to drop everything I can and make sure I can go on this,'" Detwiler said. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. You never know if you're going to be able to do something like this again."

The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? A chance for Detwiler and fellow Nationals pitcher Craig Stammen to join Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other celebrities on the

How much better will Harper be at 20?

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History suggests Bryce Harper's power numbers will significantly rise next year.
Few 19-year-olds have ever done what Bryce Harper did for the Nationals this season, a fact that was repeated over and over during the course of his award-winning rookie campaign.

All along, there was an assumption that Harper had only scratched the surface of his immense abilities, and that he would be poised to take his game to even greater heights at age 20.

That assumption was based not only on Harper's individual case, but on the history of baseball itself, which features plenty of examples of young players making a significant leap once they turn 20.

How much better, though, can we expect Harper to be in 2013 than he was in 2012? By analyzing the career progressions of other

Monday, December 10, 2012

Who got the best center fielder?

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Denard Span and Ben Revere each were traded from Minnesota to NL East clubs.
There were no shortage of teams seeking center fielders when this offseason began, and there were no shortage of players available to those teams, whether via free agency or trades.

All of this resulted in a mad rush to scoop up those center fielders, especially in the the NL East, with the division's top three clubs all making significant acquisitions over the last two weeks.

It began with the Braves signing B.J. Upton to a five-year, $75.25 million contract. It continued with the Nationals snagging Denard Span from the Twins in exchange for pitching prospect Alex Meyer. And it concluded Thursday with the Phillies prying another center fielder away from Minnesota, getting Ben Revere for pitchers Vance Worley and Trevor May.

In the meantime, Shane Victorino got a three-year, $39 million contract from the Red Sox. Angel Pagan got $40 million over four years to stay with the Giants. And through it all, Michael Bourn

Friday, December 7, 2012

Haren: Nats "just kind of fit for me"

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Right-hander Dan Haren dealt with back and hip issues last season with the Angels.
Updated at 5:24 p.m.

Dan Haren had his choice of destinations this winter, with a number of franchises expressing interest in the veteran right-hander.

The Nationals had their choice of free agents, with a number of big-name starters on the open market who could round out their already deep and talented rotation.

In the end, it didn't take long for both the Nationals and Haren to realize they were the best match, resulting in a one-year, $13 million contract that became official today after the 32-year-old passed his physical.

"I did have quite a few other choices," Haren said. "But the Nationals just kind of fit for me."

"He was our primary target, and we ... went after him quite

What would Morse bring back in trade?

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Michael Morse is likely to be traded if the Nationals re-sign Adam LaRoche.
While we continue to wait for word on the results of Dan Haren's physical -- the right-hander was scheduled to be in Washington yesterday to be examined by Nationals doctors before his contract could be finalized -- let's look ahead to what could turn into one of the few remaining offseason questions this team will face.

What's the trade market for Michael Morse look like, and what might the Nationals get in return for the slugger?

Morse's eventual trade is predicated on Adam LaRoche's return, though that prospect looks more and more likely each day, with the Nationals hoping to get a deal done before Christmas.

Once LaRoche is under contract, Morse becomes expendable. Not because the Nationals don't like him and what he offers the club. But because there simply won't be a spot in the lineup for him, with LaRoche back at first base and Bryce Harper, Denard Span and

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Nats lose Rosenbaum, Kobernus

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Having spent the better portion of their history swiping minor leaguers from other, more talent-laden organizations through the Rule 5 draft, the Nationals now are finding out what it's like to have their own prospects plucked away.

The Nationals lost two players this morning in the major-league portion of the annual event that closes the Winter Meetings: left-hander Danny Rosenbaum (who went to the Rockies) and second baseman Jeff Kobernus (who went to the Red Sox).

The Nationals then lost left-hander Jack McGeary (Red Sox) and right-hander Hector Nelo (Dodgers) during the Class AAA portion of the draft.

The club didn't select anyone in any of the draft's three rounds.

Though neither was expected to have a significant impact on the Nationals' big-league roster next season, Rosenbaum and Kobernus each were highly regarded in the organization and could have been needed for depth in the next year or two.

"You set your rosters and you know you're always taking chances on losing any of your prospects," assistant general manager Bryan

VIDEO: Nats leave town early

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Burnett gets 2-year deal with Angels

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Sean Burnett heads west after 3 1/2 strong seasons with the Nationals.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Nationals resigned themselves earlier this week to the fact they were going to lose Sean Burnett to free agency. In the end, they might have been surprised to learn the price to re-sign the left-hander wasn't terribly steep.

Burnett and the Angels came to terms today on a two-year contract with a club option for 2015, a source familiar with the deal confirmed. Total guaranteed money is $8.5 million, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Burnett had been a mainstay in the Nationals' bullpen over the last 3 1/2 seasons, a durable and often dominant lefty who posted a combined 2.81 ERA and nine saves over 245 appearances since his acquisition from the Pirates in July 2009.

The Nationals, though, never seemed all that keen on giving Burnett, 30, any kind of long-term commitment and declared themselves out

Nats head home early

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Davey Johnson and Mike Rizzo each left Nashville on Wednesday.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Having already addressed two major needs and sensing there was nothing left to accomplish here, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo and manager Davey Johnson left the Winter Meetings this afternoon, one day before the event officially concludes.

General managers typically stay at the meetings through the Thursday morning Rule 5 draft, but the Nationals aren't expected to select any players and don't really have any available roster space for an unproved project like that anyway.

Rizzo apparently also felt there weren't any more discussions with agents or other clubs that needed to be done in person, so he departed the Gaylord Opryland today and headed back to Washington.

"You know, we didn't have a whole big wish list," Johnson said before departing for his home outside Orlando. "I didn't have a whole big wish list, and Dan Haren's a really great pickup. Of course we got

Ramos must re-earn starting job

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Wilson Ramos tore the ACL in his right knee May 12 in Cincinnati.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Though he's expected to arrive at spring training 100 percent healthy following two surgeries to repair a torn ligament in his right knee, Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos will have to earn his starting job back from Kurt Suzuki.

"Suzuki will probably start the season at No. 1, making sure that Ramos is comfy," manager Davey Johnson said. "I love Ramos. I love both of them."

Suzuki, acquired in a trade with the Athletics on Aug. 3, assumed the starting job the rest of the season and through the National League Division Series. The 29-year-old impressed with his ability to produce in the clutch -- he drove in 20 runs over his last 28 games -- and to work with the Nationals' pitching staff, setting the stage for his

"World Series or bust"

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- If there was any question about the Nationals' primary objective in 2013, Davey Johnson erased all doubts Tuesday at the Gaylord Opryland Resort.

"World Series or bust," the veteran manager said. "That's probably the slogan this year. But I'm comfortable with that."

The Nationals better be comfortable with it, because the entire baseball world is thinking the same thing after watching this franchise win 98 games last season and then bolster the best young roster in the sport with a bonafide center fielder and an All-Star right-hander before the Winter Meetings even reached the halfway mark.

Last week's Denard Span trade was lauded throughout the industry, and Tuesday's signing of Dan Haren -- which won't be official until he passes a physical on Thursday -- received positive reviews as well.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Nats not budging on LaRoche offer

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Nationals are holding firm on their offer to Adam LaRoche, with general manager Mike Rizzo insisting he won't add a third year to the deal but still confident he can come to agreement with the free agent first baseman.

"Our deal is where it's at, and I think we're going to stay there," Rizzo said during his daily briefing at the Winter Meetings. "We made that clear to him, that a two-year deal for Adam LaRoche works for us. I feel we've been pretty clear about that."

LaRoche has been seeking a three-year contract, one he figures will be his last as a professional ballplayer. The 33-year-old, coming off a career season in which he won both the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards at his position, was hoping a market would develop for him that would put some pressure on the Nationals to up their offer.

But that market has yet to develop, and it doesn't appear it will. The Red Sox locked up first base for the next three years after signing Mike Napoli. The Rangers and Orioles don't appear to have serious interest. And the Mariners, while perhaps willing to offer a three-year contract, can't offer LaRoche the same opportunity to contend for a

Davey on Haren, LaRoche and more

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Davey Johnson holds court before reporters today at the Winter Meetings.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- There are few managers in baseball more comfortable speaking their mind in front of reporters and cameras than Davey Johnson, so it was no surprise when the Nationals skipper didn't hold back this afternoon during his Winter Meetings media session.

Johnson spoke glowingly about today's signing of Dan Haren -- which, remember, is still pending a physical -- and made another impassioned pitch for Adam LaRoche to return to Washington.

He also had some revealing thoughts on Danny Espinosa, the Wilson Ramos/Kurt Suzuki catching situation, Game 5 of the NLDS and his motivation for 2013.

Here are the highlights, and there are plenty...

What is your reaction to the signing of Dan Haren?
"Well, you need to talk to Rizzo. I think it's a great move if we can get him. Great athlete, outstanding stuff, gamer. He fits right in. I

Nats still have money to spend

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The Nationals still have money to re-sign Adam LaRoche if they want.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Dan Haren's $13 million salary -- assuming he passes his physical with the Nationals and officially signs -- will be the third-largest in team history. Only Jayson Werth ($16.5 million) and Ryan Zimmerman ($14 million) have made more money in a single season than Haren will make in 2013.

And the Haren signing will push the Nationals' payroll to heights it previously has not reached, topping nine figures for the first time.

But that doesn't mean Mike Rizzo doesn't still have money to spend on further bolstering his roster for next season.

Indeed, the Nationals still have the financial wherewithal to add or retain more key pieces, whether in the form of first baseman Adam LaRoche, a veteran reliever or even an emergency starter who could either pitch out of the bullpen or start at Class AAA and be ready to

Nats sign Haren to 1-year deal

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Dan Haren went 12-13 with a 4.33 ERA last season with the Angels.
Updated at 11:55 a.m.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Nationals have agreed to terms on a one-year contract with right-hander Dan Haren, adding the final piece to what was already one of the majors' deepest and most-talented rotations.

The deal won't be official until Haren, 32, passes a physical, but the two sides have agreed to terms that include a $13 million salary for 2013, according to a club source.

Haren is a three-time All-Star with a career 119-97 record and 3.66 ERA in parts of 10 seasons with the Cardinals, Athletics, Diamondbacks and Angels. He had an off-year this season in Los Angeles, going 12-13 with a 4.33 ERA while dealing with a lingering back injury that scared off some clubs.

After a brief July stint on the disabled list, Haren returned stronger and posted a 3.58 ERA over his final 13 starts. The Nationals were confident enough in the right-hander's health to agree to terms on a contract now, though they still need him to pass the physical before

WBC could be loaded with Nats

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The third installment of the World Baseball Classic will be held in March.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A handful of prominent Nationals (Alfonso Soriano and Chad Cordero in 2006, Adam Dunn and Joel Hanrahan in 2009) participated in the first two installments of the World Baseball Classic, but the upcoming third installment of the international tournament could be loaded with players off Washington's roster.

So far, only outfielder Roger Bernadina (Netherlands) has committed to playing in the Classic, which will be held March 2-19. Plenty more could follow as rosters are assembled and announced in the coming month.

Team USA will unveil its roster on January 16, with no shortage of potential Nationals in the mix for spots.

Bryce Harper seems a logical choice for manager Joe Torre. So does Ian Desmond, whose chances will be boosted by the fact Derek Jeter is recovering from a broken ankle. Ryan Zimmerman could

Monday, December 3, 2012

Waiting to pounce

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Nationals did very little on Day One of the Winter Meetings. They signed Zach Duke to a one-year, big-league contract. They signed Bill Bray to a one-year, minor-league contract.

But it's still probably fair to say the Nats emerged victorious at the Opryland Resort for one major reason: The market for Adam LaRoche continued to shrink while the pool of available starting pitchers remained deep.

Both were positive developments for Mike Rizzo, who has the ability over the next few days and weeks to really position his team as World Series favorites entering 2013.

Rizzo described his approach to these meetings as "keeping a low profile," but perhaps the better phrase would be "waiting to pounce." That applies both to LaRoche and his pursuit of a fifth starter to

Nats unlikely to retain Burnett

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Sean Burnett has received interest from as many as eight clubs this winter.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Nationals are resigned to the fact they aren't likely to re-sign Sean Burnett.

With as many as eight clubs in the mix for a left-handed reliever who could command a three-year contract in the neighborhood of $15 million, general manager Mike Rizzo all but conceded defeat this evening.

"We like Sean. We'd like to bring him back. But it has to make sense for us," Rizzo said. "And right now, I don't see a fit financially or term-wise. But he hasn't signed with anybody yet. We'll see where it leads us."

Burnett is the best available lefty on the market this winter after posting a 2.38 ERA in 70 appearances for the Nationals last season. He's the rare reliever who has established a track record of

Nats re-sign Duke

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Nationals have re-signed left-hander Zach Duke to a one-year, major-league contract, addressing one of their needs for an affordable long reliever.

The deal has not been announced yet, but a club source confirmed the signing.

Duke returns after a solid September cameo in Washington in which he posted a 1.32 ERA over eight appearances. He spent the majority of the season as a starter at Class AAA Syracuse, going 15-5 with a 3.51 ERA.

The 29-year-old, an All-Star with the Pirates in 2009, figures to serve as the long man in the Nationals' bullpen, taking over the role held by Tom Gorzelanny this season. Gorzelanny performed well in the role -- he boasted a 2.88 ERA in 45 games -- but the Nationals elected not to tender him a contract last week, worried his salary would jump to as high as $4 million through arbitration.

Terms on Duke's contract aren't yet known, but he'll make significantly less than Gorzelanny.

The Nationals are still looking for at least one more left-handed

Market for LaRoche thinning

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The number of teams interested in Adam LaRoche dropped by one this morning when the Red Sox signed Mike Napoli, but the Nationals still face some competition for the veteran first baseman.

The Red Sox were thought all along as one of the likeliest destinations for LaRoche if he didn't return to Washington. But Boston this morning inked Napoli to a three-year, $39 million contract and no longer has a need for LaRoche.

That thins the ranks of clubs in the mix for the 33-year-old and certainly puts the Nationals in a more advantageous position, though it doesn't guarantee his return.

The Nats' chief competition at this point could be the Rangers, who now need to fill the void created by Napoli's departure. Texas does have 27-year-old Mitch Moreland at the position but could feel

Shields among Nats' top targets

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James Shields is 31-22 with a 3.15 ERA over the last two seasons with Tampa Bay.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Winter Meetings officially begin today, but with all the pertinent parties already in place last night the rumor mill started churning out juicy bits of information.

And with the Nationals garnering far more attention than in previous years, what quickly became clear was that Mike Rizzo is considering some very big names to fill the final hole in his starting rotation.

Though Rizzo could stick with the conventional path and sign one of several high-priced free agents on the market, he's also using the trade route to pursue a starter.

And perhaps his best possible trade partner is Rays general manager Andrew Friedman.

The Rays are loaded with pitching, but in their never-ending quest to keep payroll down are willing to listen to offers for their higher-priced starters. Reigning AL Cy Young Award winner David Price would be

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Winter Meetings storylines

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Mike Rizzo and Davey Johnson will have their hands full this week in Nashville.
The baseball world converges today on Nashville, with executives, managers, coaches, trainers and more from every franchise, a phalanx of agents, minor-league officials, regular folks seeking work in the sport and -- of course -- media members taking over the gargantuan Opryland Resort and Convention Center for the next five days.

The annual Winter Meetings are quite a spectacle, so many people affiliated with the game of baseball hunkered down in one location, and they're quite often the scene of some major news. (Anyone remember the Albert Pujols extravaganza last year in Dallas?)

Slowly but surely over the years, the Nationals have become a more significant force at the meetings, their biggest splash coming two Decembers ago at Disney World when they shocked the industry by signing Jayson Werth to a $126 million contract.

Now that they're coming off a 98-win season their first-ever playoff appearance, the Nationals won't sneak up on anyone at the