Nats will likely look for pitching, bench help
After missing postseason in 2013, Washington has a few areas to improve
WASHINGTON -- This past season, the Nationals were favored to win the National League East title for the second year in a row, but they didn't make the playoffs, finishing second in the division, 10 games behind the first-place Braves.
Injuries, lack of offense in the first half of the season and not having quality lefties in the bullpen were the reasons the Nats struggled this past season. Losing Bryce Harper for more than a month because of a left knee injury was a big blow. He was the guy they missed in the middle of the order.
But the first order of business was looking for a manager, and the team hired Matt Williams as the sixth manager in team history on Thursday, replacing Davey Johnson, who retired after the 2013 season.
General manager Mike Rizzo said he wanted the new manager to be involved with the roster decisions. While the starting eight is already set, the Nationals need to find at least two starting pitchers, improve their bench and find quality left-handed relievers.
Free agents: Right-hander Dan Haren, infielder Chad Tracy, first baseman Chris Marrero
Eligible for arbitration: Left-hander Ross Detwiler, shortstop Ian Desmond, right-hander Tyler Clippard, right-hander Jordan Zimmermann, right-hander Ross Ohlendorf, catcher Wilson Ramos, right-hander Stephen Strasburg and right-hander Drew Storen
Contract options: None
Non-tender possibilities: Ohlendorf
Areas of need
Bench: In 2012, the bench could do almost nothing wrong. Players off the bench provided clutch hits on a regular basis. This past season was a different story. The reserves couldn't buy a hit. Of all the bench players they had this past season, Scott Hairston and Steve Lombardozzi are the only players expected to be back. The Nationals would like to add a left-handed power bat to the bench. Rizzo said he wouldn't mind having David DeJesus back with the team, most likely as a fourth outfielder.
Backup catcher: When Ramos missed time because of injuries, the Nationals didn't get much offense. They used three backup catchers -- Kurt Suzuki, Jhonatan Solano and Sandy Leon -- this past season, and they hit a combined .209. Suzuki is no longer on the team. Solano and Leon, on the other hand, have showed they can be above average behind the plate, but they have to prove they can hit big league pitching.
Left-handed relievers: It proved to be a big mistake letting Tom Gorzelanny and Michael Gonzalez go after '12. The Nationals had problems finding a quality left-handed reliever this past season. Zach Duke, Fernando Abad and Ian Krol had a tough time getting hitters out. By the time they found a quality lefty out of the bullpen -- Xavier Cedeno -- it was too late. Johnson didn't use Cedeno until mid September. There is a possibility Detwiler could be one of the lefties out of the bullpen.
Starting pitching: The Nationals are set with Strasburg, Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez. But they are looking for back-end-of-the-rotation starters. A source said that the Nats have interest in Rays left-hander David Price or Tigers right-hander Max Scherzer if they are available this offseason. Both players are arbitration-eligible this year, but could be traded.
Detwiler will be competing against Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan for the fifth spot in the rotation. Detwiler missed most of the season because of back issues, while Roark and Jordan proved to be valuable pitchers in their brief time with the club.
According to Cot's Baseball Contracts, the Nationals had a payroll over $100 million in 2013. The Nats don't like to talk about payroll, which is expected to go up in 2014. Zimmermann and shortstop Desmond are looking to get contract extensions, while Strasburg is arbitration-eligible. All three are expected to get big raises. The Nationals are also looking to get a top-of-the-line starting pitcher.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. Steve Gilbert contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.