Outfield foursome likely to return
The Nationals' outfield is not an obvious strength, but it's not necessarily a glaring weakness, either. Some combination of Josh Willingham, Michael Morse, Nyjer Morgan and Roger Bernadina played the majority of games there this season, and it seems likely the foursome will return next season, Manager Jim Riggleman said.
Even if the Nationals were to make upgrading their outfield a priority, this would be a difficult offseason to do so. After Jayson Werth and Carl Crawford, the quality of outfielders available in free agency drops significantly.
"I think the most likely scenario is that we'll have pretty much the same group," Manager Jim Riggleman said. If General Manager Mike Rizzo "acquires an outfielder that has superior numbers to these guys, then these guys will be put on the back burner. I don't anticipate that happening. People aren't just giving away those kind of guys. The free agent market for outfielders is relatively thin."
The Nationals control left fielder Josh Willingham, who is eligible for his final year of arbitration, for the 2011 season. Rizzo has said he is committed to Nyjer Morgan in center field, and he believes Morgan will bounce back from a rocky season. Rizzo said he would be content to let Bernadina and Morse share right field. This year, they have combined to hit .265 in 665 at-bats with 24 home runs entering Friday's game.
Justin Maxwell, who turns 27 in November, has been unable to work his way into next year's outfield picture. His inability to consistently make contact continues to hurt him. But Riggleman said Maxwell, who started Friday, has too much potential to give up on.
"Hopefully, it all comes together and he has a good spring for us and he's part of the ballclub next year," Riggleman said. "There's no reason to give up on him. I think it's all going to click. There's no last-chance situation. I wouldn't put that on him. I'm just hoping he does use the opportunities on the field, as sparing as they've been, to show us that he's the real deal."
Given the thin market for top-shelf starting pitching, the Nationals may have to be creative in how they achieve Rizzo's goal of landing a front-line starter. They could accomplish that and provide proof they've improved their international scouting effort by pursuing Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish.
It would be speculative at this point to gauge the Nationals' interest in Darvish, but he is on their radar. Nationals scouts have seen Darvish pitch in person at least nine times, including several games in Japan, and they have been impressed enough to recommend to the front office that he is worth trying to sign.
Darvish, according to multiple reports, is likely to become available this offseason by his team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, entering him into the "posting" system, wherein major league teams bid to pay Nippon for the right to negotiate with - and presumably sign - Darvish.
Some reports have speculated it will take roughly $25 million to win the bid, which would come before actually signing him.
Darvish, 23, has been absurdly dominant in Japan's top league, better than any of the numerous pitchers who have made the transition from Japanese baseball to the majors. In the past five years, Darvish has more strikeouts (921) than hits and walks allowed combined (911) in 941 innings. His ERAs by season since 2006: 2.89, 1,82, 1.88, 1.73 and 1.79.
- Adam Kilgore