The Washington Times - September 25, 2011, 01:35PM

As the Nationals wrap up the second-most successful season in their seven-year history in Washington, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo heads into the offseason with a specific list. The top two things on it are an everyday outfield bat and a front line starting pitcher. Upgrading the bench is a close third.

“I think we’re an outfield bat away and a starting pitcher away from really being a contender in the division,” Rizzo said Sunday afternoon as he reflected on the 2011 season.

“I don’t think we’re going to have to be making dramatic moves over the winter,” Johnson said. “The big move that we made this year is establishing the young guys. The lineup is much more efficient now that these guys have established themselves.”

The Nationals will go into spring training with a starter at every infield position, catcher and two of their three outfield spots. The seasons of rookies Danny Espinosa, Wilson Ramos and Ian Desmond along with Michael Morse, in particular, have solidified that line of thinking.

“When you can contend,” Johnson said, “you go into spring training and you’ve pretty much got a set lineup and there’s one or two positions that are being competed for in the spring. I think we’re rapidly  approaching that criteria.”

Rizzo also reiterated the organization’s desire to add another top-of-the-rotation starter, despite the fact that they’re anticipating having Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann in those top two spots.

Citing the September collapses of both the Boston Red Sox and the Atlanta Braves, Rizzo pointed out that despite the fact that the Nationals young pitchers like Tommy Milone, Ross Detwiler and Brad Peacock have made strong cases for next year, there’s no such thing as too much quality starting pitching. The club is also actively working toward bringing Chien-Ming Wang back and considering whether or not there will be space for Livan Hernandez.

“(A top starter) puts everybody down a slot and makes everybody much more comfortable,” Rizzo said. “This is a grind of a season and when you play a month longer than everybody else into playoff baseball, it takes a lot of starting pitchers to get through the season.”

Three of the Nationals’ current outfielders will be free agents after the season as well, and Rizzo said the team is open to discussing bringing back Laynce Nix, Jonny Gomes and Rick Ankiel if the fit and the price are right. Gomes is projected as a Type-B free agent, as well, so the Nationals would get a draft pick from whichever team did sign him if he declined salary arbitration from Washington.
“The bench is certainly one of the things we need to address,” Rizzo said.