As the baseball world waits with bated breath for Prince Fielder’s ultimate landing spot, here are a few other items of note involving the Nationals…
– The Nationals are still in the market for both bench help and bullpen help — if the price and the fit are right for what they can find. The team hasn’t ruled out bringing back outfielder Rick Ankiel for another tour of duty but it depends on how they’d view the role for him.
Ankiel was a productive player for Washington last year, producing well offensively in spurts and playing phenomenal defense in center field with one of the best outfield arms in the game. Still, the Nationals outfield situation this season might make Ankiel an improper fit for the 2012 roster. With Jayson Werth, Michael Morse, Bryce Harper, Roger Bernadina, Mark DeRosa and Mike Cameron among the primary players in the Nationals’ outfield shuffle, if the Nationals can’t see a way for Ankiel to be a part of the team and get relatively regular at-bats, their interest in him may wane.
There is a feeling that Ankiel might not have the same level of offensive productivity he showed at times in 2011 if he’s serving primarily as a bat off the bench. Still, Ankiel was well-liked in the Nationals’ clubhouse, his defense was, at times, jaw-dropping, and the Nationals would certainly welcome him back for those reasons. Ankiel made $1.5 million on a one-year deal last year.
– Nationals left-handed prospect Sammy Solis is over the strep throat that plagued him during December but he still has yet to return to Dr. Lewis Yocum for another checkup on his sore left elbow. Solis visited with Nationals’ team doctor Wiemi Douoguih and Yocum after his Arizona Fall League stint ended with significant elbow soreness.
At that time there was a good bit of concern, but there wasn’t enough panic to jump to the possibility of Tommy John surgery. But Yocum, who performed the surgery on both Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, is renowned for the procedure and going to see him is generally not considered a good sign. However, Solis is working on a throwing program at home in Arizona and he’s scheduled to visit with Yocum there for another look and opinion. It’s a good sign, though, that Solis is throwing and there hasn’t been a rush to get him back into Yocum’s office.
– As I mentioned above, the Nationals are still looking for extra bullpen help if they can find a proper fit. The Nationals’ ‘pen is shaping up as a major strength if they get what they’re expecting out of Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Henry Rodriguez and the rest of their relief corps. There’s not a whole lot of room out there, either, with the expectation that one of Chien-Ming Wang, John Lannan or Ross Detwiler will begin the year out there instead of in the rotation, but the folks they have crowding things up out there — while all extremely talented — are also mostly relatively low on experience. Based on service time, Sean Burnett and Tom Gorzelanny are the most experienced relievers they have right now, and Gorzelanny’s career has mostly been spent as a starting pitcher.
There’s just not a whole lot of veteran presence out there and while you can argue a lot of the merits of the necessity of that, there’s no question the type of impact Todd Coffey had out in that bullpen as the sort of elder statesman in 2011. Nationals manager Davey Johnson has also made it pretty clear that he feels in order to have a truly successful bullpen on a contending team, there’s a need for both a stud closer and a “backup” closer. The Nationals have the candidates in-house for that role but if there is someone with a little more experience they can find to fill it at the right price they’d be open to the addition.
– There hasn’t been much buzz about two veteran former Nationals fee agents: catchers Ivan Rodriguez and right-hander Livan Hernandez. Don’t expect either to be in a Nationals uniform come spring training, though. While the ship on Pudge sailed a bit earlier this offseason, his agent, Scott Boras, admitting as much at the winter meetings, the door has also been closed on Hernandez from what I’ve heard lately. Hernandez and Rodriguez played vital roles on a young team with a lot of players who were finding their way — and they played the mentor roles extremely well — but with the roster the Nationals have now, quite frankly, they don’t have room for either veteran.