The Washington Times - March 28, 2012, 11:35PM

VIERA, Fla. — The Nationals next round of cuts is nearing, perhaps as soon as this afternoon. So with the one-week countdown to Opening Day officially on, let’s go through a projection for the Nationals’ roster and discuss their remaining decisions.

Let’s start with the locks. (For these purposes, we’ll assume that Michael Morse, Chien-Ming Wang and Drew Storen will begin the season on the disabled list.)

SEE RELATED:


Rotation

Stephen Strasburg RHP
Gio Gonzalez LHP
Jordan Zimmermann RHP
Edwin Jackson RHP
John Lannan LHP
**Chien-Ming Wang RHP (DL) 

Bullpen

Tyler Clippard RHP
Brad Lidge RHP
Henry Rodriguez RHP
Sean Burnett LHP
Ryan Mattheus RHP
Tom Gorzelanny LHP
Ross Detwiler LHP
** Drew Storen RHP (DL)

Infield

Ryan Zimmerman 3B
Ian Desmond SS
Danny Espinosa 2B
Adam LaRoche 1B

Catchers

Wilson Ramos
Jesus Flores

Outfield

Jayson Werth RF
Rick Ankiel CF
** Michael Morse LF (DL) 

Bench

Mark DeRosa UTIL
Steve Lombardozzi UTIL
Roger Bernadina OF

That is a list of 23 names, not including Storen and Morse, of course. That leaves two spots and, right now, it appears those spots will be used for a final outfielder/utility player. 

The candidates: Brett Carroll, Jason Michaels, Chad Tracy and, as we found out Wednesday, Xavier Nady. 

Carroll looks to have the inside track on the first spot for a few reasons. First, he can play all three outfield positions (as well as most infield spots as a player who was drafted as a third baseman and has experience at first and second, too). Second, one of those positions is also center field and Carroll would provide a right-handed complement to the left-handed Ankiel in center (until Bryce Harper is called up, anyway). 

So if we secure one of the remaining two spots for Carroll, that leaves Michaels, Tracy and Nady fighting for that final ticket north — and believe it or not, Nady may have a strong opportunity here.

Tracy appears to be the first one out in this group. If LaRoche starts the season healthy, the Nationals won’t have much room for another left-handed first baseman and Tracy does not have an opt-out in his contract, meaning he could be sent to the minor leagues. Michaels has been adequate in camp this spring and the Nationals know what they’ll have in him, but the fact that he does have an opt-out — and Nady does not — may actually work against him here.

Whoever earns this spot will be given it with the feeling that Morse is not all that far away from returning. When he does, his roster spot will have to come from somewhere and that’s where Nady not having an opt-out comes in. If the Nationals are of the mind that whoever they choose will only be with the team briefly, it might be better to lose Michaels at the end of the spring than early in the season, and keep Nady, knowing no matter what he won’t be leaving the organization even if there’s no room for him on the 25-man by mid-April.

The season starts in a week. No matter how this ultimately shakes out, we won’t be kept in suspense much longer.