The Washington Times - June 26, 2013, 06:57PM

The baseball season is about to approach its mathematical half-way point, July is just a few days away and the All-Star break is not far behind. And what that means is that the trade market is about to heat up as the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline approaches. 

For the Nationals, though, their position is somewhat unique. Expected to be a league power, they’ve hovered around .500 for much of the season and they have a few obvious needs. On Tuesday, we explored some of the options that might be available if the Nationals chose to delve into the starting pitching market. 


But asked before Wednesday’s game what needs he’s identified on his club, general manager Mike Rizzo was blunt.

“We’d like to get a big left-handed  bat,” Rizzo said. “His name is Harper. He’s on the horizon. We’d like to get a big right-handed-hitting catcher. His name is Ramos, and he’s on the horizon.”

Rizzo, speaking of outfielder Bryce Harper and catcher Wilson Ramos, was offering that as something of a joking line. But his point came in what he said next: “Then we’ll really gauge and see what a fully healthy lineup looks like.”

The Nationals, who have languished among the worst offenses in the major leagues, have not had their Opening Day lineup together on the field since April 14 due to injury or ineffectiveness. With Danny Espinosa in the minor leagues for the foreseeable future, they won’t get it entirely back together in a literal sense — but getting Harper and Ramos back would be a significant step.

“We’ve had two main cogs of our lineup out for extended periods of time,” Rizzo said. “We haven’t had our lineup together since April 14. We’re slowly getting players more and more healthy and hopefully everyone will be healthy at the same time and we’ll see what the lineup can do when we’ve got all our players playing and everyone’s starting to hit on all cylinders. Then we’ll really gauge where we’re at.”

If that happens next week — and both Harper and Ramos are on schedule to return then — the Nationals will have about a month to try to prove they are the team most expected them to be. 

While right-hander Dan Haren, who is on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation and has an MLB-worst 6.15 ERA, won’t be back for at least two weeks, when it comes to the pitching staff, Rizzo reiterated he wants to see Haren healthy before he makes any decisions about bolstering the team’s starting rotation via trade. 

“First of all we want to get him healthy and see where he’s at,” Rizzo said. “We’ll evaluate a healthy Dan Haren and make decisions from there. Like any other part of the roster we want to see him at 100 percent and then we’ll gauge where we’re at.

“What gives me hope is that he’s got a great track record. The caliber of pitcher he is, I don’t think we’ve seen here. I think he’s a much better pitcher than that. His track record shows it. We’ll gauge him when he’s fully healthy and see where he’s at.”

The Nationals are likely going to call up right-handed prospect Taylor Jordan to take Haren’s place in the rotation on Saturday against the New York Mets.