- The Washington Times - Monday, December 7, 2009

As the winter meetings begin Monday, the Nationals have identified several areas where they’ll be looking to improve their roster. Here is a closer look at each of them:

STARTING PITCHING

This is the biggest area of need for the Nationals. They would like to add one arm or possibly two at the right price who could eat innings and take some stress off their young starters. There are a few semiattractive candidates, including Jon Garland and Rich Harden, a pair of starters who wouldn’t cost the Nationals a draft pick because they weren’t offered arbitration. Garland is only 30 and Harden is just 28, and both could be in the Nationals’ price range. But nothing likely will be decided with any pitchers until the top starter - the Angels’ John Lackey - is off the market.

CATCHER

The list of free agent catchers is thin - the best names on it probably would be 31-year-old Miguel Olivo, 31-year-old Yorvit Torrealba and 36-year-old Jason Kendall. None of those three were offered arbitration, and any of them could start a large chunk of games should Jesus Flores not be ready. With Flores still in the Nationals’ plans and Derek Norris (or possibly Bryce Harper?) behind him in the system, don’t expect anything more than a stopgap addition here.

RELIEF PITCHING

Remember how little attention former general manager Jim Bowden paid to the bullpen last offseason? It didn’t exactly turn out well. But the Nationals feel they have enough veterans to get by in 2010, especially if they’re not ready to contend, and a big addition again is unlikely in the bullpen. A long man could be a priority here, and this year’s Joe Beimel veteran bargain could come in the form of Casey Fossum, Will Ohman or Beimel himself. But the back end of the bullpen, in all likelihood, will include the same principals it did at the end of 2009: Mike MacDougal, Sean Burnett, Tyler Clippard and Jason Bergmann, with first-rounder Drew Storen possibly entering the mix at some point.

MIDDLE INFIELD

Riggleman said he’s comfortable going into the season with Cristian Guzman at second base and Ian Desmond at shortstop. “They’re both good offensive players in the middle, and you’ve got [Ryan] Zimmerman and [Adam] Dunn on the corners. That’s a pretty good major league infield,” he said. An addition here, then, likely would come in the form of a backup who can play solid defense if Desmond struggles at the plate or can’t cut down on his throwing errors. The Nationals have been rumored to be interested in Mark DeRosa, and they could have another flirtation with Orlando Hudson (though he’s a Type A free agent who would cost them two picks). And hey, there’s always a pair of Bowden favorites coming off strong seasons - Felipe Lopez and Ronnie Belliard. It’s tough to see the Nationals bringing back either of those talented, yet high-maintenance players.