- The Washington Times - Friday, December 2, 2011

Here it is: the final weekend before baseball’s winter meetings begin Monday in Dallas. It’s been more than a month without any baseball and it’ll be just over two more before the Washington Nationals pack up and head down to Viera, Fla. to start the 2012 season anew.

As for how the 2012 version of the Nationals will be different from the 2011 one? There’s not much to say just yet. For now, what we’ve got are rumors. We already told you the likely targets on Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo’s shopping list for next week but there’s no fun in only discussing the main pieces.

So as the hot stove begins to boil over, let’s take a position-by-position look at some speculative possible free agent fits.

First baseThe Nationals are pretty well set with Adam LaRoche expected to be healthy and Michael Morse a more-than-capable backup. A torn hamstring took Chris Marrero out of the running as a right-handed bench bat here. With the free agents available, the Nationals could choose to make a splash or simply fill their need.

Possible fits: Prince Fielder, Mark DeRosa, Carlos Pena, Michael Cuddyer, Eric Hinske

Second base, Shortstop, Third base — Once again, the Nationals are in no need for starters here with Danny Espinosa, Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman. They also have Steve Lombardozzi waiting in the wings, and he could certainly find himself on the 2012 bench as a utility player with his ability to play second, third and short. What they need is a versatile infielder who can also serve as a bat off the bench.

Possible fits: Mark DeRosa, Jerry Hairston Jr., Nick Punto, Eric Chavez, Aaron Miles

Center field — This is easily the biggest vacancy in the Nationals‘ lineup right now. Jayson Werth can play there, especially if and when Bryce Harper is called up, but it’s not preferred. The free-agent market is thin, so for argument’s sake, let’s assume Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes will become a free agent soon. Though, if the Nationals want to fill this spot with a bona-fide star — outside of Cespedes — that’ll most likely have to come via a trade.

Possible fits: Yoenis Cespedes, Rick Ankiel, Reed Johnson, Cody Ross

Left field, right field — Barring any movement on their first-base front, Michael Morse will start the year as the Nationals‘ left fielder and the same goes for Jayson Werth in right, with regard to center field. A possible Harper promotion has to be taken into consideration here as well so the most logical route would be for the Nationals to fill this with strong, versatile bench players — and a little offensive pop would be preferred.

Possible fits: Laynce Nix, Johnny Damon, Jerry Hairston Jr., Mark DeRosa, Michael Cuddyer, Rick Ankiel, Reed Johnson, Cody Ross, Jonny Gomes, Eric Hinske

Catcher — Not even a need for a backup at this point as the Nationals are very well set with Wilson Ramos and Jesus Flores. Should they find a trading partner that’s interested in Flores, a backup catcher could be on their list of needs.

Possible fits: Ivan Rodriguez, Josh Bard

Starting pitchers — We know the Nationals are looking for another front-line starter. They want Mark Buehrle, C.J. Wilson or Roy Oswalt. They’d prefer a left-hander to fill out a rotation that’s already expected to include righties  Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Chien-Ming Wang with John Lannan as the only lefty. They’ve also got Ross Detwiler, Tommy Milone and Brad Peacock knocking on the door to the big leagues if they can’t land one.

Possible fits: Mark Buehrle, C.J. Wilson, Roy Oswalt, Edwin Jackson, Tsuyoshi Wada, (if he posts) Yu Darvish

Relief pitchersThe Nationals back end of the bullpen is priced right and stocked with young talent. Henry Rodriguez, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen could make up one of the most talented 7-8-9 (inning) combinations in the game if firing on all cylinders. They’ve got enough in-house options to fill out a bullpen, especially when you throw in Ryan Mattheus, Sean Burnett and Tom Gorzelanny. Plus, the market outside of top-end closers isn’t exactly an exciting one.