- The Washington Times - Monday, June 26, 2006

The rumors have been flying fast and furious, and it’s only going to get more intense over the next month as baseball’s trade deadline approaches.

Most of the speculation involving the Washington Nationals, though, has centered on the players most likely to be traded before July 31. Those names have been run through ad nauseam: Alfonso Soriano, Jose Guillen, perhaps Jose Vidro and Livan Hernandez.

But what about the players the Nationals will be trading for? After all, this is a two-way street, and general manager Jim Bowden isn’t going to be trading players away just for the sake of it. He’s got to get something of value in return.

So as the calendar shifts from June to July, this seems like an appropriate time to run through Washington’s most-glaring needs, both on the major- and minor-league levels.

Outfielders

This is one of the Nationals’ top needs. Two-thirds of the starting outfield (Soriano and Guillen) are prime trading material, while the other starter (Marlon Byrd) has all but been dismissed as a viable long-term solution for the club.

The center field situation is so dire, Bowden doesn’t even have a productive center fielder in his minor-league system to promote now. Ryan Church’s batting average continues to hover around .200. Brandon Watson has been hurt. Frank Diaz isn’t ready for the big leagues.

So Washington is almost in a “must-trade” situation here. Center field, left field, right field, it doesn’t matter. Speed, power, defense, it doesn’t matter. The Nationals need guys who are major-league ready.

Pitchers

Bowden loves to say his focus is always on “pitching, pitching, pitching.” Sometimes, the GM practices what he preaches. Sometimes, he trades Tomo Ohka for Junior Spivey.

Regardless, the Nationals certainly will be looking for quality arms this summer, particularly for a starting rotation that has been decimated by injuries. It’s not as important to acquire big-league-ready talent in this department, but it wouldn’t hurt to find someone who can step right in and make 10 starts down the stretch and start establishing himself for next year.

Middle infielders

This is more of a long-term need than an immediate one, though it could become quite urgent if Bowden finds a taker for Vidro (who has two more years on his contract). If Vidro is dealt, the Nationals need to decide who their second baseman of the future is. It could be Brendan Harris, who has been on the Washington-to-New Orleans shuttle all season. Or, if club officials decide that Harris is better suited as a utilityman, it could be someone from the outside.

At least the Nationals have some options at second base. They have none at shortstop. Royce Clayton has done a satisfactory job this season, but it’s highly unlikely he’ll be back in 2007. Cristian Guzman (remember him?) amazingly still has two years and $8.4 million left on his contract, but who knows how he’ll return from his torn shoulder, not to mention his awful 2005 season.

The farm system, meanwhile, is severely lacking in shortstops. Ian Desmond was supposed to be the golden child, but he’s hitting .236 after getting demoted from Class AA Harrisburg to Class A Potomac and has committed a total of 17 errors.

This has to be a long-term priority.

Catchers

If you thought the Nationals’ farm system was lacking shortstops, how about catchers? Veteran major-league rejects Alberto Castillo and Wiki Gonzalez are splitting the job at Class AAA New Orleans. Salomon Manriquez (who’s in his seventh season in the franchise’s system) has never made it past Harrisburg. It’s not worth delving deeper into the system, because it’s not a pretty picture.

Again, Washington doesn’t face an immediate need here, because Brian Schneider is signed through 2009. But as we’ve seen already this season, a reliable backup catcher is a must, and the Nationals just don’t have one waiting in the wings.

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To

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