- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 9, 2014

While the Adam LaRoche decision looms largest, there are other key questions for the Washington Nationals as they head into the offseason:

Will the Nationals pick up Denard Span’s option?

Though Span will turn 31 in February, it would shocking if general manager Mike Rizzo let him walk. Span has a $9 million team option for 2015, which would be a bargain considering what he has done since arriving in Washington. Though he went only 2 for 19 in the NLDS, Span hit .302 with a .355 on-base percentage during the regular season, scored 94 runs and set a team record with 184 hits. He has also firmly established himself as one of the best defensive center fielders in the National League.

“I really haven’t thought about it too much, but no question I want to come back,” Span said. “I hope that I’m here longer than just one year, to be honest with you. But we’ll see.”

Which 2016 free agent(s) will receive a contract extension?

A little more than one year from now, Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister could all be free agents. In the coming months, Rizzo will probably try to nix that possibility by signing one or two of them to a long-term extension, though he knows he will almost certainly not be able to keep all three.

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Desmond, despite his often reckless approach at the plate and league-worst 24 errors, is the most logical candidate for an extension. The Nationals have little middle infield depth in the minor leagues and Desmond is a fantastic leader, both in the clubhouse and in the public eye. That would leave Fister and Zimmermann, the best two starters in the rotation this year. Will Rizzo lock up either of them this winter? And if so, whom?

Where will Ryan Zimmerman play?

Zimmerman spent the majority of the 2014 season on the disabled list with a broken thumb and a strained hamstring, which ultimately relegated him to a bench role in the NLDS. “Obviously I need to stay healthy,” Zimmerman said. “The goal this offseason is to do whatever I need to do to play 155, 160 games next year.”

Where Zimmerman will play those games needs to be decided this winter — and it would likely trigger a domino effect. If he plays first base, the Nationals could re-sign Asdrubal Cabrera or look for a second baseman outside the organization. If he plays left field, it could bump Span out of D.C. with Bryce Harper moving to center field. Zimmerman could also return to third base, but that looks increasingly unlikely.

How will the Nationals construct their bench?

It’s almost an annual question at this point, but a question nonetheless. Outfielder Nate McLouth is still under contract and catcher Jose Lobaton will almost definitely return, but there are few certainties beyond that.

Scott Hairston, 34, will be a free agent and was left off the postseason roster. Nate Schierholtz, 30, was effective after joining the Nationals in August but fills a similar role to McLouth. Kevin Frandsen, 32, was valuable as a utility player but could be replaced by a younger or cheaper alternative. The only clear thing is that all of them would love to be back. “They welcomed me like I would’ve never expected here,” Schierholtz said. “I have nothing but positive things to say. I haven’t played on a team with a group of guys like this ever.”

Is there any chance the Nationals pick up Rafael Soriano’s option?

It’s not so much a question as it is a remote possibility. Soriano became the league’s highest-paid reliever when he joined the Nationals in 2013, but he has not always pitched as such, especially at the end of the 2014 regular season.

His team option for 2015 is $14 million. Every other reliever in Washington’s bullpen for the NLDS made a combined $16.39 million. It is simply not financially feasible for the team to keep Soriano, who will turn 35 in December. Especially when it is unclear whether he would even want to come back if he were not in his regular closer’s role. “I don’t know. That [is up to] the team and my lawyer,” Soriano said. “Whatever decision is made, they want to make, fine for me. We’ll see.”

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