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Posted at 5:47 PM ET, 01/ 4/2011

Who will be the Nationals' 25th man?

By Adam Kilgore

If and when the Nationals reach an agreement with first baseman Adam LaRoche, they can turn to one of the finishing touches of their offseason -- the final spot on their bench.

The Nationals need to wait until they have a definitive response from LaRoche, since his fate could turn Michael Morse into a starter and affect the composition of the bench. At this point, the Nationals know how they value LaRoche and are basically waiting for LaRoche to say yes or no.

For the sake of examining the Nationals' bench, let's count LaRoche in the mix. That would give the Nationals an awful lot of clarity regarding the group that will leave Viera at the end of March. Barring injuries or unforeseen developments, the Nationals would seemingly have 12 of 13 position-player spots filled for their opening day roster if LaRoche signs. A quick look:

Outfielders
1. Nyjer Morgan
2. Roger Bernadina
3. Michael Morse
4. Rick Ankiel
5. Jayson Werth

Infielders
6. Ryan Zimmerman
7. Adam LaRoche
8. Danny Espinosa
9. Ian Desmond
10. Alberto Gonzalez

Catchers
11. Ivan Rodriguez
12. Wilson Ramos/Jesus Flores

The bench, then, would look something like this:

1. Gonzalez
2. Ankiel/Morse/Bernadina
3. Another one of those three
4. Ramos/Flores
5. Player X

The Nationals have signed veteran pinch-hitter extraordinaire Matt Stairs to a minor-league deal, so count him as one candidate to be the 25th man.

The Nationals, according to a team source, have also been in contact with Willie Harris, one of their own free agents. Harris hit only .183 last year, but the Nationals consider him a viable possibility off the bench because of his power (10 home runs in 224 at-bats), his patience (33 walks in 262 plate appearances) and his versatility (he can play second, third and outfield). Harris also hit .199 on balls in play, a sign of rotten luck.

While Harris remains an option, he doesn't exactly fit the Nationals' primary bench needs. With Bernadina and Ankiel in the reserve mix, the Nationals could use a right-handed outfield bat. They could also use a reliable second baseman as insurance for Danny Espinosa, who still has rookie status and will be entering his first full major league season after suffering a wrist injury while playing winter ball this offseason.

One logical name: Utility player Willie Bloomquist. A right-handed hitter, Bloomquist would offer unparalleled defensive versatility but not much pop. He's played every position but catcher in his career, but his career OPS is .653. (He's also a Scott Boras client.)

If the Nationals decide they'd rather have more power and a right-handed outfield option, another logical name could be Andruw Jones. He hit 19 home runs last year in 278 at-bats and slugged .486 for the White Sox. Jones, 33, has been a star and would have to be willing to accept a bench role. He would presumably come relatively cheap, having signed for a $500,000 last season. (Then again, he's also a Scott Boras client.)

If the Nationals decide they need a solid second baseman, David Eckstein has an obvious tie to the Nationals in his brother, Rick, the Nationals hitting coach. Eckstein hit .267/.321/.326 last year while making zero (that's z-e-r-o) errors in 475 total chances.

The Nationals will surely bring plenty of 25th man candidates to camp come mid-February, and some of them will become Class AAA depth. It's also not exactly the most pivotal spot to be thinking about some 80 days before opening day. But, hey, we have some time to kill before LaRoche makes up his mind.

By Adam Kilgore  | January 4, 2011; 5:47 PM ET
 
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Comments

Hrm. This is a good post, but I think you may have the Nats carrying one too many catchers - you have Pudge, plus one of Ramos/Flores in the second catcher spot, plus one of Ramos/Flores on the bench. I assume the team will only carry two catchers. So, whichever of Ramos/Flores doesn't get to share catching duties with Pudge is unlikely to get a bench spot, and more likely to get a AAA assignment to play everyday, no?

Posted by: Section220 | January 4, 2011 5:58 PM | Report abuse

It's got to be an infielder. Bloomquist's versatility would be nice. As long as the IF'er knows that he's a bench player and that Espinosa is being groomed.

Regardless, it's a much better bench than last year.

Posted by: derwink | January 4, 2011 6:17 PM | Report abuse

The Nationals have probable depth in the OF, with one of the platoon LF's (Bernadina or Morse) on the bench with Ankiel. The 2nd CA will be one of either Flores or Ramos, with the 'odd-man-out' optioned to SYR. That's three of the five all but settled.
I'd personally like to see the Nationals focus on a true IF to support AGonz, should either Espinosa struggle, or as injury insurance. Bloomquist is a possible as a true 'utility player / band-aid', but having the Eckstein brothers on the same team would be interesting.

Given a choice between Bloomquist or Eckstein, I'd take the latter simply because of the higher probability of Espinosa struggling in his rookie year, coming off hand surgery.

Posted by: BinM | January 4, 2011 6:43 PM | Report abuse

Hrm. This is a good post, but I think you may have the Nats carrying one too many catchers - you have Pudge, plus one of Ramos/Flores in the second catcher spot, plus one of Ramos/Flores on the bench. I assume the team will only carry two catchers. So, whichever of Ramos/Flores doesn't get to share catching duties with Pudge is unlikely to get a bench spot, and more likely to get a AAA assignment to play everyday, no?

Posted by: Section220 | January 4, 2011 5:58 PM

I think Adam is saying that either Ramos or Flores will be #2 catcher and thus take one of the five spots on the bench. The other will be in Syracuse to start the season. If we keep 13 position players on the opening day 25, there'll be room for 'Player X'.

Posted by: Kev29 | January 4, 2011 6:44 PM | Report abuse

They also have 28 year old right handed Brian Bixler who features the kind of fielding versatility that Alberto Gonzalez has. His slash line exclusively in the AAA IL league?

In 411 PA's .285/.347/.389/.736 with 4 homers, 4 triples and 18 doubles. Plus 18 stolen bases.

He would be younger and cheaper than Harris and plays a superior 2nd, 3rd and shortstop to boot.

Posted by: periculum | January 4, 2011 6:56 PM | Report abuse

What about the possibility of the Nats heading North with 13 relievers? Your 25th man would then be in the bullpen.

I'm not saying they should do this, but it is an option.

Posted by: JohninMpls | January 4, 2011 7:18 PM | Report abuse

Jorge Cantu.

He has played all over the infield, but is primarily a corner guy now (while AG is a middle infielder who has played a little corner). More than one of the lefty outfielders and LaRoche will need a platoon partner, and Morse can only share a spot with one. He had a good 2008 and 2009, but tailed last year. He did not do well with the Rangers last year in a platoon with Moreland, but in his prior two years he killed lefties (.355 & .389 OBP, .500+ slg). Neutral UZR at first over his career. I'd also give a thought to Willy Aybar. .255/ .337 / .438 as a RHB the past 3 years and can play 1st, 2d, and 3d. Switch hits with power from both sides (14 HR in 368 ABs as RHB from '08 - '10).

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | January 4, 2011 7:21 PM | Report abuse

"What about the possibility of the Nats heading North with 13 relievers?"

Geez. I know they all have trouble cracking the sixth inning, but couldn't you give at least a little respect to the five starters?

Posted by: nunof1 | January 4, 2011 7:31 PM | Report abuse

Assuming you want to use that slot to cover for you most glaring weakness, how about giving it to Randy Knorr?

Posted by: DavidandDonald1 | January 4, 2011 7:44 PM | Report abuse

Looks like it's a done deal...or just about...

http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2011/01/nationals-agree-to-sign-adam-laroche.html

I already miss Dunn, bu the combo or Werth and LaRoche should compensate.

Posted by: Naugatuck-Nats | January 4, 2011 7:45 PM | Report abuse

I hope they offer Eckstein a minor league contract and an invite. A defensive right side of the infield option would be a nice addition. And Eckstein is a World Series MVP, having one of those on the bench with all of our young players wouldn't be a horrible thing either.

Posted by: peteywheatstraw | January 4, 2011 8:06 PM | Report abuse

Just the combination of Zimmerman, Werth, LaRoche, and Morse might be good for well over 100 homers. Its a bit one-sided to the right. But that should adjust in a couple of years clearly and obviously.

Posted by: periculum | January 4, 2011 8:09 PM | Report abuse

I'm intrigued by David Eckstein. He seems like a very smart third option to either Desmond or Espinosa and would be a great role model in the clubhouse and dugout.

BTW, this is for some of the constant haters who show up on this blog: the Nats will not finish last this year. They might even finish third.

Posted by: baltova1 | January 4, 2011 8:21 PM | Report abuse

"Jorge Cantu.
He has played all over the infield ... "

Agree with that. Cantu does make the most sense as an offensive threat who can play multiple positions off the bench. He makes a great insurance policy if LaRoche falters.

He has been far more productive than Willie Harris AND younger.

Posted by: periculum | January 4, 2011 8:21 PM | Report abuse

I have a dog that chases his tail. Goes around in little circles until he gets dizzy.

I should have named him Rizzo.

Werth replaces the Donk. Who replaces the Hammer? The Ankiel/Morse/Beradina trifecta? Get real. The 2011 Nats will score less than the 2010 rendition.

Unless, of course, you dream that the psycho Nyjer is really an MLB caliber player leading off.

JimBo could have accomplished everything Rizzo has to date. How scary is that?

Posted by: howjensen | January 4, 2011 8:36 PM | Report abuse

Cantu = Morse, but Cantu has more ML at-bats to his benefit. He profiles as a corner IF-OF, with some 'pop' at the plate.

If LaRoche is really coming under contract, then the 'soft-spot' is MI, imo. AGonz can do the job defensively at 2B-SS-3B, but lacks offense. Either Bloomquist or Eckstein would make the better team player than Cantu, imo. Both have reputations as versatile players, willing to do what's needed. Cantu would need high GP/PA to show value.

Posted by: BinM | January 4, 2011 8:42 PM | Report abuse

Yes, the Nats may score less than in 2010 (not that that's a sure thing). But they're going to be a lot better defensively, with Werth, LaRoche, Bernadina or Ankiel and Espinosa on the field. They may actually end up being one of the better defensive teams in the league, if Nyjer and Desmond improve. Even if they don't get a quality starting pitcher, this is an improved team.

Posted by: baltova1 | January 4, 2011 8:45 PM | Report abuse

@howjensen: Bowden would have 'crapped the bed' on the Strasburg and Harper signings, just like he did with Crow. Think about it.

Posted by: BinM | January 4, 2011 8:46 PM | Report abuse

@howjensen: Bowden would have 'messed the bed' on the Strasburg and Harper signings, just like he did with Crow. Just think about it.

Posted by: BinM | January 4, 2011 8:49 PM | Report abuse

Yes, the Nats may score less than in 2010 (not that that's a sure thing). But they're going to be a lot better defensively, with Werth, LaRoche, Bernadina or Ankiel and Espinosa on the field. They may actually end up being one of the better defensive teams in the league, if Nyjer and Desmond improve. Even if they don't get a quality starting pitcher, this is an improved team.

Posted by: baltova1 | January 4, 2011 8:45 PM

Let's not forget, for all Hammer and Dunn's ability, the Nats were 25th in runs scored last season - 28th in doubles. I think home runs will be down next season, but doubles and speed up. Rizzo is trying to build a team that rallies, not slugs. My sneaky bet is that we'll score more runs in '11.

Posted by: Kev29 | January 4, 2011 9:11 PM | Report abuse

I think Willie Bloomquist will be the 25th man for the Nats. Bloomquist played for Riggleman and McLaren in Seattle during the 2007 & 2008 seasons plus Bloomquist is a Boras client.

Andruw Jones is rumor to the Yankees but I wouldn't mind seeing him with the Nats.

Posted by: 4U2Know | January 4, 2011 9:17 PM | Report abuse

@kev29 - yep, thanks. Reading FAIL on my part.

Posted by: Section220 | January 4, 2011 9:54 PM | Report abuse

Bloomquist has even played a little center (860 innings), and can run. I was about to deride his bat, but he hit lefties OK (.289 / .330/ .434 in 2010; .272 / .334 / .366 career). He could conceivably platoon with Nyjer or Bernie and limit their exposure to lefties.

I'm OK with A-Gon as the back up MI on the roster and having Lombardozzi and some replacement players in AAA /AA for emergencies. If we were concerned about 2d, Willy Aybar can play there if we brought him in instead of Cantu.

My biggest hesitation about Cantu is that he may be a guy who has to play full time to stay sharp. That seems to be the case in his best years in Florida, and he did not show much last year platooning in Texas. I more or less through him out there because it was to add to Adam's list.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | January 4, 2011 10:01 PM | Report abuse

"And Eckstein is a World Series MVP, having one of those on the bench with all of our young players wouldn't be a horrible thing either."

You mean like having 2002 World Series MVP Adam Kennedy on the bench was such a big help last year?

Posted by: nunof1 | January 4, 2011 10:01 PM | Report abuse

"You mean like having 2002 World Series MVP Adam Kennedy on the bench was such a big help last year?"

You mean 2002 mvp Troy Glaus:
http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/baseball/2002/postseason/news/2002/10/27/glaus_mvp_ap/

Posted by: peteywheatstraw | January 5, 2011 12:34 AM | Report abuse

Troy Glaus didn't make much of an impact on me last year.

Posted by: markfromark | January 5, 2011 6:00 AM | Report abuse

Eckstein simply wins!

Posted by: tommy11599 | January 5, 2011 10:09 AM | Report abuse

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