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Riggleman encouraged by Nationals' roster

Riggleman encouraged by Nationals' roster

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Winter Meetings are in the early stages, and the Nationals are doing their best to supply manager Jim Riggleman with the best players for the 2011 season.

On Sunday, for example, the team reached an agreement with outfielder Jayson Werth on a seven-year, $126 million contract. Werth will play right field and bat in the middle of the order.

"In this case, I think it's very encouraging -- not only with Jayson, but with the signing of Bryce Harper and the commitment to Ryan Zimmerman a few years ago," Riggleman said. "I think there's a history here of trying to go out [and improve] the ballclub, whether it's through trades, free agents, whatever, but there's a great commitment to player development.

"I think this is a great sign for the organization and our fans that the ballclub is serious about having a better future."

Riggleman realizes that Werth alone is not enough to get the Nationals out of fifth place for the first time since 2007. The Nats are looking for a left-handed-hitting first baseman and pitching help.

The Nationals need a first baseman after allowing Adam Dunn to become a free agent and sign with the White Sox. Riggleman sounded like a guy who would love to have Carlos Pena on the team.

Washington has often talked about how much Pena is a character guy. The Nationals are also looking at Adam LaRoche.

"We like Carlos Pena," Riggleman said. "We really liked Adam Dunn. He did a great job for us and we appreciate everything he did. We made what we feel is a good offer to Adam, and Adam and his agent did a great job. They got a better deal. But that left-handed bat was nice to have, and you know, we feel like Carlos is a guy who can do that. There are three or four other names, you know, that can do it, too."

If the Nationals don't get quality starting pitching, Riggleman is hoping they could add relievers to an already strong bullpen.

"So as [general manager] Mike Rizzo looks to add [to the rotation], we are really focusing on some bullpen stuff," Riggleman said "We feel like our bullpen did a good job last year, but maybe we can strengthen our strength. I don't think we would add a closer.

"So I think with Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen and Sean Burnett, we have guys that are not intimidated by the ninth inning, but if we can add another guy or two, who are also comfortable pitching in the seventh, needs to pick up the slack and go into the ninth for us, it wouldn't be that big of a [deal] to handle [the situation]."

Adding players isn't the only thing Riggleman would like to see. He would like to see center fielder Nyjer Morgan improve with the bat. Morgan goes into next season as the starting center fielder despite having the worst year of his career, hitting .253 with 24 RBIs.

According to Riggleman, the key for Morgan is to perform better against left-handed pitching. Last season, Morgan went 27-for-135 [.200] with a .280 on-base percentage against southpaws.

"I think that, basically, the thing that we want Nyjer to do is get on base with a little higher rate and to be there to be knocked in," Riggleman said. "The game is full of statistics, and there's so many numbers out there. But when it comes to offense, you're either knocking them in or you're scoring. The rest of it is a little bit of eyewash.

"We want Nyjer to score and get to be on base. We know he can do it. He's shown he can do it. We just hope that he's getting on base at a little higher clip, and that's going to mean a little improvement against left-handed pitching basically."

Improvement in a lot of areas means a winning season for the Nationals.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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