Finding a closer, filling bench on Nats' to-do list

Washington also wants to settle Baker's contract before final year

Finding a closer, filling bench on Nats' to-do list

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals have already had a busy offseason, competing for many of the top names on the free-agent market and pulling off trades for a new center fielder in Adam Eaton and catcher in Derek Norris.

But they are not done. With nearly six weeks until they report to their new Spring Training facility in West Palm Beach, Fla., the Nats should continue to be one of the most active teams. Here are a few things the Nationals need to accomplish before they head off to Florida.

1. Decide who will pitch the ninth
This one is obvious, and "Who will close for the Nationals?" remains one of the biggest questions remaining around the Majors. The answer is still unclear, with Washington weighing whether its best remaining option is already on the roster, or if a closer with experience is a necessity. This will almost certainly be the Nats' top priority during the next few weeks, as they will exhaust all their options on the market and in-house.

Hot Stove Tracker

2. Fill out the rest of the bench
When the Nationals traded away Danny Espinosa and gave him a chance to start with the Angels, it left them without a proven backup middle infielder on their bench. Wilmer Difo was impressive in his rookie season and he could slot in as their primary backup infielder, or the team could look to re-sign Stephen Drew if he does not find a starting job somewhere else. The Nats already re-signed outfielder Chris Heisey, and first baseman Clint Robinson seems likely to return off the bench despite a down year. That leaves a backup outfielder spot to fill, which could come down to a battle between Michael Taylor and Brian Goodwin. The Nationals placed a lot of importance on their bench last season, and they could look for ways to potentially strengthen that unit to compete for jobs heading into Spring Training.

Difo's versatile performance

3. Clear up Dusty Baker's contract situation
The Nats were thrilled with Baker's first year at the helm as manager, as they won 95 games and the National League East title, which earned him a third-place finish in voting for the NL Manager of the Year Award. Baker called his first season in Washington the most he has enjoyed managing since his days in San Francisco. Yet he is set to enter the final year of his contract in 2017, and it makes little sense to let him enter the season as a so-called "lame duck" manager. The Nationals are "open" to extending Baker's contract, according to a report by the Washington Post, but the two sides have not engaged in talks to do so. Baker, who will turn 68 in June, has not committed to how long he wants to manage, but he insisted that he has plenty in the tank despite his age.

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.