Veteran arm, leadoff man top Nats' free-agency list

Veteran arm, leadoff man top Nats' free-agency list

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals won their first National League East title this past season, but they fell short in the postseason by losing to the Cardinals in the NL Division Series.

General manager Mike Rizzo is going to try to fix the problems the club had in 2012. Free agency could be the way the Nationals make the leap to become World Series contenders for the first time in their history.

Last offseason, the Nationals signed starter Edwin Jackson and players such as Chad Tracy and Mark DeRosa, who were leaders off the bench.

The Nats have enough pitching depth on their Major League roster and in their Minor League system, but they could be looking for a veteran starter who can help guide young arms such as Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann.

That pitcher could come via free agency. The Nationals could re-sign Jackson, but it's 50-50 he returns to Washington. He wants more than a one-year deal.

The Nationals also have to try to re-sign first baseman Adam LaRoche, who has a mutual option with the club. It's likely he will not pick up his option, because he wants more than a one-year deal.

In a text message on Monday, LaRoche said he hopes to have news by the end of the week. LaRoche was the Nationals' Most Valuable Player this season, hitting .271 with 33 home runs and 100 RBIs.

Contract issues

Free agents: Chien-Ming Wang, RHP; DeRosa, INF; Zach Duke, LHP; Michael Gonzalez, LHP; Jackson, RHP.

Eligible for arbitration: Roger Bernadina, OF; Tyler Clippard, RHP; Ross Detwiler, LHP; Ian Desmond, SS; Jesus Flores, C; Tom Gorzelanny, LHP; John Lannan, LHP; Drew Storen, RHP; Zimmermann, RHP.

Mutual options: LaRoche, 1B; Sean Burnett, LHP.

Non-tender possibilities: Flores and Lannan.

Areas of need

Starting pitcher: If Jackson doesn't come back, the Nationals have to look for a starting pitcher. Don't be surprised if Rizzo tries to sign a veteran pitcher like Zack Greinke. Rizzo would be looking for a veteran who could help lead the young rotation.

Bullpen: Burnett most likely will not pick up his option and become a free agent. It's doubtful the Nationals will give him a multi-year deal. Instead they will look for a lefty specialist who could pitch in the late innings. If the Nationals re-sign Gonzalez, the Nationals could put him in that role.

Leadoff hitter: Jayson Werth did a great job at the top spot this past season, but he is expected to be in the middle of the order next year. Braves outfielder Michael Bourn is expected to file for free agency and could be a big help to the Nationals as a leadoff hitter. This past season, Bourn hit .274, scored 96 runs and stole 42 bases for the Braves.

2013 payroll

The Nationals don't like to talk about payroll, but according to Cot's Baseball Contracts, the Nationals spent around $92 million in 2012. The Nationals are expected to be postseason contenders again in '13, so look for the payroll to go up even more as they look for a starting pitcher and leadoff hitter.

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.