As we approach the Winter Meetings the Washington Nationals continue to make uncharacteristic appearances in the Hot Stove rumor mill. Typically linked to Severna Park's own slugging 1B Mark Teixeira and perpetual Bowden lust-object OF Adam Dunn, the Nats have also been tangentially connected to A.J. Burnett, Orlando Hudson and several lesser free agent lights. It's always nice to be mentioned, and the barest hint that the Lerners might potentially be considering the possibility of talking about opening the family change purse for a legitimate free agent talent warms the cockles of my frost-bitten fan's heart.
With all that said, here's my problem: Where are these new guys gonna fit in? I don't mean fit in in a "ruining the clubhouse vibe" sense, and I'm not suggesting that any number of free agents wouldn't be talent upgrades over the current lineup, but there are only 25 slots on the active roster and by my count, they're all accounted for. A quick rundown of the 40-man:
- C - Jesus Flores, Wil Nieves, Luke Montz
Flores probably isn't going anywhere. Nieves is a pretty generic backup, but someone has to do it. Montz is the team's only upper level catching "prospect" but he might not be ready for the bigs just yet.
- INF - Nick Johnson, Ronnie Belliard, Cristian Guzman, Ryan Zimmerman, Anderson Hernandez, Kory Casto, Alberto Gonzalez, Ian Desmond
Nick "the If" Johnson has to start if he's healthy, but if he's not the 1B pickins are slim. Belliard is potential trade bait, if you can overlook his increasingly Vidro-esque defense. Guzman and Zimmerman aren't going anywhere in the short term, while one of Hernandez and Gonzalez could well start the year in AAA. Kory Casto's a potential roster casualty waiting to happen, and Desmond's a non-factor at the major league level.
- OF - Lastings Milledge, Elijah Dukes, Austin Kearns, Josh Willingham, Wily Mo Pena, Willie Harris, Roger Bernadina, Justin Maxwell, Leonard Davis
Here's where it starts to get ugly. Pencil Milledge and Dukes into two of the three starting spots. Kearns, Willingham and (theoretically) Pena will compete for the third spot. All of those guys are right-handed, so if you want a lefty in the mix, add in Harris, Bernadina or Davis. Of course Kearns has a pretty sizable contract, Pena is guaranteed $2M, Willingham will be getting his first arb contract... you get the idea. Justin Maxwell, the Nick Johnson of the outfield, is pretty clearly the odd man out.
Assuming a 11-man pitching staff (which is probably one short of what the Nats need), that leaves 14 position player slots. 2 catchers, 6 infielders, 5 outfielders, 1 utility guy. I just don't know. Who can realistically be moved? Who's expendable? Don't forget we'll probably pick up one guy in the Rule 5 who'll lock up a 25-man slot all season. How does this get done?