Nats assessing market for potential deals
Acquiring leadoff hitter at top of list as Trade Deadline nears
WASHINGTON -- Entering Friday's action against the Pirates, the Nationals are 40-41 and 11 games behind the Phillies in the National League East. However, Washington is only 6 1/2 games behind the Braves in the Wild Card race.
It will be interesting to see what the Nationals do to stay in the race for the NL's fourth playoff spot. It would come as no surprise if Washington made a move before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.
At the moment, the Nationals' pitching is their biggest strength. There have been rumors of teams being interested in relievers Todd Coffey and Tyler Clippard. Washington most likely would want a lot in return for those players.
"We are both buyers and sellers," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "We always have been, always will be. If we have a chance to acquire a player that is going to help us in 2011 and beyond, we are not going to shy away from that. If there is a trade to be made that will help us down the road, we will trade a player away to get a piece for the future. But we are not in sell mode. There are a lot of games to play, a lot of games to win. We are here to win games."
The offense is the main reason the club isn't enjoying more success. The Nationals rank 29th in the Majors with a .232 team batting average, and they are hitting just .225 with runners in scoring position.
Part of the problem is the Nationals don't have a leadoff hitter. They have already used five -- Rick Ankiel, Roger Bernadina, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa and Jayson Werth -- this season, and none of them have been able to produce.
If the Nationals can't acquire a leadoff hitter, don't be surprised if 22-year-old prospect Stephen Lombardozzi gets a callup as the new table-setter. Since his promotion to Triple-A Syracuse, Lombardozzi is batting .429 (18-for 42) with nine runs scored.
"We would like someone within the ballclub or organization to step up and be that guy," Rizzo said. "If we can't find that guy within the organization, we will look elsewhere."
Not only are the Nationals looking for a leadoff hitter, they are also looking to acquiring athletic position players. It has been reported for weeks that the Nationals are looking for a center fielder. B.J. Upton of the Rays and Julio Borbon of the Rangers are two players often mentioned in published reports.
Some within the Nationals organization believe Bernadina is not the answer in center field. They feel he is more suited to be a corner outfielder.
"We are always looking to improve ourselves with two-way players -- offensively and defensively," Rizzo said. "We feel that is going to be our strength. That's what we are always looking to acquire."
Washington's pitching staff -- which ranks ninth in the Majors with 3.51 ERA -- is the reason the club has remained in contention. But Rizzo wants to make the staff even better
"Like any ballclub that we talk to, we are always looking to improve our starting pitching. We want front-of-the-rotation guys. We are always looking to do that," Rizzo said.
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.