WASHINGTON -- The Nationals made significant strides in 2011, but they aren't satisfied with what they accomplished this past season.
General manager Mike Rizzo is still trying to fix the problems the team had in 2011. On-base percentage is an area he wants improved, and Rizzo is also seeking a top-of-the-order bat to fill the outfield position in center field, or right field if Jayson Werth moves over to center.
The Nats have enough pitching depth on their Major League roster and in their Minor League system that they could make a trade for an outfielder. With that in mind, here are 10 questions to consider as Washington heads into 2012.
10. Who is playing first base for the Nationals?
Without a doubt, it's going to be Adam LaRoche, who has one more year left on his contract. LaRoche missed most of 2011 with an injured left shoulder, but he is expected to be 100 percent by Spring Training. If LaRoche is not ready to play, look for Michael Morse to get the nod. There are many fans who want the Nationals to sign free-agent first baseman Prince Fielder, but he is not on the team's radar screen.
9. Who will play center field?
It's still up in the air. The Nationals recently signed Mike Cameron to a Minor League contract, and there is a possibility that he could platoon with Roger Bernadina. However, after talking to manager Davey Johnson, it appears that he wants Werth to play the position. This past season, Werth played 19 games in center and made one error. He spent most of the season in right. It's doubtful that Rizzo will go after a player like Juan Pierre or Coco Crisp, who are past their prime.
8. Who is the leadoff hitter?
As of right now, it's shortstop Ian Desmond. Last year, he hit .253 with a .298 on base percentage. In 50 games in the leadoff spot, Desmond hit .281 with a .318 on-base percentage. Johnson believes Desmond's batting average will improve, because Desmond has learned not to take every pitch to right field.
7. Will Werth rebound from a rough season?
Yes. Werth, who is expected to hit second, should have better protection at the plate with Ryan Zimmerman hitting third. This past season, Werth was hitting all over the place in the lineup. He even had time as a leadoff hitter, going 8-for-49 (.163).
6. Who could be the Nationals' breakout player in 2012?
As long as he throws strikes, reliever Henry Rodriguez could be the guy. He is expected to be the sixth- and seventh-inning reliever before Tyler Clippard and closer Drew Storen enter the game. During the last two months of the season, Rodriguez allowed just eight runs over 27 2/3 innings with 32 strikeouts.
5. Are the Nationals good enough to compete with the Phillies and Braves for a division title?
It depends on how the roster shapes up, as Rizzo is far from finished. He is still looking for a leadoff hitter and center fielder. It will not be known until Spring Training if the Nationals will compete against the Braves and Phillies.
4. What's the rotation situation?
Last year, Washington's pitching staff ranked seventh in the Major Leagues with a 3.58 ERA. If the season started today, the rotation would include Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Chien-Ming Wang, John Lannan and newly acquired Gio Gonzalez, with Ross Detwiler fighting for a spot.
3. Will Bryce Harper be the Opening Day right fielder?
If Werth starts the season as the center fielder, Rizzo said Harper, who is only 19 years old, is a candidate to become the starting right fielder. Harper, the first overall pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, just completed his first season in professional baseball, hitting a combined .297, with 17 home runs and 58 RBIs for Class A Hagerstown and Double-A Harrisburg.
2. Are the Nationals in talks with Zimmerman regarding a contract extension?
No. Zimmerman has two years left on his contract, and by the time it expires, Anthony Rendon could be ready to take over the third-base job.
1. What is the Nationals' biggest need?
It depends on who you talk to. Johnson believes the bench needs a makeover. He didn't like that last year's bench was built on speed and defense. Rizzo would love to get a center fielder and leadoff hitter. In fact, Rizzo said during the Winter Meetings that he would be disappointed if he was unable to get a center fielder.
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.