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06/30/10 9:01 PM ET

Nats' future most important at Deadline

Whether buying or selling, club won't risk long-term gains

WASHINGTON -- General manager Mike Rizzo won't say if the Nationals will be buyers or sellers before the non-waiver Trade Deadline on July 31, but one thing is certain: Rizzo is not expected to stand pat. He will likely make moves to improve the ballclub.

The Nationals were out of the playoff picture last June, but that didn't stop Rizzo from acquiring center fielder Nyjer Morgan and reliever Sean Burnett from the Pirates for outfielder Lastings Milledge and reliever Joel Hanrahan.

"Right now, we are going to make a deal that's a proven deal for the Nationals long term," Rizzo said. "If that means buying, we would buy. If that means selling, we will sell. That hasn't changed since Opening Day.

"If there is a good deal to be made to acquire talent, we'll acquire it. ... We are always looking to make a deal."

It's not known if Rizzo is willing to trade some of his mainstays to get what he wants. It would be hard to trade infielder Cristian Guzman, who -- as a 10-5 player -- can approve or veto any trade because he has been in the Majors for 10 years and with the Nationals for at least five years.

Would the Nationals be willing to trade first baseman Adam Dunn, who is a free agent after the season? The team said it is still considering signing Dunn to an extension.

Outfielder Josh Willingham is always mentioned in trade talks, but he seems to be a favorite within the organization, so it's doubtful that that he would be dealt.

Rizzo said the team's biggest need is starting pitching. The Nats' Opening Day rotation consisted of Livan Hernandez, John Lannan, Jason Marquis, Garrett Mock and Craig Stammen. As of Monday, only Hernandez is on the active roster, with the rest either on the disabled list or in the Minor Leagues.

If there is good news, the Nationals have a new ace in Stephen Strasburg, who has been dominating since making his Major League debut on June 8. But Rizzo would like to add another dominant pitcher to the staff. It was reported early in the season that Washington had interest in acquiring Roy Oswalt, but it's doubtful that the Astros right-hander would waive his no-trade clause and go to the Nationals.

The Nats have expressed interest in D-backs pitchers Dan Haren and Edwin Jackson. What the Nationals would give up for one of those players is unknown, but Washington would most likely trade prospects.

"Our biggest need now and at the Trade Deadline is starting pitching," Rizzo said. "That's everyone's biggest need, and we are included in that. We need more starting pitching. Premier, front-line starting pitching is what everybody needs to get to the next level of championship-caliber clubs. We are no different."

The Nationals may need more than starting pitching. They need to improve their defense and get another bat.

Washington's defense is the worst in the Major Leagues. Manager Jim Riggleman admitted recently the club has to get better in that department, and most of the errors are coming from the infield. The team declined to say what it would do to improve its defense.

The Nationals need a defensive second baseman. Cristian Guzman and Adam Kennedy have a combined 12 errors, and both are below average at turning the double play. It's safe to say that they will not be back with the team next season.

"You saw it -- I'm not going to say anything specific, but the way we are playing in general defensively, it isn't good enough," Riggleman said. "We do a lot of talking about it. We are out there working on it. But for some reason ... I really can't explain it.

"I know we put the work in. I feel bad for the players. It's an issue for them. They see the number of errors. They see the games get away from us because we are not making plays. We have to find a way to change that."

From an offensive standpoint, Washington ranks near the bottom of the Major Leagues in runs scored. Rizzo has tried to improve in this category, having inquired about Royals outfielder David DeJesus and White Sox outfielder Carlos Quentin, but he was told those players are not available.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.