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10/03/10 6:06 PM ET

Heading into offseason, Nats' needs evident

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals avoided a 100-loss season for the third year in a row, but there is still plenty of work for general manager Mike Rizzo to do this offseason when it comes to improving the club.

Although the pitching staff overachieved in 2010, Rizzo said acquiring starting pitching is still the top priority.

Rizzo believes he can acquire a top-of-the-rotation pitcher via a trade or free agency. Rizzo said that he could trade some of his prospects for a frontline starter.

The Nationals have an ace in right-hander Stephen Strasburg, but he is out for most of next season after having Tommy John surgery in early September.

"We need a front-of-the-rotation guy to put everybody in their proper places in the rotation," Rizzo said. "That's the No. 1 priority going into the offseason. We definitely have depth -- prospect-wise -- to pull off a deal for a pitcher."

Rangers left-handed ace Cliff Lee is the only stud pitcher on the free-agent market this offseason, and the Nationals will have a lot of competition for his services. It is more likely Washington will trade for a top pitcher.

Rizzo also mentioned that he would like a bat at the top of the order to set up the sluggers to drive in runs. He said that center fielder Nyjer Morgan will be given every opportunity to fill that spot during Spring Training. Morgan had his worst season in the big leagues in 2010.

Rizzo also wants hitters who can grind out at-bats.

"We need more balance," Rizzo said. "We certainly need to set the table for the middle of the lineup -- for the big hitter to drive in runs. I think we need to have a lineup that grinds out at-bats, drive up pitch counts on starting pitchers to get into bullpens."

Contract issues
Free agents: Miguel Batista, RHP; Joe Bisenius, RHP; Adam Dunn, 1B; Willie Harris, OF; Kevin Mench, OF; Joel Peralta, RHP; Doug Slaten, LHP.
Eligible for arbitration: Sean Burnett, LHP; Jesus Flores, C; John Lannan, LHP; Wil Nieves, C; Scott Olsen, LHP; Chien-Ming Wang, RHP; Josh Willingham, OF.
Player options: None.
Club options: Adam Kennedy, IF, $2 million.
Non-tender possibilities: Nieves, Olsen, Wang, Willingham.

A position-by-position look at where the 2010 roster stands going into 2011. The arrows represent how the player's 2010 season compared to 2009.

Ivan Rodriguez: He will not get 3,000 hits next year and will lose his job to Wilson Ramos by the second half of next season.
Wilson Ramos: Is expected to be Pudge's backup to start the season.
Jesus Flores: Missed almost two years because of a shoulder injury.

On offense, there are days when Pudge looks like he has a lot of game left in the tank and other days when he looks like he is finished. However, Pudge is still great behind the plate. He has another year left on his contract and will mentor Ramos next season.

First base
Adam Dunn: Maybe hitting the long ball elsewhere.
Adam Kennedy: Can't produce while on the bench.
Michael Morse: Don't look for him to be the everyday first baseman if Dunn leaves.

The Nationals are not giving Dunn a four-year deal, so look for him to sign elsewhere and the team to make a soon-to-be free agent its top choice.

Second base
Danny Espinosa: The Nationals will not be calling soon-to-be free agent Orlando Hudson this offseason for the third year a row.
Alberto Gonzalez: Willing to play anywhere just to get into a game.

Espinosa has been up and down with the bat, but his defense will save the Nationals a lot of runs in 2011. The big question will be, where to put him in the lineup? Espinosa seems best-suited near the bottom of the order. He looked overmatched at the top of the lineup.

Ian Desmond: He is already one of the leaders on the field and in the clubhouse.

While people outside the organization look at Desmond's Major League-leading errors at short, the Nationals focus on something else: Desmond is a winner and he takes losses hard. Manager Jim Riggleman already announced that Desmond has the right to say anything that is wrong about the team because he plays hard for nine innings every day.

Third base
Ryan Zimmerman: He is the best player on the team -- offensively and defensively.
Alberto Gonzalez: With Zimmerman out of the lineup, Gonzalez proved he could play spectacular defense at third.

Third base is a position the Nationals don't have to look at for years to come. The only thing that Zimmerman needs is a chance to go to the postseason for the first time in his career.

Roger Bernadina: Some members of the Nationals are convinced he can play every day and is better-suited in left field, which means Willingham most likely would move to right.
Willie Harris: His batting average may force him to look for employment elsewhere.
Justin Maxwell: He has yet to show in the past two years that he could hit big league pitching on a consistent basis.
Kevin Mench: He may be better off in the American League in order to get playing time.
Nyjer Morgan: He will be back with the team next year because of his defense in center field.
Michael Morse: He has been great coming off the bench and put up nice numbers. However, the Nationals still don't think he is an everyday player -- yet.
Josh Willingham: If Bernadina is moved to left, there is a possibility that Willingham could be moved to right, a position he has played 35 times during his career.

The outfield has a lot of question marks because Bernadina slumped badly in the last month of the season, Willingham had a left knee injury and Morgan had the worst season of his career. Look for Washington to shop for an outfielder during the offseason.

Luis Atilano: After having elbow surgery in July, Atilano is expected to be ready for Spring Training. But he has to fight for a spot in the rotation.
Ross Detwiler: A hip injury knocked him out twice this season. When he was healthy, Detwiler was solid for the most part. He will definitely get a chance to prove that he belongs in the rotation next year.
Livan Hernandez: He recently signed a one-year extension and is expected to be the innings-eater of the pitching staff.
John Lannan: He is back to his old self since returning from a Minors stint.
J.D. Martin: He missed most of the second half after having back surgery. Once Spring Training comes around, he, too, has to prove that he belongs in the rotation.
Jason Marquis: He has another year left on his contract, so he will be back.
Yunesky Maya: He was given a Major League contract, but has yet to show that he is a big league pitcher.
Scott Olsen: He got off to a great start, but he was hampered by shoulder injuries that shelved him for a good portion of the season.
Stephen Strasburg: After undergoing Tommy John surgery, Strasburg is expected to be back in action by the end of next year.
Jordan Zimmermann: Since recovering from Tommy John surgery, Zimmermann didn't have many good outings. It didn't help that his slider was flat.

Despite not having a record over .500 since moving to D.C., the Nationals believe they can convince a stud pitcher to play for them because of the talent they have on the roster and down on the farm.

Collin Balester: He has done a good job in his first year as a reliever. Let's see him do it again.
Joe Bisenius: The Nationals have bragged about his fastball, which has been clocked as high as 95 mph, but he hasn't been given much of a chance since his callup in September.
Sean Burnett: He is arguably the MVP of the bullpen. Members of the media have speculated about making Burnett a closer.
Tyler Clippard: Most of the time, Clippard has been dominant as a reliever. He has reached 100-plus strikeouts in a season and led the team in wins with 11.
Joel Peralta: He has been a nice late-innings reliever and is having the best season of his career.
Doug Slaten: He has had a nice comeback season. He established career highs in innings pitched and strikeouts.
Craig Stammen: Is he a starter or reliever? That is a question that will come up next Spring Training.
Drew Storen: Ever since Matt Capps was traded to the Twins, Storen has been up and down as the team's closer.

The Nationals had their best bullpen since the 2005 season. The big question is, who will be the closer for next season? Burnett, Clippard and Storen are all candidates for the job. There is a possibility that Rizzo could acquire a closer via free agency like they did last year, when they acquired Capps.

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.