01/04/12 1:47 PM EST
Inbox: Will Nationals make the playoffs?
Beat reporter Bill Ladson answers fans' questions
By Bill Ladson / MLB.com
-- Robert C., Washington
It's too early to tell. I want to see if the Nats can improve their offense. With the roster they currently have, I believe they are an 85-win team primarily because of their pitching staff. If they can sign Prince Fielder and add Bryce Harper to the 25-man roster, I think it's safe to say the Nationals can compete with the Phillies for the National League East title.
How do you think the bullpen is shaping up? Will Sean Burnett stay or should we be looking for another lefty? Will Tyler Clippard earn closing opportunities in 2012?
-- Jack, Springfield, Va.
Led by Clippard and Drew Storen, the Nats have one of the best bullpens in the NL. If Henry Rodriguez can throw strikes, Washington could have a bullpen that is unstoppable from the seventh inning on.
Yes, Burnett will stick around. I thought after a slow start, Burnett made a nice comeback and posted respectable numbers. I expect him to be one of the guys coming in during the sixth or seventh inning.
As far as Clippard goes, he will be in the same role he was in the past two years: a dominant setup man.
What is the situation with Rick Ankiel? Will he be coming back to the Nationals?
-- Nikki A., West Midlands, UK
I'm not sure. The Nats are still looking for a left-handed bat off the bench. Ankiel is a great fit as a fourth outfielder, and I would bring him back. He did a great job in the outfield last season.
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There is no doubt the Gonzalez deal helps the Nationals right now. But do you think they should have dealt their prospects for a center fielder?
-- Andrew, San Antonio
No, because I believe they can live with Jayson Werth in center field. By moving Werth to center, it could open the door for Harper in right field. Let's see what happens when Spring Training rolls around.
Are there any potential trade suitors for Jesus Flores? He shouldn't be the Nationals' backup catcher.
-- Nate, Washington
Without a doubt, Flores is an everyday player. However, the Nats are committed to Wilson Ramos, who is going to be a great player. I'm sure there are teams who would love to acquire Flores' services. But I'm sure those clubs are not willing to give up a lot for Flores. A lot of them consider him to be a project, because last year was the first time since 2008 that he played a full season. Remember, he missed almost two years of action because of a right shoulder injury.
With the bench still something of a question mark, will Stephen Lombardozzi be given a shot to crack the roster? If he plays well, what chance is there that he will start playing every day?
-- Evan S., Chevy Chase, Md.
Knowing manager Davey Johnson, I could see Lombardozzi getting a chance to make the roster as a bench player. It helps that Lombardozzi is a switch-hitter, but I think it's a long shot that he makes the team as an everyday player. Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa will continue to be double-play partners.
Why is right-hander Yunesky Maya still with the Nationals?
-- Keith A., Rockville, Md.
There is no question that Maya has been a disappointment since he joined the Nats. Entering the 2012 season, I don't see Maya in the rotation or the bullpen.