12/18/12 5:45 PM ET
Inbox: Who will be the lefty specialist?
Beat reporter Bill Ladson answers Nationals fans' questions
By Bill Ladson / MLB.com
-- Ian R., Bethesda, Md.
It's not going to be Zach Duke, who will be a long reliever. I know the Nationals are still looking for another left-handed reliever. I'm not ruling out Bill Bray, who signed a Minor League deal with an invitation to Spring Training. Michael Gonzalez and J.P. Howell are still out on the free-agent market, so the Nats could have interest in them if they don't ask for too much money.
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When looking at the 40-man roster, could you tell me what Yunesky Maya has to offer?
-- Roger B., Bethesda, Md.
Maya is Mike Rizzo's worst transaction since he has been the general manager of the Nationals. The only thing that I can say is that Maya adds pitching depth. The only way he will make the big league team is if someone in the rotation gets injured.
Who do you think has more of an upside: Michael Morse or Adam LaRoche? I would hate to lose either, but it looks as if that's how it will be.
-- Kevin S., Rochester, N.Y.
I like them both. But if I'm forced to choose one, I would have to go with LaRoche. I can't say enough about his defense. He is the best defensive first baseman in Nationals history. I also think LaRoche will continue to be a clutch performer if he stays with the Nats. I don't see him getting another major injury.
Is there any chance of the Nationals getting J.P. Howell to fill Burnett's spot? Do you think the club needs him?
Carl R., Martinsburg, W.Va.
There is still a chance the Nationals could sign Howell. But the Nats have competition for his services. From what I'm hearing, the Phillies, Cubs, Mariners and Rangers have interest in Howell. I don't expect Howell to sign a deal until after Christmas.
In answer to your second question: Yes, manager Davey Johnson likes to have at least two lefties in his bullpen.
Considering his last outing in the postseason against the Cardinals, is Drew Storen the Nationals' closer entering Spring Training, or will he have to win the job?
-- Alex C., Montreal
Johnson isn't the type of person to give up on a player that quickly. I'm expecting Storen to be 100 percent healthy and save at least 30-35 games in the 2013 season.
Burnett, who was a valuable asset in the bullpen, signed a two-year deal with the Angels. Couldn't the Nationals have matched that kind of deal?
-- Trevor C., New York
That's what everyone was thinking during the Winter Meetings. No one has told me this, but I don't think the Nationals were willing to give Burnett a multiyear deal considering that he is coming off elbow surgery.
Johnson's favoritism drives me crazy, and I'm weary of reading about him trying to coax LaRoche into signing. Doesn't favoritism bother the rest of the team, perhaps cause discord? And does the ballclub truly believe LaRoche can achieve the same numbers next year? I am dubious.
-- Beth B., Virginia
I never felt Johnson played favorites. He simply plays the players he feels will win the game for him. I believe Johnson is a great judge of talent. Believe me when I tell you this: The players love him, so there isn't any discord between him and the players over playing time.
I would never question Johnson's opinion on LaRoche. I agree with Johnson on everything he says about LaRoche.
Do you think Ian Desmond can pull off another incredible year in 2013?
-- Chris I., Princeton, N.J.
When his career comes to an end, I believe Desmond will go down as one of the great shortstops in baseball. Last year was great, but the best is yet to come.