As the offseason kicks into high gear, the Nationals are a defending champion in an unusual position: They could stand pat and be picked to win the National League East for a second consecutive season in 2013.
But that’s not how the Nationals operate. They’ll likely be looking for an experienced pitcher and a leadoff batter.
The Nationals rotation will have Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez and Ross Detwiler, but the fifth guy is up for debate. It could be Zack Greinke, Kyle Lohse or Edwin Jackson, although Jackson’s chances of returning will diminish if he asks for a long-term contract. But an experienced pitcher is the No. 1 priority.
If the Nationals go after a leadoff batter, where would they play him? Center field is the only place they have room to maneuver, but would signing Michael Bourn mean moving Bryce Harper to left? And, if so, what does that mean for Michael Morse?
The Nationals are loaded. That’s why it seems the most logical addition to the team will be in the rotation.
Here’s a look at the rest of the NL East:
* Atlanta: The Braves have a good rotation and bullpen, but they need outfielders, particularly right-handed power bats. Martin Prado will likely move from left to third base to replace Chipper Jones, meaning the Braves need a left fielder and center fielder to complement Jason Heyward in right. The Braves have $25-$30 million to spend, so they could land someone like B.J. Upton. They are open to re-signing Bourn, the prototypical leadoff batter who stole 42 bases last season. ... Juan Francisco will also get a look at third base.
* Philadelphia: The Phillies need outfielders and bullpen help setting up closer Jonathan Papelbon. ... The Phillies outfield lacked run production and power in 2012, so free agents Upton and Josh Hamilton could be candidates to be signed for center field. If prospect Darin Ruf is the real deal, the Phillies could solve their left field problem in-house. ... The Phillies could also use a third baseman, but given the weak market, they could end up with a platoon of Freddy Galvis (defense) and Kevin Frandsen (offense) there.
* New York: The Mets are trying to sign third baseman David Wright to a long-term contract, but more than anything, the Mets need payroll flexibility to move forward. They would love to get rid of the contracts of pitcher Johan Santana ($25 million) and outfielder Jason Bay ($16 million). ... The Mets have had nothing but bad luck in center field, and they need help in that position. Andres Torres, who batted leadoff for the 2010 Giants, was a disappointment in 2012. Meanwhile, Angel Pagan, who was a disappointment for the Mets in 2011 and was traded for Torres, helped the Giants win this year’s World Series. ... The Mets are happy with pitching prospect Zack Wheeler, who came from the Giants, and Matt Harvey, who showed last season that he’s going to be a good one.
* Miami: The Marlins learned the hard way that money can’t buy championships, and now new manager Mike Redmond has challenges: Which direction are the Marlins going to go? ... They spent $191 million on three players last year, and now they will try to rebuild around pitcher Mark Buehrle and shortstop Jose Reyes. ... The Marlins need a third baseman and prospects Zach Cox and Yordy Cabrera will compete for the job.