Further proof that the Nationals are willing to go into 2012 with Jayson Werth as their primary center fielder: General manager Mike Rizzo pretty much said as much in an interview this morning on MLB Network Radio on Sirius/XM.
"We see the 2013 free agent class at center field is much stronger than it is for the 2012 season," Rizzo said. "With that in mind, we know Jayson can handle the center field position. It's not a perfect world for us. He's a good defender out there and is ready, willing and able to take on the responsibility to play center field. We recognize that we need a true gliding, defensive, rangy center fielder out there in a perfect world. As far as the 2012 season, we're not going to make a kneejerk reaction and lock ourselves into anything long-term if it doesn't make sense for us."
Translation: Since the Nationals' efforts to sign or trade for a center fielder who can function as a leadoff hitter haven't yielded a solution, Rizzo and manager Davey Johnson are willing to go to Plan B and use Werth, a fix they mentioned at the Winter Meetings in Dallas earlier this month.
Werth is no stranger to center field, having played 123 games there in his nine-year career. But the most games he's played there in one season is 31 in 2008. He manned the position 19 times in 2011, and Rizzo and Johnson said in Dallas that his time there amounted to an audition to see if he could handle the role in 2012. In that scenario, the Nationals would either look for a short-term solution in right field, hope rookie Bryce Harper would impress in spring training or a little of both, with Harper taking over sometime during the season.
The 2013 free agent class Rizzo referred to includes center fielders Michael Bourn, B.J. Upton and Shane Victorino. Grady Sizemore and Angel Pagan could also be in the mix. The Nationals talked to the Astros about Bourn before he was traded to the Braves, who are hopful of signing the speedster to a long-term deal. The Rays and Nationals have talked several times over the past couple of years about Upton, most recently at the Winter Meetings, but the Rays seem bent on holding on to Upton until the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline in hopes of driving up the price for him. Likewise, Victorino may or may not be back in Philadelphia, depending on how much the Phillies are willing to spend on a guy who is 31. Sizemore inked a one-year deal with the Indians, hoping to re-establish himself as an elite center fielder after several injury-marred seasons, and Pagan was a non-tender candidate with the Mets before they traded him to the Giants earlier this month.