Ranking the Nats’ remaining offseason priorities (updated)

Who misses Mauro Gomez already? I know I do. I had trouble sleeping last night, knowing he won’t be a part of Nationals spring training in a few months.

I’ll never forget the time that Gomez was claimed off waivers in September and then didn’t appear in a single game for a Nationals affiliate. Or the time he didn’t get an at-bat within the organization before deciding to go play in Japan.

Memories that will last a lifetime.

When the Nationals’ 2013 season came to a close, it was clear that their No. 1 priority was to find a new manager. Now that Matt Williams is on board, that item has officially been crossed off the to-do list.

Now, general manager Mike Rizzo has moved on, and is trying to fill other areas of need. Some are areas that can be addressed with a single signing or a trade. Others will need more work.

With the general manager/owners meetings behind us and the Winter Meetings only about three weeks away, the hot stove is already starting to heat up a little bit. Players are already getting offers and signing off on new deals, and the rumor mill is in full force. Here’s how I rank the Nationals’ remaining priorities at this point in the offseason:

1. Look for a lefty reliever

The Nationals learned the hard way last season that you need to have a balanced bullpen, with a strong right-handed side countered by a couple of capable lefties that can allow the manager to play the matchup game with confidence. Zach Duke wasn’t the answer, and while Ian Krol, Fernando Abad and Xavier Cedeno all flashed promise at times, they couldn’t consistently get the job done. Rizzo knows this time that he’ll need to give his manager more quality options in the bullpen, and with Javier Lopez, J.P. Howell, Boone Logan and others available in free agency, the Nats will have plenty of chances to add a proven southpaw.

Rizzo has also indicated that he’d be open to using lefty Sammy Solis, one of the Nats’ top starting pitching prospects, in the bullpen this season, much as the Cardinals have with their young starters as a way to not only benefit from their ability but also give them a taste of the big leagues before they’re tossed into the rotation. That said, adding a free agent lefty seems like the more likely option for Rizzo and the Nats.

2. Bolster the bench

Scott Hairston will be back on the final year of his contract and is guaranteed a bench spot. So is Steve Lombardozzi. Also in the mix are Tyler Moore, Danny Espinosa, Jhonatan Solano, Corey Brown, Jeff Kobernus and Zach Walters, to varying extents. Rizzo will look to add a left-handed hitting outfielder that can serve in the Roger Bernadina type role, and he could also be on the lookout for an experienced backup catcher that can provide support for Wilson Ramos, in case he battles injury yet again.

Power bats are few and far between on the free agent market this offseason, but the Nats know their bench was one of their major failings last season. That’s an area that must be improved going into spring training, and Rizzo will be searching for ways to add more talent to that group.

3. Secure another starter

Do the Nationals need to add another starting pitcher this offseason? No, they don’t, which is why I rank finding another starter third on the offseason priority list. Rizzo could choose to go into the 2014 season with some combination of Ross Detwiler, Tanner Roark, Taylor Jordan and Ross Ohlendorf as their No. 4 and 5 starters, hoping that Detwiler stays healthy and that at least one of the other three can duplicate their 2013 success next year. But Rizzo could just as easily make a splash, either trading for a starter that will bring another big name to D.C., or adding a free agent arm to the mix, giving the Nats depth toward the back of the rotation.

We all know the names that have been kicked around over the last few months. I still think a trade for David Price or Max Scherzer is unlikely because of the cost it will take to acquire one of those two Cy Young award winners, but if I had to guess, I’d still bet on Rizzo bringing in another starter before we head down to Viera, Fla., in mid-February for the start of spring training.

(Updated) 4. Extension time

When originally punching up this list this morning, I made the mistake of excluding something that could shape how the Nats view this offseason and the next few offseasons, as well. Rizzo will need to decide whether he wants to/is able to reach contract extensions with Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann. Both players are under contract through the 2015 season, so this isn’t something that must be addressed or finalized in the next few months. But it would be a big step in the right direction if Rizzo can lock up either Desmond or Zimmmermann (or both) to reasonable multi-year extensions that guarantee those players will remain in a Nationals jersey.

At the very least, Rizzo would probably be wise to start laying the groundwork for possible deals, if he hasn’t already, determining the amount of years and dollars it will take to lock up two of the Nats’ young, emerging stars long-term.

5. Washington needs a new windmill

Trent Jewett has left to become the new bench coach in Seattle, so the Nationals are in need of a third base coach who can fill the current void. This isn’t a high-priority need, but it is one that will need to be addressed fairly quickly, as many coaches have already settled on their teams and roles for 2014. The Nats will look for someone who can mesh with Williams, but also someone that can embrace his aggressive mentality. Jewett often pushed the issue on the bases, trying to force the defenders to make a great throw to the plate to cut down a run. Williams would likely prefer to see his new third base coach come in with a similar mentality.

How do you rank the Nats’ priorities the rest of the offseason? Do you think adding a starting pitcher is more important than improving the back end of the roster? Do you think improving the bench is priority No. 1? Let’s hear how you all see it.

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