Sizing up the Nationals’ market for a utility player

The Nationals’ list of needs, at this point in the offseason, is relatively short and well-defined. They’d love to get a starter, but only at the right price, and an established reliever would give their pitching staff another boost. From a position player standpoint, they really only need one more piece: a utility player who can spell Danny Espinosa at second base and possibly help in the outfield.

They’ll almost assuredly carry 13 position players, and at this point, 12 of those spots are probably spoken for: Ivan Rodriguez, Jesus Flores/Wilson Ramos, Adam LaRoche, Espinosa, Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman, Alberto Gonzalez, Roger Bernadina, Nyjer Morgan, Jayson Werth, Rick Ankiel and Michael Morse. Their ability to platoon Bernadina and Morse means the need for another outfielder is less than it would have been with Morse at first; they’ve got five players who can play the outfield, and while they’d probably like a more athletic backup in an ideal world, that need could be alleviated with a utility player.

The name that’s been frequently tossed out, here and at other outlets, is that of former Reds, Royals and Mariners utilityman Willie Bloomquist. He’s able to play just about anywhere but catcher, and at age 33, he should come relatively cheaply. He played just 83 games last year, and could probably be had with a low-level major league deal.

If the Nationals want to stick with an infielder, David Eckstein is an intriguing option. He’ll be 36 next week, but still has shown an ability to be an agitator at the top of the lineup. And, of course, his brother Rick is the Nationals’ hitting coach. Rick Eckstein has often said David was his first hitting pupil, and having the two on the same club would certainly add an interesting dynamic. The Nationals have also been in the habit of collecting players with a history of winning, and David Eckstein, with his two rings, would certainly fit that role.

Lastly, there’s Willie Harris, who’s still a free agent. He’s a favorite of the Nationals’ ownership, though other team sources said late last season they didn’t expect Harris would be back. But he’s left-handed, and offers more power and plate discipline than Bloomquist would. If the Nationals don’t sign someone like Eckstein, I don’t see why they wouldn’t take a look at bringing Harris back on a minor-league deal, unless he’s holding out for something better.

We’re getting down-to-the-minute details now, and heading into spring training, the Nationals’ roster looks as settled as it has in a long time. On Feb. 15, it’ll all get started.