One of Mike Rizzo's goals for the offseason is to improve the Nationals bench to give manager Jim Riggleman some additional positional and personnel flexibility. The Washington general manager hasn't made much headway in that objective, but it's one that will probably develop in the next few weeks as some of the lower-tier free agents fall into place.
Keep in mind, there will be bargains to be had after Jan. 1, when unsigned players eager for a contract will be falling all over one another to accept minor league deals with spring training invites.
A familiar face, however, could be returning to Nationals Park. Rizzo said Wednesday that Willie Harris, non-tendered in November, could be re-signed. Harris, who hit .183 in 132 games last year but was 11-for-47 with a homer and nine RBIs as a pinch hitter, has been a valuable and versatile role player for the Nationals for three seasons. He has played all three outfield positions, second base, third base and shortstop during his tenure with Washington. The acquisition of free agent Jayson Werth gives the Nats a bevy of outfielders, so the 32-year-old Harris, a part-time regular at times in a Nationals uniform when injuries struck, would be a true super utility player and pinch hitter if he returns.
One player the Nationals expressed some interest in, veteran Miguel Cairo, is off the board after re-signing with Cincinnati during the Winter Meetings. But a quick scan of the available free agents shows plenty of possibilities to fill Rizzo's desire for an improved bench.
Depending on whether Rizzo is successful at luring a new first baseman by free agency or trade, and whether holdovers Michael Morse and/or Josh Willingham wind up at first base, the Nats could use a backup first baseman. If so, Mark Kotsay is available. Kotsay, who has played the past season and a half for the White Sox, has also played all three outfield positions during his career.
Rizzo could seek an upgrade for backup infielder Alberto Gonzalez, too, and the Nationals have shown interest in former Royal and Red Willie Bloomquist, who can play all over the infield and outfield. Ex-Padre David Eckstein, the brother of Nationals hitting coach Rick Eckstein, and Nick Punto, a versatile infielder non-tendered by the Minnesota Twins, could also be fits in Washington.
If Rizzo wants to beef up his outfield depth, he'll likely look for a guy who can play all three positions well plus contribute with the bat as a pinch hitter. A player like Gabe Gross, late of the A's, would fit that description.