VIERA, Fla. - There probably hasn't been a position on the Nationals' roster that was more affected by their offseason maneuvers than left field. When they signed Jayson Werth, they effectively displaced Roger Bernadina and Michael Morse to fight for playing time there and elsewhere. When they traded Josh Willingham, Morse was temporarily slated to play first base, with Bernadina getting all of the at-bats in left. By January, the Nationals had added Adam LaRoche at first base and Rick Ankiel in the outfield, meaning not only would Bernadina and Morse not be assured starting spots of their own, they'd have another person to fight with just to get playing time.
As the spring goes on, the left field situation hasn't been simplified at all. Bernadina and Morse both came into camp in great shape, but signs continue to point to Ankiel - who signed a $1.5 million deal in December - making the team and getting a large chunk of playing time, either in left or center. Assuming that happens, the Nationals would have no way to keep both Bernadina and Morse if they also want to keep pinch hitter Matt Stairs or utility infielders Alex Cora or Alberto Gonzalez.
At this point, odds would suggest Bernadina might not make the team. He played 134 games last year, hitting .246 with 11 homers as the Nationals gave him a long look in both right and left field. He looked like a player who could hit 20 homers and steal 20 bases at times, and looked lost at others. Even today, manager Jim Riggleman said Bernadina had "superstar potential." But the 26-year-old also has something else that could hurt him this time of year: a minor league option. Morse and Ankiel don't, so in the likely event the Nationals don't decide to keep all three players, Bernadina could be on his way to Triple-A Syracuse.
He's also not helped by the abundance of left-handed hitters the Nationals suddenly have on their bench; Ankiel does many of the same things Bernadina would, and Stairs - who would be the most specialized player on the Nationals' roster - is also left-handed. So it would seem Bernadina's recourses are either to seize the left field job, full-time, or prepare to start the year in the minors.
Riggleman also said there is "a very strong input from various people to just put Mike (Morse) out there" in left, letting the 28-year-old bring his bat to the lineup. And there's a possibility Ankiel could get some time in center field, which Werth alluded to Tuesday when he said the Nationals had "two outfield spots that are basically unaccounted for." Riggleman said Friday that if the Nationals had a game tomorrow, Nyjer Morgan would be their center fielder - which has historically been his way of saying someone has the edge on a job, though it isn't completely locked down. Morgan came to camp early after a disappointing year, and the Nationals are counting on him to bounce back. But Ankiel could also play center field if Morgan falters.
All those scenarios will play out through the spring, and on-field performances will likely clear up some of the uncertainty. But at the moment, the Nationals' left field question looks as open-ended as ever.