2012 MLB Free Agency: Each Team's Game Plan Before Spring Training

Matt TruebloodSenior Analyst IJanuary 17, 2012

2012 MLB Free Agency: Each Team's Game Plan Before Spring Training

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    Prince Fielder, Yoenis Cespedes, Edwin Jackson and Roy Oswalt remain free agents, but at this point, that could change any time.

    The MLB free agency period is drawing near its close, as teams scramble to settle their rosters prior to Spring Training. For some, camps open in under a month, and non-roster invitees, 40-man roster decisions and injury reinforcements need to be largely sorted out ahead of time.

    Every team has different remaining needs as the winter winds down and different organizational philosophies will determine the course each follows before pitchers and catchers report to camp.

    Here are the game plans each team figures to map out for the final four weeks of the Hot Stove season.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Stockpile Starting Pitching Candidates

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    If Doug Davis does not get at least an invitation to the Diamondbacks' spring camp, there ought to be an investigation. Despite his 17 starts, 6.96 ERA and generally ugly decline in 2010 and 2011, Davis is just the sort of pitcher Arizona is looking for.

    That's because the team has yet to fill out its rotation for the season to come and, until they do, the best thing to do is collect a few candidates who can compete for a starting position that can either be released or slid into long relief if and when that does not work out.

    Daniel Hudson and Ian Kennedy sit atop that starting rotation, with new arrival Trevor Cahill mixed in. Josh Collmenter will start the season as the fourth guy, but the league has already figured him out in large measure.

    With any luck, Trevor Bauer and/or Tyler Skaggs will land in the desert soon, so there's no point in over-reaching for pitching help. But those guys are not going to be ready by April.

    Therefore, look for Arizona to bring in guys like Davis, Micah Owings, Ramon Ortiz and Sergio Mitre who can be had on minor-league deals and will have a chance to win a job.

    In most other aspects, this team is a finished product, ready to win the NL West again.

Atlanta Braves: Find Infield Reinforcements

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    As of now, the Braves have rookie Tyler Pastornicky penciled in at shortstop, Dan Uggla at second base and Chipper Jones at third base.

    If you're keeping score at home, that's one thoroughly unproven commodity, one gross injury risk and one aging bad-body infielder. To backup that group, they currently have Jack Wilson.

    Needless to say, the Braves are going to need help. Martin Prado could fill in at second or third if needed, and the team does have outfield depth. Still, they need another player who can play shortstop and hold his own on some level when the extra infielder is needed.

    Jeff Keppinger is the perfect model for the role. Ryan Theriot's stock could fall far enough to make that a fit. Orlando Cabrera and Alex Cora are primarily leaders who can also play infield, but that's not a role the Braves have generally disdained. Even if it means eventually cutting Wilson, Eric Hinske or Matt Diaz to create roster space, the team needs to bring in one of those players.

Baltimore Orioles: Wait for Discount DH

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    The Orioles are deep, in a way. They have very few talented players, but many who hover slightly above replacement level most of the time. They have tons of pitchers, though arguably, very little pitching. The corner spots on the infield are strange muddles, but there's plenty of shaky depth there.

    At the DH spot, though, the Orioles are in real trouble. Right now, on their team website, the official depth chart gives both left field and DH to Nolan Reimold.

    Ideally, Reimold would play left, and the Orioles would wait to sign the final surplus batter on the market for a pittance. One of Vladimir Guerrero, Manny Ramirez, Jorge Posada, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui and Magglio Ordonez will be jobless on February 5, and that's the guy the Orioles should snap up. 

    Alternatively, they could make Reimold a DH and try to grab a left fielder in the vein of Cody Ross, Juan Pierre or Kosuke Fukudome.

Boston Red Sox: Find the Cash for Roy Oswalt or Edwin Jackson

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    Given the recent moves by their arch-rival Yankees, the Red Sox have changed position without making any changes.

    They now rate as the third-best team in the AL East, and though they have a high ceiling, there seems little chance the club as currently constructed could knock off both New York and the Rays to win the AL East.

    Luckily, they are only a piece or two from changing all that back. Their pitching staff features three talented workhorses at the front of the starting rotation, but they need to flesh out the back end.

    To do that, they need to make whatever moves are necessary in order to squeeze Roy Oswalt or Edwin Jackson into their budget. With either of those two in the fold, the Sox are a legitimate playoff contender again.

Chicago Cubs: Sign La Enigma, Not La Potencia

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    Apparently, Yoenis Cespedes told someone Monday that he is drawing more interest from the Chicago Cubs than from any other team. That's a neat little marketing ploy on his part, because the Cubs are the richest of the clubs with any interest in him whatsoever.

    If Cespedes wants the best deal he can get, it is in his interest to make (say) the Marlins believe they are competing with Theo Epstein and the Cubs.

    That said, it's unlikely the Cubs are serious about the man who dubbed himself 'La Potencia.' He is going to be too expensive, especially in the near term, for a team so far away from winning to invest in so heavily.

    More realistically, the Cubs should go after fellow Cuban defector Jorge Soler. Seven years Cespedes' junior and with tools only slightly less dreamy, Soler will cost a sixth of what Cespedes could command. Much less is known about Soler, so much less is expected of him.

    He is years from the big leagues, but then, that is the point. The Cubs also need to bolster their farm system and Soler would rank as a top-seven prospect for them without breaking a sweat.

Chicago White Sox: Insure the Rotation

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    After letting Mark Buehrle leave via free agency, the White Sox still have a starting rotation with some potential but now with a greater deal of risk.

    John Danks and Gavin Floyd feel like solid commodities, and should be good for 400 combined innings. Beyond that, though, things get murky.

    Jake Peavy's health is always an open question. Phil Humber has had one big-league season of any consequence. Chris Sale pitched out of the Sox's bullpen last year, and may be limited in terms of the workload Chicago will allow him to shoulder as a young pitcher with so much upside.

    Most teams would be able to simply call upon their farm system if and when guys like those broke down. It's not like the stakes are overwhelmingly high on the South Side, since GM Kenny Williams insists the team is rebuilding.

    For the Sox, though, the farm system is so bereft of talent that no one at the upper levels of the ladder can be even a replacement starter. As a result, the team needs to grab a couple players who can be counted on to plug holes as the season progresses. The return of Jon Garland is an excellent candidate and will cost nothing.

Cincinnati Reds: Find a Candidate for a Backup Middle Infield Gig

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    If the season began today, the Reds would ask rookie Zack Cozart to shoulder starting shortstop responsibilities. As a backup, he would have punchless options Paul Janish and Chris Valaika. If the team needs to go into 2012 with that small deficiency as its worst flaw, so be it.

    Ideally, though, the team will have budget room enough to offer some non-roster invites to players like Craig Counsell, Aaron Miles and Felipe Lopez. Someone who can push those secondary shortstop options could ultimately strengthen Cincinnati's bench a bit, though it shouldn't matter: The Reds have done enough to enter 2012 as clear-cut NL Central favorites.

Cleveland Indians: Sign a First Baseman

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    Cleveland is playing for 2012 right now, so they need to address their lack of offensive firepower immediately. Reportedly, the team has taken interest in Carlos Pena, but two problems with that scenario seem obvious:

    1. Carlos Pena should cost an easy eight figures, having played well for the Cubs in 2011 after signing a $10-million deal.That might well put him out of the Indians' price range; they rarely spend big on free agents.
    2. Pena is left-handed, as are Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo, Jason Kipnis, Lonnie Chisenhall and Travis Hafner. The team really needs right-handed thump to balance out their batting order.

    Derrek Lee would be a better fit. Though older and less productive at this point, Lee should cost much less. He also bats right-handed, meaning he fits better into the Indians' projected lineup.

    Lee could sit against right-handed pitching sometimes to allow Carlos Santana to step out from behind the plate, thereby staying fresher into the dog days of the season.

Colorado Rockies: Find Offensive Help

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    The Rockies have spent the winter engaged in the strangest, most-farcical arms buildup since the end of the Cold War.

    After the trade of Seth Smith on Monday, the Rockies starting rotation will be chosen from the following candidates: Jhoulys Chacin, Drew Pomeranz, Alex White, Juan Nicasio, Jorge De La Rosa, Tyler Chatwood, Kevin Slowey, Guillermo Moscoso, Josh Outman and Jason Hammel.

    It's a strange approach, but so be it. Good on Colorado for stocking up and being basically injury-proof.

    Still, no five of those guys are a top-division starting rotation, so the team needs to have a strong lineup in order to compete. With holes at second and third base and a certain lack of impact left-handed bats, the smart sign for them might be defensively-challenged but solid switch hitter Wilson Betemit.

Detroit Tigers: Re-Sign Wilson Betemit

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    The Tigers have a deep, talented starting rotation headed by the American League's best pitcher, Justin Verlander. They have Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Alex Avila as anchors to a fine batting order. They have only a few true vulnerabilities and their greatest one may be solved simply by retaining Betemit.

    He's a terrible fielder, but when manager Jim Leyland feels he needs to prioritize the glove at third base, he can send Brandon Inge out in Betemit's stead. The value of Betemit is that he fills what may be the last remaining hole in the Tigers lineup, making them airtight.

    Okay. That is two Wilson Betemit slides in a row. Time to move on.

Houston Astros: Bolster the Bullpen

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    This is another case in which not much matters. The Astros are going to be the worst team in baseball again in 2012, and their priority will be to get better thereafter.

    Certainly, no move that costs the 2013 or 2014 Astros anything will happen simply in the name of winning 65 games in 2012, rather than 60.

    Scott Linebrink, Juan Cruz and Todd Coffey are all available, though. They should come very cheaply, and each would fit in as roughly the third-best arm in Houston's bullpen. That would cost Houston nothing of consequence, and it would make them marginally less awful, to boot. It's also possible having that extra depth will allow them to develop a relief prospect or two at its own pace.

Kansas City Royals: Add That Impact Pitcher

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    All winter, the chatter in Kansas City circles has been that the team recognizes it is in position to finally push its way back to respectability in 2012. The idea was that they would open the wallet a bit and add the one thing they most lacked over the past few years, even as their offense has improved steadily: a starting pitcher of any utility near the top of the rotation.

    They got Jonathan Sanchez for just about nothing in November, but the team still has not traded for nor signed a pitcher who would rank among the top two for any of the league's 20 best pitching clubs.

    That guy is still out there. Edwin Jackson is available, criminally under-priced and both younger and more durable than any starter left on the market. He would be the ace of the Royals' staff without a close second, and if anyone else signs Jackson, it will be only because the front office there is asleep at the wheel.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Find an Undervalued Reliever

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    The Angels have Jordan Walden in place as closer, and Scott Downs is a very good set-up man from the left side. Free-agent addition LaTroy Hawkins should be serviceable, too.

    Beyond that, though, their relief corps is weak. It would be a crying shame if a team with their caliber of starting pitching lost games consistently because of shoddy work from the bullpen.

    At this point, though, the pickings are slim on the relief pitcher market. The only hope is to find a guy with one or two above-average skills, and not worry about what he does not do. One such player is Shawn Camp, 36, whose ground-ball rates and ability to avoid walking people make him a useful piece to complement Hawkins in the late innings.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Stop Throwing Good Money After Bad

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    Matt Kemp was the best position player in the National League in 2011, and Clayton Kershaw was the second-best pitcher. Even so, the Dodgers finished 12 games out of first place in the NL West.

    It's hard to say, then, why Dodgers GM Ned Colletti felt he could make the team contenders again with the sort of piece-meal, patchwork overspending that has defined his winter. Juan Rivera, Adam Kennedy, Mark Ellis, Tony Gwynn, Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang, Jerry Hairston and Matt Treanor all got big-league deals from the Dodgers this winter.

    It's possible the net return on those eight contracts will be fewer than five marginal wins for $20 million or so marginal dollars. Hopefully, Colletti will stop the bleeding there, because those are terrible deals and will only hinder the team's rebuilding effort.

Miami Marlins: Go for Yo'

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    Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell represent a fine free-agent haul for any one winter.

    But the smart money says the Marlins aren't done yet.

    The Marlins have one more splash to make, as they have yet a hole in center field that demands to be filled. They have Emilio Bonifacio in place, so they can afford to wait a half-season or so, but Bonifacio is no championship piece. A center fielder who can complete the lineup with high-ceiling hitters would be the capstone on an awesome roster overhaul.

    Yoenis Cespedes is just that capstone.

    He has as much potential as any free agent left on the market. While representing sizable risk for the Marlins, his on-field potential and off-field marketability make this one a no-brainer.

Milwaukee Brewers: Finish the Aoki Deal

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    Time is winding down for the Brewers to finalize a deal with Japanese outfielder Norichika Aoki, a .329 career hitter in Nippon Professional Baseball. Aoki, 29, is not the star he once was, but could be a solid center-field option for a Brewers team that has no impact guy there right now.

    It's hardly essential that the team sign Aoki at this point, after they agreed to retain Nyjer Morgan and avoided arbitration with him Monday. Aoki might be better than Morgan, or he might not; if the asking price is too high, Milwaukee can simply walk away.

    On the other hand, the price tag will probably be fairly low. After all, the Brewers bid just $2.5 million to negotiate with Aoki in the first place. This is a chance for the team to boost its bench, if nothing else, and still stay on budget. They should get this deal done and likely will.

Minnesota Twins: Cull More Relief Risks

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    Signing Joel Zumaya to an incentive-laden deal was tremendously savvy on the Twins' part. He should be their closer for as long as he is healthy in 2012, as the best available alternative might be Matt Capps.

    They should not stop there.

    Terry Ryan, reinstated as GM in November after retiring in 2007, has a bullpen that still feels like a project. To wit, he would be wise to add other risky relievers in whom no other teams are willing to invest much, but who could thrive in Minnesota.

    The guy who should top that list is Dan Wheeler, an extreme fly-ball pitcher with plus control whose skill set fits not only the team's philosophical preference but the ballpark the Twins call home.

New York Mets: Get an Outfielder Cheaply

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    Financial problems will haunt the Mets for the next five years. Not only will the Wilpon family almost certainly lose the team within three years, but the money pit they have made from Citi Field could hamstring the organization long after they're gone.

    That doesn't allow the Mets to make any substantial free-agent moves. Their signing Ronny Cedeno might have been a good hint at that. Needing an outfielder just to fill out the 25-man roster, though, look for the team to add a Corey Patterson-type fourth outfielder at minimal cost.

New York Yankees: Sign a Few Spare Parts

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    Strictly speaking, the Yankees never need another piece. Their monetary advantage over the rest of the league shows up less in big-name free-agent bidding wars than in their ability to collect a Triple-A club worth several million unto themselves each year, a luxury no other team can afford.

    That said, New York traded their projected starting DH over the weekend, so they will look to add a spare bat or two with what's left of their budget. Eric Chavez, Hideki Matsui and a handful of others are on the radar, but the team has quietly signed several players of their ilk already.

Oakland Athletics: Look for Opportunities to Flip Players

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    Say this much for the Oakland Athletics: Despite trading Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey this winter, the A's have a respectable and deep roster. They will have no trouble fielding a team and maintaining depth in 2012, and it might even be fun to watch them win 75-80 games. 

    One thing GM Billy Beane should still do, though, is what he loves to do most: Sign a player lingering on the market far too long, then flip said player for someone he prefers at the trade deadline.

    This winter, the obvious candidate is Francisco Cordero.

    No one but Brian Fuentes has closing experience in the Oakland bullpen right now, and though Cordero would be the third-best arm in that pen if he signed, he could easily be installed as closer. Since no one has much interest in giving him that role elsewhere, Beane should be able to hammer out that deal. Once he establishes elevated value by accumulating saves, Cordero should be good trade bait in July.

Philadelphia Phillies: Pony Up for One More Arm

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    Though Jonathan Papelbon is now the Phillies' closer, that unit could still use a solid right-handed set-up man. Ruben Amaro has spent virtually all the way to his limit this winter, but should afford just about any of the relief arms left on the market at this point.

    One such arm attaches to a very familiar face. Brad Lidge remains a free agent, and given the $3 million Kerry Wood got from the Chicago Cubs, he should be cheap on a one-year deal.

    A reunion is far from a guarantee. But one way or another, this is the lone remaining priority on the Phillies' list and Lidge is a fit for the role.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Make a Splash, Stretch the Budget

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    The Pirates have been a player or two away from competing a time or two over the past decade, but they have refused to make the key compromises at key moments and stretch their budget a bit. They need to change that culture, even if this is not one of those years when they're only a player away.

    First base is a vacuum in Pittsburgh right now. Between Pedro Alvarez and Casey McGehee, third base will be poorly covered, so it seems like a bad idea to also have Garrett Jones alone at the first-base bag.

    They have a solid lineup in the making, and deserve to round it out with the .830 OPS of a Carlos Pena, not the .740ish number Jones would post.

San Diego Padres: Sign a Flippable Starter

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    PETCO Park has made life Hell for San Diego front offices over the bulk of the past decade, bedeviling left-handed power hitters in unprecedented ways and leading the franchise to overestimate elite pitchers like Jake Peavy.

    It's a cavern, and though it's beautiful and a great revenue stream for the team, it makes everything a bit unpredictable.

    One thing it does for the Padres, though, is to make pitchers look more attractive to other teams after a few months of illusory success in friendly environs. The Padres have gotten better at taking advantage of that lately, and they have another opportunity to do it this spring.

    They have only five starting pitchers on the roster for the moment, so signing an extra one and allowing that pitcher to thrive in limited action has the chance to turn into a profitable endeavor for San Diego.

    Ross Ohlendorf is a good buy-low, sell-high candidate in that vein.

San Francisco Giants: Lock Up Their Top Guys

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    The Giants probably should have gotten more seriously involved in the Jose Reyes sweepstakes this winter. But since they missed that boat, it's no surprise they have waited out the rest of free agency without adding a major piece.

    They need not overpay any of the dregs of the market that are now left, because they are a team good enough to compete in the NL West even as they stand right now.

    Instead of improving the 2012 club, then, Giants GM Brian Sabean should focus on making certain the team stays as good as it is for the next few years.

    He can do that by aggressively locking up some of his top current talents. Matt Cain is just a year from free agency; Tim Lincecum is due a massive arbitration salary. Even Madison Bumgarner, Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey are creeping up on the prime time for extensions.

    Sabean has much work to do, without even looking beyond his current roster.

Seattle Mariners: Go Big or Go Home

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    Jesus Montero was a huge addition to the Mariners' batting order. Though only 22, he should be an immediate-impact guy in 2012. He can bat third in the Seattle order and be very productive.

    He's not enough, though. The Mariners have Montero, Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley, not to mention Ichiro, but they still have a grossly subpar offense. How could they change it?

    Prince Fielder is a good way. Fielder is a remarkable talent, the kind that rarely hits the free-agent market, and it looks more and more every day like he will sign somewhere at a huge discount from his true market value.

    He might still get nine figures in total on a multi-year deal, but Fielder will be well worth it. If the Mariners sign him, they will be much more viable competitors in the AL West over the next few years.

St. Louis Cardinals: Get Veteran Bullpen Help

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    Jason Motte, Fernando Salas, Marc Rzepczynski and a handful of others did well in their first regular use patterns for the Cardinals last summer and autumn. They had the magic going and a big part of the team's hope for continued success post-Albert Pujols in 2012 is the hope that that bullpen will stay strong.

    Unfortunately, Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan are gone from St. Louis. The architects and master executors of bullpen strategy are no more, and that leaves a vacuum of leadership and role definition in the relief corps for the Cards.

    A bevy of vets who could help fill that void are yet available, including Jason Isringhausen, Danys Baez, Brad Lidge and Jamey Wright.

Tampa Bay Rays: One More Piece

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    Luke Scott made the Rays better when he signed on as (likely) a DH and part-time first baseman for the team.

    Still, the team needs one more bat of a similar caliber in order to solidify their place as the AL East favorites. Johnny Damon probably is not on the table; he would cost too much.

    A right-handed complement to Scott would be ideal, and if their prices are right, Cody Ross and Austin Kearns best fit the mold.

Texas Rangers: Knockout Punch

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    If the the Rangers aren't the best team in baseball, they are certainly in the top three.

    With one mighty swing, though, they could not only leap to the top of the AL heap for the third year in a row, they could establish themselves as a dynasty unlikely to be toppled for the next five years.

    Prince Fielder ranked fourth among 24 qualifying first basemen in fWAR in 2011. Mitch Moreland, the Rangers, incumbent, ranked 22. The difference in their production was 5.1 marginal wins. That's astounding. That's about double the potential upgrade the Angels will get from Mark Trumbo to Albert Pujols, based on 2011 stats. 

    If the Rangers did that, signaling their intent in doing so to let Josh Hamilton get overpaid elsewhere as a free agent, they would be the best and most exciting team to watch anywhere in the league. They can afford it, too, so for the sake of entertainment, it would be great to see.

Toronto Blue Jays: Seek Undervalued Assets

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    This is less a game plan than a credo, the unchanging motto of the Alex Anthopoulos regime in Toronto. It's probably scrawled above the doors to the team's front office itself.

    Anthopoulos is not the type to make a big free-agent splash until he knows for certain that it will make an immediate impact on his team's playoff odds. He's more likely to troll for bargain buys as the Hot Stove cools.

    A standout guy on that tier is Kosuke Fukudome, more or less unwanted despite his career .361 OBP. 

Washington Nationals: Get Deeper

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    Reports recently say the Nats are out on Yoenis Cespedes, which is not terribly surprising. Investment is all about diversification of one's portfolio, and the Nationals have already plenty of risky young talent into which big money is sunk.

    They're better served, going forward, to add a few low-risk veterans and balance out their roster.

    Specifically, they need outfielders. The Nationals currently have Roger Bernadina, Jayson Werth, Mike Morse and a whole lot of nothing on their roster as outfielders.

    Whether it's Juan Pierre, Rick Ankiel or a similar player, they need to find the guy they feel best suits their needs and sign someone who can contribute off the bench.

    Matt Trueblood is a Bleacher Report Featured Columnist on MLB, and a Loyola University Chicago graduate with a degree in journalism.