Potential Centerfield Options For The Washington Nationals

Playing .500 in the toughest division in baseball will put your roster under the microscope. Unlike most competitive teams in the league, the Washington Nationals are still lacking a true leadoff batter and are in desperate need for a shut down defender in the middle of the outfield. As the trade deadline approaches, one could argue that there are a few qualified upgrades available around Major League Baseball.

Centerfield, and more glaringly the leadoff spot in the lineup, is a position that has always been problematic for the Washington Nationals. Never has a player shown management that he has the tools and consistency to earn a long term contract since the team’s arrival in 2005. Do the names Brad Wilkerson, Ryan Church, Nook Logan, and Lastings Milledge ring a bell as early failed experiments?

In 2011, Rick Ankiel was supposed to be the lockdown down defender with an incredible arm and was declared the starter when the team broke from spring training. He was swiftly replaced by Roger Bernadina after Ankiel suffered a month long slump to start the season. Bernadina has emerged this season as speedy player who can produce runs…if he’s able to get on base. Bernadina’s defense hasn’t been consistent though, aside from the occasional spectacular play. Both have played in 63 games each, and both this blog and the organization recognize the problem in center may be reaching a boiling point. A jolt in the Nats offense – ranked in the bottom third in runs, batting average and on base percentage – is much needed, but it could come at a hefty price.

Ken Rosenthal reported on Monday that the Nationals are sending out feelers for a roster shakeup. Ian Desmond, Tyler Clippard and even Drew Storen have possibly been discussed as trade bait coaxing one of the following teams below into giving up their centerfielder.

Michael Bourne (28-years-old) – Houston Astros

94 games, .289/.350/.392, 1 HR, 28 RBI’s, 35 SB, 60 R, 76 SO’s

Bourne is the purest leadoff guy you’ll see on this list, and one of the best in all of baseball for that matter. 2010 was the season Bourne distinguished himself as a star player. The lefty won a Gold Glove and appeared in the All-Star game. As of right now his batting average and OBP are the best numbers of his career. Bourne is visibly entering his prime, meaning that Houston’s asking price could be through the roof.

I don’t see a weakness in Bourne’s game and I know he could thrive as the Nationals’ leadoff man for several seasons. Furthermore, having a player who could win the NL stolen base title every year as well as get on base nearly 40 percent of the time might be more valuable than a relief pitcher like Drew Storen.

Two things that could derail a potential deal: Bourne is eligible for arbitration at the end of the season and his agent is Scott Boras, which may mean he will be looking for a long term extension. The final call on this deal may be up to the Lerner’s. The Nationals do have a working relationship with Boras, but I’ll guarantee he demands more than the 4.4 millions he’s making now. Is management ready to shell out more money for an outfielder who is older than 27?

Colby Rasmus (24-years-old) – St. Louis Cardinals

89 games, .241/.326/.404, 9 HR’s, 36 RBI’s, 5 SB, 57 R, 75 SO’s

Rasmus’ superstar potential and age will make some officials in the front office drool over the prospect of his bat in the lineup. He’s in only his third big league season and we probably haven’t even seen the type of numbers Rasmus is capable of producing. He has tremendous plate discipline as well, averaging a walk in every 11.4 at-bats.  So why would any team be hesitant to acquire such a player?

There are several reasons from the Nationals point of view. First, he isn’t an ideal leadoff man. Why go and trade either Storen or Clippard and a highly touted prospect for a guy who whose main asset is power, a commodity the team already possesses? The Nats need a player who can regularly get on base, and use his speed when he gets there. He also rarely steals bases (5), as evident in his statistics above. Then there’s this other issue with Rasmus; his attitude. I am completely against a potential trade for him.

BJ Upton (26-years-old) – Tampa Bay Rays

90 games, .246/.317/.412, 15 HR’s, 52 RBI’s, 22 SB’s, 47 R, 94 SO’s

If his OBP was better this season, Upton may have been the ideal choice as a centerfield upgrade for the Nats. His combination of power, speed and fielding ability makes him the most balanced guy on this list. A problem with Upton, though, is that he may have already reached his potential. Upton’s 2007 season of gold put expectations on the centerfielder nearly as high as what Bryce Harper’s will become. He just hasn’t been able to live up to the hype, failing to even make an All-Star appearance in the four seasons since.

Depending on whether the Rays decide to become buyers or sellers, the asking price for Upton could be a lot cheaper than Bourne. A frustration within Tampa seems to have been increasing throughout the years with their former 2002 first round pick. Still, I’d stay away from this trade.

Roger Bernadina (27-years-old) – Washington Nationals

63 games, .264/.322/.378, 5 HR’s, 20 RBI’s, 15 SB’s, 34 R, 52 SO’s

Are the Nats jumping the gun on this issue? Is Roger ‘The Shark’ Bernadina really that bad of an option leading off? Take out Bernadina’s first full month playing and the Nats leadoff hitter is actually a .274/.335/.404 player. Similar to the transition we saw with Mike Morse, Bernadina has batted .276 in 48 games at center as opposed to .200 in 43 games in left. Bernadina clearly has been a viable option when he’s actually given the chance to play centerfield.

If somehow the Nationals can manage to hold onto Clippard and Storen while still obtaining Michael Bourne, then I’m all for it. If not, I’d rather stand pat. Losing one of those arms in the bullpen could have devastating effects, especially if Henry Rodriguez gets hurt. Rolling the dice on BJ Upton at this point in time doesn’t seem worth it either. The Nationals potentially could have another Rookie of the Year candidate in Bryce Harper, and an all but likely Cy Young contender in Stephen Strasburg next season.