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Nats head to Winter Meetings ready to make upgrades

Cano could be in play for Washington, which will also eye catcher, bench, bullpen help

WASHINGTON -- The Winter Meetings are less than a week away, and the Nationals improved their rotation on Monday night, acquiring right-hander Doug Fister from the Tigers for left-handers Ian Krol and Robbie Ray and infielder Steve Lombardozzi.

Fister will join a rotation that includes Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez. The Nats had been seeking a starter since they decided not to re-sign free-agent right-hander Dan Haren, who is coming off his worst season in the big leagues.

The Nationals are far from done. They could be in the Robinson Cano sweepstakes. The team has the financial wherewithal to sign Cano, and he would be an upgrade compared to what the Nats had last year.

In a conference call on Tuesday, Rizzo declined to say if he was in talks with the second baseman, but he said, "We're doing what we have to do to try to improve the ballclub, and we've taken a step forward in acquiring Fister, and we're looking forward to tweaking things and to making us a better ballclub."

Rizzo said Anthony Rendon will go into Spring Training as the starting second baseman, but there will be competition. Danny Espinosa will try to win his job back. He spent most of the season in the Minor Leagues and never got his swing back. But it didn't help that he dealt with injuries to his hand and shoulder.

Rizzo said he still believes in Espinosa and predicts that he will have a solid Major League career. If Espinosa is not starting at second base, he could make the team as a backup.

"Danny Espinosa is going to go to Spring Training and battle for a job on the roster," Rizzo said. "He's an excellent defender, Gold Glove-caliber at second base and shortstop. He gives us speed. He stole 20 bases in the big leagues in a season so far, he's hit 20 home runs in a season so far in his young big league career. He had a down year last year, but this guy's a makeup guy, he's a grinder and a guy that his personality and his makeup plays well on this club. I've always been a Danny Espinosa fan and I still am, and I think he's going to have a good Major League career."

The Nationals are also looking to improve their bench, which was one of the worst in the National League this past season. They are seeking a fourth outfielder who can hit for power from the left side of the plate and play two outfield positions, including center.

Washington is also looking to acquire a backup catcher who can be productive with the bat if Wilson Ramos misses a substantial amount of time. Right now, the team is not confident that Jhonatan Solano or Sandy Leon -- both coming off subpar offensive seasons -- can do the job.

The Nats had mild interest in catcher Jose Molina, who re-signed with the Rays.

John Buck could be a fit. He posted a combined .219 average with the Mets and Pirates this past season, but he hit 15 home runs and collected 62 RBIs.

"We need to straighten out our bench and have some guys that can contribute not only in pinch-hitting roles and short stints, [but as everyday players if a key guy is injured for a long period of time]," Rizzo said.

The Nationals will also be looking to acquire some left-handed middle relievers, realizing in retrospect that their decision to part with Michael Gonzalez and Tom Gorzelanny after 2012 was a mistake. Xavier Cedeno could make the team out of Spring Training. He joined the organization last April and wasn't a factor until September, when the team was nearly out of the playoff race.

According to the Washington Post, the Nats are interested in lefties J.P. Howell and Oliver Perez. Howell, who had interest in signing with Washington last year, is a free agent for the second year in a row. This past season, he pitched for the Dodgers and had a 2.03 ERA, while lefties hit .154 against him.

Perez revived his career the last two years with the Mariners. This past season, lefty hitters had a .238 batting average against Perez, who also averaged 12.6 strikeouts per nine innings.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats.

Washington Nationals, Robinson Cano, Doug Fister, Ryan Hanigan, J.P. Howell, Brayan Pena, Oliver Perez