WASHINGTON -- Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo acknowledged that his club has flaws. The Nats head to the Winter Meetings looking to become a better team than the one that finished 10 games behind the Braves in the National League East.
The team improved its rotation this week by acquiring right-hander Doug Fister from the Tigers for pitchers Ian Krol and Robbie Ray and infielder Steve Lombardozzi.
The Nationals appear to be set with their starting position players, as Rizzo even seems satisfied with what he has at second base. He said Anthony Rendon will go into Spring Training as the starting second baseman.
But the Nationals need to improve their bench and bullpen. Here is a quick glance at their situation heading into this year's Winter Meetings at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Bullpen: The Nationals have been looking for lefty relievers after trading Krol and Fernando Abad during the last two weeks. The only lefty remaining from last year's 25-man roster is Xavier Cedeno, who wasn't used until the month of September when the team was nearly out of the division race.
The Nationals have expressed interest in Scott Downs, Oliver Perez and J.P. Howell, but the team was not close to signing any of those players.
Bench: The Nationals are also looking to improve their bench, which was one of the worst in the National League this past season. They took a step in that direction on Friday, by reportedly coming to terms with veteran outfielder Nate McLouth on a two-year deal.
The Nationals are looking for a catcher who can play every day, in case Wilson Ramos misses time because of injuries. They are not confident that Sandy Leon or Jhonatan Solano can do the job if Ramos goes on the disabled list. Neither Leon nor Solano was productive at the plate last year.
According to a baseball source, the Nationals have inquired about John Buck, who spent last season with the Mets and Pirates. The right-handed-hitting Buck posted a combined .219 average with the two clubs, but he hit 15 home runs and collected 62 RBIs.
Who they can trade if necessary
Right-hander Drew Storen lost his closer's job after the Nationals signed Rafael Soriano to a two-year deal. While he never said anything negative about the deal, it appeared to affect Storen on the mound. It got so bad at one point that Storen was sent to Triple-A Syracuse for a couple of weeks. After he returned to the big league club, Storen had a 1.40 ERA in 21 games.
Infielder Danny Espinosa was sent to the Syracuse in June and never returned to the big leagues because of problems at the plate. Espinosa struck out a combined 148 times in 471 at-bats with the Nationals and Chiefs. Rizzo plans to give Espinosa a chance to become a backup infielder in 2014.
Outfielder Eury Perez already showed that he can hit Minor League pitching. He may need to be traded in order to get playing time in the big leagues.
Top prospects to watch
Pitchers Lucas Giolito, Matt Purke and Sammy Solis ; outfielders Brian Goodwin, Michael Taylor and Jeff Kobernus ; first baseman Matt Skole; infielder Zach Walters
During the Rizzo era, the Nationals have promoted a handful of pitching prospects to the big leagues. Solis may get a shot in the bullpen this year, while Kobernus and Walters may make the team as backup players.
Rule 5 Draft
The Nationals have 39 players on the 40-man roster, but they haven't selected an impact player in the Rule 5 Draft since 2006. They drafted catcher Jesus Flores that year. They may not select a player in that phase of the Draft this year, as they most likely will fill the roster beforehand.
Big contracts they might unload
There isn't a need to unload a contract. This past season, the Nats paid right-hander Dan Haren $13 million and decided not to bring him back for the '14 season. His replacement, Fister, made $4 million last season and is arbitration eligible.
The Nationals don't like to talk about payroll, but according to Cot's Baseball Contracts, Washington spent around $118 million in 2013. The Nats are expected to be postseason contenders again in '14 and spend the same amount of money they did the previous year.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats.