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Frontline pitching tops Nationals' wish list

Rizzo may inquire about availability of aces Scherzer, Price at GM Meetings

WASHINGTON -- With the General Managers Meetings set to start next week in Orlando, Fla., Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo will be looking to improve a team that finished in second place in the National League East this past season, 10 games behind the Braves.

The club's starting eight -- featuring star sluggers Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman -- appears to be set, but other parts of the team need to be tweaked for new manager Matt Williams.

For starters, the Nats are looking to acquire a top-of-the-line starting pitcher. A baseball source said they are hoping to trade for either Rays left-hander David Price or Tigers right-hander Max Scherzer, who would join a rotation that includes Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann.

Scherzer had the best season of his career in 2013, going 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA and 240 strikeouts in 214 1/3 innings, putting himself in line to win the American League Cy Young Award next week. A three-time All-Star, Price posted a 3.33 ERA this past season for the Rays.

Price and Scherzer are currently eligible for arbitration, but Scherzer will be a free agent after the 2014 season and Price can test the market the following winter. Reports have indicated that both pitchers could be traded this offseason. In order to acquire one of those aces, Washington would most likely have to trade Major League-ready players.

It's not known whom the Nationals would trade to acquire Scherzer or Price, but it would likely require the departure of more than one player. Both the Rays and Tigers need a closer, and the Nats could dangle reliever Drew Storen.

Storen lost his role as the closer last offseason when Washington signed Rafael Soriano to a two-year deal. Because of initial struggles, Storen was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse for a couple of weeks last season, but he posted a 1.40 ERA in 21 games upon returning to the Majors.

Taylor Jordan -- no longer eligible to be considered one of the Nationals' Top 20 Prospects -- could be available if the Rays and Tigers are looking for a pitching prospect. Jordan was on an innings limit last year after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2011. He pitched a combined 142 innings in the Majors and Minor Leagues, winning 10 games and had a 1.96 ERA.

The Rays may lose first baseman James Loney to free agency and as a result may try to acquire a player such as Tyler Moore, who can hit for power and play first base and the outfield.

The Nats are also looking to improve their bench. They are seeking a fourth outfielder who can hit for power from the left side of the plate. The club was hoping that David DeJesus would test the free-agent market, but he recently signed an extension with the Rays.

Nate McLouth or David Murphy could be a great fit with the Nationals. Both have some power from the left side and can play more than one outfield position.

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. As of right now, the team is not confident that Jhonatan Solano or Sandy Leon -- both coming off substandard seasons offensively -- can do the job. However, both are above average with the glove.

Could the Nats bring back Kurt Suzuki? Doubtful. He would want to play every day. John Buck could be a fit. He hit a combined .215 with the Mets and Pirates this past season, but he hit 15 home runs and collected 62 RBIs.

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. It's doubtful that Fernando Abad and Ian Krol will get another chance, but Xavier Cedeno could make the team out of Spring Training.

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