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Who will protect Harper in Nats' lineup?

Productive seasons from Zimmerman, Werth crucial for club in 2016
MLB.com @WashingNats

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals have made some solid acquisitions this offseason. They added two left-handed hitters to balance the starting lineup, signing free-agent second baseman Daniel Murphy and trading for outfielder Ben Revere from the Blue Jays. By getting Revere, the Nationals have their leadoff hitter to replace Denard Span, who signed with the Giants.

"We [gave] our manager, Dusty Baker, a lot of different ways to go," general manager Mike Rizzo said recently. "We feel good about where we are at -- balance-wise in the lineup, athleticism, speed."

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals have made some solid acquisitions this offseason. They added two left-handed hitters to balance the starting lineup, signing free-agent second baseman Daniel Murphy and trading for outfielder Ben Revere from the Blue Jays. By getting Revere, the Nationals have their leadoff hitter to replace Denard Span, who signed with the Giants.

"We [gave] our manager, Dusty Baker, a lot of different ways to go," general manager Mike Rizzo said recently. "We feel good about where we are at -- balance-wise in the lineup, athleticism, speed."

Hot Stove Tracker

But the Nationals still have some question marks entering Spring Training. Near the top of the list is, "Who will protect Bryce Harper in the lineup?" Last year that was an issue because of injuries to a lot of his teammates, though Harper still had a brilliant season, winning the National League Most Valuable Player Award. Rizzo tried to sign free agents Yoenis Cespedes and Jason Heyward this offseason, but they decided to sign elsewhere. The Nationals had interest in Justin Upton, but according to a source familiar with the Upton situation, the club never made an offer.

Ryan Zimmerman could be one of the options in the middle of the order, but he hasn't played a full season since 2013. Zimmerman was once again an asset when healthy in '15, but health is the issue. He drove in 73 runs in 95 games last year.

"The last two or three years have been frustrating for me. Nobody wants to be on the field more than I want to be on the field," Zimmerman said. "Some of it is bad luck. It's hard to go 10 to 15 years without getting hurt. Unfortunately for me, it has happened two years in a row. The goal this year is to stay on the field."

Jayson Werth can also hit in the middle of the order, but he is coming off his worst season as a member of the Nationals because of shoulder and wrist injuries. He, too, is expected to be ready for Spring Training.

"I'm healthy. I have a full winter of training. Get back to normal workouts. Looking forward to being healthy and coming in good shape," Werth said.

Another question is the defense. Murphy and Revere are not known for their gloves. Werth looked more comfortable in right field than he did in left, the position he played last year. Behind the plate, Wilson Ramos was a finalist for the Gold Glove Award. Privately, however, some people in the organization worried about his game-calling skills, and he had problems catching throws from the outfield, mainly from Harper.

On paper, Washington's bullpen is much improved after acquiring arms such as Trevor Gott, Oliver Perez, Yusmeiro Petit and Shawn Kelley. With the exception of Petit, the other three pitchers could be setup men. Jonathan Papelbon is going to be the closer, and the question there is less about performance than personality. Rizzo said the problems between Harper and Papelbon are behind them, though.

It's worth remembering that every club has questions at this time of year, and so the Nats are not alone in that regard. And they have significant assets, from Harper to the starting rotation. Soon, we'll start seeing how it all works out.

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

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Washington Nationals, Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman