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Nationals Land Center Fielder, Still Seek Closer

December 8, 2016
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker, always a fancy dresser, may have outdone himself this time.

He wore a light blue shirt and a maroon jacket with darker blue stripes to go with dark pants.

What Baker didn't have as he addressed the media at MLB's Winter Meetings Dec. 7 was the ability to pull a closer out of his very snappy back pocket.

Two days earlier, the Nationals parted ways with Mark Melancon, the closer at the end of the 2016 season, when he signed a four-year deal with the San Francisco Giants as a free agent.

Then, Dec. 6, the Nationals lost out on the Chris Sale sweepstakes, as the veteran left-handed ace was traded to the Boston Red Sox by the Chicago White Sox.

So for the time being, the Nationals do not have an experienced closer on the roster, though free-agent Kenley Jansen is still on the market. The Yankees reached a reported five-year, $86 million deal with closer Aroldis Chapman Dec. 8.

Relievers on the Washington roster include right-handers Blake Treinen, Koda Glover and Shawn Kelley. Many feel Glover, who made his big league debut last year, has the potential to be a closer one day -- but not in 2017.

"Well, the winter is not over yet, so you can't be fearful of something that still has a chance to fill that position," Baker said. "So, it would be different if we were in, you know, late February, you know, late January, early February. And somebody always emerges. I believe that, that somebody will come forward. They will separate themselves from the pack. But in the meantime, we're still looking to fill that void."

What emerged a few hours later was news the Nationals were able to land a center fielder -- Adam Eaton of the Chicago White Sox -- after they failed to make a trade for Andrew McCutchen of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

But the price for Eaton, a career .284 hitter, was steep.

In fact, many in baseball were shocked the Nationals gave up a pair of 22-year-old pitchers who made their big league debut in 2016: right-handers Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez. They also threw in right-handed pitcher Dane Dunning, 21, a first-round pick out of the University of Florida last June.

After the trade, Washington right fielder Bryce Harper tweeted, "Wow…," though that doesn't necessarily mean he felt his team gave up too much for Eaton. Remember, it was Harper who all but said a few years ago he wanted to play center field instead of then-teammate Denard Span.

"An important part of the process we are pursuing is acquiring quality pitching talent. We feel like we've done that today -- and yesterday -- en masse," Rick Hahn, White Sox senior vice president/general manager, said in a statement. "Giolito and Lopez rank among the top prospects in baseball, while Dunning is another young prospect who possesses front-of-the-rotation potential."

After talks with Pittsburgh surrounding McCutchen fell through, it now appears Washington will put Eaton in center field and move 2016 center fielder Trea Turner to shortstop, his natural position.

Danny Espinosa, the shortstop in 2016, could be traded or used as a utility player, since Daniel Murphy is the second baseman.

But still, the Nationals need a closer. What input did Baker give the Nationals' front office about trying to sign Melancon?

"I got input, but I'm not putting in money, and that's what real input is, you know what I mean?," Baker said. "My input was such that, we all wanted Melancon, you know, but we don't have the budget or the packed stadium for 800 games in a row, like the Giants do. 

"They have more resources than we do. We got a lower budget, and everybody has a budget. If we would have spent that on Melancon, we wouldn't have been able to spend anything on anybody else. But you've got to do what you can do inside the budget. If I really had input, I would have probably spent another $200 million. That's like my son that plays his video games, and they won't accept his roster because it's like, $400 million."

What else is important for Baker this winter?

"I think some depth, you know, because we still haven't signed … infielder Stephen Drew. And our bench is so important. These guys -- you can't win without a good bench. Depth is important," Baker said. 

"I would like to have some more speed. You would like to have some power arms in the back end of the bullpen, hopefully. And more than anything, you want, you know, good health from the people that are here. And I would like to see my guys -- I've been checking on them. I would like to see them come into spring training in even better shape than last year, because my teams basically don't go on the DL very much, and I think that's attributed to the kind of shape that they're in and where our finances and training staff trains them. This is one of the best fitness staffs that I've had, ever."