With less than a week before the beginning of spring training, the Washington Nationals seem to have all the necessary pieces in place for a deep postseason run in 2014.
In addition to the 40-man roster the Nationals will bring to Viera, Fla., the team announced Jan. 24 that it had invited 18 additional players to spring training. Right-handed reliever Luis Ayala could be joining that list -- there were reports Feb. 7 that Washington had signed Ayala, a former National, to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training.
First-year Nationals manager Matt Williams will have plenty of options at almost every position. As a result, it doesn't appear the team will make another dramatic move with its current roster. But Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said the team was ready to take advantage of acquiring a player if the opportunity arose.
"We certainly like the construction of this roster," Rizzo said. "We felt we filled some soft spots that we had on our roster last year. We're an improved version of the 2013 team. If we see a value out there, we're certainly not going to turn our back on it."
One of the more intriguing storylines for spring training is the future of second baseman Danny Espinosa.
For now, it appears the starting job at second will go to Anthony Rendon. This means that Espinosa could become a solid trade chip. There were reports during the past week that several teams had inquired about trading for him.
But Rizzo and Williams may like having depth in the infield, even though Espinosa struggled last season. Espinosa batted .158 with three home runs during 44 games in 2013. He fractured his wrist in April when he was hit by a pitch, derailing his season. Espinosa was sent down to Triple-A Syracuse in June and didn't return to the big league club.
Rizzo said he was confident that Espinosa was fully recovered from his injury and would push Rendon for the starting job.
"I've talked to him a few times this offseason," Rizzo said. "He's a terrific player. He has great skills and tools. He's a guy who's proven he can play at the big league level. He's going to come to spring training with a great attitude and ready to take a job."
Rizzo also said he was impressed to see how hard Espinosa had worked during the offseason. That type of commitment could also be a valuable model for other players in camp.
"Danny's got a good chance to have a bounce-back season and get back to the player he was," Rizzo said. "His head's in the right place. He's worked extremely hard this offseason."
Still, if the value is there, Espinosa could find a new home for 2014. As of now, though, the Nationals appear content with their current group.