Washington Capitals

Plenty of options for Nats in center

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Plenty of options for Nats in center

The big free agent signings of the MLB offseason are likely weeks away, but it is probably a good idea for Nats fans to get used to hearing the name Michael Bourn. Because of a logical fit in the lineup and an obvious connection with his agent Scott Boras, nearly everybody in the national baseball media sees Washington as the favorite to land the speedy center fielder. Take Jon Heyman of CBSsports.com or Ben Reiter of Sports Illustrated for instance.

But for Bourn to land in Washington, several things would have to happen. For one, the Nats would have to fork over a lot of money, potentially $100 million according to some reports

At 29 (30 on Opening Day) and with an inconsistent 2012 (.311 BA in first half, .225 in second half), Bourn and Boras may end up settling for something less than nine figures. But either way the price will be high and the years included may become the biggest issue. 

The Nationals would also probably have to create room in their lineup by either letting Adam LaRoche walk via free agency or trading Michael Morse.

One other obstacle for the Nationals, if they are indeed as interested as many speculate, could be the Philadelphia Phillies. Philly is said to be looking for an outfielder who can hit at the top of the order. They are a lefty-heavy lineup and could be looking for someone different, but Bourn represents familiarity having coming up through their farm system.

The two top position players that fit the need both the Nationals and Phillies seem to have are Bourn and B.J. Upton. Sports Illustrated rates them as the second and third best position players available in this year’s class. Both players are excellent base runners and very good defensive center fielders. Bourn has traditionally hit for a higher average and slots better in the leadoff role, but Upton packs power and could make up for the removal of Morse’s production from the lineup.

Here is a look at the last two seasons for each player:

Michael Bourn (29 years old)

2011 – 158 G - .294/.349/.386 – 94 R – 2 HR – 50 RBI – 62 SB

2012 – 155 G - .274/.348/.391 – 96 R – 9 HR – 57 RBI – 42 SB

B.J. Upton (28 years old)

2011 – 153 G - .243/.331/.429 – 82 R – 23 HR – 81 RBI – 36 SB

2012 – 146 G - .246/.298/.454 – 79 R – 28 HR – 78 RBI – 31 SB

Both players strike out at a high rate, but Bourn’s on-base percentage would rank second on the Nationals behind Jayson Werth based on 2012's numbers. Meanwhile Upton’s OBP would have been the worst in the Nats’ lineup. Bourn also gets the edge defensively with a .992 career fielding percentage and two Gold Glove awards. 

Upton, on the other hand, is much more proven in the postseason. Bourn has played just three career playoff games, a small sample size. But Upton has appeared in 25 and has an impressive seven home runs and 18 RBI in those games. He was a big piece on the 2008 World Series runner-up Tampa Bay Rays and knows what it takes to make a playoff run. 

If the Nats signed Upton, say to replace Morse, there would essentially be a dropoff in batting average and power but a significant upgrade defensively and on the basepath. Signing Bourn in the same scenario would give the Nats a traditional leadoff hitter and a top notch defensive player, but the slip in power would be dramatic. A big step by Bryce Harper or a full season by Ryan Zimmerman would likely be needed to offset that.

According to Heyman, the Nationals are seen as the favorites for Bourn while the Phillies are Upton’s most likely suitor. But the Nats have more money to play with and could have the upper hand.

If the Nats are intent on upgrading at center field as reports suggest they are, they could always go for someone cheaper. Washington does, after all, have a potential center fielder of the future in 2011 first round pick Brian Goodwin.

Here are a few second tier options for the Nats at center field:

Angel Pagan (31 years old)

2012 – 154 G - .288/.338/.440 – 95 R – 8 HR – 56 RBI – 29 SB

Melky Cabrera (28 years old)*

2012 – 113 G – .346/.390/.516 – 84 R – 11 HR – 60 RBI – 13 SB

Shane Victorino (31 years old)

2012 – 154 G - .255/.321/.383 – 72 R – 11 HR – 55 RBI – 39 SB

*Suspended for season’s final 50 games for performance enhancing drugs

Pagan is a terrific defender and could be a good signing for one or two seasons. Cabrera is a wild card as his numbers were enhanced by PED's, but he may be willing to sign for one year in hopes to re-establish his reputation. Victorino next to Werth in the Nationals' outfield would be a bizarre sight, but his down year in 2012 could make his production a bargain.

As far as free agent classes go, the Nationals certainly have options at center field. But will they solve the problem now or wait until Goodwin is ready? The Nats could, after all, play 2013 just as they did 2012 with Morse, Harper, and Werth in the outfield. While it would appear that isn’t Mike Rizzo’s longterm plan, the Nationals have shown in recent years they can be unpredictable in the offseason.

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Did Barry Trotz show us what his fourth line will be to start the season?

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USA TODAY Sports

Did Barry Trotz show us what his fourth line will be to start the season?

Barry Trotz likes to play his cards close to the vest. With roster battles and lineup holes surrounding the team, there are plenty of questions for the Caps that need answering this preseason. If you look at how Saturday's 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes ended, however, he may have given us at least one answer.

At the start of the game, Jay Beagle centered a line with Devante Smith-Pelly and Wayne Simpson on his wings. By the end of the game, Nathan Walker was playing on the left with Beagle at center and Smith-Pelly on the right.

"Walker was giving us some energy, he was giving us some speed and I just made that flip," Trotz told reporters after the game. "I just thought Walks was starting to make things happen. His speed was noticeable, his will on the puck if you will was really good. I thought that'd be a good fit. I just moved him over there and I thought he had an effect on the game."

Could that have been a preview of the team's fourth line?

RELATED: CHIASSON, WALKER MAKE THEIR CASE TO MAKE THE TEAM

Walker turned in another tremendous performance showing great energy, speed and grit. Despite being 5-foot-8, he still remains a feisty player who could be found at the center of every scrum. He exchanged hits and jabs with the 6-foot-3 Klas Dahlbeck multiple times throughout the game and even drew a penalty on the Carolina defenseman as he drove the net after managing to slip away from a hit along the boards.

"He's one of those hard guys to play against because ... they're on you all the time," Trotz said. "When you can affect the opposition and take them out of their game because the way you play, then you're pretty effective."

That brings us back to the lines. The Caps have not one, but two openings on the fourth line to play alongside Beagle. The fact that Trotz put Walker and Smith-Pelly on that line, two players fighting for a spot in the lineup, could be a preview of what the fourth line may ultimately look like to start the season.

That would be just fine with Beagle.

"It's fun to play with a guy who brings that much energy," Beagle said of Walker. "He's always had that energy and he's always been a little guy who grinds it out and isn't afraid to get in there and get in the corners and wins a lot of battles. He's awesome to play with. He's a lot of fun."

At this point, given how he has played in his two preseason games, it is hard to see how Walker does not make the roster. His energy and style are a perfect fit for what the Caps need on their fourth line. He would be an excellent compliment to Beagle and that has not escaped Trotz's notice.

"I think they might enjoy playing together, but they're effective together," Trotz said. "They get on the puck, they work you over and they tire you out. I'll tell you that."

With other players such as Alex Chiasson, Riley Barber and Anthony Peluso still vying to make the team, it is still too early to tell if this is definitively what the fourth line will look like, but the trio certainly made their case.

MORE CAPITALS: TOM WILSON SUSPENDED 2 PRESEASON GAMES

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Thumbs up, thumbs down: Chiasson, Walker make their case for the roster

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Thumbs up, thumbs down: Chiasson, Walker make their case for the roster

The Caps dropped another preseason game on home ice as they fell to the Carolina Hurricanes 4-1. Here is who stood out for Washington.

Thumbs up

Alex Chiasson: Chiasson, who is playing this preseason on a PTO, was in good shape before this game, but he may sealed the deal on getting a contract with his first period goal. While it did come on the power play and he is not likely to see much time with the extra man this season, the fact that he was playing on a line with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov in the first place should tell you something. With another solid performance on Saturday, it looks like Chiasson will be in Washington for the long haul.

Nathan Walker: This kid is not afraid of anything. Not only will he fight for the puck in all the dirty areas, he is not afraid to mix things up with anyone. In the second period, he caught got in a scrum exchanging jabs with defenseman Klas Dahlbeck. Dahlbeck is 6-foot-3. Walker is 5-foot-8. Later in the period, Dahlbeck rid him into the boards, but Walker would not give up on the play and eventually broke free, drawing a penalty from Dahlbeck as he fought for room in front of the net. He looked like everything a team would want in a fourth line, energy player and I cannot see at this point how he does not make the Caps roster.

Jakub Vrana: Good speed, good eyes and he added an assist on Chiasson's goal. Vrana has clearly established himself as the best player not already on the Caps' roster. Whatever questions there may be surrounding Vrana, there should be none about his talent on the ice. He's got it.

Thumbs down

Riley Barber: Like Chiasson and Walker, Barber was also competing for a spot on the roster, only no one seemingly told him that because he was invisible. Actually, scratch that, he did get called for a slash early in the first period. Let's not overstate it, it was not as if Barber was horrible, but when his teammates were making their case to make the team, Barber was nowhere to be found. With another round of cuts looming, it would not be surprising to see him headed to Hershey very soon.