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.

No. 24 Terps struggle again at home, fall to unranked Iowa 83-69

No. 24 Terps struggle again at home, fall to unranked Iowa 83-69

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Freshman Jordan Bohannon scored a career-high 24 points, hitting 8 of 10 3-pointers, to help Iowa breeze past fading No. 24 Maryland 83-69 Saturday night.

Tyler Cook had 21 points and 10 rebounds for the Hawkeyes (16-13, 8-8 Big Ten), who improved to 2-7 on the road this season. Iowa led by seven at halftime and erased any shred of suspense by taking a 16-point lead with 10:28 remaining.

The Hawkeyes went 16 for 26 beyond the arc in avenging a home loss to Maryland on Jan. 19.

Bohannon came in averaging 9.2 points per game and shooting 37 percent from 3-point range. Cook, who's also a freshman, scored only eight points in the first meeting between the teams.

Kevin Huerter scored 13 points for Maryland (22-7, 10-6). Since opening 20-2, the Terrapins have lost five of seven and three in a row.

Eager to rebound from a home loss to Minnesota, the Terrapins came out flat against an Iowa team that had beaten only Rutgers on the road.

Maryland's biggest lead was two points, and the Terps never led after relinquishing a 24-23 advantage midway in the first half.

Maryland went 11 for 34 from 3-point range and took only nine free throws.

Cook scored 15 points and Bohannon drilled four 3-pointers to help Iowa take a 47-40 halftime lead.

The Hawkeyes went 8 for 12 from beyond the arc, outrebounded Maryland 20-14 and limited standout guard Melo Trimble to three points on 1-for-5 shooting.

Huerter opened the second half with a 3-pointer to give the crowd hopes of a comeback, but Bohannon nailed three 3s in a 10-1 spurt that made it 58-44.

Trimble finished with 10 points, going 1 for 9 from beyond the arc.

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Shorthanded Capitals show signs of fatigue in road loss to Predators

Shorthanded Capitals show signs of fatigue in road loss to Predators

Final Score: Washington Capitals (41-13-7) fell to the Nashville Predators (30-22-9) 5-2 at Bridgestone Arena on Saturday night.

How It Happened: The Capitals certainly showed the effects of fatigue playing just 22 hours after beating the Oilers Friday night at Verizon Center. Things started well with a Tom Wilson goal early in the first period, but things quickly went downhill. The short turnaround made the absences of two key defensive pieces, Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik, painfullly apparent as Washington surrendered three unanswered goals in the second. It looked as if captain Alex Ovechkin would start a comeback with a goal 4:03 into the final frame, but the tally was taken off the board after replay showed Washington was offsides. By the time Evgeni Kuznetsov scored with less than three minutes left, it was too little, too late.

What It Means: Any team, no matter how talented, is vulnerable on 22 hours of rest and without four key playmakers. The Capitals could have gotten coach Barry Trotz his 700th career victory against the team he coached for 15 seasons. Sure, it would have been poetic, but the realities of the NHL season intervened. The game won't say as much about this team as the way it bounces back, or doesn't, against the Rangers on Tuesday. 

Scoring Summary:

Capitals Goal: Wilson scored just 1:12 into the first period on a beautiful sequence from the Capitals' fourth line. Daniel Winnik dropped the puck back to Jay Beagle, who rifled a pass to Wilson waiting in front of the Predators' net. Washington took a 1-0 lead.

Predators Goal: Roman Josi found the back of the net 1:56 into the second period on a piece of trickery by Filip Forsberg, who faked like he was going for a slapshot, but actually found Josi across the ice to beat Philipp Grubauer to his right post. Nashville evened the score at 1-1.

Predators Goal: Forsberg netted a goal of his own 8:54 into the second period. Winnik turned the puck over, which allowed Ryan Ellis to find Forsberg for the one-timer. The goal gave the Predators a 2-1 advantage, their first of the night. 

Predators Goal: A few short minutes later, Nashville captain Mike Fisher gave his team a 3-1 lead 11:57 into the second. He scored on the power play after Ovechkin was sent to the box for holding. Fisher benefitted from a bit of deception by PK Subban, who faked a shot that was actually a pass to his captain in front of the net. 

Predators Goal: Josi again, this time right off a draw 12:07 into the final frame. The goal came immediately after a questionable holding call that sent Caps defenseman Dmitry Orlov to the box for holding, giving Nashville its fifth power play of the evening. 

Capitals Goal: Kuznetsov scored an unassisted, top-shelf goal 17:03 into the third as Predators players appeared to get caught watching in front of their own net. Can't do that against an elite shooter like Kuzy.

Predators Goal: Viktor Arvidsson shot and scored on the Capitals' empty net with 51 seconds left in regulation. 5-2 and that's a wrap. 

Three Stars of the Game:

3 - Tom Wilson: Wilson scored his third goal in the last 16 games. He also required stitches after taking a skate the back of his head, but came back into the game in short order. In the third period, he mixed it up with Predators captain Fisher, who flung Wilson's helmet off and landed a couple blows. Willy certainly showed a lot of fight, but it wasn't enough in the end. 

2 - Filip Forsberg: This one is a dagger given the Capitals history with Forsberg, but he was brilliant on Saturday. His shot-fake set up Josi for the Predators' first goal, which Forsberg followed up with a tally of his own on a one-timer later in the second period. 

1 - Roman Josi: Four shots on goal, two of which slipped by Grubauer, and four blocked shots made Josi the man of the hour in Nashville. 

Looking Ahead: The Capitals' next game comes on Tuesday, Feb. 28 as they head to New York to take on the Rangers. 

MORE CAPITALS: Gretzky loves that Ovechkin 'wants to win a Stanley Cup'