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Should the Nats go for broke in '13?

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Should the Nats go for broke in '13?

Throughout their history in Washington -- and most definitely in the four years since Mike Rizzo became general manager -- the Nationals have adhered to one simple philosophy when it comes to player acquisitions and roster building: All moves must be in the best long-term interests of the organization.

It's a philosophy that has done the Nationals well, allowing them to build a team that not only reached the postseason for the first time this year but is built to keep on winning for years to come.

Might it be an appropriate time, however, to tweak that philosophy? For the first time in their history, might the Nationals sacrifice long-term potential in exchange for short-term satisfaction?

This might be the most compelling, over-arching question of the offseason. Clearly, this is a team that will enter 2013 with a real shot at winning the World Series, no matter what moves Rizzo makes before pitchers and catchers report for spring training. But there are moves Rizzo could make to bolster his club's chances of immediate success, if he's willing to perhaps hinder his chances of winning down the road.

It starts, really, with Adam LaRoche, the most-pressing offseason question facing the Nationals. Both Rizzo and the free agent want to continue their marriage, hoping to build off a fantastic 2012 that saw LaRoche win both the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove at first baseman while finishing in a sixth-place tie for NL MVP.

There's no question LaRoche's return would give the Nationals a better chance of winning the World Series in 2013. But the only way LaRoche will be playing in D.C. in 2013 is if he gets a long-term contract, most likely with at least three years guaranteed.

The Nationals may be willing to meet those demands, but doing so could hamstring them down the road. With LaRoche locked up through, say, 2015, there might be no spot on the diamond for young slugger Tyler Moore, or no vacant spot that would permit Michael Morse or Ryan Zimmerman to some day make a position switch. And, of course, there's no guarantee LaRoche would still be a 30-homer, 100-RBI threat at age 35 in year three of a contract that could turn into an albatross.

Speaking of Morse, he figures into this dilemma as well. Signed for one more season at a reasonable salary of $6.75 million, he'll be poised to strike it rich next winter as a free agent. Given all the other long-term financial commitments the Nationals already have on the books (Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez) and those they would like to add in the very near future (Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann) there probably isn't enough money left over to re-sign Morse.

Which is why you've heard some speculation the slugger could be traded this winter. Rather than lose him via free agency and receive a draft pick as compensation, Rizzo could be inclined to seek a deal now that would bring a larger return back to Washington.

That would certainly be a wise long-term strategy. But if the Nationals are more interested in going for broke in 2013, they'd much rather keep Morse one more season and then let him walk away after that.

And then there's the dilemma in center field, a longstanding issue for the Nationals that could easily be resolved this winter if they're willing to pony up for one of two big-name free agents on the market: Michael Bourn or B.J. Upton. Either would make a nice addition to the lineup, particularly the leadoff-hitting Bourn.

But the cost to acquire either free agent could be a five-year contract, one that would certainly have long-term ramifications for the organization. Would Bourn help the Nationals win right now? Absolutely? Would he still be as helpful in 2017, more than someone the Nats could promote from their own farm system like Brian Goodwin? That's debatable.

Put this all together, and it becomes clear Rizzo faces quite an interesting dilemma this winter. He could decide to go for broke, play all his cards and assemble a roster that has the very best chance of winning a championship in 2013. Or he could decide to stick with the plan that has worked so well to this point, making calculated additions that give the Nationals a chance to win now but not at the expense of winning in the future.

It's a dilemma the Nationals have never faced before, but it's certainly one worth considering now that they suddenly find themselves in a position they've never held before.

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Nationals vs. Braves Preview: Gonzalez looks to rebound

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USA TODAY Sports

Nationals vs. Braves Preview: Gonzalez looks to rebound

ATLANTA -- One of the questions the Atlanta Braves brass must answer during the offseason is whether right-handed pitching prospect Lucas Sims belongs in the rotation or the bullpen.

Sims (2-5, 5.52 ERA) will make another start Wednesday against the Washington Nationals, who send veteran left-hander Gio Gonzalez (14-7, 2.68) to oppose him in the second contest of a three-game series at SunTrust Park.

The Nationals won the series opener 4-2 on Tuesday to take a 9-8 lead in the season series. The loss guaranteed Atlanta (67-82) would have a losing record for the fourth consecutive season.

RELATED: WHEN WILL BRYCE HARPER RETURN?

Gonzalez, like teammate Max Scherzer, is a candidate for the National League Cy Young Award. The southpaw is coming off a poor showing against Atlanta on Sept. 12, when he allowed five runs in five innings despite eight strikeouts.

"You get the strikeouts and then all of a sudden, the hits came in," Gonzalez said. "It was just one of those games. You take it for what it was, sweep it up the rug and get ready for tomorrow. It was one of those games you can't really understand what happened, just pick up where you can and go from there."

The Braves have fared well against Gonzalez. In 20 career starts against Atlanta, he is 4-11 with a 5.27 ERA. This season, Gonzalez is 0-2 with a 6.48 ERA in three starts vs. the Braves.

Sims, a rookie who was the team's first-round draft choice in 2012, has made 11 appearances (seven starts). He has made it clear that he prefers to be a starting pitcher.

The Braves moved Sims to the bullpen after his Sept. 2 start against the Chicago Cubs, when he allowed seven runs in three innings. Because he was stretched out, Sims had the ability to throw multiple innings out of the 'pen, which he did in two of his subsequent four relief appearances.

However, on Sunday, the Braves announced Sims as the starter for the Wednesday game and moved left-hander Max Fried to the bullpen. Fried is another rookie who will be under consideration to join the rotation in 2018.

"The kid never quits," Braves manager Brian Snitker said of Sims. "He keeps pitching. He competes."

In seven starts, Sims has averaged 5 1/3 innings per outing. In 44 innings overall, he has recorded 31 strikeouts and 15 walks.

Sims has made only one appearance against Washington, that a perfect one-inning stint on Sept. 13.

Atlanta has had trouble scoring runs of late. Over the past five games, the Braves managed only 11 runs.

The Braves likely will be without catalyst Ender Inciarte on Wednesday. The center fielder left the game early Tuesday with right thumb soreness. Snitker said there was no structural damage and that Inciarte needs a day of rest.

"We just have to back off," Snitker said. "It's just sore."

Inciarte doesn't like to take a day off under normal circumstances, must less when he is chasing 200 hits. He was 0-for-2 on Tuesday, leaving him with 190 hits. He is trying to become the first Atlanta player to reach the milestone since Marquis Grissom in 1996.

Washington is close to getting its injured players back.

Outfielder Bryce Harper (hyperextended left knee) and infielder Stephen Drew (left abdominal strain) ran before the Tuesday game. Both are eligible to come off the disabled list whenever they are deemed healthy.

RELATED: MLB POSTSEASON 2017 BRACKET PROJECTION

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When will Bryce Harper return to the Nationals' lineup?

When will Bryce Harper return to the Nationals' lineup?

Bryce Harper hasn't seen the baseball diamond since August 12 and if you follow him on social media, you know the wait is nearly killing him.

In the past week however, he has been making positive steps in his road to recovery.

Before Thursday's game against the Braves, Harper was seen running foul pole to foul pole at Nats Park.

RELATED: NAT'S DANIEL MURPHY AND SON ATTEND CAPS PRACTICE

And prior to Sunday's game against the Dodgers, Harper took batting practice.

Then, on Tuesday, Harper batted in a simulated game prior to the team's road game against the Braves. He even ran around the bases to test out his injured knee.

These are all great signs, but when can we really expect him to return?

There have been rumors that it could be as soon as this week, so the Sports Junkies took matters into their own hands and ask general manager Mike Rizzo about it on their show Wednesday morning.

"Bryce had a very productive day yesterday, a very busy day," Rizzo said.

"He had a lot of work to put in yesterday. Harp came out looking good. The anchor leg, his left leg, which is Harp's back leg, his power leg, came through it fine. We'll see how he feels today, which will be very very important and see where we take it from there. He ran bases yesterday which was good and threw from the outfield, so he's slowly and cautiously getting back into a routine. Depending on how he progresses, we'll see where we take it from there. Hopefully, he can get a couple of games of live at bat under his belt before we have that four day break before the playoffs start."

RELATED: NATS FIRST MLB TEAM TO CLINCH PLAYOFF SPOT

So what exactly is Harper doing in a "simulated game?"

"It was just a hitting game for him. We brought up two minor league pitchers for him to see live stuff. What he and Steven Drew hitting, they probably had a total of about 10 or so at bats. 10 or 12 real at bats where four balls, three strikes type of thing, you hit a base hit you're out, that type of thing."

"You could do whatever you want in those games. So, we simulated with men on base, without men on base. The hitter did not know what the pitcher was going to throw and that was kind of the key to it, where you're recognizing spins and velocity and that type of thing. It's well beyond the batting practice that he's been getting recently. We'll continue to do this. We'll filter in some minor league pitchers as we go along and he'll get some time in that way until he can participating in game activities which we hope is sooner rather than later."

The magic date for Bryce Harper and the Nats is Friday, Oct. 6th when the National League Division series start and so does the Nats World Series run.