Bill Ladson

Williams focused on 2015 as Nats eye moves

Club likely to undergo changes as Rizzo looks to build for future success

Williams focused on 2015 as Nats eye moves

SAN DIEGO -- Nationals manager Matt Williams has moved past the National League Division Series loss to the Giants and is thinking about 2015.

Williams said he is in contact with general manager Mike Rizzo all the time. The skipper confirmed the club is listening to trade offers. Williams also understands that Rizzo is looking to improve the Nats for this coming season and beyond.

"I think Rizzo is listening to everybody that wants to come calling, but nothing as of yet," Williams said.

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The Nationals have five players -- Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister, Ian Desmond, Tyler Clippard and Denard Span -- who could potentially leave via free agency after the 2015 season. The player that is mentioned the most at the Winter Meetings is right-hander Zimmermann, who has posted 45 wins, a 2.96 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP in the last three years.

"He's at the point in his career where he can be the top-of-the-line-guy," Williams said. "And I think judging from the interest here and the speculation that's going around, we're not alone in viewing him that way."

Is it possible the window is closing on this bunch of Nationals as far as getting to the World Series? Williams doesn't think so.

"I think that we have opportunity," Williams said. "That's how I look at it. I look at the opportunity to be competitive again. We certainly want to get back to where we were last year with an opportunity to play meaningful games in September, October and go further and have a chance to win it.

"I know that the team that we have, certainly minus Adam [LaRoche], who was a big part of it, has the ability to do that on an everyday basis. Our team can compete. We have to do things right, of course, to get to where we want to go."

IT: Mike Rizzo

The Nationals will see some changes next year. After a decade of manning third base, Ryan Zimmerman will take over at first base. Williams still doesn't know if Anthony Rendon will be the starting third baseman. The team has not ruled out Rendon starting at second. If that's the case, the Nats could be looking to acquire a third baseman.

The bench was below average last year. But Williams is hopeful that Steven Souza Jr. and a healthy Nate McLouth could make a difference. Then there's second base. Williams still believes in Danny Espinosa, whom the manager acknowledged was approached about hitting right-handed exclusively. Espinosa will enter Spring Training as a switch-hitter, but he will hit right-handed while facing right-handed pitching during Minor League games.

"I worry about guys that have never done it, getting out of the way of a ball that's thrown up and in from a right-hander," Williams said. "Anybody that's hit righty-righty knows that the ball chases you. So what I don't want is [for] him to sacrifice his health. But there's opportunity for him to do that in spring. He's done it in batting practice, but that's a controlled situation. Once you get in a game it's a completely different deal."

Williams is aware that it's not going to be easy to win a second straight NL East title. He took notice that the Mets and Marlins have improved this offseason.

"You look to Miami and that's a really good team with a really good pitching staff," Williams said. "They've cemented themselves, in the middle of our division, with a chance to win it. They were close, all the way to the end last year.

"The Mets finished second. And so that's an interesting team. They've improved a lot. They've got really good young pitching. So it's a challenging division for us."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.