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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Davey has supreme confidence in Nationals

Justice: Davey has supreme confidence in Nats

Davey has supreme confidence in Nationals
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- We begin this analysis of the Washington Nationals with a few words from the manager.

"World Series or bust," Davey Johnson said on Tuesday at the Winter Meetings.

How's that for a few words?

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"That's probably the slogan this year," the skipper said. "But I'm comfortable with that."

So are we, Davey, so are we. Sometimes, the Winter Meetings drag a bit on the second day. General managers are still sorting through their options and not quite ready to commit.

Managers are cautious, too, because their clubs are still taking shape. The Nats aren't like those other teams.

They began this offseason with few pressing needs, and as Johnson, 69, prepares for his 52nd season in professional baseball, he's long past the point of running scared.

One of the things Johnson did better than almost any other manager last season was instill a sense of confidence in his club. His team was new to winning, and through the course of a long season -- a season filled with injuries and challenges -- Johnson never wavered in his belief in them.

Before last season, he announced that he ought to be dismissed if the Nationals didn't make the playoffs. His club responded by winning 98 games and the National League East, and Johnson is ready for more.

"We don't have a whole lot of questions," he said. "If we're not the favorite this year, I'm going to be embarrassed with all you guys that didn't pick me."

Wait, there's more.

"This is one of the best ballclubs I've ever had, ever had to manage," Johnson said.

That's a tall statement since his 1986 Mets won 108 games and a World Series.

"We're primed to take that next step," he said.

At the moment, the Nationals do indeed appear to be baseball's best team. It's still early in the offseason, but Washington is almost done filling a short shopping list.

It may seem early to make predictions. After all, the Braves are again capable of being one of baseball's best teams, especially after acquiring center fielder B.J. Upton to replace Michael Bourn. If the Phillies can get productive seasons from Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Roy Halladay, they're good enough to win again.

That said, the Nationals are loaded. They're expertly constructed, smartly managed. They were built the right way, too, from the ground up by a general manager, Mike Rizzo, who does player development better than almost anyone.

The Nats arrived in a big way in 2012 with a club built around power arms and a strong, resilient clubhouse. And then their season ended abruptly, with a Game 5 loss to the Cardinals in an NL Division Series.

Once the emotion of that defeat had gone away, the Nationals could see the season as a huge step in the process.

They're so good that Johnson said one of his issues in 2013 will be finding playing time for Tyler Moore and Michael Morse and others.

With a short shopping list, Rizzo has been aggressive in filling his needs, acquiring center fielder Denard Span from the Twins and signing right-hander Dan Haren for the rotation.

Rizzo's only outstanding significant issue is re-signing first baseman Adam LaRoche, who hit 33 home runs and was a huge part of a great clubhouse environment.

Johnson seemed confident that Rizzo would get LaRoche signed, and that's an understatement.

"Adam LaRoche is going to come back," Johnson said. "I mean, if I have to go to Kansas and take him and all his cattle to Florida, I will."

If LaRoche does sign elsewhere, the Nats probably will slot Morse into the lineup at first.

Regardless, they're going to win. Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler lead baseball's best rotation. They're young, too, with Gonzalez as the senior member of the group at 27.

If LaRoche re-signs, the Nationals will have six players with at least 17 home runs, including four -- LaRoche, Bryce Harper, Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman -- with 22 or more.

There's depth and balance in the bullpen, and after a season when everything was new, the Nats better understand how to endure the grind of a long season. Nationals Park had a magical feel at times as the home team soared to prominence.

Now for the next step. Right, Davey?

"I think our organization, we're primed to take that next step," Johnson said. "I think we're in a perfect position to show the world that we're a pretty good ballclub, and we can go farther into the postseason."

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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{"content":["winter_meetings" ] }
{"content":["winter_meetings" ] }