Battle of the Beltways: Orioles and Nationals Gain Off-Season Strength

Spring time -- when the grass is green, the air is crisp, and once more, baseball fans can rejoice at the fact that opening day is just a short month away. However, it is January, and we have 36 days, 9 hours, and 47 minutes until players report for spring training. But hey, who is counting?

With most of America tuning in to the NFL Playoffs, few are thinking about off-season baseball moves regarding new acquisitions, as well as players who are old news. Many Baltimore fans, for example, are too busy focusing on the Ravens' playoff run to realize that the Orioles have lost a key player, Luke Scott. The power hitting first baseman - outfielder signed a 1 year, $6 million contract with the Tampa Bay Rays. Scott, who has a .264 career batting average and a career .349 on base percentage, played a vital role in the Orioles lineup.

With that being said, there are rumors that the Orioles are in talks with Tampa Bay center-fielder Johnny Damon. Last season, Damon hit .261 with 152 hits, and 16 home runs in his 582 plate appearances with the Rays. He is just 277 hits away from a career high 3,000 hits, something that former teammate Derek Jeter accomplished last season. In addition to the rumors regarding Damon, Baltimore has expressed interest in extending the contract of hard-hitting center-fielder Adam Jones. If both of these rumors eventually become true, then the Orioles are going to have depth in what can surely be a solid lineup.

Let's take a trip about 40 miles south to our nation's capital, where the Washington Nationals are spending money and taking names.

Over the past two years, Washington fans have been spoiled with promises of future success with acquisitions such as pitching sensation Stephen Strasburg and, of course, powerhouse Bryce Harper, who has earned the title of "The LeBron James of Baseball." Strasburg posted a 1.50 ERA with a .71 WHIP in 5 games with the Nationals in 2010. But as we all know, the hype about Stephen Strasburg was short lived when he required Tommy John's surgery and was placed on the disabled list for a very long time. However, he is regaining strength, and hopes to get about 160 innings pitched in the 2012 season.

With Strasburg healthy, and Bryce Harper slowly but steadily maturing as he makes his way up through the minor leagues, the Nationals are looking for one more key player that will complete the trifecta. With the Rangers likely out of the hunt for first baseman Prince Fielder, the Nationals are looking to swoop in for the kill. Although Nationals GM Mike Rizzo stated that they are "content with Adam LaRoche at first," the Nationals still seems like the best place for Fielder right now. Fielder, who posted a .299 batting average with 170 hits and 38 home-runs in 569 at bats in his 2011 season with Milwaukee, would add power and skill to the already sleeping giant that the Nationals lineup is projected to be.

With all of the new acquisitions that are rumored to occur, this season is shaping up to be a great one, especially for fans in the Baltimore/Washington area. However, these are all just rumors. Whether they become true or not, baseball fans are starting to get that tingling sensation that indicates that, once more, spring is approaching.

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