Washington Nationals offseason…what they have vs. what they need.
Most fans would start out by saying the Nationals should just stand pat with the team from last year only perform up to expectation.
There are others that think several clutch pieces of their machine are worn and need to be replaced.
I will do my level best to capture and point out the strengths and needs at every position they need to address during this offseason.
First off with the Nationals let’s start at the top. Davey Johnson announced his retirement early last season and many think it had an influence on the play and performance of the team. Personally I think that is hogwash and I will explain why later.
But for replacing Davey the Nationals have taken what in my opinion is a great step. Matt Williams IS a baseball minded individual. Even as a player he could mentor with the best and largest of players and egos. He did a great job playing for the Giants and his tenure as a veteran player in Arizona was what led him to the coaching job he landed with Arizona in 2009. I cannot confirm or deny at this point if he is indeed still a partial owner of the Diamondbacks. As of the 25th of October, all the major news outlets were stating that Matt Williams was to be named as Manager of the Washington Nationals but here on the 30th there is still no announcement.
Whatever the holdup, they need to address the issue quickly. I know if I were going to manage a team the next season I would want to be involved with player selection during the offseason if at all possible.
The only Black Mark against Williams is his association with steroids. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Williams bought $11,000 worth of human growth hormones in 2002. Matt admitted to using the HGH on the advice of a doctor to treat an ankle injury suffered in spring training 2002.
So exactly how the players on the Nationals team will accept a known steroid user as their head guy is still to be seen. As well; it is still to be seen IF Williams becomes the next manager.
As with the Braves, let’s take a look at the CATCHER position first.
Wilson Ramos is the best catcher currently in Washington’s lineup. He is arbitration eligible and will take only a slight increase in my opinion based on the position and his productivity with the Nationals last season. Or should I say the lack of productivity. The man cannot seem to stay healthy. He spent almost half the season in 2013 either on the DL or rehabbing bad legs. As everyone knows, bad knees or hamstrings mean bad news for catchers. His bat does not warrant trying him at other positions.
Neither Jhonatan Solano (29 years old) nor Sandy Leon (25 years old) seem to be the answer as a solid ever day catcher so the Nationals SHOULD BE in the market for a catcher in the Free Agency or Trade market this offseason. But then, didn’t they just trade away Kurt Suzuki this past mid-season? Yes they did and he is also a FA this offseason. Maybe they try to woo him back to Washington again. Other than Brian McCann, Geovany Soto or Carlos Ruiz, there are not many offensive options to pursue in the FA market. I don’t think Washington will be one of the teams courting McCann so in the FA arena I think they will look either to Suzuki, Soto or maybe Carlos Ruiz.
1B: Adam LaRoche signed with the Nationals through the 2014 season with a team option for 2015.
While Adam is solid enough in the field and has some pop in his bat, there are areas the Nats would like to see him improve upon this next year. His small .237 BA along with his 131 strikeouts is something the team would definitely like to see him improve on but mainly his BA against LH pitching. (.198 BA).
Adam’s backup is Mauro Gomez. Gomez’s first MLB appearance was in 2007 and he now has a total of 69 at bats; so to say his playing time has been limited is an understatement.
IMO LaRoche is solid enough at first for the Nationals to not waste their time in the FA market or trade market to replace.
2B: Between Lombardozzi (48 games), Espinosa (43 games) and Rendon (82 games) the Nationals experimented all year at 2nd base.
While their young rookie got the majority of playing time at the two bag position he also filled in at other positions as needed. He had a pretty good rookie year campaign and should be solid in his quest to get the start at second in 2014. That leaves questions for the Nationals with Danny Espinosa. His struggles with the bat led to his demotion to AAA Syracuse for 75 games last year and he still struggled there batting only .216 with 101 strikeouts in 75 games. I think one can look for Espinosa’s days in Washington to be numbered. He will probably be one of the players in some trade package deal.
3rd B: Ryan Zimmerman just finished his 9th season with the Nationals and he is still as solid offensively and defensively as he has ever been.
That is when he is in the line-up. Like Chipper Jones was with the Braves Zimmerman has had injury issues. He has not played a full 162 game season since his third year and probably will not next year. However, if the Nationals can continue to get 145+ games from him like the last couple of seasons then they remain fairly solid at the corner spot. The cost however to keep Zimmerman in Washington is going to steadily increase. Zimmerman’s current contract takes him through 2019 with Washington with a club option $18 million in 2020 or a $2 million buyout. While I do believe he is not going anywhere for next year. We will talk about his future after the 2014 season later.
SS: Ian Desmond is solid at the Short Stop position.
I know many will look only at the number of errors he made last year and question me on this but you have to also look at the total body of work the man performed last season. His fielding and his batting made him one of the best SS in all of MLB. I think the Nationals will end his arbitration eligibility by giving him a contract extension roughly pushing him over the $8 million per year range.
And Now the OUTFIELD:
Washington’s biggest problem last year with their outfield was keeping guys healthy. I realize this is true with most teams but the Nationals main two in Werth and Harper missed a combined 77 games last year. Their replacements combined to hit only .197 with only 10 homeruns. That was out of 430 Abs. So to say a team missed their starters would be like saying sugar is sweet…DUH!
So what will the Nats do this offseason to ensure this is not a reoccurrence? I have looked at a few options but I am sure there are plenty more.
First off on the FA list there are currently 35 OF’s available. Of those you can eliminate the high dollar guys like Beltran , Granderson, Ellsbury, Hart and Cruz. Why? I will get further into the Nationals financial line as I see it later but for now let’s just go with, they are not buying 1st string talent to back up their current players, and in all fairness, most teams don’t.
With that I find on the list of FA’s to be had probably the best fit would be Delmon Young. He could probably be signed to the team coming in somewhere around the 2.5 – 3 million mark. I know his last season with Detroit he earned $6.7 million but he has had multiple conditioning issues regarding his weight.
In fact, last year the Phillies prior to trading him to Tampa had him on a scale recall of their choosing. Each time he met weight under 230 pounds he earned a $100K incentive check( this is how I understood the conditions of the contract).
IMO Delmon would be a good fit because he always hits for a decent average, he has some pop to the bat and he does not strike out much. To me he is the typical offensive guy you want coming off your bench to shore up a lineup or replace an injured starter for a short time. And if that did not work out they still have a top prospect in Eury Perez they could always call up. Perez will undoubtedly be in spring training camp. His speed on the base pads and in covering the outfield is exceptional.
And to my knowledge they still have the foursome of Scott Hairston, Roger Bernadino, Jeff Kobernus and Tyler Moore to round out their bench.
The Nationals were one of the few teams in the NL and the only team in the NL East to have four starters with 30 or more starts. Others might not think so but having your four main starters make it al the way through the season and taking the ball on their day to pitch is huge. The Braves and Phillies only had 3 of their starters begin 30 games or more. The Mets only had 1 starter and the Marlins did not have anyone. Does any of this align with how they finished in the NL East? For the most part yes.
It is still to be seen if the Nationals try to resign Dan Haren and in my opinion they let him walk. Dan had a somewhat disappointing season by having a losing record in every month but August. And in June his era skyrocketed to a 9.82 for the three games he started that month. So while he might be a serviceable 5th starter, I think Nationals are going to pursue another starter to shore up that one weak spot in the rotation. I don’t think they will have the funds to pursue a Matt Garza or
So for once in a long time the Nationals were pretty good at the starting pitcher position. And with the late call up of Rookie sensation Tanner Roark they look to have the best starting rotation in the NL East this coming spring. This is one spot they will test the FA market. I look for them to find a LH starter somewhere aroung the $5-$7 million range. Maybe Paul Malholm or bring back John Lannan.
As for their bullpen, well they are not hurting too much there as well. With Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen, Craig Stammen and closer Rafael Soriano the Nats are pretty solid in the late part of the games. If their pitching staff has a weakness it would be middle relief.
If the Nationals make offseason trades it will probably be in this arena they look to improve. They really need that long relief guy they can turn to on occasion just to get the ball into one of the late inning specialist.
What do they have to work with?
Financially they are really not that bad of shape compared to some of the markets.
Out of the $118 million dollar payroll they had from last year they already have $81 million committed in only 11 players for the 2014 season. Those players do NOT include Dan Haren, Kurt Suzuki, Drew Storen, Stephen Strasburg, Ross Detwiler and a few others. The combination of Haren, Storen, Strasburg and Detwiler combined for $21.73 million together last year. Dan Haren and his $13 million 2013 salary will be off the books but other are due raises.
While Strasburg is not a FA this offseason he is arbitration eligible for the upcoming season. He made a cool $3.9 last year and knowing Scott Boras they will probably start at about the $7 million asking price towards arbitration. I don’t if he will come close to that but I think he will settle in somewhere around the $5 million mark.
Denard Span is looking at close to a $2 million raise from last season and is due another $2.5 million in 2015. There are currently several other due a raise in pay just from existing contracts. Jayson Werth’s salary, for example, jumps from $16 million to $20 million or Adam LaRoche’s pay rises from $10 million to $12 million and Gio Gonzalez’s salary increase from $6.25 million to $8.5 million
According to the Washington Post the Nationals 2014 payroll with all the arbitration predictions in their hopper accounted for, they are already around the $114 million mark. And again like I mentioned above that is assuming Tanner Roark keeps one of the starting pitching jobs.
If the new Nationals owner is willing to increase the Grand Total or at least maintain the figure from last year they are in pretty good shape I would say. They have some financial wiggle room to hire help and or make possibly improvement trades.
In my opinion they have the organization, players and finances to compete again for the top spot in the NL East in 2014.
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