November 29, 2012 in Nationals Offseason
There seem to be two essential schools of thought when it comes to Washington Nationals fans on how they approach this offseason. The first school of thought recommends maintaining the status quo, and not making any significant changes to the roster with the possible exception of re-signing free agents like Adam LaRoche or Sean Burnett.The other camp, favors a more aggressive approach of being major players in the free agent/trade markets, getting the team over the next hump onto the World Series. Both schools have a fair amount of validity behind them, but the question remains which one (or more precisely, which camp the Washington Nationals offseason should follow.
On paper the "standing pat" crowd has a very strong case. The Nationals led the majors in wins last season despite these situations with the following players:
Bryce Harper- Harper played the first month of the season in the minors and dealt with some growing pains throughout the year. He should be both more developed and play in more games this season.
Ian Desmond- Desmond had a breakout year with 25 HR's and 21 SB's despite missing 32 games throughout the year. You could easily expect to see Desmond for an additional 25 games.
Jayson Werth- Werth might not have been the 'impact' bat the Nationals were hoping for, but he had a .387 OBP and .827 OPS. He only played in 81 games though and should be counted on for 150+ games this season.
Michael Morse- Morse didn't have as strong as a year as was expected, but still showed some nice power numbers. He missed 60 games on the year, and could see his numbers rise being fully healthy.
Kurt Suzuki- Suzuki played in just 46 games for the Nationals, and was a big improvement offensively and defensively over what they were starting. He's not a great catcher, but having him for the full course of the season helps.
Wilson Ramos- Ramos is kinda forgotten, but he only played in 25 games for the Nationals. It's unclear how he'll split time with Suzuki, but what is clear is that a year of him and Suzuki is a vast improvement than what the Nationals had last year.
Tyler Moore and Steven Lombardozzi- Both of these rookies were key utility players and injury replacements for the Nationals last year. While ideally they won't get as many overall at bats if some of these other guys are healthy, both should see their performance improve.
Stephen Strasburg- Strasburg has the best stuff on the staff and was limited to 28 starts and under 160 innings. He should be capable of 32+ starts and at least 200 innings next year. Add in the fact that pitchers are typically stronger after their first year back from TJ surgery and it is even more promising.
Drew Storen- Storen missed the first half of the season due to injury and was only able to pitch 30 innings last year. He also took a while to get back to form, so his performance over at least twice as many innings should be improved.
In addition to improvement in health and or performance of a number of players, the Nationals face a division where they appear to be the clear favorites:
Miami Marlins- The Marlins have sold off nearly all their moderate to high impact talent players and are very much in a rebuild mode for next season. Not only does this mean they aren't a threat for the division, but the Nationals should be able to win more games in their head-to-head series. Last year the Nats were 9-9 against the Marlins. With Miami selling their assets the Nats should be able to pick up a couple of games here.
New York Mets- The Mets are building for the future, and really don't look like a threat in the division. It's also possible that the Mets trade away their two biggest stars, David Wright and R.A. Dickey, as they look to build for the future. Regardless of what the Mets do, the Nationals should be favored to win their season series.
Philadelphia Phillies- The Phillies finished 81-81 last year and a full 17 games behind the Nationals for the division. They still have their three aces at the top of their rotation, but as a whole their performance dipped considerably. Add in the loss of some good secondary players and key contributors and Philly's outlook is up in the air. If they make some big free agent splashes they could be a threat, but they need a lot to go right for them.
Atlanta Braves- The Braves are still the Nationals biggest threat, but they are facing the loss of a couple key players in Michael Bourn and Chipper Jones. Though they have signed B.J. Upton over Bourn, and though he's probably the better long term investment, for next season the Braves overall CF production (offense and defense) will be down a bit. Martin Prado may end up taking over at 3B for Chipper Jones, but it's unclear who will take over for Prado in LF. Likely whomever it is will be a slight downgrade at best as well.
So with improved player production and a favorable outlook in the division the Nationals shouldn't do a thing right? Wrong, now is exactly the time to strike. The Nationals could probably stand pat and be a contender, but they'd be missing an opportunity to improve their chances. Sure their bullpen figures to be pretty solid, but why not try to add an arm to see if you can improve it? Michael Morse and Tyler Moore could handle first base, but they'd probably be a downgrade still to Adam LaRoche (particularly defensively). Adding a LF or CF to improve the outfield's defense would be ideal as well. And though the Nationals appear to have four good starters even without Edwin Jackson, why weaken the rotation and take a risk on an unproven 5th starter?
The Nationals can't get complacent, because if they do it will cost them more later than it will now. Look at the San Francisco Giants, who last year after trading a top prospect for Carlos Beltran let him walk in free agency, only to then see the need later to trade multiple prospects for Hunter Pence at the trade deadline. Instead of addressing a hole in their team, they tried to go a cheaper route and it cost them more in the long run. The Braves are a great example of thinking that you have too much pitching. I doubt anyone thought the Braves needed to add to their rotation at the beginning of the year, as they looked strong 1-5, with top prospect depth in the minors. Yet this team needed sign Ben Sheets off the street, trade a high prospect for Paul Maholm, and pull Kris Medlen out of the bullpen to get through the season.
Washington doesn't have many needs, but they should be aggressive filling them. The Nationals have a strong farm system and good depth so they can both make some trades, as well as use their financial status to sign some big name players. Any myths about not having the money will be dispelled in Part II, while I'll outline some bold proposals in the rest of the Series. .