Did the Nationals Accomplish Their Offseason Goals?
The Washington Nationals came into this offseason with the willingness to spend money and help begin their climb to atop the NL East. While Rome or a contender wasn’t built in a day, the Nationals made some strides that should at least get them out of the basement of their division. Washington never met their top stated goal of finding an ace pitcher, but on the positive side they didn’t sell out their farm system either for a short term fix. Here is what Washington did do and how it might affect them going forward:
The Nationals didn’t land an ace, but they did bring in some help for the rotation, in Chien-Ming Wang (he was with the Nats last year, but never threw a pitch due to injury) and Tom Gorzelanny. Neither pitcher will make fans forget about Stephen Strasburg this year, but both can be effective starting pitchers when healthy, which is a big step in the right direction from previous years.
Wang- He very well could start the season on the D.L. and with a rehab assignment, so he can work his way back into shape. I don’t think he will be the 18 game winner that he was with the Yankees, but he can be a a solid ground ball pitcher, and should give the Nationals a number of quality innings when he is healthy.
Gorzelanny- The Nationals made the trade for Gorzelanny when he became expendable in Chicago and its not a bad fit. Gorzelanny has had a couple of bad years prior to last season, but he seemed to figure some things out with the Cubs. Although he is still no more than a number 3 pitcher on a mediocre staff (which would be a generous name for the Nationals sans Strasburg), he does have some value. He is a lefty and he does have three years of team control left. The first two years of which Gorzelanny will be extremely cheap, making him a good fit. With Jason Marquis a free agent after this year (as well as Livan Hernandez) it’s not a bad idea to acquire another veteran pitcher.
Analysis: Wang and Gorzelanny don’t really dull the sting of losing out on Lee or Greinke, but they do make this rotation better if they can ensure that the likes of J.D. Martin, Scott Olsen, and Craig Stammen aren’t getting a high number of starts. They might not be the type of pitchers who can dominate a game, but they can keep it close enough for the Nationals bullpen and lineup to win the game.
While the Nationals kinda bizarrely let Joel Peralta go this offseason, what they really needed to replace this offseason was the 4 months of Matt Capps last year. Unfortunately I really don’t know if they accomplished that goal. They brought in Henry Rodriguez via trade and Todd Coffey off the free agent market, but I don’t think that equals Capps (maybe Peralta, but not Capps).
Todd Coffey- There really isn’t anything special about Coffey, he is your typical right-handed middle reliever. He’s hung around the big leagues and posted okay numbers for much of his career, but has never been a real stopper. His signing is more for depth purposes than anything else.
Henry Rodriguez- Rodriguez is a 23-year old fire baller they acquired in the Josh Willingham deal. While stuff wise he could close, he lacks the command and control to do so effectively. While his fastball can be used as a weapon, he’s the type of guy that will need to be on a short leash and kept away from high leverage situations until he shows he can handle it.
Analysis: While Rodriguez has some upside, I think the Nationals made a mistake not acquiring a more veteran reliever (or two). Yes the bullpen was a success last year and Capps can be ‘replaced’ if guys like Storen continue to improve, but its not enough. Washington should have added an arm like Jon Rauch, to help stabilize things in case some of the young relievers regress this season.
The Nationals wanted to improve their defense this offseason without sacrificing too much in the way of offense. So Washington watched Adam Dunn leave via free agency and traded away Josh Willingham to replace them with Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche. While those moves will hurt them in the home run department, and a little overall offensively, they were sound moves overall. Defensively the Nationals should be a lot better, which will save quite a few runs for D.C.
Also the Nationals received value in both the Werth for Dunn swap and LaRoche for Willingham. The Nationals traded away Willingham netting them Rodriguez and another prospect (nothing too significant, but he could be a platoon guy), and the two draft picks the received for Dunn are both higher than the single draft pick they gave up for Werth. The Nationals also added Matt Stairs, Rick Ankiel, and Jerry Hairston Jr. as bench/role players.
Jayson Werth: The Nationals may have very well overpaid for Werth, but he does bring them a significant offensive and defensive threat. He will offer a good amount of protection for Zimmerman and LaRoche, and quickly become a fan favorite. The Nationals need to hope that he can stay healthy all year, and make people forget about Adam Dunn.
Adam LaRoche: LaRoche is a slightly above average first baseman, but he is consistent and offers good defense. Now he doesn’t have the range of top defensive first basemen, but he is a major improvement over Adam Dunn in another way, his receiving skills. Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond were both among the league leaders in throwing errors (Desmond was by far). While some of that had to do with their errant throws, another piece of that was that Dunn couldn’t save anything that wasn’t right to him. LaRoche should be a big upgrade in that area for the Nationals and save them a number of free bases.
Rick Ankiel: Ankiel at one time was considered an effective everyday player, but now is considered really just a role player. He should be a solid pinch hitting option and potential platoon guy for the Nationals. While he shouldn’t start for any long period of time, he is an okay injury fill in, and bench guy.
Matt Stairs: Stairs at this point in his career is purely a pinch hitter, but he is a pretty good one to have around. He too can fill in for the outfield as well at first base, but his best role is that of a pinch hitter. If he makes the Nationals, he will be a good option for Riggleman to have late in the game.
Jerry Hairston Jr.: Hairston Jr. is a bit of a do everything utility guy who can play any position except catcher. He is a good guy to have on the bench and can even be a solid spot starter if someone hits the 15 day D.L. While not a major offensive threat, he puts up okay numbers for a middle infielder/center fielder (his numbers were a bit deflated last year due to Petco). He also is a positive defender at every position, making him a great late inning defensive replacement as well. Hairston also gives the Nationals insurance in case Espinosa or Desmond struggle and need to make adjustments in the minors.
ANALYSIS: While the key to the Nationals will be how their young guys (Wilson Ramos, Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa) develop, and if Michael Morse can expand upon his ‘breakout’ year, the Nationals did improve around them this offseason. I think the defensive improvement will go a long way to making the Nationals better, and improving their young pitchers’ confidence (not to mention their young fielders). While the offense might be a little down, it shouldn’t be a drastic downturn, and it should be made up for with improved play from the rest of the lineup and a vastly improved bench. This is the area I think the Nationals did the most work and improved the greatest.
OVERALL: It wasn’t a great offseason for the Nationals, but it was a good start. I really like what they did with their lineup and defense, the latter of which will help with their pitching staff as well. Not landing an ace was disappointing, but somewhat expected. They made minor improvements to their rotation, but it is far from perfect. The bullpen is one area where I’m disappointed as there were a number of free agent options that would have made the Nationals strength, even more dominate. I think best case scenario for the Nationals is their bullpen stays as effective as it was last season, but doesn’t really improve.
All-in-all the Nationals laid the groundwork to be more of a contender in 2012, when Strasburg should return and Bryce Harper could be ready for the show. The Nationals though I think have done enough to work their way out of the cellar in 2011, but are likely destined for another below .500 finish.