Offseason In Review: Washington Nationals

The Nationals could contend for the first time since moving to Washington after obtaining two above-average starting pitchers this offseason.

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Mark Teahen, Rick Ankiel, Chad Durbin, Xavier Paul, Mike Cameron, Jeff Fulchino, Jason Michaels, Waldis Joaquin, Brett Carroll, Andres Blanco.

Trades and Claims

Extensions

Notable Losses

Livan Hernandez, Laynce Nix, Alex Cora, Ivan Rodriguez, Jonny Gomes, Cole, Norris, Peacock, Milone, Balester.

The Nationals began their offseason by making Davey Johnson their permanent manager. Now that Opening Day's nearly upon us, it has become clear that the Nationals have legitimate hope of contending in 2012.

Gio Gonzalez - Nationals

They added a pair of hard-throwing pitchers to a rotation that already includes Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann. First, they sent a group of highly-regarded prospects to the Athletics for left-hander Gio Gonzalez (pictured). Brad Peacock and Tom Milone both showed promise in their 2011 debuts and could contribute in Oakland's rotation this year. Gonzalez, who has reached the 200-inning plateau in each of the past two seasons, provides the Nationals with more certainty than Peacock or Milone would have. The Nationals are getting Gonzalez just as he's becoming expensive and his low ERA is likely slightly deceptive based on his peripheral stats, but they can afford the salary and some regression in terms of ERA. 

The club also signed Edwin Jackson to a terrific one-year, $11MM deal. He has averaged 200 innings and a 4.06 ERA since 2008 and seems capable of more. He turned down multiyear offers to sign with the Nationals, who deserve credit for one of the bargain signings of the offseason. They also brought back Chien-Ming Wang on a one-year deal in the hopes that he can build on last season's 11-start showing. The rotation has lots of upside, and its depth is already proving useful with Wang temporarily sidelined. Potential trade candidate John Lannan and Ross Detwiler provide options in case one of the top five starters misses time.

GM Mike Rizzo has spoken for a while about his interest in finding a long-term solution in center field, but the Nationals didn't strike a deal for one this offseason. They'll rely on internal candidates such as Roger Bernadina, Rick Ankiel and Brett Carroll at the position for now and continue monitoring the market for upgrades. They showed interest in Adam Jones, Gerardo Parra, Jason Bourgeois, Peter Bourjos and B.J. Upton this offseason without acquiring anyone. Perhaps they'll complete a deal next year when the free agent market could feature Upton, Shane Victorino and Michael Bourn.

The Nationals figured prominently in the offseason's Prince Fielder rumors, even though they don't appear to have been a finalist for the powerful first baseman. They ranked 24th in MLB in runs scored a year ago and Fielder would've provided some welcome offense. However, a $200MM commitment is never easy to justify, even when ownership has raised payroll in recent years.

Offense could be a concern in 2012. Though the Nationals scored just 624 runs in 2011, they chose to rely on improvements from within instead of signing free agents or trading for position players. Jayson Werth should provide more offense during his second season in D.C., and it's hard to imagine that Adam LaRoche will produce less than he did in 2011. Plus, top prospect Bryce Harper figures to join the team midseason (good sense prevailed and they're having him start the season in the minors). Perhaps Wilson Ramos — safe again after being kidnapped in Venezuela — can build on his impressive 2011 numbers.

The Nationals signed three players to extensions: Morse, Gonzalez and Zimmerman. Morse's two-year deal will save the Nationals money if he comes close to replicating the numbers he posted during his breakout 2011 campaign, but the upside is limited. It's hard to endorse the deal from the Nationals' perspective since they didn't extend their control over Morse. They did obtain the rights to three of Gonzalez's free agent seasons by locking him up to a contract that includes two team options. It's a win for the left-hander, who obtains considerable security before accumulating three years of service time, but there's real upside for the Nationals on this deal. The Zimmerman extension – $100MM for a player who's missed approximately one month per season since 2008 — carries risk. Still, I like this deal for the team because Zimmerman's worth more than an average annual value of $16.7MM when he's at his best.

The Nationals added longtime closer Brad Lidge and hard-throwing right-hander Ryan Perry to the bullpen this offseason. Lidge, now 35, showed flashes of dominance in 25 outings with the Phillies last year and if his slider resembles its former self, he'll be well-worth the $1MM commitment.

The Nationals are poised to contend for the first time since moving to Washington, especially since an extra Wild Card spot is now in play. They've got an electrifying rotation and a strong bullpen. If their offense rebounds the way they expect it to, this club promises to finish above .500 and make a run at the postseason.

Photo courtesy Icon SMI.


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20 Comments on "Offseason In Review: Washington Nationals"


3 years 5 months ago

Still nothing on the DeRosa contract amount?  How does no one have that info yet?

3 years 5 months ago

Nats are relying on Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa at the top of the order?  Not playoff team stuff there. Zim’s gonna hit a lot of solo shots.

Some_guy_with_something_to_say
3 years 5 months ago

There’s some reason to hope that Espinosa’s OBP can improve significantly.  Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s the case with Desmond.

PieroB
3 years 5 months ago

Both Lombardozzi and DeRosa can pick up the slack for Desmond or Espinosa. Desmond could easily and quickly lose his job and end up back in AAA.

But the statistical truth is the Nats lack impact hitters such as a Berkman, Holiday, Fielder, Votto … closest are Morse and Zimmerman. Harper and Rendon perhaps in the near future … they really need those more than a lead-off hitter. And NO, Dunn and Willingham weren’t impact hitters Morse managed to exceed both in that category. As mentioned Ramos also looks like he may have potential to provide this. As does Flores. And Espinosa is still developing and he too could provide this desperately needed asset in time.

Harper is fast enough and good enough to lead off as well. And perhaps Corey Brown? I’m not worried about lead-off as much as having impact hitters (especially left-handed) in the lineup.

Some_guy_with_something_to_say
3 years 5 months ago

There’s no reason to believe that DeRosa or Lombardozzi would be improvements over Desmond.  Lombardozzi only has 31 major league at bats, and he’s just 23.  He might be better than Desmond eventually, but there’s also a very good chance that he’ll struggle to adjust to major league pitching.  DeRosa hasn’t hit in 3 years (and for that matter, he’s only played 4 innings at 2B since 2008).

They problem isn’t necessarily that they lack a lead-off hitter type, it’s that the guys they put in that spot in the lineup can’t get on base.

I don’t really understand what you’re trying to say about an impact hitter.  There’s no one in the Nats lineup who has put up numbers like Fielder or Votto, but Morse’s 2011 and Zimmerman’s 2010 were comparable with Holliday’s 2009-2011 seasons and better than Berkman’s.

Furthermore, I’d argue that your theory on “impact hitters” is just plain wrong.  The Phillies won 102 games last year without an impact hitter other than Hunter Pence, and he didn’t show up until game #106 (they played .628 ball before he got there, and .630 ball after).  Teams score runs based on the offensive production of their entire lineup — and that can be achieved with or without “impact” hitters.

Nobody thinks that the Nats will win a lot of games if they don’t get good offensive seasons from Morse, Zimmerman, Werth, Espinosa and Ramos, plus some contribution from Desmond, Lombo, Harper and LaRoche.

Edit:
Morse wOBA in 2011: .387. Zimmerman wOBA in 2010: .389.

Holliday 3-year average 2009-2011: .393. Berkman: .378.

2011 Phillies: Howard: .354; Victorino: .372; Mayberry: .369; Utley: .344.

So, yeah, what I wrote was exactly right. Morse in 2011 and Zimmerman in 2010 were comparable to Holliday over the past 3 years and better than Berkman. They were also better than any of the Phillies in 2011 until Pence showed up.

The Nationals would have been better served by replacing Desmond and Ankiel with league average players than by replacing Morse with Votto. Do the math. And learn to write.

(And not that it matters, but Dunn and Willingham were both better in 2010 than Berkman’s average year from 2009-2011, and Dunn’s 2009 was better than Holliday’s 2009-2011 average year.)

PieroB
3 years 5 months ago

And I would say you’re “just plain wrong” dude. You know very little about baseball with this utter and complete nonsense!

 No impact hitters on the Philllies? You know very little about the NL East that’s for sure. What do you call Ryan Howard for starters? John Mayberry? Shane Victorino? And Utley when he is healthy.

What defines an impact hitter? Clearly YOU DON’T KNOW? Pujols class hitter. Yes, that’s Berkman, that’s Votto? Is there a way to quantify this? Yes, using a stat that is often mangled into calculating a WAR for a player its called the bRAA.

The Nats only had one player who managed to get a decent bRAA last season and that was Morse. Zimmerman managed a pretty decent one but due to the injury and surgery not in the same neighborhood as an impact hitter.

William Kafer
3 years 5 months ago

 John Mayberry is an impact hitter, but no one on the Nationals is. Got it.

NatsTown
3 years 5 months ago

 So John Maberry and Shane Victorino are impact hitters but Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse arent? Come on dude.

Some_guy_with_something_to_say
3 years 5 months ago

 Morse put up a .387 wOBA last year and Zimmerman put up a .389 in 2010.  Holliday’s 3 year average from 2009-2011 was .393, and Berkman’s was .378.

Last year, none of the 4 Phillies matched Morse’s 2011 or Zimmerman’s 2010 in wOBA.

The wRAA numbers are comparable, since they’re extrapolated from wOBA.

So yeah, what I wrote was right.  Don’t be a jerk when you can’t back it up.  And learn to write.

The whole baseball theory that wRAA is based on is that you win by creating runs in your lineup.  It doesn’t matter if 9 guys create 80 runs a piece or if one guy creates 160 by himself and the other 8 create 70 a piece: you’ve still created 720 runs. 

The Nationals need to create more runs, and they can do that by bringing their weak positions up to league average or by adding studs on top of the lineup they have.  The Nats aren’t bad because they lack Pujols caliber hitters, they’re bad because their lineup is bad and one way to improve the lineup would be add a Pujols caliber hitter.  Last year the Nationals would have been better off replacing Desmond and Ankiel with league average hitters than if they had replaced Morse with Votto.

Guest
3 years 5 months ago

I’ve all but given up on trying with desmond..all he does at this point is get me worked up.

rockfordone
3 years 5 months ago

nice .500 team – short in many areas – it will take time

PieroB
3 years 5 months ago

Pitching and pretty good defense propelled Tampa Bay and the Giants to the playoffs. Even with sputtering and at times pathetic offense … why not the Nats?

LUWahooNatFan
3 years 5 months ago

Team went 80-81 last year.. if you think they’ll finish only one game better, you aren’t very bright

rockfordone
3 years 5 months ago

Because I like three other teams in that division. Phils, Braves and Fish. Pretty much spells .500

LUWahooNatFan
3 years 5 months ago

You like the Fish, who finished 8.5 games below the Nationals last year over them? Ok.

rockfordone
3 years 5 months ago

yes – added speed and defense (Reyes) SP (Buehrle and Big Z) and closer (Bell)

NatsTown
3 years 5 months ago

 Edwin Jackson and Gio Gonzales > Buehrle and Zambrano and our bullpen is infinitly better than the fish. Sure Reyes is great and all but he single handedly doesnt make them better, plus you have all that dysfunction in the locker room.

headsupkid01
3 years 5 months ago

Your getting they. At least the team is moving forward and not rebuilding the team year after year like some clubs.

jdouble777
3 years 5 months ago

“The next step” hinges on Harper, and will continue to do so for years to come. If/when he explodes onto the scene as a Kemp-like MVP player the offense suddenly works and the above average defense, bull pen, and rotation become championship caliber. Someone mentioned the Giants run and I want to encourage you to think about the various players that had terrific offense season that year to get that done. 

Realistically, this is no the year. Next season Strasburg will be able to be Carpenter of last year and Lincecum of the year before, Harper will be hitting ahead of Zimmerman and relegating Werth to CF/5 hole, and the rest of youth will have grown season (Ramos, Espy, Storen, J. Zimmerman). Should a solid CF be added that at 50 SBs, puts a CF glove like Werth’s in the corner and Morse ends up at 1B where he belongs I think the offense suddenly parallels the Phillies of ole’. 

This year will be more fun than last and next year things will be for real. That said, if the young guys reach their potential quicker and Harper bursts onto the scene then this season might get interesting, especially if a July trade for a legit CF takes place. 

LUWahooNatFan
3 years 5 months ago

Nationals need a lead-off man pretty badly, and I don’t see a single very good candidate on the roster besides perhaps Lombardozzi, but Rizzo and Co. seem to love Desmond. Frankly, I think this is a make or break year for Desmond, if he doesn’t put up better numbers then he has thus fan, don’t be surprised to see an infield of Espinosa/Dozzi with Rendon factoring in at some point.

At this point, I don’t see the point in trying to aquire a CF if Harper already has the position in AAA and it’s just a matter of time before he’s in D.C… Though personally I’d rather move him to a corner spot with Werth and go after one of (Upton, Victorino, or Bourn) this off-season, allowing for Morse to move to 1B.

Pitching looks solid, though I’d rather have Detwiler in the 5-spot then Lannan, who  in my opinion is either getting traded at some point this year or non-tendered after the year.