Sunday, March 11, 2012

Offseason Review: Washington Nationals

Ace Stephen Strasburg returning in 2012 after Tommy John surgery.
As I stated in my article about Ryan Zimmerman's extension, the Nationals aren't messing around, and this is the first year in a long time that they are set to emerge as a relevant team. There are a few key elements that need brushing up, some outfield help and bullpen for example, but the age of futility is not far from being abandoned in the nation's capitol. Last year the Nationals made, in my opinion, the second worst deal for a free agent in Jayson Werth (the first being Carl Crawford, which makes me question the whole Theo Epstein thing... more on that in a week or so when I get to the Cubs). This offseason they were abuzz with productive, gutsy moves. The acquisition and securing of young talent are setting the bullish nats up to be a force in the coming years.

Promising new addition Gio Gonzalez is under team control through 2016
First, and most crucially impacted was the starting rotation. Young phenom Stephen Strasburg missed the entire 2011 season after getting Tommy John. So far in spring training he's been knocking off the dust with pretty decent success. A little shaky on the field, but nothing that can't be worked out. Two other major additions are the signing of Edwin Jackson and the trade for Gio Gonzalez from the perpetually rebuilding A's. Gonzalez had pretty good numbers considering his age last season, and while Nationals park is less friendly to pitchers, he still looks poised to pitch competently and be an aid in turning the Nats in a positive direction. The well traveled Edwin Jackson also joined the team surprisingly late in to the postseason after helping the Cards win a ring in 2011. Edwin Jackson isn't the most incredible pitcher, but his role's versatility is valuable in it's own right. He's an excellent stopgap in case the team doesn't see him as necessary next year, he's capable enough to be re-signed with some legitimacy and he's also a (seemingly constant) trade piece.
Top prospect and abuser of the term "swag" Bryce Harper hopes to reach the majors mid-2012
Offensively nothing major was added in, though Ryan Zimmerman's contract was extended through 2019. Prince Fielder at one point looked like he might be headed to D.C. but ended up elsewhere; and while the rotund slugger won't be gracing Nationals Park outside of interleague play, the notion of him signing there does give you an idea as to what kind of money the Nats are willing to spend. Other than that they mainly just signed a bunch of stopgap dudes (Lidge, Ankiel, Teahen, etc.) who will provide a veteran presence and depth so as to not risk overplaying the young core of the team.

That's pretty much it. A lot of people are predicting the Nationals to come out as a force this year and contend legitimately in the NL East. I don't think that's the case, but it's not too far behind. Assuming players like Harper, Stasburg and Morse keep on track, 2013 may render a playoff run for the Nationals. I'd say this team is a little bit of patience away from being in the conversation for consecutive seasons, but in 2012 they'll finish second last.

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