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Nationals have all of the pieces for a longer run in 2013

Oct 13, 2012, 2:04 AM EDT

Bryce Harper Reuters

Yeah, that was a particularly gruesome way to lose. But that will only make the eventual payoff that much sweeter.

Of course, the Nationals aren’t guaranteed anything going forward after losing in the NLDS to the Cardinals on Friday night. Shutting down Stephen Strasburg early was a move geared towards protecting the future, but the Nationals are far from assured of finishing with the NL’s best record again next year or even making it back to the postseason.

That said, things do look pretty good:

– A top four of Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler is not only a great rotation, but it will also be a cheap one. The quarter will make about $13.5 million total in 2013.

Bryce Harper is only going to get better, and he appeared to get more adept in center field as his rookie season went on. That means the Nationals can maintain their Michael Morse-Harper-Jayson Werth outfield and re-sign Adam LaRoche to sign play first base if they’d like. And since Morse can play first base, they also have flexibility if LaRoche leaves as a free agent and they want to replace him with a leadoff-type center fielder.

Wilson Ramos will from his torn ACL to upgrade the catcher spot. Kurt Suzuki would make for a very expensive backup catcher unless the Nats decide to trade him, but they’re cheap enough elsewhere that they should be able to afford to keep him at $6.5 million.

The Nationals should have the payroll flexibility to target a big-name starter if they want one, whether it’s through free agency or trade. Even if LaRoche departs, the offense should be better next year with growth from Harper and more at-bats to Werth and Morse. Ian Desmond may fall off a bit, but he just turned 27 and may simply be hitting his stride.

Having the NL’s best rotation on paper didn’t do the Phillies much good this year, but the Nationals have to be considered the NL East favorites in 2013. They just won 98 games with the NL’s second-youngest team (the Triple-A Astros being the youngest), and barring a major misstep, there will be more talent coming in than exiting this winter.

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