Mar 5, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2014 season. Next up: The Washington Nationals.
The Big Question: Can the Nationals reclaim their throne atop the NL East?
The Nationals were everybody’s pre-season darlings going into the 2013 season. Yours truly, in fact, picked them to represent the National League in the World Series. They just never got it going, struggling to reach .500 deep into August. A late-season run in which they went 32-16 in the final 48 games gave fans a glimmer of hope that they could grab a Wild Card spot, but they ultimately fell short at 86-76.
Don’t let their disappointing season hide some stellar performances by some Nationals players, though. Jayson Werth posted a .931 OPS, tied for the sixth-highest in baseball with Troy Tulowitzki. Bryce Harper’s season was the 26th in baseball history in which a player posted 3.5 or more WAR before his 21st birthday. Stephen Strasburg posted an even 3.00 ERA and would have been in the Cy Young conversation if not for Clayton Kershaw, Matt Harvey, and Jose Fernandez making a 3.00 ERA look bad.
One big reason why the Nationals lagged compared to 2012 was their production at second base. Compared to 2012, their OPS from the position dropped 30 points. Danny Espinosa struggled, primarily due to a broken wrist. He finished with a .477 OPS and lost his job to Anthony Rendon, who posted a .743 OPS.
Denard Span wasn’t quite as good as they hoped when they acquired him in a trade with the Twins. He was half as good for the Nationals in 2013 as he was for the Twins the year prior according to Baseball Reference’s WAR, dropping from 5.1 to 2.4. In 2012, the Nats had Harper and his 5.2 WAR in center, so it was a noticeable difference.
The Nationals weren’t terribly active over the winter. Their marquee move was acquiring Doug Fister in a trade with the Tigers. They made a smooth move in acquiring reliever Jerry Blevins from the Athletics for minor leaguer Billy Burns. Also of note, the club hired Matt Williams as manager, taking over for Davey Johnson, who retired.
What else is going on?
- Williams is making Rendon and Espinosa compete for the job at second base. Rendon should be considered the favorite for the job, but a bad spring for the former and a good one for the latter could tip the scales.
- The Fister trade was an absolute steal and gives the Nationals one of the scariest rotations in baseball. The Nationals gave up minor leaguer Robbie Ray, reliever Ian Krol, and utility infielder Steve Lombardozzi. Fister posted a 3.67 ERA for the Tigers last year with a 3.6 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
- Werth will turn 35 years old in May and he’s been plagued by injuries over the last two years, and generally over his career. While he was incredibly productive with the bat, the Nationals have to be concerned about his ability to hold up over a grueling 162-game season.
- Closer Rafael Soriano’s strikeout rate declined from 25 percent to 18 percent last season. While a 3.11 ERA and 43 saves aren’t anything to complain about, closers generally find it tougher to succeed striking out fewer than 20 percent of batters. The National League average for relievers overall last season was 21 percent. If Soriano continues to regress, the Nationals may want to consider moving Tyler Clippard into the closer’s role.
Prediction: The Nationals are bringing back essentially the same club that won 86 games last year, except Doug Fister is replacing Dan Haren. They’ll have a stronger bullpen with Blevins, a healthy Werth, and better production at second base. They should get back into the 90-win club at the very least. First place, NL East.
Jul 31, 2014, 6:16 PM EDT
Matt Cain’s ulnar collateral ligament has checked out fine, but he’s dealing with “loose bodies” in his throwing elbow and it’s unclear when he’ll pitch again.
Jul 31, 2014, 5:28 PM EDT
Once upon a time Andy Marte was one of the best prospects in baseball. He cracked Baseball America’s top 15 list in 2004, 2005, and 2006.
Jul 31, 2014, 5:15 PM EDT
You happy, Philly?
Jul 31, 2014, 4:52 PM EDT
The Braves get their lefty and a venerable super sub. The Cubs get an interesting catching prospect.
Jul 31, 2014, 4:46 PM EDT
Shortly after acquiring Stephen Drew and Martin Prado in separate trades this afternoon the Yankees announced that starting second baseman Brian Roberts has been designated for assignment.
Jul 31, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT
Some pitching heading Miami’s way.
Jul 31, 2014, 4:20 PM EDT
All month the assumption has been that the Twins would either sign Kurt Suzuki to a contract extension or trade the 30-year-old impending free agent in the middle of his career-year.
Jul 31, 2014, 4:16 PM EDT
A super sub at heart who can and will be used at multiple positions by the Yankees.
Jul 31, 2014, 4:15 PM EDT
Recapping all of Thursday’s dealings in one spot.
Jul 31, 2014, 3:59 PM EDT
How committed are the Red Sox to blowing up the roster? They just made a trade with the Yankees–the Yankees–sending shortstop Stephen Drew to New York just 39 games after re-signing him to a $10 million deal.
Jul 31, 2014, 3:55 PM EDT
With Price in town, a guy who one the AL MVP and Cy Young Award a couple of years ago is now the TIgers fourth starter.
Jul 31, 2014, 3:40 PM EDT
In search of infield help with Ryan Zimmerman on the disabled list again, the Nationals have acquired switch-hitting shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera from the Indians in exchange for minor leaguer Zach Walters.
Jul 31, 2014, 3:19 PM EDT
Drip . . . drip . . . drip . . .
Jul 31, 2014, 3:13 PM EDT
This morning the Red Sox were reportedly close to trading left-handed reliever Andrew Miller to the Tigers, but that deal apparently fell through because now Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com reports that Miller has been sent to the Orioles.
Jul 31, 2014, 2:21 PM EDT
A lefty masher is having a down year, but he can help out in Seattle.
Jul 31, 2014, 2:14 PM EDT
Parra’s offensive production has dropped off this season, falling about 50 points compared to his career norms, but he remains an excellent defensive corner outfielder capable of handling center field if needed.
Jul 31, 2014, 1:53 PM EDT
Tea leaves are fun.
Jul 31, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
Not satisfied with adding Justin Masterson to the rotation yesterday, the Cardinals have added another veteran starter by acquiring John Lackey from the Red Sox. And, much like Boston’s deal to get Yoenis Cespedes from Oakland for Jon Lester, the Red Sox have prioritized the present by getting veterans Allen Craig and Joe Kelly in exchange.
Jul 31, 2014, 12:49 PM EDT
Seems that Gomes knows more about team chemistry than the people who hold him up as a paragon of good chemistry.
Jul 31, 2014, 12:38 PM EDT
Because the Dodgers can apparently never have too many current and former closers in the bullpen, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that they’re “trying hard” to acquire Joaquin Benoit from the Padres.
- 2014 Trade Deadline Tracker 45
- ACES GALORE: The Rays trade David Price to the Tigers 121
- Red Sox trade John Lackey to Cardinals for Allen Craig and Joe Kelly 86
- The Lester trade is a win-win 112
- Jon Lester, Jonny Gomes heading to Oakland for Yoenis Cespedes 164
- The State of the Trade Deadline: Yesterday was pretty sleepy. Will general managers wake up today? 40
- Cardinals acquire Justin Masterson from Indians 49
- There’s a “very good chance” the Red Sox trade Lackey and Lester 53
- Expert’s Corner: How to troll fans of all 30 teams (202)
- “Caucasians” t-shirts are hot sellers on Canadian Indian reservations (199)
- Jon Lester, Jonny Gomes heading to Oakland for Yoenis Cespedes (164)
- Rangers’ retirement gifts for Derek Jeter: Yankees cowboy boots, signed George W. Bush photo (123)
- ACES GALORE: The Rays trade David Price to the Tigers (121)