Mar 5, 2014, 12:00 PM EST
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.
Feb 1, 2015, 9:33 PM EST
A ticket booth on the first floor of the warehouse at Camden Yards caught fire on Sunday night.
Feb 1, 2015, 8:25 PM EST
The Padres began their overhaul shortly after signing Clint Barmes to a one-year deal. He wasn’t quite expecting to be on a team expected to seriously contend with the Dodgers in the NL West.
Feb 1, 2015, 7:15 PM EST
Jeff Samardzija wants to see “how it is” with the White Sox for half a season, but might consider a contract extension before the 2015 season is over.
Feb 1, 2015, 6:05 PM EST
Check out what David Ortiz and Robinson Cano think will happen in Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday night.
Feb 1, 2015, 5:20 PM EST
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that the Reds have agreed to a contract with 32-year-old left-hander Paul Maholm.
Feb 1, 2015, 4:11 PM EST
Badler writes that Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez and assistant GM John Coppolella were both in attendance, along with a number of special assistants and the organization’s top two scouts.
Feb 1, 2015, 2:37 PM EST
Zack Greinke is allowed to opt out of his six-year, $146 million contract with the Dodgers after the 2015 season. In doing that, the right-hander would be leaving three years and $77 million on the table but …
Feb 1, 2015, 1:13 PM EST
Stefan Stevenson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that Harrison has put off moving his throwing program from 90 feet to out 105 feet because he is experiencing tightness in his right hip.
Feb 1, 2015, 11:58 AM EST
Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes in his weekly Sunday notes column that Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson — who’s getting set to take on the Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX tonight on NBC — is planning to spend some time in camp this spring with the Texas Rangers.
Feb 1, 2015, 10:32 AM EST
The 37-year-old will likely have to settle for a minor league contract. He’d then have to earn a roster spot.
Feb 1, 2015, 9:05 AM EST
Here is some great video from Ernie Banks’ memorial service Saturday in Chicago …
Jan 31, 2015, 11:25 PM EST
Meghan King Edmonds and Katie Chadwick Hamilton, the wives of Jim and Josh respectively, will appear on the tenth season of The Real Housewives of Orange County.
Jan 31, 2015, 10:40 PM EST
Brandon Workman will enter spring training as a reliever, attempting to grab a scarce spot at the back of the Red Sox bullpen.
Jan 31, 2015, 9:50 PM EST
The Padres are still interested in Phillies ace Cole Hamels, though they may not be able to put together an enticing enough deal to attain him.
Jan 31, 2015, 9:00 PM EST
The Braves may have pawned off many of their productive players, but Freddie Freeman still thinks they’ll compete in 2015.
Jan 31, 2015, 8:10 PM EST
Jayson Werth signed an inmate handbook for someone during his stay in jail in Fairfax, Virginia.
Jan 31, 2015, 7:10 PM EST
Ernie Banks, who played 19 seasons in the major leagues, made an enormous impact on the game of baseball. That has been evident in the wonderful stories that have been shared over the last week.
Jan 31, 2015, 6:05 PM EST
The Rays added some depth, signing reliever Ronald Belisario on Saturday. It appears they’ll be adding infielder Alexi Casilla as well.
Jan 31, 2015, 5:30 PM EST
Baxter appeared in four games with the Dodgers last season and owns a .225/.331/.342 batting line in the majors. He’ll always be aces with Mets fans, though.
Jan 31, 2015, 4:39 PM EST
Richards emerged as one of the best pitchers in the American League last season before tearing his left patellar tendon in August.
- There was a fire at Camden Yards 0
- David Ortiz and Robinson Cano give their Super Bowl XLIX predictions 7
- Zack Greinke hasn’t made decision about opt-out 9
- Someone apparently got Jayson Werth’s autograph in jail 20
- Chris Davis opens up about his Adderall suspension: “It was a moment of weakness” 55
- MLB.com names Byron Buxton as baseball’s top prospect for second straight year 42
- Yasiel Puig says the Cardinals are the Dodgers’ “principal rivals,” not the Giants 106
- Jayson Werth to serve five days in jail for reckless driving 48
- Great Moments in Media Arrogance: Marshawn Lynch edition (173)
- Yasiel Puig says the Cardinals are the Dodgers’ “principal rivals,” not the Giants (106)
- Why “Deflategate” would never happen in baseball (96)
- The Yankees are going to try to get out of paying A-Rod his contract incentives (85)
- Rosenthal proposal: make relievers face more than one batter per appearance (74)