The Washington Nationals continued to claw and scrape towards respectability in 2011, finishing just one game under .500 for the season. They retooled their team for the 2012 season, bringing in a pair of experienced starters in Edwin Jackson and Gio Gonzalez. The Nationals might not win the NL East in 2012, but they’re at least going to contend.
Depth Chart (as of 3/16)
C: Wilson Ramos
1B: Adam LaRoche
2B: Danny Espinosa
SS: Ian Desmond
3B: Ryan Zimmerman
LF: Michael Morse
CF: Roger Bernadina
RF: Jayson Werth
SP: Stephen Strasburg
SP: Jordan Zimmermann
SP: Gio Gonzalez
SP: Edwin Jackson
SP: John Lannan
CL: Drew Storen
I mentioned the two primary new faces in Washington in the intro: Edwin Jackson and Gio Gonzalez. The Nationals swooped in to sign Jackson to a one year deal when no team seemingly would give Jackson the multi-year deal he wanted, and they gave up a bounty of prospects to the Athletics in exchange for Gonzalez. The team also brought in utiltyman Mark DeRosa, who’s missed substantial time over the last couple of seasons, as well as a pair of former top relievers in Brad Lidge and Ryan Perry.
The Nationals didn’t lose a ton of *key* players, but there was still a decent amount of attrition on the team. Bench outfielders Jayson Nix and Jonny Gomes departed as free agents, as did utility infielder Alex Cora. A pair of relievers, Todd Coffey and Doug Slaten, signed elsewhere, as did long-time Nats inning eater Livan Hernandez. Washington also traded a sizeable amount of prospects in the Gonzalez deal, including Derek Norris, Brad Peacock, Tom Milone, and AJ Cole.
One rookie who could have a huge impact rookie on the Nationals this year is either the first or second best prospect in baseball: Bryce Harper. Early on in spring camp, there were rumors floating around that Harper could be the team’s Opening Day starter in right field, with Jayson Werth shifting to center. A hamstring injury in camp has put those dreams to a temporary rest, but Harper could end up in the majors before the end of the season if he continues to rake in the minors. Top pick in the 2011 draft, third baseman Anthony Rendon, could also be on a fast track towards the bigs. However, with the presence of newly extended Ryan Zimmerman at third base, it would likely take an injury (or another bout with ineffectiveness) to first baseman Adam LaRoche for Rendon to get promoted to Washington in 2012.
With Harper’s injury in camp, the competition for a starting slot between him and Roger Bernadina is essentially over. There’s also the possibility that Washington could trade fifth starter John Lannan, who is earning interest from other teams this week. If Lannan were to be dealt, the Nationals would likely fill his rotation spot with Ross Detweiler. Chien Ming Wang was a contender for that position, but an injury has taken him out of the running.
Nothing major is going on with the Nationals. Harper’s hamstring injury isn’t going to result in him missing any gametime, but will cost him a slot in the majors to start the year. Chien Ming Wang is banged up again, and probably will lose his battle for the fifth starter’s slot. First base prospect Chris Marrero, who got a cup of coffee in the majors last season, has a torn hamstring and won’t be ready for the start of the season.
Is Jayson Werth going to live up to his massive contract this season, or continue to struggle?
Stephen Strasburg is a Cy Young candidate, and the rest of the Nationals revamped rotation all pitch up to their potential. The team’s offense doesn’t lose a beat, and the team successfully “takes back the park” and gives the Phillies a run for their money in the NL East.
The innings limits on Strasburg and Zimmermann really dooms the team late in the season, Werth continues to be terrible offensively, Zimmerman gets hurt again, and the team continues to hang out in fourth place in the NL East.
If the Nationals stay healthy, they can contend this season. The real fun may happen next year, with Harper (and possibly Rendon) in the majors full-time. That could result in a playoff berth. This season, expect contention, but not necessarily playoffs.