Saturday, 24 March 2012

2012 Previews: Washington Nationals

The Chosen One.

The Majors
This is probably going to be the funnest NL team to watch.  Between Strasburg, Zimmermann, Gio, and Edwin Jackson, this rotation is going to be incredibly solid, assuming they can all stay healthy and consistent.  That's a big "if", because all four have battled a problem with one or the other to this point in their careers.  Strasburg, once he gets a full season under his belt, will probably be the best pitcher in the world for years to come, especially as Roy Halladay's career winds down.  Throw in a bullpen with Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, and Henry Rodriguez, and I think it is safe to say that this team won't really be in too much danger of allowing many runs.

The obvious weakness of this club is the lineup.  If Jayson Werth doesn't rebound and have a nice season offensively, that contract could go down in history as one of the worst of all time.  Fortunately, Ryan Howard is still in the league, and his 5 year, $125MM deal hasn't even started yet, so he should be able to deflect any of that talk down the road to Philly.

The rest of the team's core of position players should be good to go though: Mike Morse appears to have finally broken out, as did Wilson Ramos.  Ryan Zimmerman, when healthy, is one of the best players in the game, and at 24 and 25 years old respectively, Danny Espinosa and Ian Desmond provide plenty of value up the middle.  Who knows, we might see the other Chosen One, Bryce Harper, in a Nats uniform by mid-season to help spruce up the offense.

This is going to be a good team, and they're only going to get better in the next few years.  They have very rich ownership who will be willing to spend, and their convenient back-to-back last places in years with the best prospects we've ever known (Harper and Strasburg) have put them in a position where they can build internally to become a powerhouse.  As the Phillies mini-dynasty is set to come to a crashing halt, the Nationals have a chance to contend this year, and then win for the next few.  I predict that I'll predict them to win the NL East next year.

The Minors
This was a really nice system before the Gio Gonzalez trade, but is now a bit barren.  Obviously, one of the goals of building a nice system is to turn prospects in to useful, controllable MLB-talent the way they did, so that's fine.  As a plus, they've still got Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon, plus some other useful pieces.  Rendon might end up being blocked by Zimmerman if the latter doesn't move to 1B soon, but that's a problem that can be addressed at a later date.

The Verdict
They could surprise, especially if they can get repeat performances out of Morse, a full season out of Zimmerman, and a bounceback from Jayson Werth.  They will definitely contend, and if they're close at the deadline, they've got the financial flexibility and prospects to make a trade and take on some salary if they need to.  Talent-wise, they're probably the third best team in the division, but they should be in the running for the wildcards, if not the division.  I really like the direction that this club is moving, and they'll probably be the team to beat in the NL East in 2013.

Projection: 86-76, 3rd in the NL East.

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