Any conversation about baseball’s most-loaded team must begin with their R. Lee Ermey style manager, Davey Johnson. Johnson is baseball’s finest manager, having been perched on dugout top steps since Small Pox was a problem; he’s seen more baseball than any living man has forgotten.
Johnson is a no-nonsense, tough loving, thick skinned son of a gun. He’ll probably live to be 120 years old before crawling off into the woods somewhere and dying alone with his dignity like only the toughest old hombres would do. We actually were lucky enough to obtain footage from the Nationals Spring Training barracks just a few days ago. Let’s take a good look at Johnson addressing his troops during a routine, middle of the night bed check:
If there’s one thing Sergeant Davey hates to find, it’s an unlocked foot locker. How did you like when he went off at Dan Haren there in the video for having a jelly doughnut in his foot locker? In all fairness to the Gunnery Sergeant Davey and Haren; this came after Haren’s most recent troubling spring start.
Biggest Off-Season Moves:
The Nationals had an already absolutely loaded roster, even down into their minor leagues before any of these moves were made. Things seemed to line up perfectly for them to add three key veterans in spots that could afford some touching up with the perfect addition.
I have loved everything that this team has done in building it’s organization since General Manager Mike Rizzo took over. Now they’re in a position to really reap the benefits over the next five to seven years. They’ll have a chance to win a World Series every year in that window unless something goes wildly wrong. They’re also in position to trade a highly valued prospect in the farm system; of which there are many, should they need to acquire another Major League ready player to help them in their current run. Times are good right now for the Washington Nationals, and that is putting it lightly.
Projected Starting Lineup:
The lineup is built around the best 20-year old player possibly ever. But let’s ignore that for a second. As you look up and down the lineup there are dependable, solid big league hitters that will allow a manager like Johnson to lean on them to score just enough to better the opponent on a nightly basis. That isn’t going to be a tough job when you can toss arms out there every inning of every night like the Nationals can.
When he’s healthy, Ryan Zimmerman is a proven star player with the ability to hit .300 with some power. He’s a leader and a force in the middle of the lineup. He’s a sound third baseman. Adding Span at the top of the order allows the Nationals to possibly boast about having one of baseball’s best lead-off hitters. Span also has the ability to hit .300 and a floor of about .280 at worst.
And then as with every really good lineup, there is power. Jayson Werth hit .300 last year in just 300 at-bats and only managed five home runs. He saw his power sapped from a wrist injury that cost him half of his season (and led to the call-up of Bryce Harper). He should see his power numbers return to the 20 home run range. He should be considered a 20/20 threat in the two-hole.
Adam LaRoche was so good last year that he pushed the popular Mike Morse out of town. LaRoche hit 33 home runs and drove in 100 while hitting .271 for the year. That’s exactly what the elite teams are looking for from their first-baseman in solidifying the five-spot in the lineup. Ian Desmond enjoyed a break-out campaign in 2012 with 25 home runs and 21 steals, all while hitting .293 for the season.
At the bottom of the lineup the Nationals are still able to offer guys like Danny Espinosa, Wilson Ramos, Kurt Suzuki, and Steve Lombardozzi. These are very talented pieces in their own right. Espinosa has the upside to do Desmond-like numbers one of these years soon. Even if he doesn’t and remains what he is at his current state, he’s still a really nice player offensively at times and great with the glove. Ramos was on the verge of being a Yadier Molina type stud at catcher before he sustained a serious injury last year. The catching duties will be a 50-50 split to start the year, but by season’s end the elite bat in Ramos will earn him the steady job if he can hold up five days a week physically.
It should probably be saved for another post, but the Nationals hold a talent in the minor leagues in Anthony Rendom who will be a star at the next level. Roger Bernadina, Brian Goodwin, and Tyler Moore are starting this season on a lot of other teams but the Nationals get to use them as reserves or keep in the case of Goodwin he’s blocked and in the minors.
And the conversation has to returns to Harper. No one really knows what he’s capable of. It’s impossible to predict a ceiling for what Harper does this season just as it was for Mike Trout in 2012. We’ve probably seen Harper’s floor in what he did as a rookie, and it was very good. If things go perfectly, we could be talking about a player who hits 40 home runs and steals 30 bases while scoring 120 runs and hitting .290, all while contending for an MVP award at age twenty. He’s the centerpiece of the entire organization, and they have done an exemplary job at adding talent around him to be ready for the window in which he will be a Major Leaguer and under Nationals control.
Projected Pitching Staff:
I think this is the best starting staff in the National League, and possibly in baseball.
What a beautiful thing to be able to line Harper up in the outfield behind Strasburg, the most highly touted collegiate player of all-time. No team should be so fortunate. No fan base should be so lucky. The Nationals have them both, and Strasburg responded well from Tommy John surgery last season to go 15-6 with a 3.16 ERA and 198 strikeouts last season. Everyone knows the story with the Nationals shutting him down early. You can’t go back on that and it might have cost them a flag that would have flied forever.
Strasburg is ready for more full-go contact this season, and you just hope his arm continues to respond because he’s something to marvel at every fifth day and worth the price of an MLB.tv purchase just so you can watch him a few times when you’re sitting around the house with nothing else to do. If you like baseball you won’t be bored any longer after that.
How great was Gio Gonzalez last season? He went 21-8 with a 2.89 ERA and 207 strikeouts. He’s the staff ace of about 95% of teams out there, but the Nationals have the luxury of throwing him as their two man. Jordan Zimmerman kind of falls into the same category. So phenomenal last season with the 12-8 record and 2.94 ERA. We could see Zimmerman taking a step back last year. He allowed 184 hits but doesn’t walk many hitters. This allowed him to survive and swim among the elite.
Dan Haren comes over after a disappointing year in Anaheim, and if he can find his old form (he may not at all) it would be a real shot in the arm for the Nationals that they won’t even need. Haren is a veteran presence still just a couple seasons removed from being one of the top arms in the game. He will cross the 2,000 inning mark this season so there is a ton of wear on the tires.
One thing no one is talking about is the ability of the Nationals fifth starter Ross Detwiler. He’s a forgotten man, and most people don’t realize he was the 6th overall pick in the 2007 draft. The Nationals have filed him away and last year when he stepped in for what would have been Strasburg’s turn to pitch in the NLDS game four, it was no surprise to me that he fired six effective innings against the best the Cardinals had to offer. He has a chance to win between 14 to 16 games and be a real impact guy for the Nationals quietly.
When you look at the Nationals bullpen, there’s nothing but smoke and electric arms up and down. Rafael Soriano enters town as the closer, but Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen, Henry Rodriguez are all capable of filling the role and shortening ballgames which often won’t even require their services due to a quality start provided by one of the men we’ve already mentioned in this post.
The Nationals are so loaded with arms it’s almost not fair.
Mevs’ Projected Record and Finish:
100-62, First place in the National League East
It’s Davey Johnson’s final season which is a real shame, but the Nationals will give him a proper send off. This team will be better due to the shortfall that occurred in the NLDS last season against St. Louis and it’s known throughout their organization that anything less than a World Series title is not accomplishing anything. They’re all in for this year, and they’re the best team on paper as the season begins.
Expect lots of home runs, lots of strikeouts, lots of heroics and especially lots of cussing. Yes, cussing. Davey Johnson isn’t leaving town without telling a few good men that they’re yellow chicken shits and then returning to his bunk quarters to drink their Sailor Jerry that he confiscated from them earlier in the evening.
Lock up your daughters because when the Nationals come to town this year no one’s safe.