If you’re looking for work, the Nationals have some open positions going in to next season. Who are they going to get to fill in the spots? Let’s first go down the list and see who’s going to play where
At least part of this infield is complete. Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond appear to be locks to start next year, as does some combination of Wilson Ramos and Pudge at catcher. Right now it appears that Danny Espinosa is the starting 2B, but I am not convinced he is enough of a full time hitter to have a strong grip on the job. If there was another second baseman on the market, even for a short term signing, I wouldn’t put it past the team to go after him. As for first base, that is the gaping hole in the infield needs to be addressed. Nobody is ready to step up from the minors, although Chris Marrero may not be far away, there is little thought that he’d be on the major league squad this summer.
The Nationals have 3 outfielders that will all play next year – Josh Willingham, Roger Bernadina, and Mike Morse. Nyjer Morgan may or may not be on the team next season, and if he’s not, it is assumed Bernadina would be moved to center.
While they do have 3 guys at least, Willingham’s contract ends after this coming season, and he likely won’t be re-signed. Also, Mike Morse played very well last year, but he still has yet to accumulated more than 300 PAs in a season, so his reliability for the long haul is questionable. They do have a young right fielder you may have heard of, Bryce Harper, in the farm system that will be the future at that position, who may be up as soon as 2012. That would probably prevent them from making a long-term right fielder free agent signing, but the question marks for the near term leaves openings at any of the positions.
Lets start with the good – the bullpen looks strong. Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett, Joel Peralta, and Doug Slaten all had good seasons and figure to be a part of the team in next season. Throw in Miguel Batista’s role as whatever you need him as, and a strong contender from the minors in Josh Wilkie, they look to have a strong bullpen again next season.
The starting pitching, on the other hand, is just the opposite. Jordan Zimmermann is a strong looking youngster, and may be at the front end of the rotation, but his career ERA of 4.71 hasn’t overwhelmed as of yet. His 119 Ks to 39 BBs in 122 1/3 IP has, but the consistency isn’t there yet. Livan Hernandez is a wonderful story in 2010. But who’s to say that he’ll repeat his success in 2011, or if he’ll pitch more like he did in the few years prior. Who can say what the team will get from Ross Detwiler, John Lannan, Jason Marquis or Yunesky Maya? And anyone beyond that is even more of a guess.
On top of that, they lost their biggest power bat with the end of Adam Dunn’s contract. Unless the re-sign him, or find a replacement, they will lose a serious amount of offensive production. And they still don’t have a leadoff hitter, in the sense that there really isn’t a high-OBP guy to stick in that spot and allow Zimmerman, Willingham and others to drive in runs.
The team needs a first baseman, possibly and outfielder, and a power hitter. A leadoff guy would be nice, too. It seems these needs intersect, and they might be able to find a few guys to check those boxes. But this issues with the position players pale in comparison to the starting pitching. And unless someone establishes himself this season, you’re looking at Strasburg (hopefully), Zimmermann, and more questions marks in 2012. What they probably should be going for hardest is a true ace. Someone who can be a number one starter for several years. Then, if all goes well, they’ll enter the playoffs with 2 or 3 top of the line starters. You’ve seen what that does for teams in the playoffs in the last decade or so, it would be a good thing for the Nats to try to have the same. Next, I’ll take a look at who’s available, and if they might fit in.