Washington Nationals: 2011 Season Preview In Review.

I agreed with something I read this morning, where another writer had noted that there wasn't much point in preseason predictions if you didn't revisit them and see how good or bad you were at forecasting the future. With that in mind, I went back and found the main 2011 Season Preview interview I conducted with Corey Seidman of the Phillies site BrotherlyGlove.com. It's the only place I could find that I really put my thoughts about the then-upcoming season in print before things got underway. The following answers were written in the day or so before it was published on March 24, 2011. I've added my hindsight-aided commentary throughout in bold and [brackets]

Q: What is your take on the entirety of the Jayson Werth situation - the signing itself, what it's supposed to represent, etc. What is your opinion from a "player" standpoint and from a "value" standpoint? [ed. note - "In hindsight I ask, 'Is this really where we're starting?'"]

A: To be honest, I entered the winter wondering which team would overpay to get a player who wouldn't play the same outside of Philadelphia, Citizens Bank and the Phillies' lineup. [ed. note - "I did not think Werth would struggle as much as he did, and his second-half was not bad right? Well he was okay defensively, outside of charging the ball and barehanding poorly. Uh, yeah. How long? Six more? He changed the culture though...I actually do believe some of that stuff."] I see why the Washington Nationals did this, however, and though I'm still not sure if Werth is the right player for the kind of deal he got, [ed. note - "le sighs"] hopefully for the next three-to-five years [ed. note - "Six years."] Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Wilson Ramos (and eventually Bryce Harper?) will provide enough offense to build around while adding one way or another a first baseman and center fielder if they don't develop them (Chris Marrero 1B, Derek Norris C/1B?, Eury Perez CF) and the pitching they need to supplement all the arms they've drafted in the last few years. [ed. note - "Did we like Marrero in September? His 2011 season as a whole? More time in Syracuse or a trade? What's Marrero's future? Is Norris blocked and thus a part of the depth the Nats will trade from? And how about that CF and starting pitcher? The Nats enter the winter once again in search of both."]

As for Werth's value, [ed. note - "+2.5 WAR in 2011 down from +5.2/+5.0/+5.3 WAR in '08'-'10."] the Nationals knew they had to overpay wildly and would have to outbid everyone in years and dollars so they did. But the first few years, (when he'll make $10M in 2011, $13 M in '12, $16M in '13), he also leaves the Nationals with room to add payroll where they need it. [ed. note - "Or a few years after Stan Kasten told them they needed to add it."] (They reportedly offered 5-years/$90-100M to Greinke [ed. note - "Love Greinke, happy reported deal fell through."] in addition to Werth's 7-year/$126 so there's money to spend.) The last three years [ed. note - "Of Werth's deal, I'm rambling."] are the price they [ed. note - "The Nats...'] pay to bring a top free agent to a 90-100 loss team. The signing was supposed to be coupled with the acquisition of one or two top arms, however, and Nats' GM Mike Rizzo made sure everyone knew they wanted starting pitching and the free agent class basically said, "Not yet," to the Nats. [ed. note - "And Cliff Lee hurt Werth's feelings when he said it."]

The Nats are going from Jose Guillen to Austin Kearns, Elijah Dukes and Michael Morse in the first six seasons to Jayson Werth in the seventh, that's a significant leap in talent whatever the price. But what does he have to do to live up to that deal? [ed. note - "Change to: 'What does Werth have to do to overcome the struggles of year one of that deal?"]

Q: On a scale of 1-10, what is your confidence level in the Nats' rotation? At season's end, who'll have pitched the most quality innings?

A: 5 on the scale, cautiously optimistic confidence-wise for a few pitchers' personal growth, Jordan Zimmermann hopefully on the quality IP. [ed. note - "I think I definitely underestimated the Nats' pitching with that 5 score, underestimated how good Jordan Zimmermann would be too.."] Stephen Strasburg was supposed to be the ace atop the rotation this season. [ed. note - [2012!!] I think the Nats would have pursued the pitching they did: Cliff Lee (to what extent?), Jorge De La Rosa, Zack Greinke, Matt Garza, etc., even if Strasburg hadn't had Tommy John so that he wouldn't have the pressure of being the lone no.1. at 22-years-old, [ed. note - "I think they're still going to try to get a veteran arm so Zim(n) and Strasburg have help in 2012."] but Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann were supposed to be the Nats' 1-2 this year. Zimmermann, in his second year back from his own Tommy John is now alone at top in terms of elite talent [ed. note - "Stresses, 'elite'..."] with Jason Marquis (THE .500 pitcher), Livan Hernandez (in his fight against projections), John Lannan and (most likely) Tom Gorzelanny in the rotation. '06 1st Round pick Ross Detwiler, who came to camp with a revamped delivery that finally has him looking like a first round talent [ed. note - "I support Ross Detwiler, Candidate for the 2012 rotation!"] and Yunesky Maya, who was plagued by a lifeless fastball last September but impressed in the Dominican Winter League, are likely going to start the season in Syracuse and fill in when needed. [ed. note - "You mean DWL Legend, Yunesky Maya!" The highest paid Cuban pitcher on the Nats! Sorry, Livan."]

The pitching should be improved over last year's, that's something. [ed. note "+something!"]

Q: Will Chien Ming-Wang pitch in 2011? [ed. note - "Hindsight Answer: "He'll not only pitch, he'll do so well enough to earn at least a conversation about a deal for 2012. But that's not what I said..."]

A: I don't think the Nationals would have reinvested in a second year of rehabbing Chien-Ming Wang, even though it was a minimal investment, if he wasn't going to make it back, [ed. note - "+5 points."] but it's uncharted territory apparently with his shoulder unlike the strict rehab structure with Tommy John. Mike Rizzo's said several times that the surgery was similar to what Drew Brees had done, [ed. note - "+10 points if you've never heard the Drew Brees comparison before."] and he obviously recovered to throw again, but each time Wang seems ready there's a setback. He's publically stated he'd need time to build up arm strength for a month or two, so he'd be ready by May/June, [ed. note - "1st start: July 29th."] but that was before shoulder stiffness slowed his Spring Training work. The fact that he's been on the mound and throwing and at times impressing the Nats' staff is encouraging though.

Q: Has Jesus Flores played his last game as a National? [ed. note - "Maybe, but only after making it back to the big leagues."] Several years ago, I saw him as eventually being one of the few productive offensive catchers. It obviously hasn't happened yet.

A: I asked another writer last winter if Jesus Flores was missing his window to contribute in D.C. by losing two years in his prime, [ed. note - "It hurt to miss those years, Jesus Flores said so himself when I interviewed him."] especially when he could have spent the entire 2010 season learning the defensive and pitch calling parts of the game from Pudge Rodriguez while probably outhitting the future Hall of Famer. Flores' torn labrum after rehabbing the shoulder all year was a huge problem though. [ed. note - "He still doesn't seem 100%."] He's still building up strength this Spring from the September '09 injury. He was .301/.371/.505 through 106 plate appearances as a 24-year-old when he got hurt in 2009. If he can be half that hitter splitting time with Wilson Ramos in the next few years he might have a shot to make a contribution, [ed. note - "Was great to see Flores actually make it back to do just this, and he may have done well enough to earn this role next season, maybe?"] but Derek Norris is coming up quickly and the Nats don't seem to want to move him to first. So it's a small window Flores has left to get in the mix.

I think he goes down to Triple-A and either takes off finally healthy making Pudge expendable to someone in need of veteran leadership or Flores is going to end up somewhere else with someone willing to take a risk on his recovering what the Nats saw when they took him the Rule 5 Draft from the Mets. [ed. note - "I admit, maybe 50% of wanting Flores to succeed is sticking it to the Mets. The other half, I just like teh Jesus. He's teh clutch."]

Q: What should the outfield situation look like, in your opinion? It seems like the Nats have one clear starter, one guy who should play everyday (Mike Morse) [ed. note - "He'll be exposed... oh, I hope I don't say that. I haven't read these over again yet..."] , and three more platoony players. [ed. note - "I like the fact that he said, 'platoony'."]

A: No one claiming the spot in center is particularly frustrating. [ed. note - "The Arm finally did, except for when Werth was trying out CF."] [ed. note - "Sorry: The Arm = Rick Ankiel."] Michael Morse's bat has forced its way into left. [ed. note - "Where he'll play in 2012 unless or until LaRoche is dealt."] With the roster options available, if Nyjer Morgan were performing, he'd be the ideal center fielder, [ed. note - "And likely a clutch playoff performer. What? I totally wrote that then! Take it out of bold and brackets!!] but he's only been that player for a short stretch after he was acquired and before he was injured in 2009. [ed. note - "And in Milwaukee all season.'] Roger Bernadina [ed. note - [CHOMP!!]"] was supposed to platoon in left with Morse before he's [ed. note - "He's = Morse, I'm horrible with pronouns."] turned on the power this Spring, and then he [ed. note - "See, he = Bernadina this time."]  [ed. note - [CHOMP!!]"] was considered for center and apparently edged out by Rick Ankiel if recent reports are true.

If not Morse, Morgan, Werth, I'd have preferred that Roger Bernadina win that spot, [ed. note - "Since Bernadina didn't win that spot, does he go the way of Justin Maxwell this winter?'] [ed. note - [CHOMP!!]"] but he hasn't had a strong Spring, and a Morse, Bernadina, Werth outfield won't strike fear in too many opposing teams. Last year Bernadina went to Syracuse and quickly proved he was ready for Washington and had a strong first half, if he can replicate that success he'll force his way into this outfield quickly. But starting the season with Morse, Ankiel and Werth is not at all what I expected, and I'm not sure that will be the outfield for long. [ed. note - "It wasn't but not for the reasons I thought, Morse moving to first, Laynce Nix seeing a lot of time in left, etc."] Morgan seems to have played his way out of the lineup. [ed. note - "And out of D.C."] Bernadina should be able to play his way into it.  [ed. note - [CHOMP!!]"]

Q: Before the Nats signed Adam LaRoche, the Werth-for-Dunn substitution seemed like an almost lateral move. How much has this offense improved? (In my opinion, that 3-4-5-6 is pretty impressive, and Ian Desmond could make it even better.)

A: LaRoche and Werth for Dunn seems to have been an attempt to approximate the offensive production in two players who improve the defense significantly in two spots. [ed. note - Didn't quite work that way, though they outdid Dunn's 2012 production."] That 6-spot is the one Jim Riggleman pointed to as the most important this winter. If Michael Morse continues to bash there, a 3-4-5-6 of Werth-Zimmerman-LaRoche and Morse [ed. note - "Who is this 'LaRoche' I keep mentioning?"] could cause a lot of trouble, but like you say, continued improvement from Desmond at the 2-spot [ed. note - "Or as the leadoff hitter?"] just stretches that impressive offense out a little more. Wilson Ramos' bat seventh, Danny Espinosa eighth.

The real problem, as it's been for a while is the leadoff spot. [ed. note - "More OBP in general than just the leadoff spot?"] With Morgan out, Desmond's been talked about there, [ed. note - "Didn't work early w/ Desmond up top, did late."] but Desmond and Ankiel at the top isn't going to produce the OBP [ed. note - "It's important, Brad Pitt says so."] and the runners necessary for Werth and Zimmerman in the middle, unless one of the two, Desi or Ankiel suddenly develops their patience. [ed. note - "Desi's working on it. Ankiel chooses to keep swinging hard and often."] Rizzo's taking the chance that the Nats make up in speed and athleticism (it's a bit of a mantra) what he's lost in power, [ed. note - "SPAD!!"] going first-to-third [ed. note - "first-to-third™"] and second-to-home instead of counting on Dunn's big bat. It's a gamble, but I think I like Werth, Zim, LaRoche and Morse more than Zimmerman, Dunn and Willingham. [ed. note - Still think I like it better. LaRoche will be fine."]

Q: What do you expect, slash-wise, from Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa. I lived in DC for August-September last season and it seemed like every game I went to, all anybody talked about was Espinosa. [ed. note - "Cue Oscar De La Hoya entrance music!'] (I admittedly don't know much about him; few from Philly do. Feel free to go in depth here if you'd like.

A: Don't know Espinosa? [ed. note - "I'm about to retell Espinosa's backstory, feel free to skip ahead."] '08 3rd Round pick. Switch-hitting former Long Beach State University shortstop. Was the second-highest ranked infielder in the Nationals' organization on both Baseball America's Aaron Fitt's and ESPN.com's Keith Law's season-ending lists of Washington's best prospect after the '09 campaign. Considered the "Best Defensive Infielder" in the organization that year by Baseball America's Mr. Fitt. Finished the 2009 season, his second in the Nats' system, with a .264/.375/.460 slash line, 31 doubles, 18 HR's, 72 RBI's and 29 stolen bases for the Class-A Potomac Nationals. Sent to Double-A Harrisburg to start the 2010 season, Espinosa hit 16 doubles and 18 HR's while stealing 20 bases and posting a .262/.334/.464 slash line in 99 games and 434 plate appearances. Called up to Triple-A Syracuse, the 23-year-old shortstop moved to second since Desmond was at short in D.C. and hit .295 (28 for 95) with Triple-A Syracuse before he was called up and six HR's and 15 RBI's in 28 games and 112 plate appearances while playing a flawless second base, combining on 20 doubles plays and posting a +13.3 UZR/150 in his first taste of major league play. All of D.C. bought what Espinosa brought last year. The Nats gave him second and said they'll have patience. [ed. note - "And patience was required in the 2nd half. The Nats stuck with Espinosa though! But stop chasing the high heaters."]

If Espinosa puts up the .250/.325/.450-ish line that's projected for him [ed. note - "Espinosa's 2011 slash: .236/.323/.414."] I'm sure the Nationals would be happy for a player in his third full season in the organization at the major league level. Desmond's biggest adjustments need to come defensively. [ed. note - "Or offensively, which year is it?"] Desmond's projections have him around .270-80/.320/.420, which seems just about right, [ed. note - "Or .253/.298/.358. Though his 2nd half slash was .298/.338/.417."] though he's going to have to show more patience wherever he ends up hitting. [ed. note - "139 K's = not good."] The Nats are committed to the two because of their range and at-times stellar defense, [ed. note - "Desmond -5.5 UZR/150 was actually the third-worst among NL SS's, Espinosa's +0.9 was 6th amongst NL 2nd baseman. Espi's 14 errors were the second highest. Desi's 23 errors were the second-most in the NL amongst SS's. But down from 34 last year..."] the offense will come and they both have some unexpected pop. [ed. note - "Turns out Espinosa's middle name is 'Unexpected Pop.' Danny 'Unexpected Pop' Espinosa."]

Q: How many wins are you predicting? (You don't have to do anything more than give a number here, unless you want to.)

A: 75-79, another ten win jump. [ed. note - "Who expected a more-than-10-game jump? Go Nats!"] Considering how little pitchers like Jason Marquis and Jordan Zimmermann contributed last season it shouldn't be out of the question, [ed. note - "Marquis/Zimmermann = 3 W's in 2010, Marquis/Zimmermann = 16 W's in 2011."] I'd be very surprised to see a .500 team at this point [ed. note - "Seriously, Dodgers? Let's play that game, the Nats deserve .500!"]...2012-13 though...

Q: What is/are your realistic wish(es) for the Nats in 2011? [ed. note - "Is a pony realistic?"]

A: Continued progress by Espinosa, Desmond, Storen, Zimmermann and eventually Strasburg. [ed. note - "Got that at least?"] Any improvement to Ryan Zimmerman's already-great game. [ed. note - "+overhand throws!"] A big improvement behind the plate from Wilson Ramos. [ed. note - "Check. Plays at the plate? He'll get there."] I want to see Ross Detwiler justify his first round selection. [ed. note - "He finally showed something late, didn't he?"] I want Cole Kimball's fastball unleashed on the majors. [ed. note - "It was, unfortunately injury struck too soon after his debut."] I want Collin Balester to become Drew Storen's main set-up man. [ed. note - "A man can dream."] Balester's filthy and he's just figured it out, I think. [ed. note - "Would someone tell Bally, please? Not sure if he knows how good he can be. Yes I am a Bally-apologist, still think he has closer/set-up stuff if used properly."] I want to see Desmond and Espinosa become the next Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez up the middle of the Nats' infield but with more power. [ed. note - "What? I loved watching Wilson and Sanchez in their Pirates days. Desi and Espi still have a ways to go."]  And I want a September call-up for Derek Norris so everyone can see his already-legendary patience. [ed. note - "Boy the Norris lobby quieted down this year, huh?"] And for the last few weeks I want a tease of what a Strasburg, Zimmermann rotation will look like. [ed. note - "I'll settle for seeing it next year."]

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