Obviously, the Nationals far exceeded my expectations in the win/loss column this year. There were some lucky bounces along the way which helped, but they also had to deal with a a fair amount of adversity (not the least of which: Ryan Zimmerman's abdomen strain costing him a huge chunk of the early part of the season). Still, their Pythagorean record of 78-83 indicated that most of their success was not a mirage. And, obviously, the main reason for the huge improvement was in their ability to prevent runs.
SPAD? The defense allowed 67 unearned runs this season, compared with 84 last year, and 83 the year before, so one could argue that the improved defense helped save a game or two. The improvement in pitching is where they made their money though: pitching in total allowed 874 runs in 2009 (by FAR the worst in the league), 742 in 2010 (12th in the league), and 643 in 2011 (7th in the league). That's an incredible, almost completely unbelievable, reduction of 231 runs allowed in just two years! At ten runs a game, it's not hard to imagine how they gained 21 games in the standings over that time.
That's the good news. The not-so-good news is that the offense has been stagnant or declining in the same time period: 710 runs scored in 2009 (9th), 655 in 2010, (14th) and 624 in 2011 (12th). It's understood that runs are down all around baseball, but not that much. Those 710 runs they scored in 2009 would only rank them 8th in the league if they did that this year. There are tradeoffs in SPAD: Rick Ankiel made some amazing plays in center field this year. His bat was substantially less amazing though. It's debatable whether the glove was worth the stick.
On balance, I'd say the better run prevention helped make the games more watchable: there was far less circus-music-cuing going on this year than in the past, but of course, the runners they stranded were, shall we say, a distraction.
Run prevention may have run its course however. I believe the marginal cost of further reducing the runs allowed will be much more prohibitive than the cost of making the offense at least respectable, and as such I believe that building a team that can score a lot more runs is the very most important issue for the Nats to address in the off-season.
So now, if you will indulge me, here are my recommendations for guys on the active roster/DL as of the end of the season, what I believe should happen. Please note my completely cold, unemotional, attitude towards some of the fan favorites. I believe that the Nats, unlike the Yankees, cannot afford to give certain players of declining value extended contracts just because they are nice guys.
Not Going Anywhere
These guys are or should be fixtures on the team next year, and should be the primary guys in their role:
- Wilson Ramos
- Ian Desmond
- Ryan Zimmerman
- Jayson Werth
- Michael Morse
- Jordan Zimmermann
- Stephen Strasburg
- Tyler Clippard
- Drew Storen.
That's it, just nine guys. There's probably a name or two notable for its absence. This is completely intentional.
Competition is Good, but these guys have the inside edge:
These are players I believe should be on the team, but I don't believe should feel secure in that knowledge:
These players should be re-signed or otherwise retained to help the main players, but just don't expect a lot of PT.
Watch your six
These guys may make the team, but their tenure is shaky at best. There's folks coming up who want your job and who can probably do better:
Needs more seasoning
These guys popped up for a cup of coffee, but they should expect to start in the minors next year:
Thanks for playing. Now please leave.
These guys are, well, to put it bluntly, guys that should not be on the Nats 40-man next year.
- Brian Bixler
- Alex Cora
- Ivan Rodriguez
- Jonny Gomes
- Livan Hernandez
- Yuniesky Maya
- Collin Balester
- Todd Coffey
- Doug Slaten
Sorry, Livo and Pudge fans. I told you I'm heartless. Really, the only one here that pained me was Todd Coffey.
You may notice that the name Chien-Ming Wang didn't come up. As I've made abundantly clear, I am not willing to accept the public talk of "I really want to come back next year" at face value. If the Nats can sign him relatively cheaply, then I say by all means, sign him. But I don't think that option will really be available to them. We'll see.
Also missing: Adam LaRoche. The Nats obviously have to have a first baseman. LaRoche's presence in the lineup does not address the Nats main concern: their lack of offense. Unfortunately, he signed a rather large contract for a man of his skill set, and the Nats will have to try to figure out a way to get some sort of value out of that contract. While I would strongly advise selling him off to the first team that signals their willingness to pay half his salary, and to go out and sign a basher for the middle of the order, I realistically doubt that's what they would do. Pity.
If by some weird set of circumstances the Nats took these recommendations to heart, this would leave them short at least a starter, a utility infielder, two outfielders, and possibly one arm out of the pen (though that would add to 26 players). For me, the most glaring issue here is the lack of a decent bench, and they ought to try to shore that up as soon as possible. I think Bryce Harper should be on the 25-man roster before June. I think Prince Fielder should be signed for just about anything he asks for, as long as it's not beyond 2016. I think Anthony Rendon should be groomed to play second base, and Espinosa be prepared for super-sub status in the long-term. I DON'T think they need to go out and find a "lead-off-hitter-center-fielder" type. I DON'T think they NECESSARILY need to go find another starter, unless they cannot re-sign Wang. And, finally, as much as I like and admire Davey Johnson, I think they need to find a different manager.