They are who we (used) to think they are.
Last season's tremendous step forward for the Nationals franchise brought hope and anticipation to the DC area and also the expectation that this team would continue to improve as it seemed destined to do. Skeptical views were disregarded unanimously by fans and pundits alike, and the world of baseball fully bought into the idea that the Nationals were disgustingly rich in talent.
A third of the way into the 2013 season, the Nationals are 28-29. They are who we (used) to think they are.
Going into last year the expectation was that the Nationals might contend for a playoff spot. That, not the Bryce Harper-Gio Gonzales infused mania of good feelings and hot additions that was last year (and lead to this year's expectations), is a more realistic assessment of this teams' achievement potential. The hype surrounding the Nats was unspokenly contingent on almost every player on the Nationals roster at least performing at or improving upon career bests this year, and in some cases drastically exceeding what was expected of them before the start of last season.
The reality is that the only guys who really are as advertised are Bryce Harper, the Nats starting rotation, Craig Stammen, and maybe the rest of the bullpen. Jayson Werth will never be 2009-2010 Werth again, Ryan Zimmerman will have to be moved off 3B within the next two years and will begin, like Werth, to break down physically, Ian Desmond is a bordeline all-star SS at the plate only, Denard Span is a .280 hitter with zero power who might steal 20 and plays above average but not elite CF (not "the answer we've always been looking for at leadoff"), Adam LaRoche is an extreme feast or famine hitter to a damaging degree, Kurt Suzuki is the definition of a light hitting catcher, and Danny Espinosa, Tyler Moore, Chad Tracy, and Roger Bernadina might not even belong in the major leagues.
This is not a championship team, much less the predicted dynasty. So how do we fix the Nationals?
1. Trade for Jose Altuve: I know it might sound desperate, but the Nationals have a 3-4 year window right now to win, and they're starting the worst hitter in the league at 2B and need offense desperately. Altuve is how to fix what is a clear problem. Espinosa has had enough at bats in the bigs to say "this is who he is". Steve Lombardozzi is an excellent utility player, but he is not and has never been expected to be a regular, much less an above average player- he simply doesn't have the tools.
Altuve is an all-star and a hitting machine. The Nationals don't have anyone like him, a reliable .300 hitter, and need one badly. Altuve would anchor the Nationals 2 hole, allowing Werth to drop to lower in the order where he excelled in Philadelphia, and he would set the table nicely for Bryce and Zim.
Altuve can be gotten for a prospect package along the lines of two good young pitchers, say Solis and Cole, a token good position player with upside like Bernadina, Moore, or Corey Brown, a draft pick, and the usual other throw in. This is along the lines of what other teams have been apparently throwing at the Astros, and while it may seem to mortgage our future it's worth it. Add a young all-star to a team that's ready to win now, a team he fills a glaring need on, or hang on to 3-4 player who have merely a chance at becoming something you might need in the future- WORLD SERIES OR BUST.
2. Bring Rendon back up: It's clear that Tyler Moore has taken a step back, and thus far Chad Tracy appears to have been caught by Father Time during the offseason. Rendon is the best stick the Nationals have in the organization not seeing MLB playing time right now, and the big league club needs him. The transition of Ryan Zimmerman to 1B should begin immediately with Zim spelling LaRoche and Rendon taking 3B some days, Rendon spelling Zim on others, and Rendon as our go-to PH seeing an at bat everyday. He can't be worse than what we're trotting out off the bench right now, and being too attached to bench players is the ultimate sign of a team too in love with its construction and expectations.
3. Keep Nathan Karns in the Bigs: He was our minor league pitcher of the year last year and has an arm thats ready now. It's time to seize the day and discard old expectations of veterans. The Nationals bullpen, aside from Craig Stammen, is not the strength it should be. Forget what you thought Clippard and Storen should be, and let Karns replace Duke and take of Stammen's long relief role to free Stammen up for the setup duties that Clippard and Storen are failing at. When those two prove that they have their act together again, then move Karns into the rotation if there's space or send him back down.
I firmly believe that these three changes, especially #1, would change everything for the Nationals both right now and for the next two years. Thoughts?