2014 Washington Nationals Season Preview

Evan Habeeb-US PRESSWIRE

We contributed a great deal of content to the SB Nation's MLB Preview, but there wasn't room for it all in that enormous project, so we included all that we could here in one place. Washington Nationals' 2014 Season Preview below...

The SB Nation published an enormous and beautifully-designed 2014 MLB Preview today. Did you see it?:

While there is plenty of great Nationals content there, some of which we contributed, there wasn't room for all of the info we put together. So here it is, all of it in one place:

• Front Office:

Owner: Theodore N. Lerner - The Managing Principle owner of the Washington Nationals bought the former Montreal Expos from MLB in 2006. Opened Nationals Park in 2008. Ranked 8th on Forbes' list of the Richest American Sports Team Owners this past September. Inherited horrible TV deal from Major League Baseball. Reportedly asked D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray for a roof on Nationals Park? A product of the nation's capital, Mr. Lerner's official bio says he's also, "...the largest private real estate developer in the Washington, D.C. area."

GM: Mike Rizzo - A former scout, Scouting Director and Assistant General Manager, Rizzo took over as the Nationals' GM in 2009 when Jim Bowden resigned. Rizzo is a big fan of the word "impactful."

Manager: Matt Williams is intense. Everyone says so. The Carson Crusher. The Big Marine. Once managed in the Arizona Fall League. Once.

• Key additions:

Doug Fister - Fister, 30, had the fourth-highest ground ball percentage in baseball last season with the Detroit Tigers so he'll fit in fine with Nats' pitching coach Steve McCatty's pitch-to-contact corps. Gio Gonzalez said the addition of Fister, "is the brand new car you wanted for Christmas."

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• Photo © David Manning/USA TODAY Sports via cdn2.vox-cdn.com

Jerry Blevins - The lefty the Nationals were looking for in their bullpen came from a familiar source, the Oakland A's, who were once again willing to deal with Washington, sending the 6'8'' reliever to the Nats in return for 2013 Nationals' Minor League Player of the Year outfielder Billy Burns.

Nate McLouth - The Nats signed McLouth to a 2-year/$10.75M deal to make sure they got better bench production than they got out of their backup outfielders last season. Sorry, Roger Bernadina.

Jose Lobaton: A trade with Tampa Bay that sent Nathan Karns to Rays landed the backup catcher the Nationals have been looking for all winter. Lobaton gives the Nats a legit backup option if injury issues once again crop up for no.1 backstop Wilson Ramos.

• Key Departures:

• Steve Lombardozzi - Lombo was traded (along with lefties Ian Krol and Robbie Ray) in the deal that brought Doug Fister to D.C. Lombardozzi's +scrappiness will go over well in Detroit. (ed. note - "Lombo has, of course, since been traded to Baltimore.")

• Dan Haren - Bound to be the pitcher the Nationals were hoping for last season now that the Southern Californian is back in LA, with the Dodgers this time.

• Roy Clark - The former Atlanta Braves' Scouting Director left his job as the Assistant GM and VP of Player Personnel in D.C. for a job as the Los Angeles Dodgers' National Crosschecker, reuniting with Stan Kasten in LA. Clark's post-draft interviews will be missed by this reporter.

• Projected Starting Lineup: 1B - Adam LaRoche; 2B - Anthony Rendon; SS - Ian Desmond; 3B - Ryan Zimmerman; C - Wilson Ramos; LF - Bryce Harper; CF - Denard Span; RF - Jayson Werth.

• Player Comments:

Team MVP: Bryce Harper had a .214/.327/.321 line with eight doubles and two home runs in 76 games and 158 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers last season after putting up a .240/.300/.415 line with six doubles, four triples and six home runs in 95 games and 202 PAs against southpaws in his rookie campaign. Harper crushed right-handers in his second major league season, however, going from a .286/.360/.509 line with 20 doubles, five triples and 16 HRs in 119 games and 395 PAs vs RHPs in 2012 to .300/.388/.560 with 16 doubles, three triples, 18 HRs in 106 games and 339 PAs vs righties last season. With continued exposure, will Harper's numbers vs lefties continue to improve? Davey Johnson said he'd figure lefties out eventually. If he can stay healthy, [insert joke about not running into walls] and put together a full season's worth of at bats, Harper could be a 21-year-old team MVP in 2014.

Team Cy Young: Stephen Strasburg had surgery to remove "loose bodies" from his right elbow in late October. That's two procedures on the 25-year-old right-hander's elbow in his four-year major league career. He expects to be 100% for the start of Spring Training, however, and Strasburg would probably like nothing more than to end all of the talk about his health and make the topic of conversation the fact that he's finally having the dominant Cy Young-worth season that's everyone's been waiting for since the Nationals made him the no.1 overall pick in 2009. Asked at NatsFest in January what he was working on improving for the 2014 season, Strasburg said, "Work on the pickoff move. Work on time out of the stretch. Work on commanding the fastballs both sides of the plate, sinkers more so, both sides of the plate too. Just trying to take that next evolution. Trying to get more complete."

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• Photo © Win McNamee/Getty Images via cdn2.vox-cdn.com

Top Nats' Rookie: Zach Walters, Sammy Solis, Steven Souza? I want to optimistically say A.J. Cole has a good year and somehow works his way up to the majors. The Nationals' roster doesn't have a lot of holes or openings, or room for rookies right now. Taylor Jordan and Tanner Roark crossed the rookie threshold of 50 IP in the majors, or they might be the mostly likely choices for ROY in D.C. Zach Walters unlocked his power in 2013 and hit more home runs in one season (29) than he had in the previous three seasons (25). There are holes in the 24-year-old infielder's game, however, with defense and high K totals a concern. He could have an impact if there's an injury. If the left-handers in the Nationals' pen like Xavier Cedeno don't work out, Solis, 25, is an option as a reliever according to the Nats' GM. Steven Souza is a 24-year-old outfield prospect who had it all come together for him in 2013 (.300/.396/.557 line, 23 doubles, 15 HRs in 77 games at Double-A) though he missed time with injury issues, and there isn't a long line of major-league ready outfield depth in the Nationals' system. If I had to pick one... Matt Purke?

Sleeper: Wilson Ramos came back from a hamstring injury last July determined to prove that he was durable enough to be the Nationals' no.1 catcher. His 2012 season ended after 25 games when he tore the ACL and meniscus in his right knee. He played 78 games total this past season and spent over a month on the DL with the second of two hamstring injuries he dealt with last summer. He returned just before the All-Star Break, however, and turned it on, with a .303/.333/.540 month of July and seven home runs in 96 PAs in September and he started an MLB-high 24-straight games in the second half. All signs point to a breakout year... if he can stay healthy.

3B: The surest sign that Ryan Zimmerman was working his way back to 100% throughout much of the 2013 campaign? The Nats' 29-year-old third baseman hit 11 of his 26 HRs last season in the final 26 games of the year, by which point his throwing issues were lessening as well. Zimmerman made 13 errors in the first three months of the season, eight the rest of the way. The hope is that the shoulder surgery he had last winter keeps him healthy and manning the hot corner for a few more seasons. The reality is that Matt Williams told him to bring a first baseman's glove to Spring Training with the expectation that Zimmerman might play 10-15 games at first this season. He's not done at third yet, however, and a strong season in D.C. might push back plans for a position change.

SS: Ian Desmond proved that his .292/.335/.511, 33 double, 25 HR, +5.0 fWAR season in 2012 was no fluke, following it up with a .280/.331/.453, 38 double, 20 HR, +5.0 fWAR campaign in 2013. Desmond has also reportedly emerged as a clubhouse leader in D.C. and he's a fan favorite in the nation's capital. There has been talk about a long-term deal for Desmond for the past few winters, but he settled for a 2-year/$17.5M deal this winter that bought out his remaining arbitration years. Desmond broke out under Davey Johnson's guidance. Can he take it to another level in 2013?

2B: Anthony Rendon managed to put up a .265/.329/.396 line in his first full pro season. He played most of it at the major league level too after making his MLB debut early last season and he was learning on the job at second after the former Rice University third baseman replaced the struggling Danny Espinosa in June. Widely-considered the best hitter in his draft class in 2011, Rendon was the first position player taken, but he fell to 6th overall where the Nationals took a gamble on the infielder after he dealt with ankle injuries (2009-10) and a shoulder problem in his final collegiate campaign. Though Rendon suffered another ankle injury in 2012 and missed important at bats at a key time in his development, he stepped in at second for the Nationals and impressed last summer and the second base job is now his to lose as Spring Training begins.

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• Photo © Brad Barr/USA TODAY Sports via cdn3.vox-cdn.com

1B: Adam LaRoche had a disappointing season in the first year of the 2-year/$24M deal he signed with Washington in January of 2013. After a career year with the NL East Champs in 2012, LaRoche looked lost at the plate and struggled to keep his weight up due to problems adjusting to medication he takes to deal with ADD. LaRoche put together a few stretches offensively where he looked like the player the Nationals thought they were getting back, but overall the season has to be viewed as a disappointment. LaRoche followed up on a .271/.343/.510, 35 double, 33 HR, +3.4 fWAR season in 2012, with a .237/.332/.403, 19 double, 20 HR, +0.6 fWAR season in 2013. The Nationals need a bounce-back campaign from the 34-year-old first baseman.

CF: Denard Span was everything the Nationals were looking for on defense when they acquired the "ballhawk" from Minnesota in return for top pitching prospect, Alex Meyer, but Span struggled to hit lefties last season, putting up a .198/.254/.313 line against left-handed pitchers which was down from his .268/.319/.506 line vs LHPs for the Twins in 2012. He came on strong late in his first season with Washington though, putting up a .302/.337/.413 line in the second half and putting together a 29-game hit streak during which he looked like exactly the type of player the Nationals want at the top of the lineup in 2014. "I played good for a month of the season last year," Span told reporters last month, "and how I finished, if I can do that for an extended period of time, I think it will be a good summer for myself and my teammates."

RF: "I always knew that we were going to make a run," Jayson Werth told reporters last month when asked why the fell short of their goal of returning to the postseason for the second straight year in 2013. "It just took us a little too long to get there," Werth said. He did all he could to lift the Nationals. The 34-year-old outfielder put up a .318/.398/.532 line with 24 doubles and 25 HRs in 126 games and 462 PAs and finished at +4.6 fWAR, back up where he was in Wins Above Replacement with the Phillies in 2008-2010 before he signed his 7-year/$126M deal with the Nationals. Can he do it again at 35?

• Rotation:

No.2: Gio Gonzalez spent the winter throwing bullpen sessions with catcher Jorge Posada. Gonzalez was asked what he learned from the retired Yankees' backstop? "Just patience," the 28-year-old lefty said. "You've got to learn how to hit your spots. You learn how to mix it up. Change signs. There's things that he teaches you that sit back and start analyzing it. It’s a lot of work as a pitcher. He’s had nothing but Hall of Famers go through his hands. You just sit there and listen." Gonzalez wasn't quite as good in 2013 as he was in 2012 with the NL East champs. One big difference? The long ball. Gonzalez gave up nine home runs total in 2012, but 17 last season. Gonzalez's 2013 season started with his name mixed up in the Biogenesis scandal, but his name was cleared and he put together a solid campaign in his second season in D.C.

No.3: Jordan Zimmermann hasn't yet signed the long-term deal he and the Nationals have discussed over the past few winters. The 27-year-old right-hander signed a 2-year/$24M deal which bought out his remaining arbitration years instead, though a long-term deal is reportedly still a possibility. In 2013, Zimmermann saw his ground ball percentage rise for the third straight season since he returned from Tommy John. He won a career-high 19 games and finished at a career-best +3.6 fWAR. How can he improved on what he did last summer? Get better on the road? Zimmermann had a 4.06 ERA and a 3.68 FIP in 92 2/3 IP away from Nationals Park last season, and opposing hitters had a .253/.299/.427 line against him outside of D.C. In his adopted home, Zimmermann had a 2.61 ERA and a 3.11 FIP and he held the opposition to a .220/.264/.335 line.

No.4: Doug Fister is the response to back-to-back seasons of disappointing free agent signings. The Nationals paid Edwin Jackson $11M in a +2.2 fWAR campaign in 2012. Dan Haren got $13M in what ended up a +1.5 fWAR season in D.C. for the veteran right-hander. Fister, who signed a 1-year/$7.2M deal with the Nationals, avoiding arbitration, finished at +4.6 fWAR last year, and he's under team control for 2015 too. Fister had the fourth-highest ground ball percentage in baseball in 2013 and the Nationals are hoping he's even stronger with the Nats' defense behind him this season. (ed. note - "This was written long before Fister dealt with elbow inflammation and then a lat strain.")

No.5: Ross Detwiler was supposed to be the fifth starter in the Washington Nationals' rotation, but the Nats made a somewhat surprising decision this spring to move the 28-year-old left-hander into the bullpen, leaving Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan in competition for the final spot behind Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann and Fister. Nationals' Manager Matt Williams said the decision will be a last minute one as he and his staff assess the Nats' needs as Opening Day approaches. "Tanner made a really good case, and he's made a really good case all spring, but then again, so has Taylor," Williams said after each pitcher made their final spring starts. Roark, 27, debuted in the majors last summer after six minor league seasons in the Rangers and Nationals' organizations. Jordan, 25, worked his way up from High-A to Double-A and the majors last summer in his first full-year back following Tommy John surgery. Do the Nats go with Roark's command and poise on the mound or Jordan's ground ball-inducing sinker? Looks like it will be a last-minute decision... (ed. note - "And now it looks like both, as Doug Fister had a setback.")

• Bullpen:

Set-up: Tyler Clippard told reporters last month that he thought the arms the Nationals assembled for this season are as good as any in baseball. "Our pitching staff is ridiculous," Clippard said. "Our starting five, bullpen, top to bottom I'll put our arms up against anybody in the league." The Nats' primary set-up man also said the mix in the bullpen this year would make it a little easier for everyone since the roles are more clearly defined than they were last season. "Last year it kind of got a little weird at times knowing exactly who was going to come in for the lefties and maybe the work load was a little bit increased for certain guys because of that. So now it's just more structured." In spite of the weirdness, Clippard put together a strong season, finishing with a 2.41 ERA, a 3.82 FIP, 24 walks (3.04 BB/9) and 73 Ks (9.25 K/9) in 72 appearances and 71 IP.

Set-up: Drew Storen struggled to the point that he was sent to Triple-A Syracuse last season. Then he changed his delivery, got it together and finished strong with a 1.40 ERA, six walks (2.79 BB/9) and 15 Ks (6.98 K/9) in 19 1/3 IP in August and September. The '09 1st Round pick came back from a rough end to the 2012 season and a rough start in 2013, but he's still in the Nationals' bullpen and Rafael Soriano is in the second year of his two-year deal, so this is a big season for Storen if he's going to regain the closer's role in the nation's capital in the future.

Closer: Rafael Soriano likes to untuck his jersey when he earns saves. There's a fairly significant percentage of the fanbase in the nation's capital that blames the Soriano signing for Drew Storen's struggles. Tyler Clippard said it sent the wrong message to the Nationals' young closer after the way the 2012 campaign ended. Why anyone blames Soriano for taking the best deal out there (2 years/$28M) is unclear. Soriano's K totals have dropped. His fastball velocity dropped for the fifth straight season. He blew six saves last season, but when the Nationals went on a run at the end of the season, Soriano was dominant, with a 1.17 ERA over the final month and a half of the season when he saved 12 games in 12 opportunities to end the year.

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• Photo © Brad Mills/USA TODAY Sports via cdn1.vox-cdn.com

Lefty: The lack of lefties in the Nationals' bullpen was a big issue in 2013. Enter Jerry Blevins. Acquired from the A's in return for outfield prospect Billy Burns, Blevins brings his 6'6'' frame to the nation's capital where he'll work in long relief and match up with tough lefties. The veteran reliever has a .224/.278/.358 line vs lefties in his career. He'll be pitching outside the American League for the first time in his seven major league seasons, so he'll have to get to know the hitters. "They don't know me either," Blevins told reporters last month, "so it's a little bit of a surprise on both ends."

Middle Reliever: After starting early in his career, Craig Stammen has found his role working in middle relief for the Nationals. In the last two seasons, Stammen, 29, has been worth +1.8 fWAR, with a (13-7) record, a 2.54 ERA, 3.14 FIP, 3.34 BB/9 and 8.79 K/9. "It's obviously more exciting to pitch in closer ballgames," Stammen said last month, "but also pitching the two, three, four innings, I like doing that too, it makes me still want to be a starter." He may be a starter again one day, but in 2014, the right-hander is going to be an important part of the Nats' bullpen.

Second Lefty: Ross Detwiler was not thrilled with the Nationals' decision to move him into a relief role. The move gives Washington the two left-handers in the bullpen they talked about wanting all winter, however. The Nats' 28-year-old lefty started the spring in a competition for the fifth spot in the rotation, but new Nats' skipper Matt Williams made a tough decision and moved Detwiler to the bullpen where he has a 1.11 ERA and a 4.03 FIP in 32 1/3 IP in his career as a reliever over which he's held opposing hitters to a .171/.283/.255 line. "I liken him to [Justin] Wilson in Pittsburgh," Williams explained last week after making the move. "That type of power lefty out of your bullpen. Kind of that mold." With a low-to-mid-90s sinking fastball, changeup and curve that is a work-in-progress, Detwiler could end up being a legitimate weapon in a relief role.

Final Spot: Aaron Barrett was a sort-of out-of-nowhere surprise this spring, putting himself in the mix for the final spot in the Nationals' bullpen with some hard-throwing scoreless innings. After a strong season at Double-A in Washington's system last season, the 26-year-old right-hander was added to the 40-Man Roster to protect him from selection the Rule 5 Draft and Matt Williams told him this week that he made the Nationals' Opening Day roster.

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