5. Injuries: The good news about Ryan Zimmerman's 2014 campaign? The injuries which kept him out of the lineup for 101 games this season had nothing to do with his shoulder. A freak fracture of his right thumb and a Grade 3 strain of his hamstring limited the '05 Nats' 1st Round pick to just 61 games, and he wasn't quite able to get back in time to make a real impact in spite of his efforts... but it wasn't his shoulder at least. Does the now 30-year-old Zimmerman's future have him making the move over to first base for good now? Goodbye Adam LaRoche, hello Zim at first? And as we asked already this winter, can the Nats rely on Zimmerman at first, or do they need a better backup than someone like Tyler Moore or maybe Steven Souza? (Yes he did some work at first before games this year and yes he's played first in the past and no, we're not moving Jayson Werth to first just yet...")
And what about Wilson Ramos? The closest the 27-year-old backstop has come to a full season is still his first full year with the Nationals in 2011 when he played 113 games and put up a .267/.334/.445 line in 435 plate appearances, over which he was worth a career-high +3.0 fWAR.
Since then, Ramos has played a total of 194 games in three seasons, an average of 64 games a year while dealing with a torn ACL and meniscus, a broken hamate bone and a series of hamstring injuries. The hamate bone in his left hand, which he broke on Opening Day 2014 cost him 32 games and kept him out of the lineup from March 31st to May 7th and another hamstring issues cost him more time in June.
When he was in the lineup, Ramos put up a .267/.299/.399 line with 12 doubles and 11 HRs in 88 games and 341 PAs over which he was worth +2.0 fWAR. Maybe this year he'll get through a full season?
4. Bullpen: So assuming Rafael Soriano is gone? Drew Storen already took over the closer's role late this season and would appear likely to come back as the Nationals' ninth inning option in 2015.
With both Storen and Soriano on the roster last winter, however, Nats' GM Mike Rizzo entertained the idea of signing veteran right-hander Grant Balfour. Rizzo admitted to the pursuit after Balfour signed with Tampa Bay, saying that, "We were in on Balfour. We thought that there was a value there."
So will the Nationals attempt to add to their already-impressive collection of bullpen arms this winter? If there's value out there do they add another option to the back-end of the pen? Do they bring on a "B" closer? Do they find another seventh-inning arm after seeing Aaron Barrett implode in Game 4 of the NLDS?
3. Extensions: It was a big topic last winter before both Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond signed 2-year deals which bought out their final years of arbitration eligibility, but both are due to become free agents after 2015, so the topic will be a big one again this winter. Can the Nationals lock up two of the homegrown stars that have helped them to the postseason in two of the past three years?
Do the 28-year-old Zimmermann and the 29-year-old Desmond get the long-term deals that have been rumored and discussed for the past few years or do they finish up their time in the nation's capital this season and move on at some point next year?
It's a tough decision fro the Nationals' front office and a tough thing for fans in D.C. to contemplate...
Do the Nats take a chance on a multi-year/$100+M dollar deal with Zimmermann, who's bound to get that sort of money somewhere if he hits free agency? How close can Ian Desmond get to the $90M offer he and the Nats were rumored to have discussed in the past? When Desmond said after the NLDS loss to the Giants that the "window isn't closed, but it is closing," the assumption, on our part at least, was that he meant the "window" to win with the current group of players, many of whom will be eligible for free agency after the 2015 campaign. Is this the last chance for this group to do something truly special? (96-win seasons like 2014's are pretty special too, of course.)
2. 2B: MLBTraderumors.com is projecting (guesstimating?) that Asdrubal Cabrera will get something in the area of a 3-year/$27M deal this winter, will he get it from the Nationals, or will he find that deal on the free agent market? The Nats acquired Cabrera rather than go into the stretch with Danny Espinosa at second after Ryan Zimmerman's second big injury of the season. Will the Nats go into the 2015 campaign with Espinosa at second?
Nationals Second Base Search: Should the Nats target Kang Jung-Ho? http://t.co/kpxcTgu8aS— federalbaseball (@federalbaseball) October 16, 2014
Can "Right Side Only" Espinosa solve all the Nationals' infield questions? Even if, by some chance, Espinosa does get the starting job, the Nats still need some infield depth and someone to step into the utility infield role Espinosa filled when he wasn't starting this season. Do the Nationals, who were rumored to be in the market for young middle infielders this season, go out and get themselves one this winter?
The lack of infield depth in the organization behind Desmond and Espinosa is an issue. And there are some options out there...
1. Options: Adam LaRoche, whose 2-year/$24M dollar deal with the Nationals included a mutual option for 2015 at $15M (or a $2M buyout) told CSNWashington.com this week that he would like to return to Washington for a fifth season and more.
"'If it was up to me,'" the soon-to-turn 35-year-old first baseman told SportsTalk Live's Brian Mitchell, "'I’m signing a deal with D.C. that puts me there for the rest of my career.'"
LaRoche's 11th major league campaign saw him put up a .259/.362/.455 line with 19 doubles and 26 HRs in 140 games and 586 PAs. He finished at +1.6 fWAR, up from +0.5 in 2013, but not quite up to his career-best +3.3 fWAR season in 2012.
If LaRoche returns, where does Ryan Zimmerman play? Zim seems destined to finally make the move to first base next season, but would the Nationals risk going back to third base with Zim and putting Anthony Rendon at second?
Not likely, but as we asked above, can the Nationals rely on Zimmerman staying healthy? Will they take a chance on bringing LaRoche back? Our guess?: No.
Offseason Plan: Should the Nats pick up Adam LaRoche's option for 2015? http://t.co/oD0d6auJra— federalbaseball (@federalbaseball) October 10, 2014
But what about Denard Span? The 5-year/$16.5M extenstion the Nationals inherited when they acquired the Gold Glove-worthy center fielder and leadoff man from Minnesota included a $9M club option for 2015.
No brainer, right?
Keep Span in center for another year while Michael Taylor develops in part-time duty in the majors or at Triple-A and slowly work the 23-year-old future center fielder in to the role he seems poised to take over in the near-future?
There are the inevitable calls for Bryce Harper's return to center or giving Steven Souza a shot in the outfield in one of the spots this season, of course, but does Span in center make more sense for the 2015 campaign. Yes, Jayson Werth's range is diminishing, but he's continued to produce offensively and the Bryce Harper, Span, Werth outfield was an impressive one when they were all on the field this season. One more year of that outfield?
Span wants to return to the Nationals. The 30-year-old outfielder told MLB.com's Bill Ladson this week that he, "'... would be surprised if [the option] wasn't picked up,'" but said, "'[y]ou just never know.'" Can Span reproduce his .302/.355/.416, 39 double, eight triple, five home run, 31 stole base, +3.8 fWAR 2014 campaign?
"D-Span was a guy that I thought was a better hitter the last day of the season than he was when we first got him," Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier earlier this month. $9M for 2015 seems like a no-brainer.