So now that Daniel Murphy is signed (pending a physical, official announcement, etc), ESPN.com's Buster Olney threw out a projected lineup for the 2016 Washington Nationals in a story this weekend.
Murphy's addition, he wrote, filled a "glaring hole at second base with a proven professional hitter" and filled a "glaring need for a left-handed hitter" on the Nationals' roster. Olney's potential lineup?:
- Michael Taylor - CF
- Anthony Rendon - 3B
- Bryce Harper - RF
- Ryan Zimmerman - 1B
- Daniel Murphy - 2B
- Jayson Werth - LF
- Wilson Ramos - C
- Danny Espinosa - SS
That leadoff spot is a question mark. New Nats' skipper Dusty Baker was asked in an MLB Network Radio interview earlier this month about who might end up atop the order?
"I don't know if we have that guy yet," Baker said, "because the other guys are prone to strikeouts and don't have that high on-base percentage. We had one, a very good one in Denard Span, but I don't know if we're going to sign him or even have a chance to sign him. I haven't really talked to Rizzo or the organization yet about potential free agents or what we can do or even what the payroll is going to be."
"Someone is going to lead off for us," Nats' GM Mike Rizzo told Washington Post writer James Wagner earlier this winter:
"We think we have several guys we think can do the job. Of course, spring training is going to dictate that with a complete roster. Dusty [Baker] is going to determine who he feels most comfortable with leading off. But I think we have several candidates to handle the position."
Is Taylor (.282 OBP in 2015; Steamer Projection - .301 OBP; 31.6% K% in 554 MLB PAs) the best option on the roster at the moment... Is he the most likely to end up there... by default/because he's a speedy center field-type?
Could Trea Turner be the answer when he's up for good, whether that's at the start of the season or whenever he's brought up to the majors after that?
Olney goes on in his article to write about something else to keep an eye on now that the Nationals forfeited the 17th overall pick when they signed Murphy, after he turned down the New York Mets' qualifying offer.
"In signing Murphy, the Nationals surrender their first-round pick," Olney notes, "and moving forward it would be less painful for them to consider one of the nine unsigned free agents who are tied to draft-pick compensation because they'd have to give up only a second-round pick, double-dipping, in a sense."
The Nationals also already have one compensatory pick coming their way after Jordan Zimmermann turned down their qualifying offer and signed with the Detroit Tigers, and they'll get another one when Ian Desmond signs.
Among the possibilities Olney mentions is switch-hitting free agent outfielder Dexter Fowler, "... who could man center field and allow the Nationals to cope with any depth problems created by Jayson Werth's ongoing battles with injuries."
Fowler, 29, played for the Chicago Cubs in 2015, putting up a .250/.346/.411 line with 29 doubles and a career-high 17 home runs in 156 games and 596 plate appearances in a 3.2 fWAR campaign.
Fowler, who had a .326/.399/.467 line vs left-handed pitchers in 2015 and a .228/.331/.395 line vs RHPs, would give the Nats the outfield depth they need with Taylor still relatively unproven, though the Naitonals seem happy with what they saw from him last season, and Werth an injury concern and getting up there in age.
Olney goes on to mention two other unsigned free agent possibilities for the Nationals, both of whom have qualifying offers attached, mentioning Wei-Yin Chen and Ian Kennedy as potential targets should the Rizzo and Co. try to bolster their starting depth, noting that both starters are "represented by agent Scott Boras, who has long had favored-nation status with the Nationals."
Rizzo, asked about Washington adding to their rotation depth this winter recently, described the Nationals' interest in the starting pitching market as "tepid".
"It's not a necessity for us right now," he said at the Winter Meetings, "but we're always in the market to improve the ballclub in any way we can. If we have to strengthen a strength or try to refine a weakness, there are different levels and different strategies that are going on all the time."
"We think that we have five qualified and quality starters that we match with anybody in the division," he explained.
"We have the primary, secondary pitching depth that we have in the Taylor Jordans, the A.J. Coles, those prospect type of guys and of course we have the second wave of prospects coming with [Lucas] Giolito, [Austin] Voth, [Reynaldo] Lopez and that group."
Will the Nationals give Chen the 5-year/$100M he's reportedly looking for if their interest is really "tepid" when it comes to starting pitching? Does a pitcher like Kennedy make more sense or do the Nationals have the pitching depth they need? Do you see them adding an outfielder to the mix? And are we still thinking Drew Storen and Jonathan Papelbon get dealt this winter? And if so, do the Nats need a new closer/late-inning option? What other big questions remain in your mind?