We're just a couple of weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Viera, Florida's Space Coast Stadium for the start of Spring Training and with that in mind and with a nod to the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo, who did something similar this morning in his Sunday Baseball Notes column, let's look at the big storylines for the Washington Nationals as the 2016 campaign:
Is this Stephen Strasburg's last season in D.C.?: The top pick of the '09 draft has one year of team control remaining and thus far nothing has been said publicly about a potential extension for the right-hander, who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2010. If he picks up where he left off after his second DL stint of the season last year, he's going to have plenty of suitors as a free agent. Will the Nationals make a qualifying offer, let him walk and take a compensatory pick for the soon-to-turn 28-year-old starter? Is that enough of a return? Will they try to trade him if things aren't go well at the deadline?
"We've always tried to think about our core players, to extend them to contracts. We tried it with several of the players that have left us for free agency in the past. I would conceive we would do the same for him." - Mike Rizzo on potential extension talks with Strasburg
Were Max Scherzer's second-half home run issues a fluke/something he'll straighten out?: Did Max Scherzer, in the first year of his 7-year/$210M deal, throw too many innings early and tire late? Was it something mechanical which led to the right-hander leaving the ball up in the zone? After giving up 10 home runs in 132 IP in the first half of 2015, Scherzer allowed 17 in 96 ⅔ IP in the second-half. He said this winter he thinks he's sorted things out.
"I've really thought long and hard about why -- really in that second -- different reasons why I was able to give up so many home runs and I don't want to sit here and tell you those answers, because it's all in theory, I've got to go out there and actually do it to see if i'm right or wrong." - Max Scherzer
Did Mike Rizzo and Co. in the Nationals' front office make a mistake in not dealing Jonathan Papelbon this winter?: His season ended when he was suspended for seven games after throwing at Manny Machado and then choking Bryce Harper. With his $11M salary for 2016 and history of being a bit of a distraction, it probably shouldn't surprise too many that Papelbon didn't get dealt. Will he get booed on Opening Day? Will fans come around?
"We see Papelbon as being one of our late-inning relievers. He’s been very effective at it his entire career, including last year except for the last portion of the season. This guy is a quality reliever, quality closer." - Mike Rizzo
Did the Nationals break Tanner Roark by moving him into the bullpen last season and between roles all year?: The sort-of out-of-nowhere 15-game winner in 2014 was pushed to the 'pen when the Nationals signed Max Scherzer, but he never found a real role in Matt Williams' bullpen and now it appears that barring a comeback by Bronson Arroyo or some other development that rearranges things in the rotation, he'll be starting again in 2016. Can he jump right back in?
"I think he's still valuable because he's flexible in that sense. But with that said we consider him a part of the rotation at this juncture of the offseason." - Rizzo in December on Roark's ability to adapt to different roles
How will Bryce Harper follow up on his MVP campaign?: Bryce Harper was only 22 when he put together his MVP-worth 2015 season, so how does the 23-year-old Harper follow up on his historical season? How big a help was Matt Williams, cited often by Harper as a sounding board when it came to hitting advice? Can new manager Dusty Baker lend a new perspective?
"I've always said every time I come into Spring Training or every time I come into the season, I can always get better, you can get better everywhere you play. Davey Lopes definitely is going to help me on the bases, that's going to be a lot of fun. Being able to pick the mind of Dusty [Baker] if that's outfield if that's hitting, if that's with pitchers and things like that, and he's a very good hitter." - Bryce Harper
Who starts at short on Opening Day? When will Trea Turner come up if he's not the OD SS?
Will it be Jayson Werth, Ben Revere and Bryce Harper left-to-right around the outfield most days?
Will Michael A. Taylor start in center more than Revere in the end? Will using Taylor as a fourth outfielder and backup in left and center going to hurt his development?
Can Blake Treinen figure out how to get lefties out?
Will the rebuilt bullpen be an improvement on the 2015 version?
Will Wilson Ramos put it all together in what could end up being his final season in D.C.?
What are you own storylines to watch as Spring Training approaches and gets underway?