January 20, 2011
A better day is coming for the Washington Nationals, but it probably won't arrive in 2011. The Nats made a 10-game improvement last year – stepping from 59 to 69 wins – but it wasn't enough to escape the NL East basement, where they've been five times since making the move from Montreal for the 2005 season. The two buzziest players in the organization won't be part of the mix this summer: Stephen Strasburg(notes) is recovering from Tommy John surgery, while Bryce Harper is still just a kid (he turned 18 three months ago). The best thing we can say about the Nats from a roto perspective is this: if you like anyone here, you can probably get them without much of a fight (Ryan Zimmerman(notes) a notable exception).
Do we want anyone from this starting rotation?
Maybe, but it won't be one of the veterans out front. John Lannan(notes) will probably be the ace by default and we can respect that he was a better pitcher after his brief demotion last summer (he went 6-3 with a 3.42 ERA and 1.24 WHIP when the team brought him back). But the soft-tossing southpaw has a mediocre 4.67 K/9 rate for his career (against a 3.21 BB/9 rate), and left-handed batters hit him just as well as righties do. On a contending club, Lannan would be fighting for a spot at the back of the rotation, but the Nats will need to run him out every fifth day (and perhaps on opening day, unless Livan Hernandez(notes) gets that assignment).
Jordan Zimmermann(notes) deserves a long look in spring training. He's entering his second year removed from Tommy John surgery, and for his career he's got a snappy 119 strikeouts (and just 39 walks) over 122.1 innings – this is a power arm. Tuck his name away as a possible late-round selection.
Tom Gorzelanny(notes) was acquired earlier this week and at least he's got the ability to miss a bat now and then (he struck out 119 in 136.1 innings last year). His problems tend to come with control (4.49 BB/9) and stamina (he seldom gets past the sixth inning). Maintain curiosity, but don't invest until we see something in April.
Right here, gamer. Desmond finally got full control of a starting spot in late July after the Cristian Guzman(notes) deal and he took advantage down the stretch, hitting .291 with eight steals over the final third of the year. Desmond's power was a touch disappointing in 2010 but he's still capable of knocking the ball over the fence – he's collected 14 career homers over 607 at-bats. His messy fielding concerns you a bit – we don't want Jim Riggleman to have any excuses to pull Desmond from the lineup arbitrarily. But if Desmond can stay on the field for six months, we might be looking at 15-18 homers and 25-30 steals, all for a discount price.
Is there any good news on Stephen Strasburg?
Yes, Virginia, there is, but it's nothing that's going to help our 2011 title chances. Tommy John surgery has a very high rate of success, and Strasburg should make a full recovery in time – we'll have a blast watching him in 2012. But it's doubtful we'll see him on a big-league diamond this summer; there's a slight chance he could make a start or two in September, but the Nationals aren't going to take any chances with their franchise pitcher. There's no reason to select him in a one-and-done league.
Probably. His early ADP, for what it's worth, is a modest 53.28, a pittance for what you get here: a solid four-category contributor who won't kill you in average. Durability was the knock against Werth earlier in his career, but he's played in 315 games over the last two years.
He'll miss the womb of the Philadelphia lineup, of course – the Phillies scored 107 more runs than the Nats last year – but the meat of the Washington lineup isn't so bad. Werth's too late in the game for a growth season, but he should be able to match his recent level of production. Take advantage of the DC screen, embrace the discount.
Reliability. Remember the old joke about Adam Dunn(notes) hitting 40 homers every year, on the nose? LaRoche has turned into a poor man's version of that, clubbing exactly 25 round-trippers in each of the last three seasons. You could do a lot worse with your utility corner, and LaRoche should be in a cushy batting order spot in 2011, working between Ryan Zimmerman and Werth. The Washington batting order as a whole isn't something you want to aggressively invest in, but LaRoche probably has the best position of all.
Morse caught our attention with a surprising 15-homer season (on just 266 at-bats), but he probably won't play enough to make it onto mixed-league rosters in 2011. The Werth signing blocks him from right field, the LaRoche move locks up first base, and the Nats might play it as a straight platoon in left, letting Morse caddy with Roger Bernadina(notes). Make Morse force his way into your plans; there's no reason to take him in March.
Certainly nothing is guaranteed, but he's the man to bet on. The Nats like Tyler Clippard(notes) as the work-out-of-jams guy, and Sean Burnett(notes) has to deal with the bias against left-handed stoppers. Storen's ERA spiked in the second half of 2010, but his strikeout and walk rates were moving in the right direction. And no matter how many games the Nats win in 2011, every MLB club can support a 30-save closer if the skipper manages by the save rule (which they all seem to, for better or for worse).
Is this the year Teddy Roosevelt wins a race?
We're entering Year 6 of the Presidents Race at Nationals home games, and Roosevelt is still looking for his first victory (I think it's a little suspicious that Abraham Lincoln is the winningest president thus far; I'd be sending it in on Thomas Jefferson every time). The theme of the race is essentially "how will Teddy lose this time?" and I think the Nats should continue with that concept as long as possible – or at least until they've finally got a winning product on the field. When's the last time you had that prescription checked, old man?
Presidents Race image courtesy US Presswire