As has been mentioned time and time before the Nationals are in an unfamiliar position. There appears to be only one Spring Training battle and that is for the 25th spot on the roster. This is often thought of as a bullpen battle and that may be it, but the Nats have a very strong rotation and back of the bullpen and could forgo going with either H-Rod in a mop-up role or a one batter pitcher like Bill Bray for extra bench help early on. Especially since the Nationals have no true back-up short stop and there are already injury concerns with Espinosa’s shoulder.
But this isn’t a spot that is going to be won in Spring Training. The Nats could open the season with Henry Rodriguez given every opportunity to fail and if he does call up Bill Bray or Erik Davis or another reliever to take that role. If it is Bray he can’t be sent down, but someone like Davis can be and replaced with utility infielder Carlos Rivero during a part of the schedule where the starting pitching is going well and the Nationals need an extra bench bat. The truth is the Nats roster, especially at the bottom, isn’t going to be finalized until playoff rosters are set.
This isn’t to diminish the Spring Training battle to be Mr. 25 but it is to say that it is a battle that is going to continue into the season. There are advantages to having more pitching and advantages to having more bench depth, and the Nationals could run a shuttle bus between DC and Syracuse during the season to constantly have the roster optimized to the schedule. Look at the Nats mid-May where they head out west and have ten games against the Dodgers, Padres, and Giants. Sure the Padres aren’t too threatening, but the Dodger and Giants should both have good offenses and a little extra pitching wouldn’t be a problem.
Now look at June where the Nationals have a lot of games against the Mets, Rockies, Twins, and Indians. Perhaps the Nats view this as an opportunity to give some starting position players a couple extra days of rest and decide to go with the extra bench bat. This could be Carlos Rivero or Corey Brown depending on who the Nats want to rest or they could switch off as the season goes. The Nationals in 2012 used 24 total position players and 19 total pitchers. The average NL team used 22 total position players and 23 total pitchers. The average NL team used more than their 40 man roster in 2012. In fact the Reds were the only NL team that used less than 40 players in 2012.
A lot of that includes September call-ups and players traded for, but it goes to show that the battle for the last spot on the roster isn’t over once Spring Training ends. An MLB roster is a fluid thing and it isn’t set in stone until it comes time for the playoffs. The faces on the bench and in the bullpen are going to change, and if an injury happens to a starting position player or pitcher or someone significantly under performs there exists the trade deadline. Go ahead and watch Spring Training and debate Henry Rodriguez vs. Bill Bray or an extra bench bat vs. a 7 man bullpen. It is fun to have these debates and it shows how far the Nats have come since the days of Garrett Mock, but understand the roster isn’t set just because the calender turns to April 1. The roster is set when the calender turns to September 1 and that is only if the Nats are indeed good enough to make the playoffs.