The Nats Off-Season Priorities

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1. Find a Manager

There are moves that can be made without a new manager in place, but this is
the most important thing the Nationals have to do this off-season. Not having
the leader of the team will make all the other moves more difficult. Players
want to know who they are playing for and the manager is going to have a lot of
input into what free agents the Nationals go after for the bench and bullpen,
which happen to be their two biggest needs personnel-wise. It is also important
to get the new manager in place early so that he has an entire off-season to
communicate with the players already in the majors and to familiarize himself
with the system and the minor leaguers that could help during the season.

2. Lock up Ian Desmond 

This move doesn’t necessarily depend on having a manager in place, but it
could. If the Nationals wait too long in hiring the manager and Desmond doesn’t
know who he is going to be playing for it could slow negotiations to a point
where it is close enough to arbitration that Desmond tables discussions until
the following off-season. It is unlikely that that would happen. Every
indication from Desmond is that he enjoys playing in Washington. He has
embraced the community, interacts with fans, and is a leader on the field. He
wants to stay here and the Nationals should want him to stay here. As far as
what the contract will look like consider that Jimmy Rollins has comparable
career numbers and is making $11 million a year at a more advanced age. With
that in mind, something around six years for $70 million sounds fair for both
sides.

3. Jose Abreu 

It has almost become a yearly event for a feared Cuban slugger to be a free
agent. In 2011 it was Cespedes and in 2012, Puig. Now it is Abreu’s turn and
from all reports out of Cuba he is a better hitter than either of the other
two. He also happens to be a first baseman. It is a very weak first base market
this off-season to the point that if LaRoche were a free agent he would be the
most desired name. The Nationals have LaRoche in house but he is coming off a
disappointing season and the Nationals have no minor league depth at the
position. Tyler Moore has been exposed as an everyday player, Chris Marrero has
never developed the power for the position, and Matt Skole spent almost the
entire season on the DL. The Nats have no first baseman of the future and it
isn’t until after the 2015 season when Chris Davis becomes a free agent that
there is any help from that avenue. The Nats should be very motivated to sign
Abreu but the weakness of the first base market will make a lot of other teams
just as motivated. Abreu will go to the team that offers the most money, and
this time the Nationals need to ensure it is them.

4. The Bench 

No aspect of the Nationals hurt the 2013 squad more than the bench and yet I
have listed it fourth. The reason for that is twofold. This is a move that
can’t be made until the manager is in place and Desmond and Abreu would be
starters. Those are always more important than back-ups. The bench is what
caused most people to be wrong on the Nationals. Not enough scrutiny was given
to a group composed of two second year players that had success in small sample
sizes in 2012, a fourth outfielder that had never been an on base machine but
had a .400 OBP in 2012, an aging left handed corner player one year removed
from playing in Japan, and a back-up catcher that struggled as a starter in
Oakland for most of 2012. The entire bench performed so well in 2012 that it
would have seemed weird to have gotten rid of all of them for 2013, and that
wasn’t so much the problem. The bigger problem was that the bench wasn’t
switched out early enough when they struggled. The other reason I have the
bench fourth is because in large part this is a January move. Sign a bunch of
MiLB guys, select the best coming out of Spring Training, store the rest at
AAA, and switch them out as the season goes along to ride the hot hand. Maybe
sign one or two proven veterans to major league deals like Ruiz as the back-up
catcher or DeJesus as the fourth outfielder, but keep a couple spots available
to rotate in a hot hand from AAA.

5. The Bullpen 

The composition of the bullpen wasn’t great from the start of the season. A
lot is going to be made about the need for a left hander. With Boone Logan and
Oliver Perez available in free agency they should be targets, but if they end
up elsewhere then adding a left hander becomes signing a lefty for the sake of
signing a lefty and that is a mistake. Talent always wins and that was the
problem with the Nats bullpen to start the season. Zach Duke, Henry Rodriguez,
and Ryan Mattheus simply weren’t talented enough. Combine that with Storen’s
struggles and Soriano’s occasional hiccups and the weakness and lack of depth
in the pen are quickly exposed. Davey Johnson wanted two long relievers to
start the season and Mike Rizzo wasn’t ready to give up on Henry Rodriguez. In
essence this gave the Nationals a four man pen and when Mattheus and Storen
struggled it was a two man pen. Ian Krol and Fernando Abad helped for a short
time, but had their troubles as well. Abad could be a part of the 2014 bullpen
but he isn’t a left handed specialist, nor was he used as one. In 2013 he had
101 plate appearances against right handers with a .619 OPS against and 65
plate appearances against left handers with a .790 OPS against. He may be a
left handed pitcher but he doesn’t get left handers out. Ian Krol is more of a
lefty specialist with a .593 OPS against versus left handers and a .957 OPS
against right handers. The issue with Krol was that he faced right handers more
than he did left handers. His numbers indicate that he could be the LOOGY in
the bullpen next season, but even if he is the Nationals are going to need a
couple more bodies out there to lock down the sixth and seventh innings as needed.

6. Fourth Starter 

When Spring Training starts Detwiler, Jordan,
Roark, and Ohlendorf are going to be fighting for one or two rotation spots.
Wouldn’t it be better if they were fighting for one rotation spot, the long
relief role, and the losers going to AAA as depth? The answer to that is: of
course. That means that while the starting free agent class isn’t that
impressive the Nationals could luck out by not needing someone impressive. They
don’t have to get into a bidding war for AJ Burnett or Matt Garza or take a
risk on Roy Halladay or Tim Lincecum. They can concentrate on lower cost safer
options. Someone like Bronson Arroyo who has pitched 200 innings in eight of
the last nine seasons and in the one he didn’t pitch 200 he pitched 199, or
someone like Ricky Nolasco whose 4.37 career ERA is not going to impress anyone
but has made over 30 starts in five of the last six seasons. The Nats could
even bring back Dan Haren for less money and hope that either he can reach a
mid-4.00 ERA in a more consistent manner or that the second half of 2013 was an
indication of what he’ll do in 2014. The Nats don’t need to spend big money for
this spot, but they also don’t need a big performer. They need innings and
consistency. Someone that will keep the team in most of the games they pitch
and hopefully end the season .500 while the Nationals end up winning 66% of the
games the big three pitch.

3 comments

  1. After Dan Haren and Edwin Jackson, I am weary of going for some guy we don’t really know. Not saying I am against it, just it would worry me.

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  2. Totally agree about Abreu. He is a perfect fit for the Nats and would be great to platoon with LaRoche. I wonder if the Nats have the necessary motivation to go after and finalize a deal with him. No question the bench needs some real enhancements. I don’t understand why Rizzo traded DeJesus away. He seemed like such a good fit for the Nats. I suspect we have seen the last of Chad Tracy. It will be interesting to see what they do with Hairston, he just didn’t work out as hoped.Definintely need help with the bullpen. Letting Gorzo and Burnett walk was a mistake. Krol will definitely help out, but a veteran solid middle relief guy is clearly needed.I’m not sure the Nats even need to go after a FA SP. Roark, Jordan, Ohlendorf, and Detwiler should be able to fill the 4 and 5 spots and give some depth for a #6 Sp and long relief.

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  3. Tyler Moore is a better option than you suggest. He does need to start every day and that requires a level of commitment that may not exist with a team that envisions itself as a championship squad. Abreu may simply cost more than he’s worth.A reliable fourth starter is a must. Too much up and down from Haren hurt. Likewise playing Espinosa for so long when the daily evidence showed he was an automatic out hurt also. Don’t need superstars but they do need consistent big league performance.The bench would benefit from just the philosophy you describe. Have a reliable 4th outfielder and Lombo. Use AAA to have the hot hand to bring up. Of course if you are going to bring them up play them don’t let them languish on the bench like Davey did.

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