If you follow the Washington Nationals closely, you know that the Lerners, owners of the franchise, and General Manager Mike Rizzo have put together a “stars and scrubs” team for the past few years. They designed it to have the majority of the payroll tied up in elite (and marketable) players with minimal money put into depth. It is hard to say it is not working, considering that after nearly 100 games the Nationals have somewhere between three and five MVP candidates and a double-digit lead in the division. With a plethora of injuries testing the limits of that thin depth, stakeholders all over are wondering if they will be able to hold up to losses to key players. With that said, here is a look at the replaceability of key players within the Nationals organization.
In a much-anticipated move, superstar prospect Victor Robles was promoted to Double-A Harrisburg Monday night, making him the youngest player in the Eastern League even before fellow top prospect Rafael Devers was promoted to Triple-A. Robles promotion resulted in a flurry of theories (and finger pointing emojis) among Nats fans, mainly regarding Robles’ status as a trade chip. Earlier in the week, fellow top outfield prospect Andrew Stevenson received the call to the big leagues following a Chris Heisey injury and Ryan Raburn going on the bereavement list. There weren’t many, but some were calling for Robles to get the promotion in place of Stevenson. While an immediate Robles call-up would be premature, his promotion to AA makes the idea slightly less farfetched. With the calls for Robles’ promotion this weekend, I got thinking: What would a Robles call-up in 2017 look like?
That’s clearly how Ryan Zimmerman felt about launch angle discussion back in mid-May. He made jokes, he made snarky comments, and after a while he just didn’t want to talk about it anymore. He kept saying over and over it wasn’t about the change in his launch angle, it was that he was finally healthy again. It was his health that had Zimmerman having a career year and a career resurgence with whispers that Comeback Player of the Year was his floor, and maybe MVP was his ceiling.
…Hey-na, hey-na, the bullpen’s back!
With the addition of Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson, the bullpen has started to take shape and has been very effective. Two of the Nats most reliable starters faltered on this recent road trip — Max Scherzer surrendered five runs in the first two innings, on back-to-back-to-back home runs to lead off the game. Yesterday, Nats fans everywhere collectively held their breath as Stephen Strasburg left after just 51 pitches with some forearm stiffness. What happened next will blow your mind!
The Nationals already made one big deal as the trade deadline approaches, instantly upgrading the state of the bullpen. Mike Rizzo might not be done wheeling and dealing just yet, though. Rizzo is rumored to be on the lookout for another deal for even more bullpen arms. He could also be looking for a rental, veteran centerfielder for the remainder of the season to replace the injured Adam Eaton and the streaky and currently injured Michael A. Taylor. With Joe Ross succumbing to the Tommy John bug, rumors are he might look to the trade market for a new #5 starter. Hopefully those are just rumors, as that would be a waste of Rizzo’s time and the Nationals’ minor league assets.
Thursday was an off-day for the Nationals, so I had far too much time to ruminate about the the relationship status of a professional baseball team. Yes, I am aware that this means my last two posts on The Nats Blog dot com are about assigning (b)romance-related characteristics to baseball relationships, but the Nationals and the Angels truly left me no choice. The two teams packed the most flirting into a two-game series since Alex Rodriguez asked a woman for her phone number during a game in 2012.
The Washington Nationals have followed up each division-winning/disappointing playoff loss season with an even more disappointing campaign. 2013 and 2015 were ravaged by poor performance, injuries, and a lack of overall depth. 2012 saw injuries to Jayson Werth and Michael Morse; Bryce Harper was a rookie. While we were relatively healthy, our bench was outstanding — “The Shark,” Roger Bernadina posted a career best 1.7 WAR, hitting .291/.372/.405. He was one of the best pinch-hitters in the league that year. Along with Bernadina, Tyler Moore had an .840 OPS; Chad Tracy posted a .784 OPS; post-deadline pickup and current Nat-killer Kurt Suzuki had a .725 OPS. All of them provided valuable, quality at-bats off the bench. They would all crater in 2013, as no one off the bench with more than 50 plate appearances had an OPS higher than .625. They did not have the depth to make up for injuries to Werth and Harper and the struggles of starters like Adam LaRoche. 2015 brought a mirror of 2013, with a struggling bullpen and horrible string of injuries that would see the opening day lineup together for just two games. They got a very good year from Clint Robinson annd a late season surge from Matt den Dekker, but they did not have enough to make up for injuries, under-performances, and Matt Williams.
Like myself, the average Washington fan likely watches 98% of Nationals games either on MASN with the beautiful and eloquent F.P. Santangelo and Bob Carpenter calling the game or at Nationals Park itself (that two percent discrepancy being those cursed Sunday nights on ESPN during which Aaron Boone and company talk about is the Strasburg Shutdown for three hours). While that is normal for any particular fan base, you can often end up somewhat stuck on certain narratives and ideas about your team. I had to opportunity to become quite attuned to this when I was able to go to Cincinnati to watch the first three games of the recent Nats-Reds series.