Nats Talk On The Go: Episode 55

In this penultimate episode before Craig leaves on his honeymoon, we have a lot to talk about since last week. We talk about the moves made around the Danny Espinosa DL trip, the walkoffs, the wins and losses, and everything in between. We also heap praise upon Jordan Zimmermann some more and add MLB draft talk into the mix, along with the usual shenanigans.

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Happy New Year From The Nats Blog

As 2012 comes to an end, it only seems right that we take a moment to remember what this past year really meant to the Washington Nationals and baseball in DC. When the season started in April, expectations were high for the Nats. They were the first Nats team that had a real shot to finish over .500, and they even had a chance to finish third in the NL East, which would have been their best finish ever.

Talk about exceeding expectations. The Washington Nationals finished the season 98-64, which was good for the National League East Division Title, the best record in the NL, and the best record in baseball. They spent 149 of 162 days in first place in the division, and they were never one game below .500.

Built on pitching and an offense that got better as the season wore on, this team was one that brought excitement back to baseball in the Nation's Capital. We will all remember where we were when the Nationals won their first division title in team history, where we were during the first playoff game at Nationals Park, and where we were when Jayson Werth hit his masterful NLDS Game 4 walk of home run, the celebration for which is pictured above.

There are so many other great moments to remember from 2012, and I hope you'll share your favorites with us in the comments and on Facebook and Twitter as a way to ring in the new year. Happy New Year to you and yours, and be safe. We have lots of baseball to watch together in 2013.

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2012 Player-By-Player Wrap Up: Drew Storen

Throughout the offseason, The Nats Blog will look back at every player’s 2012 season to summarize and analyze his performance, and we’ll look ahead to his possible role in 2013. We’ll go from #1 Steve Lombardozzi all the way to #63 Henry Rodriguez with about two posts per week until Spring Training. Enjoy.

Drew Storen has been the topic for many, many offseason conversations because of his complete meltdown in the ninth inning of Game 5 in the NLDS with the Washington Nationals just two outs away from advancing to the NLCS. Even as I type that, it still makes me nauseous.

Nonetheless, Storen is still considered an integral part of this team for years to come, and for good reason. Why? Because you can't judge a player on one game, even if it was a crucial one, and Storen is still really, really good. It's easy to focus on just that one inning that caused many of us to avoid baseball for several weeks or even shed a few tears. But look at his body of work after returning from his elbow surgery during the regular season, and it tells the real story.

Storen struggled a bit after he came back as he got used to pitching with his newly sewn up elbow, but boy did he ever settle in quickly. He finished the 2012 campaign with 30.1 innings under his belt, an impressive 2.37 ERA, and an even better 0.989 WHIP. Both are marked improvements over his 2011 numbers, a season in which he earned 43 saves and was considered among the closers in baseball.

In the wake of the NLDS disaster, I spoke with many friends, family, and fellow fans who had some terrible things to say about Drew Storen. I understood the overall feeling of frustration, even though some of the comments crossed a line. I didn't watch an inning of baseball until the World Series after the Nats were unceremoniously ousted. However, when people asked me what the Nats would do with Storen on Opening Day 2013, the answer was simple. If the Nats have the lead in the ninth inning on Opening Day, Drew Storen will be in to close. And Nationals Park should erupt with support.

Next year: Drew Storen will be the Nats closer from Opening Day until their season ends. Period. Obviously that assumes health, but Storen is the only true closer the Nats have had since Chad Cordero.

Next up: #23 Jhonatan "The Onion" Solano

Baseball America’s Top 10 Washington Nationals Prospects for 2013

The Washington Nationals have used prospects from their highly-rated farm system to acquire talent, which has made some big tweaks to the top prospects lists from several organizations. Not to mention neither Stephen Strasburg nor Bryce Harper are on that list for the first time in four seasons.

Here are the Nationals' top 10 prospects according to Baseball America:

  1. Anthony Rendon – 3B
  2. Lucas Giolito – RHP
  3. Brian Goodwin – OF
  4. Matt Skole – 3B
  5. Nathan Karns – RHP
  6. Christian Garcia – RHP
  7. Eury Perez – OF
  8. Sammy Solis – LHP
  9. Matt Purke – LHP
  10. Zach Walters – SS

Just a few key points to point out about this list:

  • Third Base Firewall: Ryan Zimmerman has a hold on first base for the forseeable future, so both Rendon and Skole will have to find another way to make the Nationals' big league roster. This could involve moving Zimmerman to first base, but that seems unlikely at this point. Rendon is often discussed as a future MLB second baseman, and his solid 2012 after getting healthy backs up that idea. Skole was the organizational player of the year in 2012, but it's hard to see him finding a way to the MLB level with the Nats.
  • Call Up Turned Prospect: Christian Garcia had an incredible 2012, both in the minors and majors. What makes it even more impressive? He had two Tommy John surgeries before he turned 25 years old. For most pitchers, that's a career ender. Garcia's resilience paid off. Not only was he on the postseason roster for the NLDS after his September call up, he's going to be stretched out as a starter this offseason. 
  • Righty Studs: Lucas Giolito is the 18 year old with an elbow injury that no one wanted, so the Nats drafted him 16th in the 2012 draft. Before his injuries popped up, he was widely regarded as the number one overall pick. Meanwhile, Nathan Karns was named the organizational pitcher of the year in 2012.
  • Lefty Starters: Sammy Solis is recovering from his own Tommy John surgery, but he should be ready for spring training. He could be a huge piece for the Nats down the road, especially if some of the higher prospects don't pan out or get traded for other talent. Meanwhile, Matt Purke, one of the Nats most risky draft picks, had shoulder surgery in October. Purke could easily slot into the top of the Nats' rotation if he ever gets healthy. But that is now a huge, huge "if."

BA's projected 2016 lineup shows why the Nats were built as they were by Mike Rizzo. It could mean significant success for a number of years. This obviously assumes no trades or roster moves, but it's fun to look at. Even in four years, this team would be fairly young and full of matured talent. Even Jayson Werth, the $126 million man, can't find a way into this lineup.

C: Wilson Ramos

1B: Ryan Zimmerman

2B: Danny Espinosa

3B: Anthony Rendon

SS: Ian Desmond

LF: Brian Goodwin

CF: Denard Span

RF: Bryce Harper

#1 Starter: Stephen Strasburg

#2 Starter: Lucas Giolito

#3 Starter: Gio Gonzalez

#4 Starter: Jordan Zimmermann

#5 Starter: Ross Detwiler

Closer: Drew Storen

2012 Player-By-Player Wrap Up: Xavier Nady

Throughout the offseason, The Nats Blog will look back at every player’s 2012 season to summarize and analyze his performance, and we’ll look ahead to his possible role in 2013. We’ll go from #1 Steve Lombardozzi all the way to #63 Henry Rodriguez with about two posts per week until Spring Training. Enjoy.

When your team wins 98 games, you don't get to talk about useless or impactless players from that season very often. This is absolutely one of those exceptions. Xavier Nady 

Nady was pulled off of his couch in spring training with virtually no opportunity to make the team. He was even signed to a minor league deal. But enough injuries allowed the veteran journeyman to make it onto the Nats Opening Day roster in 2012.

He's never been an exceptional defender, and his offense had declined steadily over the past three to four seasons. Nevertheless, Nady found his way into 40 games for the Nationals before being released in late July. During that time, he mustered a pitiful .157/.211/.275 slash line and 24 strikeouts in just 102 at-bats.

The Nats merciful release of Nady turned out pretty well for him. He landed with the San Francisco Giants, who went on to win the World Series. That's right, folks. Xavier Nady, who amassed a -0.6 WAR last season, will be getting a World Series championship ring. Something isn't quite right with that.

Next year: The 34-year-old Nady is still a free agent, but he will land with a team and serve as a fourth outfielder and bench player. It may not happen until spring training when teams really evaluate their needs, but it's only a matter of time.

Update 10:45 am: Xavier Nady has just been signed to a minor league deal by the Kansas City Royals, according to the Royals twitter account. So it was only a matter of a very short time.

Next up: #22 Drew Storen

Nats Talk On The Go: Episode 40

In this post-Winter Meetings episode, Craig rejoins Joe to discuss things from inside and ouside of Washington Nationals news. For NatsTown, we talk about the Denard Span deal and the impressive Nationals defense, readdress the LaRoche vs. Morse deal, and evaluate the Dan Haren signing. Across the league, we discuss the Rays and Royals trade, the Marlins Fire Sale (if only a few months late), and some other signings across the league.

REPORT: Nationals Sign Dan Haren To One-Year, $13 Million Deal

The Washington Nationals are almost always pursuing under the radar deals, and today's latest signing is no exception. Mike Rizzo and the Nats have penned a one-year, $13 million deal with former Angels and Diamondbacks starter Dan Haren, according to Ken Rosenthal.

Haren will surely move into the bottom half of the Nationals' starting rotation, replacing free agent Edwin Jackson. On the surface, it's essentially a one-for-one swap. Both were signed to one-year contracts with the Nats, and Jackson made $11 million while Haren will be paid $13 million by his new team. They're both traditionally durable pitchers that throw a lot of innings.

A three-time All-Star who twice receieved Cy Young votes, there's a lot to be excited about with Haren. However, his 2012 numbers are definitely cause for some concern. His average fastball velocity has dropped three miles per hour since 2007. If that trend sticks, he'll be the only Nationals starter who doesn't break 90 mph on the gun for his fastball on average. The "lightest" throwing Nats starter is Ross Detwiler, who averaged 93 mph on his fastball in 2012. With the Nats push for power pitchers, Haren may not fit that mold. A drop in velocity over a long period like this may be a sign of aging or an injury, and the Nationals are certainly wary of that. Haren still has to pass a physical before the contract is final.

It's impossible to debate that Haren had the worst year of his career in 2012. It's the first year he didn't rise above a replacement-level pitcher, according to WAR, since his rookie season in 2003. He posted the highest ERA of his career, and his BABIP, FIP, and xFIP don't indicate he got particularly unlucky. He just wasn't that good. His 2012 K/9 isn't far below his career average, and it was nearly identical to his 2011 level, just with far less success overall.

Haren had one bad year over the course of a very impressive career, last season, but he's entering his age 32 season without a history of injuries and more than 200 innings in seven of eight seasons. That may be good, but it could also mean his body has slowly broken down over that time, resulting in his disappointing 2012 season.

Overall, if Haren can return to his 2011 and prior form, the Nationals will have stolen Haren with a reasonable one-year deal. If he doesn't, and he struggles with injury and throwing effectively, the Nationals only take the hit for one season, not for multiple years. This could be a great deal or a decent deal, but it can't be a terrible deal simply because it doesn't lock them into a long contract. And if it's good, just imagine: Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler, Dan Haren. Not too shabby.

Nats Talk On The Go: Episode 39

The Washington Nationals offseason has been newsworthy, so it was about time to record another podcast. Joe talks about the Denard Span signing, he evaluates the Adam LaRoche vs. Michael Morse conversation, and he defends Danny Espinosa vigorously. He also talks about pitching, Zack Greinke, Zach Duke, and the non-tenders: John Lannan, Jesus Flores, and Tom Gorzelanny. Finally, there's reason to look up about the team's lineup, even though the offseason isn't anywhere near over.

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2012 Player-By-Player Wrap Up: Ian Desmond

 

Throughout the offseason, The Nats Blog will look back at every player’s 2012 season to summarize and analyze his performance, and we’ll look ahead to his possible role in 2013. We’ll go from #1 Steve Lombardozzi all the way to #63 Henry Rodriguez with about two posts per week until Spring Training. Enjoy.

If someone told you that a player who committed 57 errors and recorded a slash-line of .260/.303/.375 between 2010 and 2011 would be nominated for a Gold Glove, win a Silver Slugger, be selected to play in the All-Star Game, and potentially be the Washington Nationals’ MVP for the year they recorded the best record in baseball, you probably would have flatly called that person crazy.

But that is exactly the road that shortstop Ian Desmond has taken with the Nationals, from his first two full seasons in the majors to the season that earned him a GIBBY nomination for Breakout Hitter of the Year.

Of the Nationals qualified hitters, Desmond claimed the highest batting average (.292), slugging percentage (.511), most stolen bases (21) and fewest strikeouts (113).  Aside from the strikeouts, which ticked up slightly from 2010 but were significantly lower than 2011, those numbers were all also career-bests for Desmond through a complete season. He also notched career-bests for runs scored (72), doubles (33), home runs (25) and RBI (73).

And the list of accolades goes on. Desmond was the only National to record a 20-20 season, despite being put on the DL with an oblique injury for nearly a month, and in perhaps one of his most distinguishing contributions to the team last season, Desmond was the Nationals’ most reliable hitter through the playoffs (going 7-for-19). Only Ryan Zimmerman recorded better numbers than he did with a comparable number of postseason at-bats.

Desmond’s proclivity to swing at the first pitch drew criticism from some who wanted to see him be more patient – he only walked 30 times all year – but as his success at the plate became more consistent, the critics became content to just watch as Desi hit three home runs and 11 doubles, and batted in 12 runs on the first pitch.

Desmond finished the year with an overall slash-line of .292/.335/.511, and was owner to several clutch moments, like his come-from-behind walk-off home run that broke the Nationals out of a five-game losing streak on May 2. The photo of Desmond leaping into a ecstatic group of celebrating teammates came to define the type of exciting season the Nationals played in 2012 and highlighted the impact Desmond had on DC’s favorite team.

Next year: At 27 years old, Desmond has plenty of years left in what promises to be an exciting career, and at least three of those years will be played in Washington. With Desmond under team control until 2016, Nationals fans can expect to see many more exciting moments produced by the talented shortstop.

Up next: #21 Xavier Nady

 

Danny Espinosa Shouldn’t Be On The Trading Block, Unless…

The hot stove is burning, and winter meetings start this week. There will be endless rumors of who is signing where and what player is available to be moved. One guy that seems to be on the block, according to multiple sources, is Nats second baseman Danny Espinosa. I’m not so sure he should be.

Espinosa certainly comes with his share of problems. Primarily, he led the National League in strikeouts in 2012, which is the last place you want your second baseman to be in the rankings. While that’s a big issue, he has many redeeming qualities in the lineup and on the field.

While Espinosa struck out an exorbitant 189 times last season, that’s going to matter less in 2013. The Nationals traded for center fielder Denard Span last week, who will automatically be put in the leadoff spot. That probably slides Jayson Werth down to the number two slot and Bryce Harper into the four or five spot. That’s all a fancy way of saying Espinosa will still hit seventh or eighth this year, unchanged from last season. He’s not going to be counted on as a significant part of the offense.

Since the top of the lineup got way better, what does it hurt to allow Espinosa to remain in the bottom part of the order? The answer: it doesn’t. In fact, it may help the Nats a whole lot. Espinosa is quickly becoming among the best defensive second basemen in the NL, meanwhile he provides the Nats great wins above replacement (WAR), even with his extraordinary strikeouts.

For the MLB-best Nationals, Danny Espinosa provided the fourth-most WAR of all players. The only Nats who had higher WAR than Espi: Ian Desmond, Bryce Harper, and Ryan Zimmerman. That’s not terrible company. Espinosa was also tied in WAR with Adam LaRoche, who was widely considered the Nats MVP last year.

WAR isn’t a tell-all stat, but it’s certainly a good gauge of quality. Espinosa also provides much better defense than the guy who would inevitably replace him, Steve Lombardozzi. I’m a fan of Lombo’s, personally. However, he doesn’t have nearly as much range, his glove work isn’t as good, and his arm isn’t as strong as Espinosa.

The bottom line is the Nats wouldn’t gain much, if anything, on offense, and they would lose on defense with Lombardozzi compared to Espinosa. With Span in the lineup, both Espinosa and Lombardozzi will sit at the very bottom of the Nats batting order, so why would you want to get rid of Espinosa’s defense and ability to hit for power?

The only reason is more pitching. If the Nats were able to trade Espinosa for a quality starter, likely from the Tampa Bay Rays organization, then it may be a smart move. Otherwise, the Nats would be giving up a bottom of the order power threat with plus defensive ability for very little reason.

If Espinosa is moved this week, or this offseason, it will be for something huge, not for a marginal improvement. With the shrewd moves that GM Mike Rizzo has made in the last couple seasons, I’m not worried that he’ll make the wrong move.