When a team wins 98 games, wins its division and reaches the playoffs for the first time since it moved to a new city, its hard not to call the season an immense success. For Nationals fans, however, the ending to the season was a little disappointing. The team’s handling (or mishandling) of its ace Stephen Strasburg was compounded when in the first round of the playoffs the Nationals wound up in a winner-take-all Game 5 against the Cardinals, a game in which the Nats jumped out to a six-run lead only to fall apart and lose 9-7. The good thing, though, is that we are now closer to spring training than we are to the 2012 postseason — now we can look forward rather than behind, and boy, do the Nationals look locked and loaded.
The Nationals will be bringing back the team’s core of superstar bats, led by Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman, and teaming it up with a top-of-the-line pitching rotation, led by Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman. To that mix they added the center fielder they believed they were missing in Denard Span, one of last year’s best closers in Rafael Soriano and something of a high-risk/high-reward pitcher in Dan Haren. This adds up to a team that should be chasing 100 wins and looking to put its stamp on the postseason this year.
One last note. The Nationals are going to be a popular team. They are going to be featured prominently in baseball media and print throughout the entire preseason. They are going to be a popular pick to make it to the World Series and will be a darling of the “experts.” What does that mean? It means that even the casual fantasy managers in your league will probably know most if not all of the Nationals players. It’s not going to be easy to draft or acquire Nationals on the cheap or perhaps even for fair value. But hey, if shortcuts were easy, they would just be “the way,” right? Let’s do this thing.
In “30 Teams in 30 Days,” the Fantasy Baseball Cafe will preview each team in Major League Baseball on a daily basis. In addition to projecting starting lineups, rotations and closing situations, the Cafe will identify potential targets for 2013 fantasy baseball drafts.
|C Wilson Ramos||.265||.354||.398||11||3||10||0||96|
|1B Adam LaRoche||.271||.343||.510||76||33||100||1||647|
|2B Danny Espinosa||.247||.315||.402||82||17||56||20||658|
|SS Ian Desmond||.292||.335||.511||72||25||73||21||547|
|3B Ryan Zimmerman||.282||.346||.478||93||25||95||5||641|
|LF Bryce Harper||.270||.340||.477||98||22||59||18||597|
|CF Denard Span||.283||.342||.395||71||4||41||17||568||w/MIN|
|RF Jayson Werth||.300||.387||.440||42||5||31||8||344|
Unsettled: Catcher. While Wilson Ramos is projected to be the starter, he is coming back from a torn ACL, which initially provides its own set of concerns. Add to that the fact that Kurt Suzuki, acquired at the end of last season, is a proven veteran who played relatively well with the Nats and is making $6.45 million this year and you have an uncertain situation. At this point, while I would lean to Ramos being the starter, I don’t believe it will be your traditional starter/backup playing time split with Suzuki, who should see plenty of at-bats, thereby making the position uncertain. Catcher is relatively deep this year and I wouldn’t be targeting Ramos or Suzuki unless it’s either a very deep league or a two-catcher league.
Target: Jayson Werth. Werth is coming off a year in which he was hampered by a broken wrist and only managed to play in 81 games. His counting stats were disappointing: He only produced 42 runs, 5 HRs and 31 RBI. He did manage, however, to hit .300 (the best average he has ever put up) with a .387 OBP and eight SBs. When you factor in he was recovering from his wrist injury and that most of his ABs came in the leadoff slot, you can see how Werth may have adjusted his approach to hitting. (His BB/K was also the best he has ever managed.) Not having to lead off anymore and giving the wrist an entire offseason to get stronger will probably bring a regression in the average but an increase in the HRs and RBI, and I expect runs and SBs to remain consistent with Werth’s career numbers. It’s not unreasonable to pencil Werth in for a baseline of .270/17/80/80/12, with a reasonable upside potential to hit 20 HRs and swipe 15 bags. A quick look at early rankings from several sources have Werth in a tier with players like Garret Jones and Jonny Gomes. Werth’s upside makes him a very good target at that price.
|Stephen Strasburg (R)||15-6||3.16||1.16||197||48||159.1|
|Gio Gonzalez (R)||21-8||2.89||1.13||207||76||199.1|
|Jordan Zimmerman (R)||12-8||2.94||1.17||153||43||195.2|
|Dan Haren (R)||12-13||4.33||1.29||142||38||176.2||w/LAA|
|Ross Detwiler (L)||10-8||3.40||1.22||105||52||164.1|
Unsettled: Dan Haren? Gio Gonzalez? Javier Vazquez? The Nationals rotation is one of the top rotations in baseball and is pretty much set. Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmerman and Haren are all locked in at their slots and, heading into spring training, it appears that Detwiler will be manning the fifth slot. At this point, the first unsettled issue may be Haren’s health. Last year was the first year since 2004 that Haren did not pitch 200-plus innings. He dealt with back issues, or hip issues, or maybe both. Whatever the problem really was, it was the first time in his career he was placed on the DL. Combine that with the fact that an offseason trade to the Cubs fell apart after the Cubs got cold feet on Haren’s medical reports and you have to consider that there is some uncertainty about Haren’s health.
Secondly, it should be noted that at the time of this writing, the Nationals and Javier Vazquez were still playing footsie: Vazquez might want to come back, the Nationals scouted him and liked what they saw, Vazquez says he has mutual interest with the Nationals, Vazquez gets a few minor medical procedures. If the Nationals and Vazquez do consummate their relationship, Vazquez will immediately be plugged in as the fifth starter. Finally, there is the issue of Gio Gonzalez (or his dad) being linked to PEDs. I already wrote this “Unsettled” section prior to the PED story breaking. Gio is immediately an unsettled issue. Will he be suspended, and if so, when? Even if he isn’t suspended this year, the question still remains that if he was on PEDs last year, can we expect a regression this year, and if so, how much? Unfortunately, it’s way too early in the process to really know any of the answers to these questions. This situation is extremely uncertain and still developing.
Target: Dan Haren. The same reasons that land Dan Haren in our “Unsettled” category land him here in our “Target” category. There might be just enough fear and uncertainty around Haren to allow you to get him at a discount. Whenever you talk about a pitcher’s back or hip, it’s concerning. On top of that, his 2012 numbers are pedestrian enough that managers may shy away from Haren come draft day. But note that after he returned from the DL in July, he posted a 3.58 ERA with 14 BBs and 56 Ks in 73 IP. I think that given his track record and the switch back to the NL, he may be in for another big year. I don’t think you can sit back and wait for him to fall late, but Haren has the potential to put up numbers as equally good, if not better, as Zimmerman and Gio and should be valued accordingly.
The 8th and 9th Innings
|Rafael Soriano (R)||42||2.26||1.17||69||24||67.2||w/NYY|
|Tyler Clippard (R)||32||3.72||1.16||84||29||72.2|
|Drew Storen (R)||4||2.37||0.98||24||8||30.1|
Chasing Saves: Rafael Soriano was brought in and paid like an elite closer. Last season he put up excellent numbers while doing the difficult of task of replacing the injured Mariano Rivera. Soriano is up there in age, but there is no reason to believe that he will not be an elite closer this year. Bringing him in leaves the Nats with two bullpen arms who have saved 30-plus games in one of the last two years (Clippard in 2012, Storen in 2011). I expect that Clippard will go back to an eighth-inning role while Storen might be used in the 7th or the 8th depending on matchups. There is also the possibility that one may be traded at some point during the season if a need arises.
The Nationals are a young and exciting team. Their lineup boasts a mix of power and speed, their rotation is elite and their bullpen as deep as any in baseball. Expect big things from the Nationals this year; just don’t expect to get big discounts on them on draft day.
Check back tomorrow for our look at the Baltimore Orioles.
Chris is a fantasy baseball fan, who plays the game the right way and enjoys writing about it. You can chat with and follow him on twitter @RotoBaseballX.
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