Hot Stove Report - Feast at the Nationals Buffet in 2014
Remember the 98 wins in 2012, bolstered by white hot teenage rookie Bryce Harper? Remember the heartbreaking loss to the Cardinals in Game 5 of the NLDS? Remember the controversial management decision to shut down Stephen Strasburg prior to the playoffs?
Sure you remember. Many in D.C. still play the torturous mental game of What Might Have Been, and so do the rest of us. What if the Nationals’ Wunderkind starter had been permitted to toe the rubber in the playoffs? Would that single decision have altered destiny? Even without their #1 mound magician, Nats fans still find it difficult to digest their team blowing an early six run lead in Game 5…a lead that still held 7-5 in the top of the ninth. A four run Cardinal frame left reliever Drew Storen, the Nationals’ second top-ten pick of the ’09 draft (Storen was #10/Strasburg was #1)- a guy who saved 43 games in 2011 – as the goat. On October 12th of 2012, nobody cared about the elbow surgery that sidelined Storen into late July. Baseball-crazed D.C. craved a clean half-inning that didn’t happen. In 2013, the Nationals stacked a pallet full of bills in front of former Yankee Rafael Soriano to be their closer, ultimately giving Storen a change of scenery in minor league venues and thoroughly pissing off fellow reliever Tyler Clippard. Storen later returned, but with how much damage to his psyche? Here’s an interesting side note: Storen was drafted fifteen spots ahead of Mike Trout and nine spots ahead of Shelby Miller. The Nats brass realizes they missed out on these studs. Imagine Trout and Harper in the same outfield…or Miller in a rotation including Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Jordan Zimmermann. Who would you take your anger out on? Storen makes the perfect whipping boy.
Although the ’12 season turned from promise to pain, 2013 offered the D.C. faithful some “Wait Till Next Year” hope. Phenoms Strasburg and Harper were surrounded by studs like SS Ian Desmond, 3B Ryan Zimmerman and top hurlers Gonzalez and Zimmermann. There was no way this team wouldn’t make the playoffs…until it didn’t. A slow start, injuries, and monkeys on their backs named the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals doomed the Nats to an 86 win no-playoff season. An ominous 0-6 start to the second half immediately shoved the popular preseason pick to win the National League to the middle of the pack. A late push, 30 wins/12 losses from August 9th to September 22nd, surged fear up the spines of Wild Card contenders. But a sweep at the hands of their ’12 nemesis Cardinals, the final nail driven by the aforementioned #19 2009 draft pick Shelby Miller, sent the Nats home two days prior to World Vegetarian Day on October 1, a date celebrated by those who attempt to thrive without meat. Hmmm.
Seemingly undeterred and still hungry to eat at the big boy table, the ’14 Nats are packed with more protein than a Brazilian steak house, especially on the mound. Let’s take a look at their fantasy menu:
2014 Washington Nationals Hot Stove - Appetizers
Nate McLouth brought his 12 homers and 30 stolen bases to D.C. as a fourth outfielder in one of the best (and most unnoticed) offseason MLB moves. The Nats bench was a sore spot last season. McLouth is worth a stash in deeper fantasy leagues because of his power/speed combination. He’s one injury away from full-time work. Keep his name on your radar. Another bench player, Tyler Moore, can play OF and 1B and has monster power. He took a step backward last season, but a strong Spring and another yawner from Adam LaRoche might put the 26-year-old Moore on the fantasy radar.
Adding Doug Fister to this rotation almost seems unfair, especially as a fourth starter. But the Nats corralled the 29-year-old former Tiger, creating what might become the best rotation in baseball. This team figures to win a lot of games. Fister, coming off his best season as a pro, will likely give you #2 starter value in the middle rounds of your draft.
Catcher Wilson Ramos, who was kidnapped at gunpoint in his native Venezuela in 2011, is no stranger to adversity and is capable of performing among the league leaders behind the dish if he can avoid injuries. He hit .270 with 16 bombs in only 287 at-bats last season. Look for the 26-year-old to make a name for himself in ’14 and head into ’15 as a top 3 Catcher.
The Wolfman, Jayson Werth, had his best season in D.C. in ’13 (.318/25HR/10SB). He’ll be 35 in May, so don’t expect him to top last year’s numbers. But do expect his runs scored to approach triple digits by virtue of hitting in front of Zimmerman, Harper, and Desmond.
CF Denard Span will lead-off in front of Werth, Zimmerman, and Harper. His .327 OBP from ’13 will need to eclipse his career .351 average and he needs to work more walks (42 in ’13 compared to 112 for Cincinnati Reds lead-off hitter Shin-Soo Choo). Span has decent speed (20 SB in ’13). If he gets on base regularly, he’ll top 100 runs for the first time in his career. It’s absolutely essential that he set the table for the big bats behind him.
23-year-old 2B Anthony Rendon, the Nats’ #6 pick in 2011 out of Rice, hit for a decent average with some pop (.265/7HR) in 351 ABs in his rookie season. His natural position is 3B, but the move across the diamond doesn’t appear to affect his plus defensive skills. There’s no speed in his game, but if he can avoid the injury bug his batting eye suggests he’ll eventually be a .300 hitter with 15/20 homer potential. He’ll bat 7th or 8th this season and likely won’t be a fantasy factor except in deep NL only leagues.
Ross Detwiler, Tanner Roark, Taylor Jordan, Lucas Giolito, Nathan Karns, and Sammy Solis will tangle in Spring Training for the #5 spot. Detwiler appears to have the edge, but look for Roark and Jordan to push the issue. No matter who wins this spot, he’ll be worth a late-round flyer.
Soriano returns as closer (85 saves the past two seasons) with Clippard, who led the NL in Holds (33) in ’13 while fanning more than a batter per inning, poised to serve as a more than capable replacement. And don’t forget about Storen. A few bounces here or there could instantly return him to prominence.
2014 Washington Nationals Hot Stove - Entrees
Harper (Top 10 OF), Desmond (Top 3 SS), Ryan Zimmerman (Top 5 3B), Strasburg (Top 5 SP), Gonzalez (Top 10 SP), and Jordan Zimmermann (Top 10 SP) are all high-priced dishes, each ranking among the leaders at his respective position. Harper’s long-term value and upward mobility means this is probably his last season outside of the first round in most drafts. Desmond is the best SS without the first name Hanley or Troy. 3B Zimmerman has struggled in the first half the past few years, but by season’s end he’s typically among the top producers at the hot corner. Strasburg, Gonzalez, and Zimmermann stack up with the best top three starters on any team in the majors. All six of these guys will be gone by the close of round five in most 12-team leagues. And all of them are under 30. Harper, of course, is barely old enough to legally consume alcoholic beverages.
And if you’re looking for a great meal at a bargain price, don’t be afraid to order up some Adam LaRoche. His ’13 campaign was hard to chew, but the 34-year-old is a prime buy low candidate in ’14. He won’t hit for a great average (think .260 or so), but the homers (25-30) and RBI (80-90) will improve dramatically. Put LaRoche on your roster in the later rounds.
2014 Washington Nationals Hot Stove - Dessert
NL East Championship: Thanks to career years from Ramos (.295/28 HR/95 RBI) Harper (.305/30 HR/105 RBI), Desmond (.300/25 HR/85 RBI/25 SB), Zimmerman (.290/30 HR/100 RBI) and Cy Young winner Strasburg (22-5/2.90 ERA/210 Ks), as well as top-shelf production from Gonzalez (17-7/2.95 ERA/200 Ks) and Zimmermann (17-6/3.15 ERA/170 Ks), Washington wins 99 games and tops the Braves for the division championship.
NL Championship: The Nats exact revenge and dispose of the Cardinals in NLCS Game Six. Harper is named series MVP.
World Series Championship: Washington topples Detroit, champions of the AL and winners of 102 regular season games, in seven games for the first world championship in franchise history.
Note: These are the only desserts we serve. Order one and you get them all. And don’t forget to tip your server!
Projected 2014 Nats Batting Order
1. CF Denard Span
2. RF Jayson Werth
3. 3B Ryan Zimmerman
4. LF Bryce Harper
5. SS Ian Desmond
6. C Wilson Ramos
7. 1B Adam LaRoche
8. 2B Anthony Rendon
Projected 2014 Nats Starting Pitchers
1. Stephen Strasburg
2. Gio Gonzalez
3. Jordan Zimmermann
4. Doug Fister
5. Russ Detwiler/Tanner Roark