By all accounts, the 2013 season has been a disappointment for the Washington Nationals up to this point. However, the season still has two months left and the team certainly has time to make a run at the NL’s second wild card spot. Assuming the Nationals do not make the postseason this year, (which realistically is the more likely of the two outcomes) there are going to be a lot of frustrated people in the D.C. area come October. This frustration may not last long, as the team possesses many players who seem to be right in the middle of or just entering their prime.
Though Davey Johnson proclaimed anything short of a World Series in 2013 a disappointment, perhaps these expectations were a year or two premature. After churning out a 98-64 record in 2012, the best record in the MLB, many people believed this year the Nationals could once again easily return to the playoffs. People seemed to forget that the success of last year’s team relied greatly on the overachieving of a solid portion of the roster. Adam Laroche had a career year at the age of 32, Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard shared the closer role remarkably, and the bench seemed to come up with a clutch hit night after night. Unfortunately, the 2013 edition has been the polar opposite with players underachieving, the bullpen becoming a weakness, and the bench turning into one of the worst in the league.
While some view this season as disheartening, others were able to see an opportunity for decline and also a positive future. Core peaces of the franchise are still just babies by MLB standards and have a lot of developing to do. At third base, Ryan Zimmerman is only 28 and is under team control through 2020. Though Zimmerman will most likely have to move to first base in the future, this could be a blessing in disguise as it would allow rookie Anthony Rendon to move back to his natural position at third. At shortstop, Ian Desmond is just entering the prime of his career and is hitting and playing the field phenomenally. Also, Desmond has taken over the role as team captain and is setting a sound example for the younger players on the roster.
The one spot open in the infield of the future is second base, leaving an opportunity for Danny Espinosa to reclaim his position. If Espinosa can begin to cut down on his strikeouts, he has the power and defensive ability to be a solid Major League second basemen for years to come. If he is unable to make it to the big leagues once again, the Nationals have other in house options such as Jeff Kobernus or Zach Walters (both of whom are performing well with Triple A Syracuse). Even if none of these players prove to be everyday major league caliber players, the organization would have the financial ability to target second base in free agency and find a player capable of locking the position down.
At catcher, the Nationals appear to be set for the future with Wilson Ramos. Though Ramos has spent a major portion of his career on the DL, he has proven he is more than capable of being the everyday catcher when he is healthy. Acquired from the Minnesota Twins for closer Matt Capps at the 2010 trade deadline, Ramos appears to be one of the best trade acquisitions the organization has had to date.
For the future outfield, the Nationals are guaranteed at least one current roster member, Bryce Harper. Harper is only 20, an age where most players are still in college, or in the lower levels of the minor leagues. He is still developing, something that is hard to remember when he is expected to be the cornerstone of a franchise that is expected to compete immediately.
Though Jayson Werth is 34, and his $126 million contract that runs through 2017 could appear to be a handicapper, this may not be the case. Every component to Werth’s .305/.374/.504 slashline ranks in the top 15 of NL hitters. Even at 34, Werth is having one of the best seasons of his career and is as hot as he has ever been.
This leaves one more spot in the outfield; the incombent is Denard Span, a 29-year-old. Span is having a down season, so for the sake of argument let’s say the Nationals eventually move him. Fortunately, the Nationals current number 1 prospect is Brian Goodwin, a center fielder. Goodwin has magnificent speed and is viewed by the front office as the center fielder of the future. Eventually, he could be an upgrade to Span.
The pitching is a spot of little concern immediately or in the future. Stephen Strasburg has not yet entered the prime of his career at 24 and certainly has a bright future ahead of him. Gio Gonzalez is 27 and has more than a few good years ahead of him. Jordan Zimmermann is also 27 and appears to be in the same position as Gonzalez. Dan Haren, the current 4th starter, will most likely not be back with the team in 2014 which is no concern due to the organization’s surplus of starting pitching.
Also with major league experience are Ross Detwiler and rookie Taylor Jordan who had an outstanding 2012 season. Prospects who will eventually compete for a spot in the rotation include Lucas Giolito, A.J. Cole, and Matt Purke. If all of these players turn out as expected, the surplus could lead to a trade or spots in the bullpen.
Though the frustration can seem disappointing and quite frankly pitiful, there does seem to be light at the end of the tunnel. Many of the Nationals core pieces are still young and are still in the process of learning how to compete at the major league level. The hype surrounding this year’s edition of the team appears to be premature, but this is not the San Antonio Spurs, this is not the final run at a title for this group. The future looks bright, and the Nationals look dangerous.