Nationals swinging for the fences in 2013 - NBC Sports

Nationals swinging for the fences in 2013
Soriano signing caps a roster designed to win it all this season
Reuters
Washington Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo, left, addedÿRafael Soriano, a proven closer,ÿto the team's roster in January.
January 21, 2013, 9:01 am

Rafael Soriano is the new closer, and Davey Johnson's good problem to have is three right-handers who have closed big-league games successfully.

And think about this: The Nationals didn't have room in their first base/outfield mix for Michael Morse, who is a season removed from a .303/.360/.550 line with 31 homers and 95 RBI.

So coming off a 98-win regular season and devastating Game 5 NLDS loss, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo's off-season plus-minus looks like this:

Added: Soriano, Denard Span, Dan Haren and pitching prospects A.J. Cole and Blake Treinem, with free-agents Adam LaRoche and Zack Duke retained.

Subtracted: Morse, Edwin Jackson, Sean Burnett, Tom Gorzelanny, John Lannan, Mike Gonzalez and pitching prospect Alex Meyer.

And if this really is going to be Johnson's final managerial season - as stipulated in the two-year extension he signed in November - attached is the pressure to win it all.

Here's how the Nationals could be better in 2013:

  • Full seasons from two of the game's most-dynamic and dominant young stars - Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. A strong Cy Young bid by the former, and some MVP consideration for the latter could translate into a 100-win regular-season.
  • Strasburg, you might remember, was shut down after 159.1 innings last season. Bump that number up to around 200 in 2013. Harper played in 140 games and put up a .270/.340./.477 line as a 19-year-old.

Drew Storen also fits here, as he pitched only 30.1 innings in 2012. Two years ago, he saved 43 games; now he's projected to share primary setup duties with Tyler Clippard.

  • You can quibble about the price for Soriano - $28 million guaranteed, with half of it deferred, making for an annual average value of $11.8 million. Not to mention the high (31st-overall) 2013 draft pick.

But when you're trying to win now, putting Soriano's proven effectiveness - if not durability - behind Storen and Clippard at the back of your bullpen is a smart move, and a risk worth taking.

  • Trading for Span was the sensible option to still-unsigned Michael Bourn - not the Gold Glove-caliber defender that Bourn is, but a reasonable facsimile in all-round game. Span's 4.8 WAR in 2012 matches Bourn's 4.75 average over the last four seasons, although it fell short of Bourn's 6.0 mark last season.

Span makes the outfield better defensively, moving Harper out of center field and into what likely will be a long-term corner spot. And lineup-wise, Span's presence drops Jayson Werth to a better-suited fifth spot in a projected lineup of Span, Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche, Werth, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Kurt Suzuki.

  • There is no significant age issue on the roster. Haren is the oldest pitcher at 32. Werth will turn 34 in May, LaRoche will play this season at 33, and role-player Chad Tracy will turn 33 in May. So only LaRoche figures to be headed for a production decline, coming off an .853 OPS/4.0 WAR season.

Remember that Werth played only 81 games in 2012 due to a wrist injury, and Zimmerman played hurt in far too many. So an increase in runs from 731 (5th in the NL) appears likely.

  • Zimmerman's right shoulder has been surgically repaired, and he is expected to enter spring training healthy. His throwing from third base was so adversely affected down the stretch that he appeared to be trying to find an arm slot where it wouldn't hurt.
  • The Morse-for-prospects option was deemed the better way to go in part because the Nats' projected bench of Wilson Ramos, Tracy, Tyler Moore, Steve Lombardozzi and Roger Bernadina has a blend of righty-lefty balance, power, speed and versatility. And there is the possibility of late-season contributions from prospects Anthony Rendon and Brian Goodwin.

And losing four left-handed relievers - replaced only by Bill Bray - is troubling. Granted, Clippard's deadly changeup has made him more effective against left-handed hitters, and Storen has been equally effective against lefties and righties.

Still, look for this to be Rizzo's next move, as the bullpen currently projects to include Duke as the only left-hander, with Bray a strong possibility with a good spring.

Another way to look at the Nationals' rise to prominence is their payroll. We're not talking Dodgers-Angels- Yankees stratosphere, but the Nationals' payroll is surging.

After a three-year run (2009-2011) when the payroll stayed in the $60-70-million range, it jumped to $92.5 million in 2012, and could rise past $110 million in 2013. Here's a breakdown of the upper tier (numbers from Baseball Prospectus/Cot's Baseball Contracts site):

Werth - $16 million
Zimmerman - $14 million
Haren - $13 million
LaRoche - $10 million
Soriano - $7 million
Suzuki - $6.45 million
Gio Gonzalez - $6.25 million
Span - $4.75 million

Arbitration will play a huge part in where the final payroll number ends up, as eligibles include Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann, Storen, Clippard, Ross Detwiler, Craig Stammen and Bernadina. But that also means most of the team's core is under control for at least three more seasons. All of which are likely to see the Nationals as World Series contenders.



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