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When will Werth return?

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When will Werth return?

The Nationals open tomorrow what promises to be the most compelling second half to a season since the franchise arrived in town in 2005, owners of the NL's best record but saddled with several major questions that need to be answered.

Over the course of the day, we'll count down the five most significant storylines to the remainder of the Nationals' season, beginning with storyline No. 5: Jayson Werth's return from a broken left wrist...

The image from May 6, of Jayson Werth writhing in agony on the ground in right field after a failed attempt to make a diving catch of Placido Polanco's sinking line drive, is hard to forget. Everyone in attendance at Nationals Park and everyone watching the nationally televised Sunday night game knew the injury was serious, and the only question was whether it was serious enough to prevent Werth from returning to play this season.

Ten weeks later, Werth is inching closer to a return to the Nationals lineup. His wrist is healed, and he's resumed some baseball activities, though he hasn't yet swung a bat. That milestone should come soon, and once it does the 33-year-old could be on a fast track back to the active roster.

The Nationals and Werth have targeted Aug. 1 for his return. That may be a bit too optimistic, but the club fully expects to have its veteran right fielder back for the stretch run. That return, however, raises two important questions:

1) What kind of player will Werth be upon his return? Can he pick up where he left off, hitting .276 with a .372 on-base percentage? Or will he not have regained enough strength in the wrist to swing an effective bat?

2) If Werth does enjoy a successful return, who's the odd man out of the Nationals' lineup, and who will lead off? Steve Lombardozzi has been the biggest beneficiary over the last two-plus months, essentially assuming leadoff duties and the starting left fielder's job. Werth's return, though, should bump Michael Morse from right to left field, and that could bump Lombardozzi to the bench. That, however, would force Danny Espinosa (or Werth or Bryce Harper) to lead off most nights. Perhaps Lombardozzi ends up splitting time at second base with Espinosa, with manager Davey Johnson taking advantage of their contrasting splits. If you combine Lombardozzi's left-handed stats with Espinosa's right-handed stats, you get a .299 batting average, .364 on-base percentage and .423 slugging percentage. That could make for a solid platoon at second base.

First things first. Werth needs to make progress in his rehab, go play in minor-league games and then return healthy to the Nationals' lineup. That process and potential resolution, though, promises to be one of the club's most-compelling storylines the rest of this season.

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Why Bryce Harper would be a bargain at $500 million

Why Bryce Harper would be a bargain at $500 million

$500 million.

That number is so hard to wrap your brain around, but it's a number a lot of professional baseball players may soon start seeing on their contracts.

One player who could be the first to see that amount within the next year is Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper.

Harper will become a free agent in 2018 and people are already projecting his market value at close to $500 million, if not more.

Miami Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton signed a contract back in 2014 for 13 years, $325 million, holding the league record.

For Fancy Stats writer Neil Greenberg, $500 million is a bargain for someone of Harper's caliber.

"Harper is every bit as good [as Stanton] but he's also young," Greenberg told the Sports Junkies Friday.

"I mean, we don't see a player that's as good as Harper, that's as young a Harper, hit the market almost ever I want to say. You look at how many years of his prime he has left and then even if you start to give him just the typical aging curb off of that prime, he's probably worth close to 570 million dollars starting from 2019 and going forward ten years. And that includes also the price of free agency going up and other factors."

Harper, who is only 25 years-old, brings more to a team than just talent. He's one of the most recognizable figures in baseball, bringing tremendous marketing opportunities to an organization. Greenberg dove deeper into how that will increase his market value.

"And that's just for the on-the-field product. You talk about all the marketing that's done around Bryce Harper [and] what he does for the game. In my opinion, and based on the numbers that I saw, he's a bargain at $500 million."

Don't we all wish someone would say $500 million is a bargain for us?

After crunching the numbers, the biggest takeaway for Greenberg is the return on investment the Nationals have gotten out of Harper.

"Like if you look at his wins above replacement throughout his career, he's given you 200 million dollars in value for 21 million dollars in cash and he's due what another 26 or 27 million this year. I mean he's already given you an amazing return on investment."

"So, if you're the Nationals having - benefited from that - you know you have a little bit of, I guess, wiggle room in terms of maybe you're paying a little bit for past performance 'cause, you know, when a player is on arbitration in their early years they don't really get paid that much."

The Nationals still have Harper for one more season and many feel they need to make him an offer sooner than later. Whenever and whoever he gets an offer from, it's going to be a nice pay day for him.

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Nats' Max Scherzer wins second straight NL Cy Young Award

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Nats' Max Scherzer wins second straight NL Cy Young Award

Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals has coasted to his third Cy Young Award and second straight in the National League.

Scherzer breezed past Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, drawing 27 of the 30 first-place votes in balloting by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

The honor was announced Wednesday on MLB Network.

Scherzer earned the NL honor last year with Washington and the 2013 American League prize with Detroit. He became the 10th pitcher with at least three Cy Youngs.

RELATED: WIETERS WILL RETURN TO NATS IN 2018 

Scherzer was 16-6 with a 2.51 ERA and a league-leading 268 strikeouts for the NL East champion Nationals.

Kershaw has already won three NL Cy Youngs, and was the last pitcher to win back-to-back. He was 18-4 with a league-best 2.31 ERA and 202 strikeouts.

Corey Kluber of the Cleveland Indians easily won his second AL Cy Young Award earlier in the day. He got 28 of the 30 first-place votes, with Boston's Chris Sale second and Luis Severino of the New York Yankees third.

Kluber led the majors with a 2.25 ERA and his 18 wins tied for the most in baseball.