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2016 Nats roster outlook: Can Jayson Werth return to form?

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2016 Nats roster outlook: Can Jayson Werth return to form?

Age on Opening Day 2016: 36

How acquired: Signed as free agent, 2010

2016 salary: $21 million

2015 stats: 88 G, 378 PA, 51 R, 73 H, 16 2B, 3B, 12 HR, 42 RBI, 0 SB, 38 BB, 84 SO, .221 BA, .302 OBP, .384 SLG, .685 OPS, 84 OPS+, 2 E, -1.6 WAR

2016 storyline: When the Nationals signed Jayson Werth to a seven-year, $126 million free agent contract back in 2010, many had strong opinions on the length of the deal for an outfielder who was then 31 years old. Some said the Nats would regret the contract big-time in the later years of the deal. Some said they would be fine, that he would age better than the average outfielder and still provide value as he progressed through his mid-30s.

Well, now we will finally find out who was right, as Werth enters the 2016 season at age 36. He turns 37 in May and has just one year left on that massive contract after 2016.

Werth's 2015 season was one that was heavily affected by injuries. He played in only 88 games and hit a mere .221. This was after two consecutive seasons where he earned MVP votes and was a central part of the Nationals' lineup. He will hope for better health in 2016, and so will the Nationals who could still very much use his experienced and patient approach, wherever he ends up hitting in their order.

Best-case scenario: If Werth can return to his 2013 and 2014 form, then the Nationals will be much better because of it. In those two seasons Werth averaged 138 games, 20 homers, 82 RBI, 30 doubles, 84 runs, a .304 BA and an .887 OPS. He even averaged 10 steals per season. Talk about defying his age.

If Werth had put up anything close to those numbers in 2015, he would have been the Nats' second-best position player behind Bryce Harper. Harper, as good as he was in 2015 and as good as he can be moving forward, needs help. Werth can provide it as well as anyone on their roster.

Worst-case scenario: The injuries Werth suffered over the last calendar year could have long-term implications, and he knows it. There are questions about the strength in his right shoulder and his left wrist. Both have been operated on recently and both took away some of his power at the plate. Whether he can still drive balls into the gap and hit doubles and home runs is a legitimate question. Though, it's important to note, he did manage 12 homers in 88 games in 2015, despite that fact.

Werth's defense is also a question now, as he at times looked his age in the Nationals' outfield in 2015. There are reasons the Nationals were in on Jason Heyward and Yoenis Cespedes this winter and Werth's diminishing capabilities on defense are part of it. 

A worst-case scenario could involve Werth staying on the field and off the disabled list, but looking like an old player who struggles to regain the form of who he used to be.

Most-likely scenario: Given Werth was so good in the two years before 2015, it's probably smart to give him the benefit of the doubt. He was, after all, excellent in his age 35 season. Even if he falls short of the numbers he put up in 2014, he could still provide solid value at age 37.

Baseball Reference projects him to somewhat bounce back with a .265 average in 452 plate appearances. They do, however, see him clubbing 15 homers and holding a 791 OPS. That's not bad.

FanGraphs has him hitting .266 with 13 homers and 51 RBI in 104 games with a .350 OBP and .769 OPS. Both sites project him to be somewhere in the middle of what he did in 2014 and 2015, which sounds about right.

[RELATED: Bryce Harper gives emotional acceptance speech for MVP award]

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Nationals are receiving calls about Tanner Roark

Nationals are receiving calls about Tanner Roark

LAS VEGAS -- On Line 1 is a team interested in Tanner Roark.

They should be. Durable, trustworthy, rather effective, affordable. These are traits for Roark, even considering a down season in 2018.

Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo has fielded inquiries on his 32-year-old fourth starter since signing Patrick Corbin. Other organizations wonder if the Nationals now have a pitching surplus. They don’t. For that reason, and the same ones that make Roark attractive to others, his final season before free agency is very likely to occur in Washington.

“Teams look favorably on a one-year guy that could help them,” Rizzo said. “We’ve spoken to a couple of teams about it, but nothing serious or imminent that’s happening at this point.”

Receiving a proper return would be difficult. Moving Roark would increase a risk of 2018 when the Nationals’ rotation picked up two injuries and went careening into a bad place outside of Max Scherzer. The high-end organizational depth at the spot is limited to non-existent. Washington will cross its fingers about Joe Ross or Erick Fedde in the fifth spot. It wants to move with assurances in spots 1-4. Dealing Roark undermines that idea. 

“We always talk about depth,” Rizzo said. “And to eliminate a pitcher like Roark, we would certainly like to strengthen that strength, if we were to make a deal for him.”

In other words, thanks for calling.

Taylor is wintering in the Dominican

Michael A. Taylor typically spends his winters in Florida. He’s spending a chunk of this December in the Dominican Republic, where he is playing winter ball.

Taylor knew at the end of a dismal offensive season he wanted to do extra work in the offseason. The plan was for him to get with hitting coach Kevin Long.

An idea came up: What about winter ball?

Taylor was reluctant at first. He’s entering his age-28 season with five years in the major leagues behind him. Going to winter ball is atypical for such a player.

But, there’s a lot to fix. Taylor’s voluminous strikeout rate and lack of overall contact have undermined his plethora of other abilities. The Nationals need him to make more contact so he can also be a problem on the basepaths. Taylor stole 24 bases in 2018.

The Nationals don’t expect him to be is a .300 hitter. Anything close to the .270 Taylor hit in 2017 would be more than fine. 

“Hopefully he hones down in his swing and puts the ball in play and help us out a lot,” manager Davey Martinez said. 

Martinez sees a path for Taylor to play quite a bit. Victor Robles will need breaks. Adam Eaton will need breaks. Juan Soto … not so much. But, that leaves room for Taylor to tag some starts as well as certain spot usage later in games defensively or on the bases. If his swing is improved, all the better for the Nationals. 

What is Corbin bringing?

Arizona manager Torey Lovullo watched Corbin for two seasons. What he saw was someone who adopted the gameplan born of analytics, added an effective off-speed pitch while shelving another, then turned into one of the top left-handed starters in baseball. 

“I think he was sent to the bullpen [earlier],” Lovollo said. “In '17 he started to develop a lot of confidence in a couple different pitches that he was landing at any time. And that's all that hard work that he's putting in behind the scenes to make good things happen.

“He believed in scouting reports. He believed in pitching plans that we put in place. And he was starting to have a lot of success that he carried over into 2018.

“When I first met Patrick, he had a lot on his mind. He was frustrated by a lot of things and maybe being a little bit misunderstood. I encouraged him to be himself and trust those around him. He did that. He had a couple of pitching coaches and really good catching corps that he developed a strong relationship with. And you could see it yielded very, very good results.

“So Washington is getting a very special player. We're going to miss him in Arizona. We knew that was a strong possibility that was going to happen.”

Interesting to hear is Lovullo suggesting Corbin wasn’t all-in with what analytics were saying about pitch selection. That changed after further conversations with the coaching staff. So did his results.

“I think at the beginning when we were bringing some new normals into the organization, the start of the '17 -- more specifically, in Spring Training '17, he was kind of resisting it and he was going to rely on some of the things that he was good at that worked prior to that point in his career,” Lovullo said. “But the more he trusted and began to develop relationships with very important people inside of that, inside of that pitching room, he started to see some really good results.

“So I know that, like I said, he delivered the pitches. He made all good things happen by him going on the mound and dialing it up. But he went out there with a lot of confidence, had a great plan in follow-up. Took some time for him to develop that relationship, and it became very powerful.”

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Patrick Corbin's contract is insanely backloaded, but that's S.O.P. for the Nationals

Patrick Corbin's contract is insanely backloaded, but that's S.O.P. for the Nationals

The specifics of the six-year, $140 million deal Patrick Corbin signed with the Nationals have come out, and unsurprisingly, much of the money is backloaded. 

Here are the details, courtesy of Jon Heyman:

As you'll notice, the Nats will be paying Corbin $35 million in 2024, his age-35 season. That's an $11 million jump from the previous year, and $22.5 million more than he'll be making in the 2019 season. 

That may sound like a lot of money to be paying an aging pitcher in the final year of his deal. But with the Nats, that's standard operating procedure.

To demonstrate, let's take a look at the contracts of Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, Washington's other two marquee starters (contract details found on spotrac.com)

Scherzer signed a seven-year, $210 million deal with the Nats before the 2015 season, the average annual salary sitting at $30 million. However, he's only been receiving a base salary of $15 million a year -- plus signing bonus money and incentives -- through his first four years in D.C.

Why? His contract is very backloaded: starting in 2019 until his contract expires in 2021, he'll start earning a base salary close to or more than $30 million. In addition, much of his money is deferred: from 2022-28, Washington will be paying Scherzer $105 million, good for $15 million each year. 

As for Strasburg, his contract includes an even more dramatic salary jump than Corbin's or Scherzer's. Since he signed his seven-year $175 million deal, he's earned base annual salaries of $10.4 million, $15 million and $15 million from 2016-18. 

In 2019, that number balloons to $35 million, then down to $25 million in 2020 and back to $15 million in 2021 and 2022, before rising once again to the tune of a whopping $45 million in 2023!

In conclusion, the Nats will be paying their top three pitchers a ton of money, but Washington has decided to delay cutting those checks to give themselves more financial flexibility in the present. 

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