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After a disappointing 2015, what's next for the Nats?

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After a disappointing 2015, what's next for the Nats?

The 2015 season was a massive disappointment for the Nationals, who fell short of the playoffs and a World Series title they were expected to compete for. In attempt to make sense of what went wrong for them and how they can prevent it from happening again, we've put together a three-part series on the 2015 season. In our third installment, we look at what the Nationals have to accomplish this offseason...

PART I: WHAT WENT WRONG?

PART II: WHAT WAS THE TURNING POINT?

AFTER A DISAPPOINTING 2015, WHAT'S NEXT FOR THE NATIONALS?

Mark Zuckerman:

If this was the most eventful season in Nationals history, this very well might be the most fascinating offseason in Nationals history. There is so much that needs to be done, so much more that could be done and so many different directions the club could go to try to make it happen.

Consider everything on Mike Rizzo's plate in the days and months ahead...

— Hire a manager and coaching staff
— Replace four key free agents
— Reconstruct a bullpen
— Gauge the trade market for Drew Storen, Yunel Escobar and others
— Figure out what to do with Jonathan Papelbon
— Potentially start negotiations with Bryce Harper on a long-term deal

What makes this winter fascinating for the Nationals is that there are no simple answers/fixes to any of those issues.

Is the search for a new manager as simple as Bud Black vs. Ron Gardenhire, or does Rizzo give a long, hard look at guys without big-league managerial experience but years in the minors on on major-league coaching staffs?

Do the Nats use in-house replacements for Jordan Zimmermann (Joe Ross), Doug Fister (Tanner Roark), Denard Span (Michael Taylor) and Ian Desmond (Trea Turner) or do they look outside the organization to fill some of those holes?

How do you reconstruct a bullpen? Free agency? Trades? Promotions from within the system? All of the above?

Do you try to sell high on Escobar, or do you need the veteran to be part of your 2016 infield? What is Storen's value on the trade market right now, and might he be more valuable in the end to your team?

Are you willing to eat $11 million to dump Papelbon, or might somebody out there be willing to give up something for him? Or is there any possible way you bring him back and hope all is forgotten?

And how serious do you want to get right now into extension talk with Harper, who is three years from free agency but is only going to cost more with each passing day?

Ultimately, I think you can lump all of this into one overriding issue: This is an offseason in which the Nationals need to restore their good name.

This franchise was held in high regard not long ago, but the events of 2015 (especially over the final month) put a serious dent into that reputation. Rizzo and the Lerner family have an opportunity to correct that this winter, both by making smart baseball decisions but also by establishing an organizational philosophy for everything they do.

Do they really value character above all else? Do they have faith in their home-grown talent? Are they willing to spend the money it will require to address roster holes, hire an experienced manager and lock up the best young player in baseball for years to come?

That's a tall task for one offseason, but the Nationals left themselves in this position through their on-field performance and the manner in which they handled things off the field.

It's up to Rizzo and ownership to make significant strides toward fixing that overarching problem during what promises to be a fascinating winter.

Chase Hughes: 

Several of the Nationals' objectives for this offseason are obvious. For one, they need to find a new manager and ideally one who will be around for a while. Their bullpen is an absolute mess and will likely need a complete overhaul. Not only do they need to add a large group of relievers, they may have to sell low on both their setup man and closer in trades.

The Nationals, however, do still have plenty working in their favor. They have one of the best players in baseball to build around and another wave of young pitchers emerging in their system. Their payroll is also dropping considerably with the expected departure of four key players who combined to make $47.9 million in 2015.

The Nationals have financial flexibility even with Max Scherzer's contract and even with the salaries of Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman. Even though they have few holes on their roster, the Nats can pretty much do anything they want to retool and reload.

Speaking of money, that Bryce Harper guy is someday going to command a lot of it. One would have to imagine the Nationals will at least try to have a conversation this winter about a long-term extension. Getting something done three years before he can test free agency is unlikely, but the attempt has to be made. Perhaps a seed can be planted, a foundation can be laid to get an extension done next offseason or the following winter.

As far as actually adding players, the most obvious non-bullpen hole is outfield depth. They signed Nate McLouth two years ago to be their fourth outfielder. They thought he was a starting-caliber player who could fill in for the inevitable 100 games or so that would be up for grabs with the dubious health histories of Werth, Harper and Denard Span. That didn't work out, of course, but expect the Nationals to be on the hunt for a similar player this offseason with the hope for better results. Maybe they circle back to Ben Zobrist, whom they have long been known to covet.

In terms of the outfield, could the Nationals go bigger than we think and sign a marquee name? There is a lot of depth at there with Jason Heyward, Justin Upton and Yoenis Cespedes, to name a few. It would be surprising if they bumped Michael Taylor from the lineup, but I thought Tanner Roark's rotation spot was safe at this time last year. And, with Werth's durability issues - he's played in only 68 percent of their games over the last four seasons - there could be plenty of at-bats to go around. Plus, with Werth's contract expiring in two years, outfield is technically a long-term need.

The Nats' starting rotation may already be set with Scherzer, Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Joe Ross and Roark returning. Throw Lucas Giolito in and that's a solid six with a very high ceiling, depending on the development of Ross and Giolito.

But, if we have learned anything about Rizzo, a good rotation on paper entering an offseason does not mean he is comfortable. Each winter Rizzo has had something up his sleeve whether it be signing Scherzer or trading for Doug Fister or Gio. Don't be surprised if another trade like that is in the works. He has financial flexibility and a farm system stocked with young arms to deal from.

The one other area where I think the Nationals could pull off a surprise move is at catcher. Wilson Ramos was healthy this season, but his production at the plate was not what many expected it would be if he could stay on the field. Does that now highlight the catcher position as a spot they could improve? Matt Wieters, who happens to be represented by Scott Boras, is the best free agent at the position.

The Nationals' roster has few holes outside of the bullpen, but that hasn't stopped Rizzo and their front office from being aggressive in the past. I fully expect the same this time around, for them to load up both in free agency and through trades to restock and revitalize a team for 2016 in what should be an improved NL East division.

PART I: WHAT WENT WRONG?

PART II: WHAT WAS THE TURNING POINT?

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Soto makes debut in Nationals loss to Dodgers

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USA TODAY Sports

Soto makes debut in Nationals loss to Dodgers

WASHINGTON  -- Kike Hernandez and Yasiel Puig each hit two-run homers, and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Washington Nationals 7-2 on Sunday to complete a three-game sweep.

Hernandez's blast off Stephen Strasburg in the fifth inning put the Dodgers up 3-2. Yasmani Grandal also homered off Strasburg (5-4), who allowed three runs and five hits over 6 2/3 innings with seven strikeouts.

Alex Wood (1-4) pitched six innings, allowing just three hits and two earned runs. Wood came out to start the seventh, but returned to the clubhouse after showing some discomfort during his warm-up tosses.

Trea Turner homered for Washington, which swept Arizona last weekend and then went five days without playing a full game because of rain before getting swept by the Dodgers.

Los Angeles, after losing six consecutive games, has now won four straight overall and five of six over Washington this season.

Washington's Juan Soto, at 19 the youngest active player in the majors, made his debut in the eighth as a pinch-hitter and struck out against Erik Goeddel.

The Dodgers added two runs in the ninth. Josh Fields recorded the final four outs for his second save of the season.

2018 MLB POWER RANKINGS AND OTHER NATS NEWS:

- Rankings Update: Where does your team fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?
- Very Persuasive: How Rizzo convinced Reynolds to come to D.C.

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Fantasy Baseball Outlook: Week 8

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USA Today Sports Images

Fantasy Baseball Outlook: Week 8

 

It's a fun time of the year in fantasy baseball. Now that we're seven-to-eight weeks into the season, teams are starting to realize they may need the help of their top prospects in order to compete this year, which means lots of young talent getting the call. Plus, many players who began the season injured are getting healthy. Between the prospects and players returning from the Disabled List, fantasy owners should have plenty of options to choose from when it comes to setting their lineups this week.

As always, we're here to help you sort through those painful roster decisions, and we're going to keep it simple to avoid paralysis by analysis. As a reminder, It's your team, and your decisions you ultimately have to deal with, so don't treat this advice as the gospel. That said, it doesn't hurt to gain as much information as you can when making your decisions. Good luck!

NOTE: Don’t expect to see guys like Bryce Harper or Trea Turner mentioned too often. They are clear must-starts every week. Don’t overthink it.

Week 8 (5/21-5/27)

One Nationals pitcher to start: Gio Gonzalez

This is the second week in a row where every Nationals pitcher is only scheduled to pitch once. Last week, we recommended Max Scherzer because duh, and while we still think you should start him, it's also worth using Gonzalez. Gio has had a lot of success this season, sporting a 2.36 ERA in the middle of May, plus the Padres are notoriously poor against lefties (8th-worst batting average and OPS vs LHP in the majors).

Gonzalez isn't a must-start stud, mostly due to his high walk rate and resulting WHIP, but he's good enough to take advantage of the right matchups, and this qualifies.

One Nationals position player to start: Anthony Rendon, 3B

Just in case you're thinking about getting cute and sitting one of your studs, let this be a reminder that Rendon is great at what he does. In the past, we've recommended sitting him when working his way back from injury, but he's gotten enough reps at this point to get back into the swing of things.

It looks like he's struggled recently (one hit in the last seven days), but don't forget the Nats missed five straight days thanks to weather/planned off days. Plus, the Nats are set up to faces lefties in half their games this week, and Rendon has hit better against southpaws all season long.

One Nationals pitcher to sit: Tanner Roark

The Marlins have scored literally the fewest runs in baseball against right-handed pitching this season, and Roark hasn't been bad in 2018, despite the poor W-L record. Still, you're not sitting Scherzer or Strasburg, and we already recommended Gonzalez.

Roark has struggled against the Marlins in past years, as his 5.14 ERA vs the Marlins since 2015 is his 5th-worst number against any opponent, and while this year's Miami lineup looks far worse than in past seasons, and since Roark isn't the type of pitcher who gets enough strikeouts to raise his on a start-by-start basis, it's good enough of a reason for us to sit him this week. 

One Nationals player to sit: Juan Soto, OF

It's always fun when one of a team's top prospects gets called up, and that excitement doubles when the player is a teenager. It's always easy to see the high upside and imagine him taking the league by storm right from the get-go. That said, while it's worth a speculative pickup, we'd strongly recommend leaving Soto on the bench until we see A) how he hits against Major League pitching and B) what sort of playing time he'll get.


That's especially true this week, as his new manager Dave Martinez is already talking about sitting Soto against lefties, and wouldn't you know it, the Nats are scheduled to face southpaws in at least three games this week. It's possible Soto will be worth starting in the near-future, but for now, just be happy to add him to your rosters, not your starting lineups.

Any 2-start pitchers for the Nationals this week?

No. Not all starters have been scheduled yet, but the five-straight days off the Nats had last week threw a wrench into the works for their rotation, and as of now, no one is projected to make two starts.

Any 2-start pitchers worth streaming around MLB this week?

It's a really weak week for two-start streaming options. Beyond the seven or so obvious starts, who are almost certainly owned in your leagues already, there's not a lot to choose from. We'll go with the calculated risk Jake Faria of the Rays. Faria gets two starts at Tropicana Field this week, and he's been much better pitching at home during the course of his career. He'll be facing two scary opponents on paper, but the Orioles have struggled at the plate all season long (with the exception of a recent hot streak, hence the risk), and Faria has already pitched well against the Red Sox this year, allowing just one run over the course of two starts.

This isn't our most confident recommendation, but there are far worse options you could turn to in a brutal week.

One player you might not realize you should pick up: Andrew Heaney, SP (Angels) 

Heaney continued his recent stretch of strong play, as while he allowed four runs and walked on Saturday, none of the runs were earned, and he struck out seven. Heaney is a former top prospect, having once been considered the best left-handed pitching prospect in baseball, and he has a superb 10.5 K/9 this season, to go along with a quality 57 percent groundball rate. That means he's not allowing a lot of contact, and the contact he is allowing isn't doing much damage.

Given his prospect pedigree and strong peripherals to start the year, Heaney is well worth an add if you find him available on the waiver wire. He's not just a speculative pickup, but somebody worth inserting into your starting lineup right away. Hopefully, because he plays on the west coast and isn't a household name, he's still available in some of your leagues.

One player you might not realize you should drop: Robinson Cano, 2B (Mariners) 

If somehow Cano is eligible in a DL spot in your league, and you don't have the spot filled with another star, then you can disregard this one. But, if he's listed in your league as suspended and not injured, then he likely won't be worth holding onto during his time away. 80 games is a lot, obviously, and a guy who's going to miss half the games in a season needs to be sensational in the other half to make up for it. Cano's past his prime, and while when healthy he's obviously still worth starting, he's not the type of guy you tie up a bench spot with, unless you're in the deepest of leagues.

Plus, if you're savvy, you can always remember to pick up Cano again a week or two before his suspension is up, since no one else in your league is likely to snag him in the meantime. For now, though, feel free to use the roster spot on somebody who will contribute over the next three months.

MORE NATS NEWS:

- Too Soon For Soto?: Nats make a bold call-up
- Rankings Update: Where did the Nats fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?