National League East Previews: Nationals

Today’s focus: Washington Nationals

2010 Record: 69-93, 5th Place NL East (14th in NL)

The Nationals have been on quite a roller coaster ride the past 21 months.  From the highs of drafting Stephen Strasburg, the most hyped pitching prospect in recent memory – to almost not being able to sign him.  Finishing last again, to drafting Bryce Harper, the most hyped high school position player in recent memory.  The excitement of Strasburg’s dominating debut to the crushing blow of losing him to Tommy John surgery.  The Nationals decided to make a big splash this off season by signing one of the biggest name free agents in Jason Werth.  They over paid him by $10’s of millions but such is the plight of a franchise that has finished no higher than 4th since 2002.

The Nats lost a big bat from the middle of their order in Adam Dunn, but they are not lacking in pop throughout a lineup that contains 5 guys capable of hitting 20 hrs to compliment lead off speedster Nyjer Morgan.  Werth will be interesting to watch and is a popular pick to be a bust this year as he slots into unfamiliar territory as a cleanup hitter, face of the franchise and must live up to a huge contract.  But for my money, the true star on this team is Ryan Zimmerman who is a top 4 fantasy 3B and is entering his prime years.  The former Expos are also set at second base with their #3 prospect Danny Espinosa who has 20/20 potential.

The loss of Strasburg to this team can not be underestimated, as he was far and away their best starting pitcher.  The remaining rotation is among the worst in baseball, filled with journeyman stop gaps aside from former top prospect Jordan Zimmermann who continues his own journey back from Tommy John surgery.  The Nats have their closer for the next several years in the person of Drew Storen who made a very rapid progression from Stanford to the Nats pen.

Notable Losses: Adam Dunn, Stephen Strasburg (Tommy John Surgery) Josh Willingham, Joel Peralta, Miguel Batista, Adam Kennedy, Scott Olsen
Notable Pickups: Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche, Tom Gorzelanny, Rick Ankiel, Henry Rodriguez, Todd Coffey, Jerry Hairston Jr.

Bottom line, the Nats aren’t going to compete this year, but with the Mets own struggles they have a very good chance of avoiding the NL East cellar again.  This can only help to act as a stepping stone for a young team who is trying to come into their own.  This team has a good nucleus to build around in the Zimmerman(n)s, Strasburg, Espinosa, Storen and Harper, the changing of the guard in the NL East could be coming in a couple years.

Prediction: 72-90, 4th place NL East

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