Health, new faces among questions facing Nationals
On paper, the Nationals look to have the best team in baseball, thanks to the signing of right-hander Max Scherzer, who inked a $210 million contract on Jan. 21. But there are nonetheless some pressing questions as the team prepares to head to Spring Training in a couple of weeks.
1. Can Wilson Ramos stay healthy?
One would hope so. Ramos hasn't been able to stay healthy the last three years because of knee, hamstring and hamate bone issues. A healthy Ramos would mean a big boost to the offense. His best season was in 2013, when hit 16 home runs and drove in 59 runs in 78 games.
2. How will the changes on the right side of the infield affect the club?
First baseman Adam LaRoche and second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera are gone. Ryan Zimmerman and Yunel Escobar will replace them, respectively, and neither has played a full season at their new positions. But the Nats seem to think they will not have any problems. Zimmerman, a third baseman by trade, has played five games at first base, while Escobar, who has played most of his career at shortstop, has played 21 games at second base.
3. Who is out of the rotation?
With the acquisition of Scherzer, right-hander Tanner Roark looks like the odd man out, and he will be placed in the bullpen. Roark will begin Spring Training as a starter, but it looks like he will end up as the long reliever out of the bullpen. When he started his Major League career in August 2013, Roark was in that role.
4. How much focus will be on shortstop Ian Desmond and right-hander Jordan Zimmermann?
A lot, because they will be eligible for free agency after the season. It has been quiet so far, but one has to wonder if those two players will reach agreement with the team on contract extensions after already turning down offers. It's hard to believe the Nationals would let Desmond and Zimmermann go. Desmond is one of the best shortstops in the baseball, while Zimmermann is arguably the best pitcher on the Nats. After giving Scherzer $210 million, Desmond and Zimmermann deserve a piece of the pie for helping the team become perennial playoff contenders.
5. Who is on the bench?
Pinch-hitters had a .144 batting average last year for Washington. Kevin Frandsen is the only player who is guaranteed to be on the bench. The rest of the bench must be productive during Spring Training. Nate McLouth must show that he has recovered from a shoulder surgery. Danny Espinosa must be more consistent from the left side of the plate. Tyler Moore is out of Minor League options and could be traded unless he is productive and makes the team out of Spring Training. Michael Taylor will get plenty of chances because of the shoulder injury to Jayson Werth. If he is productive, Taylor could be one of the bench players. Even Emmanuel Burriss has a spring invite. He is coming off a solid season for Triple-A Syracuse.
6. After the 2015 season, manager Matt Williams has two club options for 2016 and '17. Will they be picked up?
One has to assume yes. Williams did a great job in his first year as manager of the Nationals. The second year should be even better, because he has the best pitching staff in baseball. Williams would be the first to say that he would like to see the offense be more consistent this year. It collapsed during the National League Division Series against the Giants. Williams, a player for 17 years, will help find a way to improve the offense.