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MLB Team Report - Washington Nationals - INSIDE PITCH
Fresh off their first-ever division title and a major league leading 98 wins, hopes were high the 2013 Washington Nationals would be able to take the next step.
The team was anxious to make good after their first round exit in five games to the St. Louis Cardinals, and with the ace Stephen Strasburg not hindered by an innings limit, it wasn't surprising when manager Davey Johnson was quoted as saying "World Series or bust" as the goal for this season.
But injuries, an inconsistent offense, a punchless bench, lack of quality left-handed bullpen pitching and a mediocre June and July all contributed to a second place finish and no playoff for the Nationals out of the Nantional League East.
"I think offensive efficiency is the thing that kind of disappointed us most," Rizzo said to The Washington Post. "It's not doing the little things to create runs and manufacture runs. We were more reliant on the long ball, I think, than we should've been and I think it's shown.
"We've created more runs, we've stolen more bases, we've hit with runners in scoring position much better recently, and that's really the roster that we constructed all along. We just waited too long to get it going."
Rizzo also said they will look back on their decision to go with Zach Duke as the lone left-handed reliever beginning the season. Tom Gorzelanny, Sean Burnett and Michael Gonzalez all left to free agency. Rizzo can be expected to change that strategy next season and go to opening day with at least a couple of left-handed specialists.
"It's been documented we probably should have went with another left-handed reliever to start the season," Rizzo told The Washington Post. "We made a decision we felt comfortable with at the time. There's enough analyzation to go over. We're going to dissect this season every which way we can and see what we can improve. The front-office decisions we made will be part of the analysis and we'll see if we can improve that part of the operation, too."
And yet, despite all of this, the team finished 12 games above .500. So, the good news is there is not much this team needs to put pressure on the Atlanta Braves next season. One thing it must do is play better in big games. The Nationals were 6-19 (.240) vs. the Braves and Cardinals in 2013.
The biggest offseason question revolves around who will manage this talented group. Johnson did a solid job of getting the Nationals their first division crown in 2012 and coming close to a playoff berth in 2013. Cal Ripken Jr., Matt Williams, Mike Scioscia, Joe Girardi and bench coach Randy Knorr are all names that are possibilities, and some will have to move out of their current positions to be eligible. But the Nationals must make this decision carefully, finding a leader that can work as well with veterans like Jayson Werth to rookies like Taylor Jordan and return the team to the top spot in the NL East.
MLB Team Report - Washington Nationals - NOTES, QUOTES
2013: 86-76, second place in NL East
TEAM MVP: When this team was struggling to score runs and get hits, RF Jayson Werth was the only one that was consistently hitting. His importance as a leader, a mentor for Bryce Harper and his defense in right field cannot be understated. But dating back to his game-winning, walk-off home run in game four of the divisional series against the Cardinals last season was a clear cut example of the power of Werth has in making this franchise successful. That continued this season with big hits in big games and at times when the team was struggling to get anything going.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: RHP Dan Haren would be the first to admit that 14 losses were too much to help the Nationals win this season. Signed to a one-year contract, the Nationals were hoping Haren would solidify the end of the rotation. On Sept. 28, against his former team, the Diamondbacks, Haren threw seven scoreless innings and picked up his 10th win. When he was bad, he had trouble locating his fastball, and allowed a ton of home runs. But when Haren was good, he was really good. Haren did much better after the All-Star break and after being shut down mid-season with a shoulder ailment.
TOP PROSPECT: RHP Taylor Jordan went from Class A to Double-A all the way to the majors because of his top of the line stuff and an innate ability to repeat his delivery. Jordan will not have an innings limit next season and has a good shot to make the rotation as the fifth starter.
--RHP Chris Young, who spent the entire 2013 season in the Nationals' farm system while dealing with injuries, re-signed with Washington on a minor league deal. Young, 34, went a combined 1-2 with a 6.81 ERA in nine starts for three teams in the Washington organization this year. In his last major league action, he went 4-9 with a 4.15 ERA in 20 starts for the Mets in 2012. For his career, Young is 53-43 with a 3.79 ERA in 159 starts for the Rangers, Padres and Mets.
--INF Mauro Gomez was released by the Nationals on Nov. 14, and he reportedly will play in Japan next year. He was claimed by Washington off waivers from Toronto in September, but he didn't appear in the majors this year for either team. Gomez, 29, hit .275 in 37 games for Boston in 2012, his only major league action. He batted .249/.322/.521 with 29 homers and 73 RBIs in 110 games for the Blue Jays' Triple-A Buffalo affiliate this year.
--INF Chris Marrero was outrighted to Triple-A Syracuse on Oct. 24. In eight major league games this year, Marrero went 2-for-16 with one RBI.
--SS Ian Desmond has made big steps forward in his consistency defensively again this season and continued with one of the hottest bats on the squad. Desmond was always a player that manager Davey Johnson loved to watch play because he always gives 100 percent and never takes a play off. "Desi is one of our core players," general manager Mike Rizzo told The Washington Post. "He's one of our leaders on the team. If there's a deal out there that we can get done that keeps him here for the long-term, it would be certainly up there on the priority list."
--LF Bryce Harper's athletic ability, especially as it related to showcasing his arm out of right field, are a big part of the strength of this team. Despite injuries to his hip and knee running into outfield walls in Los Angeles and Atlanta, Harper stuck with it all season and learned that he must be careful with the way he treats his body on big defensive chances if he is going to play season after season in the bigs.
--RHP Stephen Strasburg won only eight games but mentally got better at not letting early mistakes on uncontrollable weather conditions alter how he pitched later in games. This allowed him to pitch longer in games and will help him to pace himself in each start going forward. Catcher Wilson Ramos was the first to notice how Strasburg learned to calm himself down during games and not let a walk or freak play early in a game take him out of the focus he needed to go into the late innings.
--3B Ryan Zimmerman's shoulder concerns continued until August and September when the veteran finished with a flourish and got to at least 24 home runs for the fourth time in his last five seasons. It will help him in 2014 if he can go a whole season without having to worry about his shoulder strength and quiet talk a possible move to first base.
--2B Anthony Rendon proved he can hit in the big leagues and now just needs to refine his defense at second base. With the consistency the youngster was able to show for a good portion of the season, Danny Espinosa is very likely a trade candidate. "Rendon has played remarkably well at that position for a guy who is learning defensively at the major league level and trying to hit for the first time at the major league level," general manager Mike Rizzo told The Washington Post.
--C Wilson Ramos can show the kind of power he demonstrated in the latter stages of August and September from the beginning of next season and not have to worry about lingering hamstring injuries that stunted his 2013 campaign. If that happens, the Nationals lineup will be the complete eight top hitters general manager Mike Rizzo had envisioned heading into the season.
--CF Denard Span's 29-game hitting streak was a highlight for the team as they surged to get back into the wild-card race in September. It also was a signal that Span was getting comfortable against National League pitching and he will become a strong asset at the top of the order heading into 2014.
--Manager Davey Johnson ended his 17-year managerial career with a record of 1,372-1,071 after the Nationals' 3-2 loss to Arizona in his final regular season game. Johnson, 70, is a two-time manager of the year, with Baltimore (1997) and Washington (2012). He won World Series as a player with Baltimore (1966, 1970) and as a manager with the New York Mets (1986). Washington general manager Mike Rizzo said he would like Johnson to serve as a consultant during spring training. "I'm really lucky I've had the big league experiences I've had as a manager and a player," Johnson said. "When you love the game as much as I love this game and like the competition, you just enjoy it. Hopefully you can pass that on to other players and managers, give something back. It's been quite a journey." Johnson, who took over the Nationals in mid-June 2011 and led them to the NL East title in 2012, became the 15th manager in major league history to finish at least 300 games over .500. "It's not like I'm dying tomorrow," Johnson said when asked to reflect on his career. "Good lord. There'll be something I can do."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "They battled hard. I thanked them a lot for all the effort. I know they are in a good place going forward. I feel good about them." -- Manager Davey Johnson, on the state of the Nationals as he retires.
MLB Team Report - Washington Nationals - ROSTER REPORT
No major roster overhaul is needed in what should be a powerful offensive lineup in 2014. As long as the regulars can stay healthy, which was a major issue in 2013, the top eight position players will remain unchanged. The bench could use some tweaking, youngsters Tyler Moore and Zach Walters could play a difference. Scott Hairston will return but Chad Tracy is likely gone. Steve Lombardozzi's versatility makes him a big asset as the team's top utility bench player.
One top question will be who will lead this group with manager Davey Johnson stepping down. Bench coach Randy Knorr is the early leader to get the job, but the Nationals could also look to make a big splash with a name candidate with such a good team coming back.
BIGGEST NEEDS: The team must search for a fourth and fifth starter. Ross Detwiler, Taylor Jordan and Tanner Roark are the top three candidates. Detwiler's back is the biggest offseason health question for the starting rotation as he was unable to take a big step forward in 2013 after being shutdown July 4. The team must decide what they will do with left-handers in the bullpen. Ian Krol, Fernando Abad and Xavier Cedeno will get the opportunity to impress, but the team is also likely to go shopping for a veteran southpaw to add to its relieving corps. A big bat for the bench is also on the shopping list. Also, 2014 will be the last season for Adam LaRoche at first base, so the organization must begin to groom that spot for 2015. Tyler Moore has always been mentioned as a possible in-house successor.
FREE AGENTS: RHP Dan Haren, 1B/OF Chad Tracy
Haren had a great second half of the season but is too costly and would have to come back in a different salary slot with an incentive-laden deal. Tracy did not have a productive season and will not return.
ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: RHP Jordan Zimmermann, RHP Tyler Clippard, SS Ian Desmond, LHP Ross Detwiler, RHP Drew Storen, RHP Stephen Strasburg
Zimmermann and Desmond both picked great years to be really good and will command top money as reward. Zimmermann won a career-high 19-9 record and a 3.25 ERA in 32 starts. Desmond hit .280 with 20 homers, 21 stolen bases and 80 RBIs. It was the second straight season Desmond had at least 20 homers and 20 stolen bases. Whatever it takes to re-sign Clippard, the Nationals will agree. He is critical to the success at the end of the game for the bullpen. Likewise, for a franchise player like Strasburg, who would most likely be re-signed to a long term deal before going to arbitration. Storen is a candidate for arbitration because of a rough patch in 2013.
IN LIMBO: 2B/SS Danny Espinosa, 1B/OF Chad Tracy, LHP Fernando Abad, RHP Ryan Mattheus
Espinosa was not invited to return to the roster when rosters were expanded in September, a good an indication as any the Nationals will continue to look to trade the shortstop. Espinosa dealt with wrist and shoulder issues during the season and he could have some sort of medical procedure to help alleviate some of the pain he felt in his swing so he can be ready to begin healthy in 2014. Tracy is likely moving on as the team looks to add to its bench. Abad had some moments from the left side and Mattheus had an up-and-down 2013, but he is under team control until 2017, so he is likely staying put.
--LHP Ross Detwiler (herniated back disk) dealt with the condition since May, and it ended his season in early July. Detwiler is reluctant to play winter ball, but manager Davey Johnson said the organization needs his to get as many innings as possible in the off season to test the back before spring training. Detwiler has been pitching well in Fall Instructional League in Florida and that is a good sign heading into the offseason.
--LF Bryce Harper (sore left knee and left hip) was banged up for most of the season. He is a candidate to have some type of surgery on his troublesome knee so that he will be pain-free at the start of the 2014 season. It is expected the team will know in October whether Harper will need an offseason procedure.
--RHP Christian Garcia (partial tear in forearm tendon, right shoulder soreness, sore hamstring) didn't pitch in the majors in 2013. He hopes to be 100 percent heading into spring training.