The NBA has started its strike-shortened season. The NHL is going strong. The NFL playoffs are in full swing (that Broncos-Steelers game was an exciting one!). While all these leagues have been entertaining us on the field, ice, court and TV, Major League Baseball has been very busy with their so-called “Hot Stove League,” where players are wheeled and dealed (or should I say “dealt?”), free agents are signed and team owners and General Managers tell the public that they’re not interested in signing a particular player when you know in fact theyactually are.
The Washington Nationals have been very busy this off-season, strengthening their pitching, adding to their batting lineup and praying for their starting catcher, Wilson Ramos (who was kidnapped for a short time in his native Venezuela, where he was playing winter ball). Luckily that concluded with a happy ending. Ramos is ready to move on.
One of the most important acquisitions for the Nationals has been the acquisition of 26-year-old lefty pitcher Gio Gonzalez, who comes over from the OaklandA’s with right-hander Robert Gilliam in exchange for catcher Derek Norris and pitchers Brad Peacock, Tom Millone, and A.J. Cole. Gonzalez replaces veteran Liván Hernandez in the starting rotation, which should consist of Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, John Lannan and Chien-Ming Wang (with Ross Detwiler trying to get in there as well).
While this promises to be a solid starting rotation, fans need to remember that Strasburg will have his innings closely counted and monitored, much like Zimmermann last year. The Franchise will probably not pitch much farther into the season than mid- to late August.
How about the infield? Well, future Gold Glove winner Danny Espinosa will still play second base, Ian Desmond will still be at shortstop and possibly leading off, and Ryan Zimmerman will still be doing a fine job at third base. Rumor has it that the Nationals will likely not renew Ryan’s contract when it runs out at end of 2013 because they have plenty of strength at third base in the minor leagues.
Hopefully these rumors are false. Ryan Zimmerman can be one of those dying-breed franchise players who spends his entire career with one team. Don’t go signing free agent Eric Chavez (the Nats now have Mark DeRosa as a utility player so they don’t need another one) and don’t go drafting any more third basemen. Keep Ryan for the next 15 years – he’s a great hitter (if he can stay healthy), he is one of the best-fielding third basemen out there, and I think he’s even given up his nail-biting habit.
OK, so I digress. What’s going on in the outfield, you ask? Well, that’s where things get a little complicated. One thing we know is that Michael Morse will be at left field and Jayson Werth will be somewhere. You can keep him in right field and have Roger Bernadina in center (which is my preference).
Nationals’ GM, Mike Rizzo, doesn’t seem too happy with Bernadina, for some reason. Washington has highly-touted blue chip 19-year-old prospect Bryce Harper waiting to claim right field which shifts Werth over to center. I’m not convinced that Harper is ready for the Majors – he needs some time in triple-A, and from what I hear from his time in single-A Hagerstown, Harper also needs a serious attitude adjustment (let’s hope my sources there are incorrect). We’ll have to see what Spring Training brings before we know what the Nationals’ plans are for the outfield.
And what’s this about the Nationals possibly signing free agent Prince Fielder? Rizzo continues to deny it, saying that first base belongs to Adam LaRoche, who missed most of the last season due to a torn labrum (that’s in your shoulder – sorry; it’s the athletic trainer in me coming out!). Fielder’s agent, Scott Boras, has been rubbing his hands and salivating, hoping that the Nationals will offer Fielder a long-term contract (like 8-10 years). This is a group who signed Jayson Werth (another Boras client) to a 7-year deal in 2011.
The problem with Prince Fielder is that despite being a good power hitter, all he can pretty much play is first base. To me he’s more like a David Ortiz – have him play first base until his fielding range decreases and then make him a Designated Hitter. Plus, as much as I don’t really care for LaRoche, he does still have one more year left on his contract, so if the Nationals did get rid of him, they would have to pay part of his salary or trade him away. Call me crazy, but I say save your money, forget Fielder, and keep Michael Morse as the cleanup hitter behind Ryan Zimmerman. It worked out fine last year, as the Nationals had one of the best finishes in team history. But Mike Rizzo didn’t ask me, so I will keep my mouth shut (plus wouldn’t Fielder have to fight Jayson Werth for jersey number 28?).
Unfortunately, despite all these changes and acquisitions the new-look fully loaded Miami Marlins and the Lee/Hamels/Halliday Philadelphia Phillies promise to make the National League East the toughest division in baseball once again. Plus the Nationals did not re-sign free agent catcher Iván “Pudge” Rodriguez, which means that I may not get to see my favorite player again until I attend his enshrinement in Cooperstown.
But despite that, I will continue to root for my Washington Nationals in 2012. May the players stay injury-free, may manager Davey Johnson find some strength and endurance to help his old body make it through another 162-game season, and may Teddy Roosevelt finally win in the Nationals Park Presidents’ Race.
About the Author
Written by Marien Hornyak
I was born and raised in Puerto Rico but have lived in the continental US for 22 years. I have a BS in Athletic Training and a MEd in Sport Management, where I did my thesis on "The History of Baseball Litigation." I am a wife, mother of 2, and self-proclaimed "Baseball Nerd." My favorite baseball players include Roberto Clemente, Kirby Puckett, and Iván Rodriguez.