The Washington Nationals had plenty to be encouraged about in 2012.
The Nats led MLB in wins, won the NL East and qualified for the playoffs.
But it's already time to starting thinking about a new season. So, what are some encouraging signs that the Nationals have shown this offseason?
Did the team maintain or improve its dominant pitching staff? Did they address any other significant holes? Did the Nats re-sign any or all of their biggest free agents? How healthy will the team be going into spring training? And finally, did the Nationals' owner finally spend enough money to push their payroll over $100 million, which is need in order to be considered one of the elite teams in MLB?
The answers to those questions are in the slides that follow along with 10 encouraging signs for the Washington Nationals going into the 2013 season.
The Teds want to win now.
Washington Nationals owner Ted Lerner is finally and completely committed to winning. And that is a good thing, considering that Lerner is one of the richest owners in baseball.
Thomas Boswell of The Washington Post claimed in his Jan. 15 column that Lerner proved just how committed he was with a recent acquisition that caught the baseball world by surprise:
The ownership of the Washington Nationals might as well have issued a public proclamation Tuesday by coming to terms with free agent closer Rafael Soriano: World Series or bust. Davey Johnson, 70, who’ll retire after this year, said it first. Now, owner Ted Lerner, 87, is all-in, too.
As proof, the Nationals payroll will top $100 million for the first time since the franchise moved to Washington in 2005. This milestone now places the Nats among the top 10 teams in terms of payroll in MLB.
The Nats can afford to lose Michael Morse's bat.
It's a pretty good sign when a 98-win ballclub can afford to part with a player such as Michael Morse.
Greg Johns of MLB.com explains Morse's impact and value to the Nationals:
Morse hit .298 and averaged 24.5 home runs and 78.5 RBIs the last two years despite missing the first 60 games last season with a back injury. He's in the final year of a contract that pays him $6.75 million in 2013.
The Mariners needed another power hitter in their lineup, and due to the Nationals' embarrassment of riches, they were able to part with Morse.
With two major trades during the last two offseasons, the Washington Nationals created a significant hole in their pool of pitching prospects.
In 2011, the Nationals sent pitchers A.J. Cole, Tommy Milone and Brad Peacock to the Oakland Athletics for Gio Gonzalez.
In 2012, the Nationals sent star prospect Alex Meyer to the Minnesota Twins for center fielder Denard Span. The imposing right-hander is so highly regarded that Mike Rosenbaum of Bleacher Report's Prospect Pipeline stated on Nov. 30 that Meyer instantly becomes the Minnesota Twins top pitching prospect.
But in an effort to restore the prospect pool, the Nationals reacquired A.J. Cole from the Oakland Athletics on Jan. 16, in the deal that sent Michael Morse to the Seattle Mariners. At the time of the trade, Cole was ranked third among the Oakland Athletics Top 10 Prospects for 2013, according to Baseball America. The Nats also acquired right-handed pitcher Blake Treinen, a seventh-round draft pick in 2011 by the A's.
The Nationals have once again fortified one of their previous organizational strengths.
Denard Span is the center piece of a very good defensive outfield.
The Nationals finally obtained the natural center fielder that they have long desired by acquiring Denard Span from the Minnesota Twins.
As KW Rosenfeld of Yahoo! Sports theorized on Dec. 17, the trade for Span has received minor attention but could cause a major impact for the Washington Nationals:
The trade forwas far from an earth-shattering, offseason blockbuster. Even for the Washington Nationals and their fans -- coming off of a division title and for the very first time getting to have hot-stove discussions about piecing together a championship-caliber roster -- it hasn't caused much of a stir. But the quiet acquisition of the Minnesota Twins center fielder may very well prove to be the perfect move for the Nats -- one that could provide the exact piece of the puzzle needed to get this upstart team to the next level.
The Nationals are eager to see if Span can do exactly that.
Dan Haren boosts an already potent starting rotation.
Dan Haren was signed by the Washington Nationals this offseason to replace departing starter Edwin Jackson.
As the official Washington Nationals press release explained at the time, the Nats gained a veteran workhorse in Dan Haren, the likes of which they have never seen:
Regarded as one of MLB’s most consistent performers, Haren has won at least 12 games and made 30 or more starts each of the last eight seasons. Dating eight seasons to 2005, Haren has tallied seven separate 200-inning campaigns and averaged 220 innings per year. In that same eight-season span, Nationals pitchers have posted just four 200-inning efforts.
As Dan Haren shoulders a heavy workload, he will take pressure off the rest of the Nationals pitching staff.
Rafael Soriano gives the Washington Nationals three closer-caliber relievers.
On Jan. 15, Rafael Soriano was signed by the Washington Nationals to a two-year contract worth $28 million. The deal makes the 33-year-old the highest-paid reliever in baseball.
He didn't need a lot of coaching. He was a knowledgeable player. He was a guy who didn't have a dominant pitch. ... For a closer, he did the best job of pitching that I've ever seen -- setting up hitters, not just coming after it with a 99-mph fastball or gimmick pitch. He really did a good job from both sides of the plate, changing speeds. He pitches at 91 mph when he could pitch at 94, but he saved that for when he really wanted it. What impressed me was the way he actually pitched.
Soriano's addition means that one-time closers Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard will now pitch from set-up roles, which is a scary proposition for opposing hitters. Pete Moylan, Soriano's former teammate with the Atlanta Braves, told Bill Ladson "with the addition of Raffy, it's going to turn into a six-inning game."
This will hurt less next season.
Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman finally had shoulder surgery in October, shortly after the offseason began.
Mark Zuckerman of CSNWashigton tweeted the particulars:
Ryan Zimmerman had arthroscopic surgery on his R shoulder today to fix the AC joint that plagued him all season. Full recovery in 6 weeks.
Hopefully, this surgery will allow Zimmerman to play pain free all season long, both at the plate and in the field. His production in both facets of the game should remain consistent as a result.
Adam LaRoche is a key component of the Nationals' machine.
The free agent market for Adam LaRoche was less robust than he expected, so the Gold Glove first baseman re-sgined with the Washington Nationals on a two-year contract.
As Thomas Boswell of The Washington Post explains in his column about the signing, LaRoche is of central importance to the success of the Washington Nationals:
LaRoche was the key. He was the piece that, in Johnson’s mind, glued the infield defense, put veteran left-handed power in the middle of the order and brought second-generation big league calm to the dugout. It’s not that LaRoche, 33, was great or was worth $40 million to a team loaded with future first basemen. But, man, would he pull the room together for this season.
With Adam LaRoche re-signed, the Nationals can now move towards their ultimate goal of winning a World Series.
Stephen Strasburg will be under no inngs limit in 2013.
Stephen Strasburg is ready to pitch the entire season for the Washington Nationals.
Strasburg's agent, Scott Boras, recently talked to Jon Morosi of Fox Sports regarding his prized client:
He’s going to have six months now to prepare for next season, when you consider that he didn’t pitch in September and October. He’s going to be a No. 1 who’s going to throw a couple hundred innings.
That statement is welcome relief to Washington Nationals fans. Unlike last year, they now expect Strasburg to pitch deep into September and October.
Davey Johnson has a loaded team, with one goal in mind.
Davey Johnson is back for one more season as the manager of the Washington Nationals, as he plans to retire at the end of the season.
Johnson's return should be encouragement enough for the Nats. Davey Johnson has a career managerial record of 1286-995, and he has the second best winning percentage among active managers at .564.
But even more encouraging for the Nationals is that Johnson has his full compliment, as explained by Thomas Boswell of The Washington Post:
For his final season as a manager, Johnson had one wish: Bring back all the key parts of last season’s team. Don’t lose the balance, the interlocking pieces or the chemistry. Just tweak a bit, let time add the experience and put Strasburg at the head of the rotation to carry the psychological load.
Bring on the 2013 season.