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Bryce Harper won the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2012.
The Nationals spent recent years building their team in hopes of jumping into the mix. Player development was key, but using the free agent market effectively was of the utmost importance.
Instead of simply dipping its toe in the pool, Washington went ahead and bought the entire property. Now the team is set up to swim with the big fish in all of baseball for years to come.
Offseason Grade (A):
Traded for Denard Span. Signed Dan Haren and Rafael Soriano. Re-signed Adam LaRoche. Traded Michael Morse to Seattle.
What they have:
This is a talented team that seems destined for great things.
The rotation of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman, Haren and Ross Detwiler will provide the foundation for contention.
Signing Soriano to close games made the bullpen even better.
The lineup has a balance of speed and power perhaps best exemplified by Bryce Harper, Ian Desmond and, to a lesser extent, Danny Espinosa.
The veteran presence of Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche, Jayson Werth, Denard Span and Kurt Suzuki rounds out a batting order that should provide plenty of runs this season.
Manager Davey Johnson is going to have an extremely talented team to defend the division title, but repeating is generally the tricky part.
What they need:
It may be as simple as having a full season of Strasburg to put Washington deep into October.
Shutting him down for the stretch run and playoffs in 2012 did not stop the club from clinching the East, but there is no doubt it impacted the team's ability to advance beyond the NLDS. The postseason is when a team depends on its staff ace more than ever.
A bullpen that was strong last year was made even stronger when Soriano signed over the winter, but the Nationals are counting on seeing the dominant Soriano who was a late inning force in 2010 and 2012 rather than the somewhat listless 2011 version.
Though Washington does have some very capable closing candidates in house if he falters, the move to bring in Soriano was designed to make the late innings a steep task for opposing hitters. It was also a decision that did not come cheaply.
What to expect (1st place):
Another good season in the nation’s capital seems to be in the making. The strength of pitching and talented lineup should allow Washington to maintain its status as the team to beat in the East.