It may be time for the Washington Nationals to look to the offseason.
With a 65-65 record and only 32 games remaining in their 2013 regular season schedule, the Nats are 13 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East standings and eight games behind the Cincinnati Reds in the NL Wild Card standings.
The Nationals' offseason will not be an easy one. The team has several glaring deficiencies, all of which need to be filled as soon as possible.
Here are five crucial needs for the Washington Nationals to address this offseason.
Note: All statistics updated through Aug. 26 courtesy of MLB.com unless noted otherwise.
Jhonatan Solano now has a chance to earn a permanent spot on the Nationals' roster.
Late last week, the Washington Nationals had some significant news regarding their catcher position, as tweeted by Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post:
The Nats traded Kurt Suzuki back to Oakland for a pitching prospect. Jhonatan Solano is the Nats' new backup catcher.
Solano has 17 hits in 71 at-bats with two home runs, eight RBI and seven runs scored. Behind the plate, he has a .993 fielding percentage in 138 total chances with two passed balls and a range factor of 6.23. He has picked off three of 14 attempted base stealers for a 21 percent success rate.
Even if Solano succeeds in the backup role role for the remainder of this season, his ability to do so for an entire season will still be questioned due to his overall lack of experience.
If Solano struggles for the remainder of this season, the Nationals will have to find another backup in the offseason. The Nats could pursue a potential free agent such as Gerald Laird or Jose Molina, according to Cot's Baseball Contract.
No matter how the Nationals' backup catcher position plays out for the rest of the regular season, it will be an area of concern in the offseason.
This photo of Danny Espinosa in a Nationals' uniform may soon be a collector's item.
The Nationals have a jumbo-sized elephant in their room: What to do at second base?
Rookie Anthony Rendon has played the position with aplomb. His natural affinity for a foreign position, along with his sweet swing, have brought a swift and sudden end to his minor league career.
Through 74 games this season, Rendon is batting .259 in 278 at-bats with 20 doubles and six home runs, to go with 26 RBI and 31 runs scored. He has 23 walks and 55 strikeouts with a .316 on-base percentage and .396 slugging percentage. Rendon has one stolen base in two attempts.
Jack-of-all-trades Steve Lombardozzi fills in at second base when needed and is good enough to play that position every day, even if not for the Nationals.
In 237 at-bats over 94 games, Lombardozzi is batting .253 with 13 doubles, one triple and one home run while totaling 17 RBI and 23 runs scored. Lombardozzi has walked six times while striking out 29 times and has compiled an on-base percentage of .268 with a slugging percentage of .329. He has three stolen bases in six attempts.
So where does Danny Espinosa fit in?
Espinosa has been with the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs for 68 games, according to MiLB.com. In 254 at-bats, Espinosa is hitting .201 with 11 doubles, one triple and two home runs while driving in 17 runs and scoring 29 runs. He has only 18 walks against 96 strikeouts, leading to a .268 on-base percentage to go with a .276 slugging percentage. Espinosa has five stolen bases in six attempts.
Not exactly the progress Davey Johnson was hoping for when Espinosa was sent down.
The Nationals' manager spoke to James Wagner of The Washington Post on Aug. 21 about the possibility of Espinosa being promoted as part of the September call-ups:
There have been discussions on that and right now we’re trying to get him back on track. It’s also a reward system when you get called back up. It’s a reward on how you did down there, and he’s not doing the things I know he’s capable of doing. But there’s still a little time left. Just have to wait and see.
If Espinosa cannot even earn a September call-up with the Nationals, then his days in Washington are probably numbered.
The Nationals could pursue Matt Garza to be their fourth starter next season.
The search for a fourth starter for their rotation seems to be an annual ritual for the Nationals. This offseason will be no different.
Dan Haren was signed as a free agent last offseason to fill the role of fourth starter and he has pitched to mixed reviews. He is 8-11 with a 4.66 ERA in 139.0 innings over 24 starts with 24 walks and 121 strikeouts. Haren has given up 25 home runs—the most in the National League—while yielding a .269 opponent batting average and compiling a 1.24 WHIP.
Haren may not be back with the Nats next season. In fact, the 32-year-old right-hander may not be with the Nats at the end of this season. He is the subject of multiple trade rumors, according to MLBTradeRumors.com.
If Haren leaves, the Nationals have multiple options among a long list of potential free agents for 2014, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts. This list includes Matt Garza, Phil Hughes, and Paul Maholm, to name three intriguing options.
Or the Nationals could find an in-house solution for the vacancy.
Taylor Jordan should get first crack at it, as he impressed before being shut down to recover from Tommy John surgery. This 6' 3", 190-pound right-hander compiled a 1-3 record and a 3.66 ERA in 51.2 innings over nine starts with 11 walks and 29 strikeouts. The 24-year-old Jordan gave up three home runs and had a .291 opponent batting average with a 1.35 WHIP.
Nathan Karns should also get a look. The 6' 3" 230-pound right-hander was 0-1 with a 7.50 ERA in 12.0 innings over three starts for the Nationals with six walks and 11 strikeouts. The 25-year-old Karns gave up five home runs and a .321 batting average against with a 1.92 WHIP.
Of course, the Nationals hope that the fourth starter they pick for the 2014 season will last more than one season again.
Tyler Clippard has made sure there is no drama in the eighth inning.
Last offseason, the Nationals were supposed to have solved their issues at closer and strengthened the back end of their bullpen at the same time.
Drew Storen was demoted to Triple-A Syracuse in late July after struggling all season with the eighth-inning role. He is back with the Nationals, but still sports a 5.70 ERA in 47.1 innings over 53 appearances. Storen has yielded seven home runs and a .279 batting average against while compiling a 1.42 WHIP. He has converted only three of his eight save opportunities.
Closer Rafael Soriano has struggled as well. The 12-year veteran has a 3.79 ERA in 54.2 innings over 56 appearances. He has also given up seven home runs and opponents are batting .267 against him to go with his 1.30 WHIP. Despite ranking third in the NL with 33 saves, Soriano is also tied for third in the NL with six blown saves, according to ESPN.com.
Meanwhile, Tyler Clippard has been a sure thing, first in the seventh inning and recently in the eighth. Clippard has an impressive 2.01 ERA in 58.1 innings over the course of 59 appearances. Opponents have hit seven home runs off him, but have only batted .142 against him. Clippard has a microscopic 0.82 WHIP and is tied for the NL lead in holds with 26, according to ESPN.com.
It looks like the Nationals will slay the three-headed monster in the back end of their bullpen and instead will go with a pair of closing arms. Clippard has saved his neck, so another head must roll. Will it be that of Storen or Soriano?
Charlie Manuel may be back in the NL East after just a short break.
Every ship needs a captain. Otherwise it might as well be rudderless.
As soon as the Nationals' 2013 season ends, this team will be without a captain. Current skipper Davey Johnson is retiring, as he told Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post shortly after the 2012 season ended.
Who will replace Johnson?
Amanda Comak of The Washington Times reported on Aug. 16 that the list of probable candidates includes Arizona Diamondbacks third base coach Matt Williams, Nationals bench coach Randy Knorr, Nationals third base coach Trent Jewett, and former Nationals third base coach and current Houston Astros manager Bo Porter.
Comak also spoke to Nationals' right fielder Jayson Werth about the impending search. Werth told Comak that recently fired Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel should be considered for the position, saying Manuel is “the best manager I ever played for.”
Werth added, "I don’t know if he fits into the organization’s plan or whatever, but, I mean, I love playing for the guy.”
The search for the Nationals' next manager is already full of intrigue and it has not even officially begun yet. Expect it to be the most closely watched job search of the offseason, as the nation's capital has finally become a desirable destination for a major league manager.