5 Early Predictions for Washington Nationals' Offseason
"Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin', into the future..."
Steve Miller may or may not be a baseball fan, but the opening lyrics to "Fly Like An Eagle" ring true for the 2013 Washington Nationals. As time marches into the future for these Nats, their chances of making the postseason begin to slip away.
Washington is currently 77-69, 11.0 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East standings, and 5.5 games behind the Cincinnati Reds in the NL Wild Card standings. To put it bluntly, the Nationals have a postseason probability of 2.7 percent.
For Washington, the threat of missing the postseason is a clear and present danger. Therefore, any talk of the future should focus on the offseason.
With that mind, here are five early predictions for the Washington Nationals' offseason.
Note: All statistics updated through September 13 courtesy of MLB.com unless noted otherwise.
5. Bountiful Harvest
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The annual announcement of the Arizona Fall League rosters is a great way to build excitement for a team's future. This holds true for the Washingtn Nationals, as several prized prospects will be playing in the desert this fall.
The Nationals' PR department announced the rosters on Aug. 27 with two tweets:
August 27, 2013
OF Brian Goodwin, C Adrian Nieto, 1B Matt Skole, OF Steven Souza, LH Sammy Solis, LH Matt Purke, RH Robert Benincasa & RH Richie Mirowski— Nationals PR (@NationalsPR) August 27, 2013
Here now are predictions for the 2013 AFL performance of each Nationals prospect named to the roster:
- Brian Goodwin OF: Nationals' top prospect will hit for power but not for average, while finally learning the skills to be a successful base stealer.
- Adrian Nieto C: Does not rank in Nats' top 20 prospects like fellow catchers Pedro Severino and Sandy Leon, but Nieto will show off his power nonetheless.
- Matt Skole 1B: Good opportunity for Skole, who is rated as best power hitter in Nationals' farm system by Baseball America but played in only two games this season due to injury.
- Steven Souza OF: Coming out party for Souza, who led all Nationals' farm hands with a .557 slugging percentage this season while at Double-A Harrisburg.
- Sammy Solis LHP: Must deal with pressure and expectations as he continues recovering from Tommy John surgery in second trip to the AFL.
- Matt Purke LHP: Can pitch free and easy. Highly-rated prospect who is recovering from injured arm just like Solis but is still in first full season as a professional.
- Robert Benincasa RHP: Former Florida State star will finally make himself known to Nats' fans. Highly skilled closer was drafted in seventh round of 2012 MLB draft, according to Baseball-Reference.com.
- Richie Mirowski RHP: Also a reliever like Benincasa, but Mirowski does not receive the same recognition, since he is not a closer. Looks to extend his strong 2013 season.
4. Give Espinosa His Second Chance
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By trading Espinosa, the Nats will give the 26-year-old a chance to start the next chapter of his MLB career in another city, with another team. Thus far, Espinosa has had a solid career.
In 390 games over four seasons, Espinosa is batting .230 in 1,428 at-bats, with 79 doubles, eight triples and 47 home runs, while driving in 149 runs and scoring 181. In his career, Espinosa has an on-base percentage of .303 and a slugging percentage of .396, with 38 stolen bases in 52 attempts.
Espinosa's agent, Scott Boras, says that there is interest in his client across the league, as tweeted by James Wagner of The Washington Post:
Scott Boras on Danny Espinosa, his health and struggles. "Every park I go into people ask me about Danny." http://t.co/87WVlSZux4— James Wagner (@JamesWagnerWP) August 27, 2013
If that statement is accurate, Mike Rizzo should have no problem finding a trade partner.
3. Stand Pat in the Bullpen
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The back end of the Nationals' bullpen has not turned out as planned.
Rafael Soriano ranks fourth in the NL in blown saves according to ESPN.com, Drew Storen was demoted to Triple-A Syracuse for three weeks and Tyler Clippard was forced to pitch the eighth inning after starting the season as the seventh inning set-up man.
But GM Mike Rizzo should not hit the panic button just yet. He has invested a lot of time and money into the back end of his bullpen and needs to show patience.
Soriano is the highest-paid reliever in baseball for the 2013 season according to Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post, Storen is a former 40-save closer who gives the back end of the bullpen some real teeth and Clippard is more valuable in the set-up role and not closing games.
Rizzo should leave the back end of his bullpen alone and give this trio one more season to jell.
2. Promote Knorr to Manager
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The Washington Nationals will need a manager for the 2014 season. Bench coach Randy Knorr wants the job.
Knorr told Bill Ladson of MLBlogsNetwork.com this in no uncertain terms on Sept. 2:
I would like [the Nationals] to consider me. But I know [general manager] Mike [Rizzo] has a bunch of people in mind, also. It would be an honor to be considered for that job. ... I try not to think too far ahead. I like to take things day by day.
But is Knorr the right man for the job?
Knorr attempted to answer this question when he spoke further with Ladson:
I think it’s very important to speak your mind. Your players will never be in the dark in what you believe in. I don’t have secrets with my players. They asked me a question, I’ll be as honest as I can with them. You have a better relationship with them. They are not always trying to figure you out. ... They know where you are coming from, they have no problems with it.
Finally, Knorr is very familiar with the team he will be managing. According to Ladson, Knorr managed 11 current Nationals players while they played in the minor leagues.
The Nationals have already established a precedent for hiring from within the organization, as Davey Johnson was promoted from adviser to manager during the 2011 season, according to The New York Daily News. The Nats can continue this tradition by promoting Knorr to manager, as well.
1. Extend Harper
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Bryce Harper may not be eligible for arbitration until after 2015, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts. But don't think for a second that his contract negotiations are not already a topic of conversation.
Thank his agent Scott Boras for that one. Boras broached the subject on Aug. 27 while at Nationals Park, as tweeted by Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post:
Scott Boras at the yard today. He laid out a not-so-abstract case for the Nats signing Bryce Harper to a 12-year contract.— Adam Kilgore (@AdamKilgoreWP) August 27, 2013
Twelve years is a long time, especially considering how much money Boras would require for a contract of that length. But money may be of little consequence for the Nationals. After all, "the Lerner family is the richest ownership group in baseball", according to Matt Snyder of Eye On Baseball at CBSSports.com.
You look at Cal Ripken. You look at Derek Jeter. You look at all the greats that played for one team their whole career. I want to be like that. I’ve always wanted to be like that. I’ve always wanted to play with that same team.
Most importantly, the Nationals signing Harper to a contract extension now would keep him from signing with the New York Yankees.
Shudder to think.