The Washington Nationals will look to put pieces together this offseason in pursuit of a World Series title in 2014.
The changes that need to happen in D.C. going in to next season will not happen overnight and may not even be resolved in the offseason, but the Nats are going to certainly try to make things happen.
There are many different ways to create a team that can make it to the World Series, from acquisitions made in the offseason, adapting to changes or even learning the vision of a new manager, but the Nationals are looking for that one blueprint that makes their vision a reality.
Washington needs to round out the back end of the rotation, and it does not appear Dan Haren will be the option.
The Nationals should go after an established pitcher who will be able to be a consistent part of their rotation. A starter such as Matt Garza fits the mold for the Nationals, as long as he can remain healthy.
Garza is a free agent, and his history in the AL East has proven that he can pitch in high-leverage situations and against top-notch teams. Garza continued to have success in the National League in the time he spent with the Chicago Cubs.
If the Nats want to become a deeper, stronger team, they need to begin with rounding out their rotation.
Ryan Zimmerman is clearly uncomfortable throwing the ball from third base, despite his fantastic ability to get to the ball and make the spectacular play. His shoulder issues have to be on the forefront of the Nationals' minds as Zimmerman ages, but a transition to first base could help protect Zimmerman.
It appears to be the perfect time to move Zimmerman over, with the rising success of natural third baseman Anthony Rendon. Rendon will be able to assume the responsibilities at third and allow Zimmerman to have a break at first base.
The move would also set up the departure of a part of the Nationals team, a move that should also be in the Nats' blueprints this offseason.
That aforementioned move is to find a team that is willing to trade for Adam LaRoche.
LaRoche's offensive inconsistencies are equivalent to Dan Haren's pitching inconsistencies throughout their careers. They are high-risk, mediocre-reward players who are not worth the investment.
Unfortunately, the Nationals have LaRoche under contract through another year, but if they can find a team that is desperate for a power-hitting first baseman, they might be able to get a deal done.
LaRoche has hit at least 20 home runs in eight of his past nine seasons; however, his offense comes in streaks. Streaks and slumps are not something the Nationals can rely on or be hindered by this season.
Stephen Strasburg must prepare himself for a full season in 2014, a season when he could pitch more than 220 innings.
The organization as a whole must be willing, ready and unafraid to let their ace be their ace.
Last season, his innings were limited by a stint on the DL, which allowed him to peak at 183 innings. 2014 has to be the year Strasburg is physically ready to pitch, and as long as he avoids the fluke injuries, the organization needs to be prepared to let him carry the Nationals during the regular and postseason.
The Nats will be facing a challenge going into 2014: baseball life after Davey Johnson. Becoming acquainted with the new manager might be one of the most important challenges presented to the players in D.C.
Dan Steinberg of The Washington Post reported on Matt Williams' coaching theories in relation to the old-school versus new-school style involving the sabermetrics approach.
Williams envisions himself as a coach who can use both approaches:
I think I’m in between. I love the old school approach of play the game, let your guys play, give them the freedom to play. Because ultimately they swing the bat, they throw the ball, they catch the ball. Our job as coaches is to give them the information that they can absorb quickly, that means something to them and that can help guide them through that game, that series, that season.
The Nationals might need to adapt a bit more of the new-school theories this season, but with a team that has great young talent, this should not be a problem. It will certainly take time, however, and becoming familiar with Williams' strategies and expectations might solidify the perfect plan this offseason.