Projecting the Washington Nationals' 2015 Opening Day Roster
Reigning NL Manager of the Year Matt Williams is a powerful man because he's the one who gets to hand over the Washington Nationals' lineup card on Opening Day 2015.
From top to bottom, bullpen to backstop, Washington's roster is built to win right now.
Through several smaller, calculated moves—and one very big play—general manager Mike Rizzo has put together one of the most complete squads in baseball—a unit that is now the favorite to win the World Series, according to Odds Shark.
But the beauty of the Nationals' impressive roster is its resemblance to last year's group. Aside from the very necessary trade that shored up second base with Yunel Escobar and the gargantuan pile of money that brought in Max Scherzer, Washington's nucleus from a season ago features largely the same names.
But nothing is set in stone.
With Scherzer's arrival in D.C., Stephen Strasburg or Jordan Zimmermann could be more valuable as trade bait than a member of the Nats' terrifying rotation. Either way, the team is reportedly listening to offers.
Yes, #Nats are willing to trade Stephen Strasburg if they don't get acceptable offer for Zimmermann (in event they land Scherzer).— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) January 18, 2015
But this Opening Day projection comes from the school of thought that Washington is content to close up shop for the winter and keep its stars in town for 2015.
This 25-man roster is a finely tuned machine that could propel the Nationals to a second consecutive National League East title, with designs on much more than that.
1. RHP Max Scherzer
2. RHP Stephen Strasburg
3. RHP Jordan Zimmermann
4. RHP Doug Fister
5. LHP Gio Gonzalez
Good luck, National League hitters. You're going to need it.
Washington's pitchers compiled the lowest ERA in baseball last season, including the lowest ERA among starters. And now 2013 AL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer joins the party to round out one of the most mesmerizing rotations in recent memory.
The Washington Post's Scott Allen even opened the floor for discussion regarding the Nats' staff as the "best rotation ever."
And there isn't a ton of evidence to suggest otherwise. Scherzer and Strasburg were both in the top 10 for strikeouts last year. Doug Fister had the sixth-best ERA in the majors and won 16 games. Jordan Zimmermann finished fifth in NL Cy Young voting and threw a no-hitter in the last game of the regular season. Gio Gonzalez earned third in the 2012 NL Cy Young race.
There will not be a good day to catch the Nationals this season.
But when it comes to Opening Day, whoever Washington's starter is will leave someone else's feelings hurt. Strasburg has been the Nats' ace since 2012. Zimmermann was somewhat widely regarded as Washington's best pitcher in 2014. Scherzer has the best set of overall credentials.
The Nationals are in a unique position, but this is far from the worst problem to have.
The evolution of the "who's your opening day starter?" question for the #Nats over the last decade is fascinating. From "who?" to "pick one"— F.P. Santangelo (@FightinHydrant) January 19, 2015
Matt Williams has been noncommittal on the subject, but Scherzer should get the ball on Opening Day. The Nationals rested the next seven years of the franchise on the righty's shoulders when they gave him his historic contract, and that should be enough to earn him the No. 1 spot in the rotation.
But with this staff, you'd need a very expensive microscope to find the gap between No. 1 and Nos. 2-5.
1. Wilson Ramos
2. Jose Lobaton
Wilson Ramos has been injury-prone throughout his career, and 2014 was no exception.
The Venezuelan played in 88 games a year ago, and his 113-game season in 2011 is the most he's ever participated. His list of ailments includes an ACL tear, a broken hand and a strained hamstring, as listed by MASN's Dan Kolko.
But, when healthy, Ramos has been an effective catcher on division-winning teams. He has a career batting average of .269 and a career OPS of .749.
Ramos has a clean bill of health entering spring training, and barring any change in that, he'll be the starting catcher on Opening Day. But given Ramos' history, Washington is fortunate to have a serviceable backup in Jose Lobaton.
Lobaton played 66 games in the starter's absence last season, his first with the Nationals. His .230 batting average will keep him firmly in the backup role. But the Nationals are prone to resting Ramos even when he's healthy, so Lobaton will see playing time in some form.
25-year-old Sandy Leon serves as Lobaton's backup when Ramos is out of the picture, but Leon will be left off a full-health Nats roster.
1B. Ryan Zimmerman
2B. Yunel Escobar
SS. Ian Desmond
3B. Anthony Rendon
Danny Espinosa (2B/SS)
Kevin Frandsen (1B/3B)
Mike Carp (1B/OF)
There's only one new face in Washington's starting infield this season, but there's some deviation from last Opening Day's lineup in the form of position changes among returning starters.
Ryan Zimmerman's move to first base is on the heels of Adam LaRoche's departure in free agency. But the change is also motivated by Zimmerman's degenerative shoulder that makes repetitive throws across the field from his old third base position unrealistic.
Anthony Rendon began last season as a second baseman, but he ultimately spent most of his time at third with Zimmerman sidelined. Rendon responded to his 514 at-bats as a third baseman by winning his first Silver Slugger award.
For now, Ian Desmond is a National. So for now, Ian Desmond is the Nationals' starting shortstop.
Desmond has spent most of his career flying under the radar, but last season he started to gain some overdue recognition. His 91 runs batted in that led all shortstops had a little to do with it.
Washington's new pickup from the Oakland Athletics, Yunel Escobar, can play both shortstop and second base. He'll play the former if Desmond is traded, but right now he's set to start on Opening Day at second.
Danny Espinosa and Kevin Frandsen will play utility roles similar to last season, and Mike Carp makes a strong case to win the final spot on the bench after the Nationals signed him earlier in January. He offers more security at first base should Zimmerman's injury problems persist, and he can moonlight in the outfield.
The spot could easily go to Tyler Moore, however. The 27-year-old played in 42 games for Washington last year.
LF. Jayson Werth
CF. Denard Span
RF. Bryce Harper
Find a picture of the Nationals' starting outfield from last season, and hold it up to a mirror.
Voila, you have Washington's 2015 outfield unit.
Jayson Werth will play left field this season and move Bryce Harper to right, a switch from last season, as reported by The Washington Post's James Wagner.
The change is in order to preserve Werth's health, a move that gained even more significance when the 35-year-old underwent shoulder surgery that should leave him available for Opening Day.
"It gives a younger set of legs in right field, covers a lot of ground and throws extremely well," Rizzo said, via Wagner. "And Jayson has always taken good routes and angles on baseballs can have less ground to cover and save his legs a little bit and be more prepared to play throughout the whole season."
Nate McLouth's first season with the Nationals saw him play in 79 games and earn a not-so-good .173 batting average. His offensive struggles were due in part to a shoulder injury, but McLouth could be replaced in favor of 23-year-old Michael A. Taylor later in the year.
1. Drew Storen (Closer)
2. Craig Stammen
3. Jerry Blevins
4. Tanner Roark
5. Matt Thornton
6. Aaron Barrett
7. Blake Treinen
The turnover in Washington's bullpen this offseason was probably the most dramatic of any position group, but that's not saying a lot.
Former closer Rafael Soriano is out after the Nats declined the option on his contract, and setup man Tyler Clippard was shipped to the Oakland A's. And although Tanner Roark will be a starter at the onset of spring training, he looks destined to join the bullpen this season.
Roark's 2014 season took many by surprise. His 15 wins were the second most on the team after starting just five games in 2013. But following Max Scherzer's arrival, Roark is now outranked by five starters, so he should start this year where he ended the 2014 postseason: in the bullpen.
"If I get moved to the bullpen, I've done it before and I know I can do it. I have confidence in my stuff and my ability," Roark said, via The Washington Post's Chelsea Janes. "We're playing each year to win a World Series. If I have to get moved to the bullpen for us to win a World Series, I'm fine with that. If that's what it comes down to, so be it."
It's hard to figure where Roark will rank in the bullpen order. Craig Stammen and Jerry Blevins are both relatively established, and Aaron Barrett should see an increased role after compiling a 2.66 ERA in his first year in the bigs.
Drew Storen is locked in at closer, however, following a December vote of confidence from Rizzo in a media session during the winter meetings.