As was announced today, Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond, first baseman Adam LaRoche, and pitcher Stephen Strasburg won the National League Silver Slugger awards, given to the best offensive player at each defensive position in the NL each year. These awards double the number of Silver Slugger awards in Nationals history, along with Alfonso Soriano in 2006 and Ryan Zimmerman in 2009 and 2010.
Desmond led the NL in batting average, slugging percentage, and home runs, hitting .292/.335/.511 with 25 homers and 73 RBI, despite playing in only 130 games due to an oblique injury he suffered late July. His home run total was the most for any Washington shortstop since the team moved to DC in 2005, and had him at a pace to hit 32 home runs, which would have been the most for an NL shortstop since Hanley Ramirez hit 33 in 2008. Desmond’s award may make things more difficult this offseason for the Nationals, as many expect the team to attempt to negotiate a contract extension with him. Desmond will not be a free agent until 2016, but the team would welcome an opportunity to solidify his salary in his three upcoming arbitration years, and perhaps add a few years of control as well. With a Silver Slugger under his belt, Desmond’s price will certainly rise.
LaRoche, who also won a Gold Glove earlier this offseason, becomes the second National ever to win a Silver Slugger and Gold Glove in the same season, along with Ryan Zimmerman in 2009. He hit .271/.343/.510 with a career-high 33 home runs and 100 RBI, leading the NL in both categories. He also becomes one of seven NL first basemen ever to win the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger in the same season, joining Keith Hernandez, Albert Pujols, Jeff Bagwell, Will Clark, Todd Helton, and Derrek Lee. LaRoche is currently a free agent, and, while he has expressed interest in returning to Washington, the Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers have both expressed interest in him, and it appears that his price will also jump thanks to his award.
While his season was immersed in controversy, Strasburg did indeed hit quite well, with a .277/.333/.426 line to accompany 13 hits, one home run, and seven RBI in 47 plate appearances. Among pitchers with at least 20 at bats, he had the highest OPS at .759, barely beating out Cincinnati’s Mike Leake at .749. As you would expect, this led to quite a few “how about we keep him around as a pinch hitter?” jokes.
These three gave the Nationals more 2012 Silver Sluggers than any other team in baseball. While the national recognition of the Nats’ offensive talent may cost them a few more million, it also speaks to the bright future of the team. The Nats now have former Silver Sluggers at four of the nine spots on the diamond, and two others who have received MVP votes at least once in Mike Morse and Jayson Werth. The other three spots are manned by Bryce Harper, Danny Espinosa, and Wilson Ramos/Kurt Suzuki. Harper, Espinosa, and Ramos are all quite young, and I would not be surprised to see Gold Gloves from Espinosa, Ramos, and Suzuki in the near future. Harper’s ceiling, as has been discussed on this site myriad times, is unlimited, and no award is out of his reach. As Scott Boras said at the Winter Meetings today, “The franchise has bloomed. There’s a diamond full of cherry blossoms.”