State of the Nationals


Sep 16, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos (40) and relief pitcher Drew Storen (22) and catcher Jose Lobaton (59) celebrate a victory against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. The Nationals defeated the Braves 3-0 to clinch the National League eastern division championship. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Later tonight, President Barack Obama will give his annual State of the Union address to Congress inside the Capitol Building in downtown Washington D.C. In honor of the address, today we’ll be checking in on what’s been happening just a few blocks away from the Capitol with our State of the Nationals, where we’ll discuss what the team has accomplished so far this offseason and how it looks heading into the 2015 season and beyond.

Just a few days ago, there wasn’t really much to talk about with regards to the Nationals’ offseason. The team entered the offseason with no true weaknesses and few expected them to make any big-name trades or free agent signings. The Nationals had just won their second division title in three years and given the strength of their roster, they probably could’ve stayed quiet all offseason long and still defended their N.L. East title in 2015.

As we all know, however, baseball is an unpredictable game. And just like it’s impossible to predict what a baseball team will do over a span of 162 games, it’s also difficult to predict what a creative general manager like Mike Rizzo will do over the course of a long offseason that was made even longer and more intriguing by the Nationals’ early exit in the playoffs.

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As I said earlier, the Nationals entered the offseason with virtually no needs. Most expected that all the team would do this offseason would be to extend some key players that are set to hit the free agent market next winter. Extend players. That’s all they were “supposed” to do. Of course, three months into the offseason, the Nationals have done everything but that.

The team made a huge trade earlier this offseason that forced them to part ways with Steven Souza Jr. but got them an elite shortstop prospect in Trea Turner, who not only gives the Nationals flexibility in their middle infield, but who would also serve as a replacement for Ian Desmond if he were to leave via free agency next winter.

Extending Desmond was one of the few things the Nationals were “supposed” to do this offseason. Instead, the team went out and made sure that they would be set at shortstop for years down the road with Turner. Of course, the Turner deal doesn’t necessarily mean the Nationals won’t extend Desmond, but it does mean that the it won’t be the end of the world if they don’t.

After the Turner deal, the Nationals’ offseason went back to the quiet, patient style that we expected the team to maintain all offseason long. The team made some important minor league signings here and there, most notably Heath Bell and Dan Uggla, but other than that Rizzo and the Nationals pretty much stood pat in late December and early January.

It wasn’t until early last week that the offseason picked back up again for the Nationals, when the team traded long-time setup man Tyler Clippard to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for shortstop Yunel Escobar. There’s no denying that Clippard has been an integral part of the Nationals bullpen for years and that he’ll be greatly missed in 2015. But by acquiring Escobar, the Nationals not only filled the hole at second base that was left when Asdrubal Cabrera departed via free agency, but they also gave themselves insurance in case Desmond walks next winter.

While the Escobar trade was a huge move for the Nationals, Rizzo and his team weren’t done. The Nationals brought the Hot Stove to a full-boil this past weekend, signing Cy Young-winning free agent starter Max Scherzer to a massive 7-year, $210 million contract yesterday. The deal surprised almost everybody as Scherzer will be joining a rotation that was already arguably the best in baseball.

In Scherzer, the Nationals not only acquired one of the best pitchers in the game, but they also gave themselves some insurance incase Jordan Zimmermann and/or Doug Fister were to leave via free agency next winter. Signing Scherzer wasn’t easy. In order to bring the talented right-hander to the nation’s capital, the Nationals had to award him the richest contract in franchise history, far surpassing Jayson Werth‘s 7-year, $126 million deal from 2011. But signing Scherzer makes the Nationals instant World Series favorites, and it’s a deal that could help the team be great not only in 2015, but also down the road.

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With the addition of Scherzer and with the team they already had, the Nationals – on paper – have one of the deepest rosters in the game and hands-down the best starting  rotation in all of baseball. Not only is the team poised for greatness at the big league level, but it’s also getting closer to seeing some big-name prospects make their way to the majors. Lucas Giolito, A.J. Cole, Michael Taylor and several others are rising quickly through the Nationals’ farm system and are a critical part of the team’s future.

Of course, while there are plenty of reasons to be excited about the Nationals right now, there are also a few serious concerns that the team has to deal with at some point in the near future.

Werth is coming off shoulder surgery this offseason and although it wasn’t a major procedure, it may very well delay his start to the 2015 season. Furthermore, the Nationals have several key players entering the final year of their contracts and the team must decide whether it’s willing to spend a whole lot of money to keep players such as Desmond, Zimmermann, Fister and Denard Span. Another and arguably the biggest concern for the team right now is that there has still been no resolution in the ongoing dispute between the Nationals and Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos over the Nationals’ TV rights in the region.

While these are all legitimate concerns, it’s safe to say that the positives outweigh the negatives right now and that things are looking pretty good for the Nationals. Yesterday was a great day for a franchise that is coming off an incredible season, and right now, there are plenty of reasons to believe the team can do just as well or better in 2015.

So, if you’re tired of hearing about tonight’s State of the Union, sit back, read some articles at District on Deck, and rest assured that Opening Day is just 75 days away.