February 7, 2012 by Matt Musico
This winter has been a Hot Stove season like none that I’ve ever seen before; big name free agents go to teams who already had that particular position filled with a viable option already, and a small amount of teams spending most of the money.Teams like the Angels, Tigers, Rangers, and Marlins were all making a considerable number of major moves to give their teams a face lift for a chance to win a World Series in 2012. However, the one team that has surprised me the most this winter has been the Washington Nationals.
The organization showed last winter that they were willing to spend money to make a long-term commitment to a player when they signed Jason Werth to a seven-year/$126 million contract. He did under perform in 2011 with a .232 average, 20 home runs, and 58 RBI, but that’s besides the point. The Nationals have been building a team with young players for a long time, just waiting for the right time to pull the trigger. Before the winter started, their infield is secured at the corners and behind the plate with Wilson Ramos, Ryan Zimmerman, and Michael Morse, had a good, young core in their pitching staff with Jordan Zimmerman and Stephen Strasburg, and potential superstar outfielder Bryce Harper making the jump to the MLB very soon. So, the Washington front office decided to open their pockets a little bit deeper and go for broke in 2012.
The National League East has gotten a lot deeper this off-season with the Marlins going on a big shopping spree, so Washington felt they had to keep up with Miami, Atlanta, and Philadelphia to give them a chance to compete to play in October. So, they started out slow by re-signing Chien-Ming Wang to be their fifth starter in November, but then made a big splash a couple days before Christmas when the traded some prospects away for pitcher Gio Gonzalez. Then, they kicked off 2012 by signing former Phillies closer Brad Lidge to a one-year deal. After those few moves that made some headlines, I thought the Nats were satisfied with their off-season. However, they made another splash last week by also signing Edwin Jackson to a one-year deal.
Unfortunately for southpaw John Lannan, there is no room for him in the Nats rotation, which could inevitably make him expendable for the organization. Over a span of a couple months, they went from a decent pitching staff to a terrific pitching staff with a good amount of experience and depth. Their team offense struggled in comparison to other National League teams in 2011, but they still have a young core for the most part. That is where the experience and leadership of Jason Werth and newly signed Mike Cameron will come into play; the organization knows what they will be getting from Zimmerman, Morse, and Ramos, but they’re also expecting to see Danny Espinosa and Ian Desmond take steps forward in their development as well. There are also some whispers that instead of waiting for a good portion of 2012 for him to make his splash in the Majors, Bryce Harper might make the Opening Day squad depending on his performance in Spring Training.
Will these moves translate into a successful 2012 for the Washington Nationals? That’s why you play the game; champions aren’t made on paper, they’re made on the field. It will be interesting to see how this team meshes together because they have a good mix of veterans and young players, as well as a savvy manager in Davey Johnson running the show. I can saw with certainty that Nationals fans will have good reason to come to the ballpark in 2012. It will be a lot of fun to see the heavyweights in the NL East battle each other 19 times this year.