The Nationals have won the NL East division in 2012, 2014 as well as last season. To keep up the momentum from last season, the Nationals added Chicago White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton. In doing so, they paid a hefty price by trading top pitching prospects Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Dane Dunning. With Eaton taking over in center field, that means that Trea Turner will move back to his original position of shortstop. First baseman Adam Lind is in to platoon with veteran Ryan Zimmerman. The Nationals then brought in Matt Wieters to be their starting catcher.
Washington seemed like a good fit for a couple of the top free agent relievers. Mark Melancon pitched his final two months of 2016 with the Nationals, but they were beaten out by the San Francisco Giants for his services. They followed that up by making a strong push for Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen only to see him return to LA with a better deal. Finally, the Nationals used their familiarity with the White Sox to try to work out a trade for David Robertson. Once that did not work, the Nationals made some lesser extensive signings. First, they brought in veteran closer Joe Nathan on a minor league deal to see what he has left. They followed that up with the signing of Dodgers reliever Joe Blanton to a $4 million contract ($3 million of which is deferred).
The Nationals have a number of options as to what way manager Dusty Baker wants to go in regards to his relievers. On paper, it may make the most sense to go with eight year reliever Shawn Kelley as the closer. Kelley struck out 80 batters in just 58 innings last season and has averaged over 11 K's per 9 innings pitched each of the past four seasons. Right hander Blake Treinen pitched in 73 games, finishing with a 2.28 ERA and a 184 ERA+. Nathan made a similar transition to the closer's position to what Kelley might be doing, and may be able to provide some advise for him. Outside of that, it is hard to expect a lot from the veteran with 377 MLB saves since he has pitched in just 11 games over the past two seasons. I am intrigued by Koda Glover, who seems to have closers' stuff, but does not have a lot of MLB experience. The fact that Blanton has recently transitioned to the bullpen makes it less of a stretch for him to give the ninth inning a try. Left handers Sammy Solis and Enny Romero also throw very hard and though the Nationals lack a legit no worry closer option, they certainly have a quantity of pitchers for not only the ninth inning, but the eighth inning as well. Left hander Oliver Perez and righties Trevor Gott and Rafael Martin will also be battling for spots in a deep, yet not top heavy, bullpen. Washington has also chosen to take a look at veterans Neal Cotts, Tim Collins and Matt Albers.
Max Scherzer is still one of the best starting pitchers in all of major league baseball. Though he may not be ready for opening day, the defending National League Cy Young Award winner gives the Nats something few other NL teams have- a legitimate ace. Stephen Strasburg would like to make it through the entire season healthy, something he has not done since leading the NL in strikeouts in 2014. With Gio Gonzalez starting to become less dominant, the Nationals will be asking a lot out of right handed pitchers Tanner Roark (16-10, 2.83) and Joe Ross (7-5, 3.43). Right hander AJ Cole comes into the season as the team's sixth starter. Vance Worley and Jeremy Guthrie are also in camp for depth purposes.
A lot of focus will be on outfielder Bryce Harper, who followed his 2015 NL MVP with a season leaving a lot to be desired. He hit just .243 and his on base plus slugging dropped to .814. Nonetheless, the Nationals bring back a strong core of offensive players not named Harper, led by second baseman Daniel Murphy, third baseman Anthony Rendon and center fielder turned shortstop Turner. Jayson Werth, similar to Gonzalez, is finishing up his long term contract this season and will be in left field. The Nationals lineup I would start the season with is : Turner SS, Eaton CF, Murphy 2B, Harper RF, Rendon 2B, Werth LF, Zimmerman/ Lind 1B, Wieters C. Michael Taylor, Clint Robinson, Stephen Drew and backup catcher Jose Lobaton make up the Washington bench.
The White Sox wanted outfield prospect Victor Robles in any talks with the Nationals, whether it was about Chris Sale, Eaton, or Robertson. The fact that the Nationals did not want to trade Robles for Sale could have nixed the deal, though it is quite possible the White Sox simply liked the Red Sox package better. Right handed pitcher Erick Fedde was the Nationals first round draft pick in 2014. He could be ready to help out this season and continues to strike out more batters than innings that he pitches. Glover and Cole are already up with the team, as has been catcher Pedro Severino. I am intrigued by left hander Tyler Watson, who should add some velocity to an already formidable strikeout repertoire.
I like the Nationals and think they can win as many as 100 games this season. Their all around roster makes them something for the opposition to be concerned with going into the postseason. I feel that talent wise, the Nationals are right on par with that of the New York Mets. Whether the Nationals finish in first place or the Mets do, the margin will not by very much. Plus, it is impossible to imagine either team not being among the five best (record wise) in the National League. Las Vegas puts the Nationals over/ number at 91.5. I take the under, but slightly. I have the Nationals finishing the 2017 season at 90-72, second place in the National League East division.