2012 Season Review Series: Washington Nationals


The Washington Nationals made good on manager Davey Johnson’s Spring Training assertion that his club should wind up in the playoffs. It seemed an aggressive statement for a club that hadn’t been there since 1981, and even then it was as the Expos. Jared Book of District on Deck provides a look back at how the Nats made a prophet out of Johnson.

Author: Jared Book

The Washington Nationals had their fans caring for baseball more than any season in recent memory, and maybe even in DC baseball history. It is somewhat fitting, then, that they broke their fans heart like only baseball can do.

The biggest questions will be surrounding Stephen Strasburg and, to be frank, while I don’t agree with their handling of him, to pin the Nationals loss in the NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals is lazy and misguided.

Strasburg was the talk of baseball, as much for his performance as his workload. Image: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

The Nationals had the lead in the 9th inning of Game 5. They didn’t end up with the win but that doesn’t take anything away from their National League East division title and a core that is growing together and will be together for the foreseeable future.

The biggest question for the Nationals going into the offseason is in the dugout. Davey Johnson does not have a contract for 2013. My view on this is simple. If Johnson wants to be back, he will be. If he wants to retire, he will do so. I don’t see GM Mike Rizzo voluntarily changing the manager of the team after the season they had and, despite how many feel it handled the ninth inning of their final game of the season, he is one of the better tacticians in baseball.

If he is not retained, the main contender to replace him with third base coach Bo Porter going to the Houston Astros may be bench coach Randy Knorr.

On the field, the biggest obstacle may be to resign first baseman Adam LaRoche. LaRoche had a career season this year and led all first basemen in homeruns. LaRoche has a mutual option for $10 million and it is not expected he will accept it. He will try to get a longer term, whether from the Nationals or someone else. The Nationals are in talks with him to retain his services and I think that both sides want to get a deal done. It will just come down to numbers.

The Nationals have depth at outfield and may want either Roger Bernadina or Tyler Moore to have a starting spot next year. Assuming Mike Morse is healthy, he could either go to first base to replace LaRoche or could be trade bait himself to open up a spot. The other two outfield spots are locked down by Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth.

Edwin Jackson signed in Washington on a one-year deal in order to try to secure a long-term deal this offseason. Jackson didn’t do much to support himself, but did enough to get a deal similar to perhaps, say, Kyle Lohse this offseason. That pretty much prices himself out of the Nationals price range who may be looking for a reliable back-end starter to go with the top of their rotation stars (Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann) and Ross Detwiler.

Sean Burnett struggled mightily in the postseason but I would expect to see the left-hander who was very successful this season for Washington back in the fold. Chien-Ming Wang is the only remaining free-agent and I don’t think he will  be back in Washington unless he wants to sign a minor league deal. Even then, he may go somewhere he can get more of an opportunity.

I expect the Nationals lineup to remain mostly the same with the exception of a outfield/first base shakeup I mentioned before. The Nationals have a young team and most of them are cost controlled. They had a lot of players battling nagging injuries and should come back next year stronger than ever, especially one of their starting pitchers who will be a full year removed from a certain arm surgery.

Rizzo caused a bit of flack for himself when he punted the 2012 postseason to rest Strasburg saying that they will be back. Teams get to the playoffs all of the time (well, most teams). Only the great teams stay there for a few years. The Nationals have their window and it is already starting to close. Can they stay on the inside, or will they get pushed back in?

Jared Book is the editor of District on Deck, Fansided’s Washington Nationals site. He is a recovering Expos fan and lives in Montreal with his wife.