The Nationals’ roster isn’t perfect, but there is plenty of time for improvement
The Washington Nationals will have 25 players active for Monday’s opener against the Miami Marlins, and much consideration has gone into selecting each one, down to the final outfielder and the last reliever. Stephen Strasburg will take the mound, Bryce Harper will play right field, and off they’ll go, pointed toward what they hope will be a fourth division title in six seasons.
But the chances of those same 25 men being the same 25 who would open a playoff series are basically nonexistent. Last year, in taking the National League East, the Nationals used 43 players, 33 of whom appeared in at least 20 games (for position players) or threw at least 20 innings (for pitchers). That’s a lot of recurring characters. Seven players who lined up for introductions with the Nats on Opening Day had been replaced when the team was introduced for a division series against the Dodgers.
So the lesson: Don’t get too used to each and every member of this crew. Prepare for some measure of change.
Every year Mike Rizzo has served as the Nationals’ general manager, he has made a midseason trade. They have been to rebuild (closer Matt Capps to Minnesota for a young catcher named Wilson Ramos in 2010) and to flat-out win (Felipe Rivero and Taylor Hearn to Pittsburgh for closer Mark Melancon last summer). There have been minor blips (Scott Hairston from the Cubs for minor leaguer Ivan Pinyero in 2013) and franchise-rocking errors (Jonathan Papelbon from the Phillies for minor leaguer Nick Pivetta).
Rizzo’s philosophy: win the division in the offseason. Win the World Series at the trade deadline.
This might be a convenient time to point out that the Nats’ record in the former is quite good. The latter: not so much.
This year’s Washington team heads into the season with one glaring question — closer — and several less-obvious ones, not least of which is Strasburg’s ability to make 30-plus starts, but which also includes a completely overhauled defense up the middle, Ryan Zimmerman’s ability to bounce back from the worst season of his career, Matt Wieters’s value as Ramos’s replacement, and on and on.
It may be possible that the Nationals, with questions both major…