The injury bug is biting the Nationals at the right time

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It’s not ideal, to say the least. The Nationals have fallen to what you could argue has been their worst foe over the past few years, once again – the injury bug.

This year has been marked as the last year when a core group of players will all be together before free-agency. This year has possibly the most “World Series or Bust” connotations no matter what the management or players tell you. However, it’s going to be pretty hard to win without a 1-2-3 punch. The Nats have lost their players in the top three spots in the lineup due to injury, all of whom were incredibly productive last year and a key reason why the ballclub made it as far as they did.

Denard Span, after a Sports Hernia Surgery, felt pain in a right core muscle and had to undergo surgery. He’ll won’t return anywhere from the third week of the season to mid-May. Anthony Rendon went down and is doubtful for opening day with a sprained MCL.  Jayson Werth underwent surgery on his shoulder over the offseason and will be sitting out for a few days or a week from Opening Day barring a sudden spur in recovery speed.

The lineup is now left with three replacements preparing for Opening Day and new spots opening up. It may not look bright, but this may be the best thing to happen to the Nationals all season.

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Looking at the lineup (48 days in advance)

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The Nationals haven’t had a lack of hype surrounding their last two seasons. The magazines were filled with predictions of parades on the National Mall, banners on South Capitol Street and a Curly W in the books for the last game of the season. We all know the rest of the story –  two seasons, one regular season disappointment, one 18-inning heartbreak.

Despite the incorrect predictions, there are still two large and legitimate reasons that in the past two year’s baseball previews, in big, bold letters, under the “World Series Champions” label, the words “Washington Nationals” have appeared more often than nearly any other. One is their talented rotation, which analysts like me and those on MLB Network could babble on about for hours. The other is the depth of their lineup, the “Red Line”. The Nationals possess what many would call the most dangerous lineup from 1-8, with offensive weapons at every stop.

Given the changes in the lineup made over the offseason, the lineup has the possibility to be different. It’s hard to believe Matt Williams and Mike Rizzo would mess too much with last year’s success excepting an injury.

Last year, the Nationals lineup eventually stacked up like this:

1. Denard Span, CF

2. Anthony Rendon, 2B/3B

3. Jayson Werth, RF

4. Adam LaRoche, 1B

5. Ian Desmond, SS

6. Bryce Harper, LF

7. Wilson Ramos, C

8. Asdrubal Cabrera/Danny Espinosa/Kevin Frandsen, 2B

9. Pitcher

Despite early season woes, this lineup took the Nationals to an NL East Championship. The majority of the players remain – all but two. Even so, Ryan Zimmerman will move to 1B but it does give Matt Williams a couple options on how he wants to shape his lineup. Here’s (barring any trades or injuries) the official Side of Natitude prediction. Continue reading

Max Scherzer’s deal looks crazy – is it?

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At the beginning of November, if you looked any Nats fan in the eye and told them with a straight face that Max Scherzer was going to sign a 7-year deal worth $210 million with the Nationals, they would’ve laughed at you. They would’ve laughed so hard, that they cried. They would’ve told you to break the news while you were flying to the moon on your unicorn.

While nobody has flown to the moon on a unicorn, the Max Scherzer deal shocked the world. Not only was it from a team nobody expected, but the deal’s value went beyond expectations.

The Nationals now have an ace – a Cy Young Award winner – a 20 game winner for the next seven years. They have a pitcher with playoff experience, a pitcher that is tested and proven. They also have a pitcher who they owe $210 million.  The deal goes against almost everything Mike Rizzo stands for and everything the Nationals have done in the offseason since 2010. And yet, it still happened.

The 14-year plan

Scott Boras, Scherzer’s agent, does not leave money on the table. Ever. But Scherzer’s deal had an interesting little caveat, deferring half of the deal, meaning the Nationals are holding off on $105 million dollars for the next seven years and are instead paying the righty $15 million a year for the next fourteen years. The money never went back onto the table – its just a slower process.

This frees up $105 million dollars for the Nationals. $105 million dollars could extend Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond or Doug Fister, the three hot-button issues for the Nats this offseason. Also, with $105 million off the payroll, every executive can breath a little easier when they sign other free agents.

But what about the kids?

While the deal does free up space to extend one of the three players on contract years that will command more than $100 million, it’s assumed that one pitcher will be leaving. Unfortunately, one of those pitchers will be Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister or maybe even Stephen Strasburg, all vital pieces to the ball club. But the time to freak out is most certainly not now.

Jordan Zimmermann and/or Doug Fister and/or Stephen Strasburg won’t be on the Nationals come 2016, which is fine for multiple reasons. It gives the Nationals first round draft picks, a commodity they haven’t enjoyed since 2012. Even so, extensions shouldn’t be a huge issue considering that the Nationals have two of the best pitching prospects in the minors in Lucas Giolito (ranked as the 8th overall prospect in the league by MLB.com) and A.J. Cole, who are expected to be in the Majors by 2017 and 2016 respectively.

But, Giolito and Cole may not be ready by 2016 or 2017. So, who’ll help fill the void? That’s where Scherzer comes in – he would take over the lost spot. The Nats are deep enough to still have an outstanding rotation, even without Strasburg, Fister or Zimmermann.

The question has been thrown around all offseason – “Mike Rizzo has built a winner, but can he maintain it?” $210 million and seven years for Max Scherzer may look like the craziest thing the Nats have ever done and the opposite of trying to maintain a winner. But in reality, it might just end up being the smartest.

Nationals sign Max Scherzer to seven-year deal

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webk109:

(Also written by me) – Faster than you can say “Wait, what?” the Nationals made their first big free-agent splash since 2010 (Jayson Werth). Analysis, opinions and excitement later right here on Side of Natitude.

Originally posted on Piece of The Plate:

And just when you thought the Nats were done.

According to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports and Jon Morosi of Fox Sports, the Washington Nationals have signed Max Scherzer to a 7-year deal worth more than $180 million.

In 2013, the righty won the Cy Young Award with the Detroit Tigers and did not disappoint in 2014, with a 3.15 ERA over 220 innings pitched, going 18-5. While he didn’t exceed his 2013 Cy Young season, 2014 most certainly lived up to expectations.

On the Nationals, Scherzer would presumably fall into the already stacked rotation alongside the likes of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Tanner RoarkJordan Zimmermann and/or Doug Fister.

At the beginning of the season, there was no correlation between Scherzer and the Nationals. If he didn’t re-sign with the Tigers, suitors appeared to be the Yankees, Cubs, Red Sox, Giants or Dodgers. The…

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Adding a Clubhouse Cancer: The Wrong Move for The Nats, the Wrong Move for Mike Rizzo

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It seemed like a perfect move at the time. He was a veteran presence to help out a young bullpen, a consistent closer and someone with playoff experience.  Sure, he was costly – $28 million dollars. But Rafael Soriano looked like a price worth paying.

Nats fans soon learned that a player with his own custom walk-up song, an off-putting personality and a level of consistency below good music on DC radio was a bad undertaking. Soriano, in one word, was a mistake. He clashed with fans and management, and once even publicly called out Bryce Harper on letting a fly ball drop as Harper was attempting to avoid running into a wall. When the Nats were mediocre in 2013, he blamed his struggles on the rest of the team and their inability to go above .500 and consistently win.

“I had like three or four times I don’t pitch for like a week,” Soriano said. “It’s not easy, you know? Pitching every two or three days, for me, I feel more better like that. When you have five days where you don’t pitch, it’s not easy. The team has been struggling.”

Soriano was a problem that kept the Nats from performing well in 2013, on and off the field.

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Nationals acquire Yunel Escobar from Oakland Athletics, send Tyler Clippard

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webk109:

A summary of the Yunel Escobar-Tyler Clippard trade.

Originally posted on Piece of The Plate:

Let’s hope nobody in Oakland bought an Escobar jersey.

The Washington Nationals have reportedly acquired SS Yunel Escobar from the Oakland Athletics in exchange for RHP Tyler Clippard. The deal was first reported by Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. 

The Nationals have been searching for a second baseman the whole offseason, as in-house options like Danny Espinosa have looked lackluster and their solution from the 2014 season, Asdrubal Cabrera, had already departed. Escobar had recently been sent to Oakland from the Tampa Bay Rays in the deal for Ben Zobrist. Escobar has only played 21 career games at second-base, but the transition is relatively easy. The 32 year-old Cuban has been in the majors since 2007, starting his career with the Atlanta Braves, and then moving to the Toronto Blue Jays before signing a deal with the Rays.

Last season, Escobar hit .258/.324/.340 (92 OPS+) for the…

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