Winter Meetings bring possibility, anxiety

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In D.C., mentioning the Nationals on the street right now would be a crime, with the 5-6 Redskins poised to make a mediocre run into forgettable history. (The Capitals? What Capitals? The Wizards? Is that some new fringe card game like Pokemon? ). But months from now, when the hot summer sun is beating down and the ballpark is alive once again, with fans, music and baseball, this week will be an important one to look back on – in fact, it may be the biggest factor in those summer months. So go ahead, talk about the team. Just don’t be worried when you get some crazy looks. Because, believe it or not, despite the temperature and the date, the Nationals are at a critical junction, possibly more critical than any they’ll face all season, and it’s unclear to everyone, maybe even including the General Manager Mike Rizzo, where they’ll go from here.

The Lerners, who sit up in ownership, have serious decisions to make about how they’ll use their money – whether it’ll be taking on an already bloated contract, trading a fan favorite (yes, your favorite player, be worried) or adding a free agent. Mike Rizzo has some serious decisions to make as well, regarding the cutting and trading of Papelbon and Storen, respectively, adding to the bullpen, and adding offensive pop as well as figuring out who it’s okay to part with. And in all likelihood, if the Nats feel like making a huge splash, it’s going to happen this week, at the Winter Meetings in Nashville.

If there was ever a moment for front office staff to feel like players on the first day of Spring Training, full of belief and hope that they can really go all the way this year, it would be at the Winter Meetings. The Winter Meetings, which for reasons unknown, are run by Minor League Baseball, have no boundaries. For one time, and only one time during the year, everything and everyone seems to be on the table. Rumors fly rampant and only the most elite of the stars are left out of them. Free-agents meet with teams (paging Ben Zobrist…) For the Nationals, they’ve been linked to everyone from O’Day to Chapman, Zobrist to Rollins and everyone in between, including Jonathan Lucroy. Players on the table have ranged from Strasburg to Ramos as well as Espinosa and Escobar. Papelbon and Storen, two players ironically linked, have come up in every conversation. It’s a given that some moves will be made. However, the question of what the right moves are still looms.

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LaRoche, Espinosa, Storen given second chances

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2013 was the year of Murphy’s Law. If something could go wrong for the Nats, it did. Bryce Harper’s face collided with the one part of Dodger Stadium that could hurt him, and somehow hurt his knee in the process. Jayson Werth and Wilson Ramos both had leg problems, Ross Detwiler missed nearly all of the season with a back injury, Denard Span slumped until August, Ryan Zimmerman’s throws went in the wrong direction until June, and the middle of the bullpen was not nearly as effective as it had been in the past.

However, there were three players that truly stood out last year with their problems – Adam LaRoche, Danny Espinosa, and Drew Storen.

In 2012, Danny Espinosa seemed to have a firm grip on the Second Base job, batting .247 and hitting 17 home runs. But after an early injury and a bad start, something had to give with Anthony Rendon tearing up the Minor Leagues. He was sent down on June 4th, and Rendon came up for the second time, having a breakout season. Espinosa never recovered, and wasn’t even called up in September.

Drew Storen had also had a solid 2012, even though he missed the first part of it, posting an E.R.A. of 2.37, and pitched strongly until Game 5 of the NLDS, where he gave up the famous four runs against the Cardinals. He never bounced back to start the season, posting a combined 6.15 E.R.A. for the first four months of the season. Even though he did bounce back in the final two months, giving up 14 hits in 18.1 innings, questions still surround him.

After 100 R.B.I.’s and batting .271, life was looking good for Adam LaRoche after 2012. (Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.) But he never gained confidence or could keep weight on in 2013, and he also had a monster slump to start the year that never ended,

There had been much anticipation to see if Drew Storen or Danny Espinosa would start the year with a Curly W on their chests. But through all the major checkpoints in the offseason, they all remained on the Nats.

While Matt Williams has already commented on Danny Espinosa getting a chance to re-claim his job, saying that it’s an “open competition”, LaRoche and Storen will start in the same places they did last year.

Rizzo has kept faith in all of these guys, and now it’s up to them to do a good job. Hopefully, they’ll have a succesful season. But what do you think?