As of right now, there's very little reason not to like the Washington Nationals. They're a historically-awful organization that has had almost no success since their inception in Montreal back in 1969. They just went to the playoffs for the second time in franchise history in 2012. They have perhaps the most exciting starting pitcher in baseball and a phenom hitter that is one of those rare players that might only come along once a generation. (Really think about how many high school baseball stars there have ever been.) And the players that surround those players are mostly talented and interesting.
And then I think about how I will probably hate the Nationals in three years because of all the damn success they will have had by then. I remember when I used to root for the Boston Red Sox.
Washington heads into the season in unfamiliar territory, as they are one of the favorites to win the World Series. Stephen Strasburg headlines the rotation and should be able to go much deeper into the season than he did last year, but will be joined by 2012 teammates Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann. Gonzalez finished third in the Cy Young voting after a 21-8 season with a 2.89 ERA and over 9 strikeouts per 9 innings. Zimmermann put together the first full season of his career and posted a 2.94 ERA over 195.2 innings. These are the number two and three starters, everyone. The X factor here is Dan Haren, trying to make the best of a one-year deal and collect on more big paycheck in his career. Moving back over to the National League could help make Haren one of the best steals of the offseason and a good get late in your fantasy draft. Haren led the AL in K/BB ratio all the way back in... 2011. There's reason to think that this is going to be a good fit.
But that's just the rotation. All four of those pitchers belong on a fantasy roster, and perhaps all four could be excellent plays in fantasy baseball. Rafael Soriano, Tyler Clippard, and Drew Storen could all find there way onto a fantasy roster as bullpen options as well. Just think if this team also had a good hitting lineup.
Oh, nice. They do.
Nationals projected 2013 lineup (ZIPS projections):
1. Denard Span, OF - .273/.330/.380, 4 HR, 17 SB
2. Jayson Werth, OF - .253/.345/.422, 15 HR, 11 SB
3. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B - .280/.348/.471, 23 HR, 87 RBI
4. Adam LaRoche, 1B - .249/.322/.445, 19 HR, 72 RBI
5. Bryce Harper, OF - .274/.346/.486, 26 HR, 70 RBI, 21 SB
6. Ian Desmond, SS - .269/.312/.423, 18 HR, 70 RBI, 22 SB
7. Danny Espinosa, 2B - .235/.308/.403, 20 HR, 66 RBI, 17 SB
8. Wilson Ramos, C - .260/.314/.411, 9 HR, 34 RBI
All eyes remain on 20-year-old Bryce Harper and if he put up those kinds of numbers this year, it would easily be one of the best ever for a person that wasn't legally able to drink. (Of course, the drinking age does change over the years, but you get the point. Smart ass.) Plenty of questions are being asked about just how far Harper could advance this season and I think it's fair to say that the projections could just be way off base for a player that we so rarely see in baseball. There's only so many people that have ever played this game that you could compare to the ability of Harper. He could hit exactly what's shown above, he could take a step back a la Justin Upton, or he could become an absolute beast like Mike Trout.
There's absolutely potential in there for Harper to lead the majors in home runs this season. Or, he could be the worst second round overdraft in fantasy this year. It's that wide open for me, but I tend to lean towards believing that Harper will be very-good-to-great this year. I also wonder how many at-bats he will get in the 2-3-4 spots in the order by seasons end and that could have an effect on higher R and RBI totals.
Werth will be an interesting case this year as well. After signing his big contract, he hit .232/.330/.389 in his first season with the Nationals. He was off to an excellent start last year but got injured and played in only 81 games. Projecting out his HR and RBI totals to a full season isn't good (10 HR, 62 RBI) but he did hit 21 doubles and went for a .300/.387/.440 line. I tend to think we will get a better season out of Jayson Werth than ZIPS projects.
Another interesting note is that Desmond might be one of those most valuable number six hitters in the game. A shortstop coming off of a 25 HR/21 SB season, hitting .292/.335/.511 over the full season. Desmond hit only 18 HR combined over 2010-2011, but it wouldn't be surprising to see him come close to those totals again. I mean, why would it surprise? He just did it. Most aren't expecting a repeat, but a complete flop would be unexpected. Desmond also reached those totals in just 130 games.
There's also a chance her for Zimmerman, oddly still only 28-years-old, to be among the league leaders in RBI and a dark horse MVP candidate.
We are talking about the Washington Nationals, right? Indeed we are. None of this may seem familiar, but fate changes for franchises in sports all the time. This may not seem like the Nationals or Expos that you grew up with, but it's a good story to root for if your own team (Go Mariners!) is in the dumps. And then in 2016 we can all hate them together.