Worrying about how your favorite team will do during the upcoming MLB season is a first-world problem. Be grateful that you have the luxury to spend time preoccupied by something so inconsequential.
That being said, there are definitely several tiers to this. While Marlins fans are grasping at any subtle signs that their franchise might eventually threaten to end what’s already been a 14-year postseason drought, the Nationals have appeased their supporters by consistently building World Series-caliber rosters. They seem poised to qualify for October once again in 2018 (though what happens once they get there is another story).
A snapshot—well, technically four snapshots stacked on top of one another—of the Nats’ projected 25-man Opening Day roster, courtesy of Roster Resource:
The U.S. capital might be home to more major league star power than anyplace else on Earth.
“What if in 2018, every player played as well as he’s ever played?” Sam Miller asked in a recent article for ESPN. “If every player in baseball were in the middle of his prime for this one year alone, which team do you think has the best shot of winning the World Series?”
The Nats ranked No. 1 in Miller’s exercise, without even accounting for talent at lower levels of their organization. We reached out to Patrick Reddington, managing editor at Federal Baseball, to provide some expert perspective on that.
“The Nationals have prided themselves on their scouting, drafting, and developing,” he said. “They seem to think they have players ([Víctor] Robles for Harper, Wilmer Difo for Murphy, [Erick] Fedde for Gio, for examples) who can fill in for all of the above as they leave or diminish.”
The highly regarded youngsters are standing by in case of injuries to Washington’s household names. There are plenty of those, too.
Steamer projects this expensive squad to have three of the four most valuable position players in the NL East: Bryce Harper (first, 5.7 fWAR), Anthony Rendon (second, 4.5 fWAR) and Trea Turner (fourth, 4.0 fWAR). Moreover, pitchers Max Scherzer (5.0 fWAR) and Stephen Strasburg (4.5 fWAR) are forecasted to sustain their recent excellence. And don’t forget about Adam Eaton! He represented a Christian Yelich-like acquisition during the 2016-2017 offseason, lost nearly a full campaign due to a torn ACL, but should be returning to the field without limitations very soon.
Unsurprisingly, both Steamer and PECOTA projections trust this core to win the division comfortably, and finish ahead of the Marlins by an even larger margin than the 20-game gap from 2017.
Feeling hopeless yet? If not, Reddington passes along this quote from general manager and president of baseball operations Mike Rizzo. It’s transcribed from a January interview on MLB Network Radio:
“The ownership here has been terrific with me. They’ve always given me the resources to do the job that we have to do and to win as many games as we can, so I don’t see that changing.”
The Nats operated above MLB’s luxury tax threshold last season. That would not be a deterrent to them in 2018 either if a significant need arose during the summer.
However, even a prohibitive favorite must overcome legitimate flaws. Catcher Matt Wieters—coming off a sub-replacement level performance—is likely to receive the lion’s share of playing time at the position once again. Even Reddington was straining to find any positives about the situation:
“Maybe [hitting coach] Kevin Long can work his magic on Wieters’ swing, and the Nats (at least publicly) continue to say they see him as a candidate for a bounce-back season after a down year, though I think it’s a downward trend that goes back a few seasons (and Tommy John surgery probably didn’t help), so I’m not sure I believe Wieters is due to return to hitting like he did earlier in his career in Baltimore.”
Backup backstops include the offensively challenged Pedro Severino (.244/.295/.344 career batting line as a professional) and veteran Miguel Montero, who struggled with every facet of his game at age 33. So Washington still appears to be a sensible landing spot for J.T. Realmuto if the Marlins feel inclined to revisit those negotiations.
Reddington also expressed concerns about the back end of the starting rotation. Mike Rizzo indicated to him that 2017 amateur draft picks Seth Romero and Wil Crowe are candidates for major league call-ups in the event of mounting injuries. A club with ambitious, short-term goals doesn’t want to be leaning heavily on unproven kids.
Frustration over yet another NLDS loss—for the second straight postseason and fourth time since 2012—was the impetus for a managerial change. Dusty Baker has been replaced by rookie skipper Dave Martinez.
But considering his ample coaching experience (past 10 years on MLB staffs) and the impending free agency of several integral players, Nats fans and their front office won’t tolerate any regression in 2018.
“NL East titles aren’t enough anymore,” Reddington said. “So they’re in it for a championship this season, and will worry about the future when this season is over.”