Washington Nationals 2017 Team Preview

2016 Recap: 95-67, 1st in the NL East. Lost in the NLDS to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Coming into 2016, the Nats had a new coaching staff led by good ol’ Dusty Baker. Many lampooned the Nats hiring of Baker, but he proved to be the right man for the job. Washington played much better throughout the season and straight up dominated the NL East. Max Scherzer won the Cy Young after going 20-7. Daniel Murphy was runner-up for MVP after having a career year in his first season in DC. The biggest surprise might have been rookie Trea Turner, who finished 2nd in Rookie of the Year voting after batting .343 and stealing 33 bases in just 73 games. 2015 MVP Bryce Harper had a down year, but was still productive enough to help lead the team to the playoffs. Everything was set up for a big World Series run. Sadly, the Nats are from DC and we can’t have nice things. They couldn’t get over the Divisional Round hump once again and lost to demigod Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers. A classic DC playoff failure.

Offseason Moves:

Well the Nats dropped a December bombshell and decided to sell the farm for Chris Sale Andrew McCutchen Adam Eaton. Washington traded three top pitching prospects (Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Dane Dunning) for the 28 year old White Sox right fielder. Eaton will move to center field for the Nats, which will allow Trea Turner to slide in at shortstop. Eaton is one of the best fielders in baseball, so he should be an upgrade there, and he has a decent bat as well (.284/.362/.428 splits last year along with 14 home runs and 14 steals). Eaton’s biggest asset in the big picture might be the ridiculously good contract he is on (guaranteed $19.9MM over the next three seasons along with two affordable club options). As long as management uses that extra cash to improve the team and not the bottom line, this could end up being a solid deal. If not, they may have mortgaged the house just for a short term bump. Call me cautiously optimistic at this point. Outside of Eaton, the Nats acquired Matt Wieters to replace fan favorite Wilson Ramos behind the plate. O’s fans were not happy about that.

Significant Additions: CF Adam Eaton, C Matt Wieters, 1B Adam Lind, LHP Enny Romero, RHP Joe Blanton

Significant Subtractions: C Wilson Ramos, RHP Mark Melancon, OF Ben Revere, half of the arms in the Farm System

Projected Lineup and Breakdown:

  1. SS Trea Turner
  2. CF Adam Eaton
  3. 2B Daniel Murphy
  4. RF Bryce Harper
  5. 3B Anthony Rendon
  6. LF Jayson Werth
  7. C Matt Wieters
  8. 1B Ryan Zimmerman

The addition of Eaton really bolsters the top of the Nats’ lineup. As someone who has watched plenty of Nats’ games the past few years, the center field position has been a sore spot and it’s nice to finally have that solidified before the season. Turner should continue to blossom in his sophomore season, giving the Nats one of the better lineups in the NL. Washington really needs Harper to get back to his 2015 MVP levels to compete for a World Series this year. If he does that, the rest of the lineup should complement him quite nicely. I also like the buy low addition of one time phenom Matt Wieters. If he can find his stroke, he could make Nats forget about Wilson Ramos. There is a lot to like for this Nats’ team on paper. It’s time to produce.

Projected Rotation, Bullpen, and Breakdown:

Rotation –

  • RHP Max Scherzer
  • RHP Stephen Strasburg
  • RHP Tanner Roark
  • LHP Gio Gonzalez
  • RHP Joe Ross

Bullpen –

  • RHP Shawn Kelley (Closer)
  • RHP Joe Blanton
  • RHP Blake Treinen
  • LHP Sammy Solis
  • LHP Enny Romero

Washington’s rotation is basically unchanged from last season. Cy Young winner Max Scherzer will be the ace again this year with Strasburg right behind him. If both stay healthy, this is probably the best 1-2 punch in all of baseball. I like Roark a lot as well, and Gio and Ross are fine bottom of the rotation starters. This is one of the best staffs you’ll see this season. I failed to mention this in the offseason moves section, but the Nats did very little to upgrade their bullpen after failing to re-sign Mark Melancon after the season. Because of that, Shawn Kelley will be bumped up the closer spot. I don’t think Kelley is the man for the job and would be better suited in a setup role. I bet the Nats make a move before the trade deadline to get a better closer assuming they are in contention.

Fantasy Analysis:

Stud (if healthy): RHP Max Scherzer. Mad Max is one of the best arms to acquire early in your fantasy draft. After Clayton Kershaw, Max should be the next pitcher off the board by the early of the 2nd Round. Besides his obvious talent, Scherzer has been super consistent the past four seasons, throwing over 200 innings with a 3.00 ERA and striking out around 250+ batters each year. That is exactly what you want to lead your staff. I’m worried about that finger though…

Stud: OF Bryce Harper. Coming off an MVP season in 2015, Bryce was honestly a disappointment last season, batting just .243 and hitting only 24 home runs. However, all signs point to big rebound in 2017. He has been knocking the stitches out of the ball in Spring Training and is only 24 years old this year. There is plenty of reason to think he is still improving. He is going at the end of the first round currently, but real talk, would anyone be surprised if he finished as the best player in fantasy in 2017? Take a shot on Harper.

Sleeper: C Matt Wieters. Honestly, most of the Nats are well to over priced. I like getting Wieters as the 14th catcher off the board. We have seen him produce in fantasy before, and he’ll benefit from a change of scenery. He is also in a contract year where he really needs to produce to get one more long term deal. He won’t be a stud for your team, but he could definitely be an everyday starter if you miss out on the top backstops.

Bust: 2B Daniel Murphy. I could have gone with Trea Turner here, since he is being drafted SUPER high, but I love the kid and can’t do that to him. Murphy was awesome for the Nats last year, but he also played way above his career averages. At age 31, he had career highs in doubles, home runs, RBIs, Slugging Percentage, and OPS. I think Murphy will be decent again this year, but expect him to come back to Earth a bit. At his current ADP of 27 on ESPN, I think you would be paying for past performance over expectations for 2017.

2017 Record Prediction: Call me a homer, but 2017 is going to be DC’s year! The Wizards are having their best season since the 70s and could make a run to the Finals. The Caps are dominating the regular season (once again), but something feels different about their team. And the Redskins are, well, being the Redskins. Can’t win ‘em all. Back to the Nats, their window for a title run is closing quickly. Everyone knows that Harper is a free agent in 2019, but the Adam Eaton trade proved that the whole organization is mortgaging the future for the present. And you know what? Why not. This team has a great lineup and awesome starting pitching. They are built for the playoffs, they just need to finally catch a break in a short series. I think that happens this year and the Nats bring a title back to the Nation’s Capital. 100-62, 1st in the NL East. 2017 World Series Champions.

-Nick Bair

Check out our other 2017 team previews here.

Photo Credit: CBS DC

Statistics are courtesy of Baseball reference and Fangraphs

Projected rosters are courtesy of rosterresource.com  and current as of 3/24

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