It’s been a relatively quiet offseason for the Washington Nationals. Washington has one of the most talented rosters in the National League, so there wasn’t a need to make many moves. Washington entered this offseason with an obvious need at second base and a desire to work out extensions with its impending free agents. Washington hasn’t had much luck working out extensions, but will boast one of the most impressive infields and outfields in baseball. Washington’s infield will be comprised of catcher Wilson Ramos, first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, second baseman Danny Espinosa, shortstop Ian Desmond, and third baseman Anthony Rendon. Washington’s outfield will be manned by Bryce Harper, Denard Span, and Jayson Werth. Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmerman will anchor Washington’s rotation. Here are five things to watch during Spring Training.
Storyline #1: Extensions for All-Stars?
Perennial All-Stars, pitcher Jordan Zimmermann and shortstop Ian Desmond are one year away from free agency, but Washington has not been able to work out an extension for either player. General Manager Mike Rizzo had discussions with Zimmerman’s agent, but talks did not materialize. Zimmerman went 14-6 with a 2.66 ERA while striking 182 hitters over 199 innings. Talks with Desmond went even worse for Washington. Desmond has been included in various trade rumors, so his departure from Washington seems likely. Expect both players to perform well during their contract years to command more dollars in the free agent market.
Storyline #2: The Competition at Second Base
Incumbent starter Danny Espinosa will battle journeyman Dan Uggla for the starting second base job during Spring Training. Uggla has dealt with vision problems, but Washington is hopeful that these issues are behind him. During 2014, Uggla hit just two home runs in 141 at-bats. Uggla was also drafted by Rizzo when he was in Arizona. Expect an emotional battle between these two players.
Storyline #3: The Health of Harper, Zimmerman
Outfielder Bryce Harper and first baseman Ryan Zimmerman are the heart and soul of Washington’s offense. Both players, however, spent more time in the training room than on the field during 2014. A pesky thumb injury limited Harper to just 100 games while a hamstring injury limited Zimmerman to 61 games. Both players are healthy, but have been coined as ‘injury-prone’. Getting into a healthy game shape will be important for both players in the spring.
Storyline #4: Strasburg’s Dominance
Ace Stephen Strasburg has been a dominant starting pitcher for three seasons. Last season, Strasburg started a career 34 games and struck out 242 batters in 215 innings. If he has another strong season, Strasburg will be in the running for the National League Cy Young Award, as he was projected to be when he debuted in the majors.
Storyline #5: Werth’s Shoulder Surgery
Outfielder Jayson Werth underwent successful AC Joint surgery in early January, but is still expected to miss 2-to-3 months. While Washington may add veteran outfield depth, a bunch of low-cost players will vie for playing time. Those players include Uggla, Nate McLouth, and Ian Stewart. If Harper and Zimmerman can remain healthy, Werth’s absence will not be as detrimental.
Nationals spring training tickets currently have an average price of $45 on the secondary market. That comes across 14 games at Space Coast Stadium and starts March 5 against the New York Mets.