As we begin the New Year, the page can officially be turned on the Washington Nationals‘ disappointing 2013 season and the gut-wrenching Game 5 loss of 2012 can officially be replaced in the memories of fans — if that is even possible. Regardless, GM Mike Rizzo has done as much as one GM can to help fans in wiping their memories of those two sad parts of recent Nationals history. He has acquired Doug Fister from the Detroit Tigers for essentially nothing, signed Nate McLouth to shore up the bench and acquired Jerry Blevins from the Oakland Athletics to add a left-handed presence in their bullpen that was sorely lacking in 2013.
It’s pretty easy for Nationals fans to get swelled heads as all of these moves have garnered much praise from scouts, rival executives and writers alike. But the same thing happened last offseason when the acquisitions of Dan Haren and Rafael Soriano were praised as both were thought to add strength in both Washington’s bullpen and rotation. We know how Haren worked out, though he somehow spun his highest ERA since his rookie season into a $10 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers with a vesting option for a second year. Soriano ended up working out pretty nicely, though the down year from Drew Storen, who was on the mound that fateful October night, could be seen as a ripple effect.
With those moves in mind as a means of tempering expectations, what could be seen as the Nationals’ major weaknesses going into 2014?
Fister is definitely going to be an upgrade over Haren. At this point that is flat out obvious as he is younger, has no history of injuries, and is coming off of a strong year with a team that had markedly worse infield defense than the Nationals will put behind him in 2014. Also, Blevins should be better than the motley crew that was Ian Krol and Fernando Abad. Of course, nothing will prove fact or fiction until the games start to be played which is actually not so far off anymore. No team is perfect and the Nationals have their warts.
First, a weakness could be seen in their bullpen. Relievers are erratic by nature — which is why they are relievers, after all. Storen was demoted in 2013, and upon being recalled he was considerably better coming out of the bullpen. And though a year adjusted to his new role could make 2014 a much better year, there is no guarantee that Storen bounces back as much as many believe. Let’s also not forget that Soriano seems to have a markedly different work ethic when he is not finishing games, and if the Nationals cannot rely on an arm aside from Tyler Clippard to finish games, there may be some frustrating games in 2014. Even the new acquisition, Blevins, saw his ERA jump from 2.48 in 2012 to 3.15 in 2013. Blevins did appear in more games in 2013 though he pitched fewer innings. Blevins is also currently the only proven lefty in the Nationals’ bullpen, so that load could prove too much to bear unless Washington adds another lefty.
Second, another weakness could be the final spot in their rotation. Currently, it is perceived as probably a free for all between Ross Detwiler, Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan. Detwiler could be seen as the front-runner as it would not be fair to replace a player because of injury, but with the way Roark pitched at the end of 2013 as well as how Jordan pitched even with the horrid defense he had behind him at times, it’s hard to make Detwiler the far and away favorite. It’s this question alone that could make their fifth rotation spot their other weakness.