This winter, the Washington Nationals have essentially done everything they had not done the winter previous by addressing every major need they had after the 2012 season. This was probably because of their 98 wins in 2012 which easily led to an ‘if it’s not broken, don’t fix it’ mentality. It makes perfect sense; the team won almost 100 games with injuries all over, so after adding Denard Span and Dan Haren things would only get better. Unfortunately that did not happen, and the team only won 86 games to finish 10 games behind the Atlanta Braves.
As we have seen, this winter has been a completely different story. After a couple bad years acquiring pitchers on one-year deals to eat innings at the back end of their rotation, the Nationals went out and got Doug Fister. Fister was very good in the regular season and postseason for the Detroit Tigers all while being a sinkerball pitcher in front of a poor defensive infield. Now, going to Washington, Fister should be even better both because of switching to the National League and being in front of a better infield. Washington also needed to improve their bench and bolster their left-handed bullpen presence, and that is exactly what they did. After parting with overrated fan favorite Steve Lombardozzi, the Nationals signed Nate McLouth and added Jerry Blevins via trade.
While Washington made all of these moves, their biggest rival, the aforementioned Braves, have not really done much to improve their 96-win 2013 team. In fact, there have been more subtractions and talk of an unnecessary new stadium in Atlanta than there has been talk of addition. The Braves have seen Brian McCann, Tim Hudson, Eric O’Flaherty, Reed Johnson and Scott Downs all sign elsewhere this winter. So, what have the Braves done to absorb these losses? Well, pretty much nothing as they signed Gavin Floyd to a minor league deal while he rehabs from Tommy John surgery and also brought back Freddy Garcia. Sure they have a strong young rotation, but Hudson’s veteran presence will be missed, and the team majorly needs to see either B.J. Upton or Dan Uggla — who both batted below .200 in 2013 — bounce back in a big way.
With the moves Washington has made combined with the non-moves Atlanta has made, is there any reason the Nationals do not and should not win the NL East?
It would be pretty hard to argue that they can get away with a Wild Card berth because of how superior Washington’s roster looks when compared to the Atlanta roster. As previously mentioned, the Braves unequivocally need to have either Uggla or Upton bounce back in 2014 where the Nationals do not really need to count on any bounce back years anywhere aside from Span. The Braves also need to hope that either Evan Gattis or Christian Bethancourt can take a stranglehold on the everyday catcher’s job vacated by McCann as well as Gattis proving his 2013 wasn’t just made by a hot month. The veteran presence of Hudson is now gone, and the rotation is littered with young starters — much unlike Washington’s, which has Fister and Gio Gonzalez in it who have each pitched successfully in the American League.
The Philadelphia Phillies only seem to be interested in getting older, and the New York Mets are still a year or two away. Right now, the competition for Washington is the Braves. The fact of the matter is this: The Nationals have made too many moves to improve their team to not have leapfrogged Atlanta. Their rotation is better, they have better hitters, probably a better manager — I have never liked Fredi Gonzalez — and they are poised to prove 2013 was the fluke, not 2012.