Who stays, who goes and who has something to prove?
By Bill Ladson
This past season, many experts expected the Nationals to run away with the National League East title, and then win their first World Series title. But that didn’t happen. Not only didn’t they reach the postseason, the Nationals finished in second place. Here’s a look at the Nats’ 2015 Major League roster: Who stays, who goes and who has something to prove?
They’ll be back
OF Matt den Dekker: The Nationals need another lefty off the bench next to Clint Robinson. Once he returned from Triple-A Syracuse on Aug. 28, den Dekker was more consistent at the plate, hitting .320. It helped that he changed his swing. He now has a right leg kick that allows him to recognize a lot of pitches.
LHP Gio Gonzalez: He will be the first to say that he has to throw less pitches in the games he starts. Next year could be his final year with the Nationals. He has a lot to prove in 2016.
OF Bryce Harper: What more can you say about the man they call Bam-Bam? He slugged his way into the Nationals’ record books. He set season records in on-base percentage, OPS, home runs for a left-handed hitter and slugging percentage.
C Jose Lobaton: His season wasn’t as good as it was last year. At times — like Wilson Ramos — he would have problems catching throws from the outfield. However, pitchers still enjoyed throwing to him.
3B/2B Anthony Rendon: He was the club’s Most Valuable Player in 2014. This past season, he was arguably the most fragile player. He played in only 80 games because of a knee sprain and quad sprain. Rendon spent most of his time at second base. If the Nationals trade Yunel Escobar, Rendon will be back at third.
RHP Tanner Roark: Unlike Ross Detwiler, Roark was a team player after losing his job in the rotation because of the signing of Max Scherzer. If the team needed a long man – no problem, he was the guy. Setup man? No worries. If the Nationals needed an emergency starter, Roark came through. Roark deserves to be back in the rotation.
1B Clint Robinson: This 30-year old was clearly the team’s Rookie of the Year. He always came up with big hits and was a pretty good defensive first baseman.
RHP Stephen Strasburg: He was injury prone for most of the first half of the season. Once Strasburg came back from his oblique injury, it was like watching the rookie who blew away the Pirates during his Major League debut in 2010. It will be interesting to see if the Nationals sign him to a long-term deal. He is a free agent after the 2016 season.
RHP Max Scherzer: He proved that he was worth the seven-year, $210 million contract. Two no-hitters, four complete games, 14 victories and 276 strikeouts made him the ace of the rotation.
RF Jayson Werth: The unofficial captain of the Nationals, Werth had to go on the disabled list twice because of shoulder and wrist injuries. It will be interesting to see where he fits in the lineup. If the Nationals are unable to acquire a leadoff hitter, look for Werth to hit at the top of the lineup.
He’s ready, but …
OF Michael Taylor: No lie, one Major League scout compared Taylor’s defense to Willie Mays. Taylor is a good one out there and will win a Gold Glove soon. What about his bat? There are days he can look awful, especially when he is at the top of the order. Put him near the bottom of the order with runners on base, he has a high batting average.
LHP Felipe Rivero: By the end of the season, he was the only jewel in the bullpen. Former manager Matt Williams used him as a closer after the team suspended Jonathan Papelbon. Will Rivero be the closer next year? It’s anyone’s guess at this point.
RHP Joe Ross: Doug Fister lost his starting job because of Ross. He gave the Nationals quality innings, but he was shut down late in the season because his arm was tired.
SS Trea Turner: Turner looks like a 15-year-old kid, but he plays like a veteran. He is going to be one heck of a hitter and defender when it’s all said and done. Turner will be the starting shortstop in 2016.
Something to prove
RHP A.J. Cole: He wasn’t given much a chance to prove himself. When he did pitch, Cole was hit hard. Hard to tell what his future is with the team at this point. Entering this past season, Cole was the second-best prospect in the Nationals organization, according to MLB.com. Now, he ranks sixth.
LHP Matt Grace Another guy from the farm system, Grace couldn’t keep the ball down during his first stint with the team. When he came back late in year, he was much better. He will be given every chance to make the 2016 team out of Spring Training.
INF Wilmer Difo: He had a nice season in the Minor Leagues, but when he was promoted to the Major Leagues, Difo wasn’t given much of a chance until the second-to-last day of the season against the Mets. In that game, Difo broke his hand and most likely will miss the Arizona Fall League season.
RHP Taylor Jordan: Once a candidate for the rotation, Jordan had several stints with the team. His future seems to be as a reliever.
RHP Rafael Martin: He is hard to figure out. One day, Martin can get hitters out. Other days, he throws batting practice.
C Pedro Severino: He catching skills are as advertised. He even has speed on the bases and behind the dish. One cannot judge his offense on one at-bat. It would not be a surprise if he was given every chance to make the team out of Spring Training.
RHP Blake Treinen: People from the front office to the players have bragged about his 98-mph sinker. That sinker had trouble staying down, and left-handed hitters hit Treinen hard. It will interesting to see what he does to improve his pitching repertoire when Spring Training starts.
Sammy Solis: Read Martin.
Possible trade chips
RHP Drew Storen: He was arguably having his best season of his career until the Nationals traded for Jonathan Papelbon to become the closer. After Papelbon joined the team, Storen had a 6.75 ERA and broke his thumb after he allowed the game-winning homer to Yoenis Cespedes in September. A change of scenery may do Storen some good.
3B Yunel Escobar: He could be a man without a position for the Nationals. The team would like to have Rendon back at third base. While Escobar had a great year with the bat, he was below average with the glove.
2B Danny Espinosa: He had a productive season coming off the bench and still was a solid defender. It was a year where he played all four infield positions and left field. He could become Ben Zobrist of the National League if he wants it. But he’ll respond by saying he’s not a bench player.
OF/1B Tyler Moore: When he plays often, Moore can provide power. He is almost useless when he comes off the bench. He is up for arbitration for the first time.
Wilson Ramos: Give him credit, he has caught three no-hitters during his career and he stayed healthy throughout the season. Privately, some people in the organization worried about his game-calling skills and he had problems catching throws from the outfield. To make matters worse, he had his worst season as a hitter.
All but gone
SS Ian Desmond: The Nationals offered him a lucrative deal last year, but he turned it down and will become a free agent after the World Series. Desmond is coming off his worst season and it will be interesting to see who much he gets in the open market.
RHP Doug Fister: The Nationals gave him a short leash to get his act together on the mound. When he didn’t get the job done as a starter, he was put in the bullpen as a long man. Fister said he would like to become a starter again, but that will not happen with the Nationals.
RHP Casey Janssen: He was supposed to replace Tyler Clippard as the setup man, but he was hit hard during the second half of the season. Janssen has a $7 million option left in his contract, but that is not expected to be picked up.
Jonathan Papelbon He was supposed to make the bullpen even better, but he didn’t get many save opportunities and then was suspended the final four games of the seasons for having a run-in with Harper. General manager Mike Rizzo would be considered a genius if he can acquire anything good for him. Papelbon is past his prime.
LHP Matt Thornton: He is 39 years old and he still has fire in his stomach to play another year. He wasn’t bad with the Nationals, but it’s doubtful he will play another season with them.
2B Dan Uggla: For a guy who wanted to play every day, Uggla wasn’t bad as a reserve. Who can forget the big home run he hit against the Braves on April 28?
RHP Jordan Zimmermann: Both the Nationals and Zimmermann tried to get a deal done, without much success. He is clearly the best starting pitcher in Nationals history, but he will take his services elsewhere.
RHP Aaron Barrett: He got off to a slow start and then needed Tommy John surgery. He probably will not be a factor in 2017 because he’ll be recovering from the procedure.
RHP David Carpenter It looked like the Nationals have found their eighth-inning setup guy, but he hurt his shoulder before the All-Star break and never returned to action.
OF Reed Johnson He wasn’t given much of a chance to play because of a torn tendon in his foot and a broken rib. Reed plans to play another year and realizes that he may have to sign a Minor League deal in order to join a team.
OF Nate McLouth: He didn’t play an inning because of shoulder problems. He would later have a cleanup procedure in the shoulder. He will become a free agent and will not return to the Nationals.
CF Denard Span: The Nats had to use four people at the leadoff spot because Span missed a lot of time because of back tightness, abdominal and hip problems. Span is a free agent and most likely will not be back with the team.
RHP Craig Stammen: He was the MVPM which means Most Valuable Player Missing. Stammen missed most of the season because of a forearm injury. He can pitch the middle innings and be a valuable setup guy. While he was gone, the Nats had serious problems replacing him.
1B Ryan Zimmerman: He played less than 100 games for the second straight year because of foot and oblique problems. He plans to change his workout routine this offseason. When he’s healthy, he can carry a team for a while.