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Should the Nats go for broke in '13?


Should the Nats go for broke in '13?

Throughout their history in Washington -- and most definitely in the four years since Mike Rizzo became general manager -- the Nationals have adhered to one simple philosophy when it comes to player acquisitions and roster building: All moves must be in the best long-term interests of the organization.

It's a philosophy that has done the Nationals well, allowing them to build a team that not only reached the postseason for the first time this year but is built to keep on winning for years to come.

Might it be an appropriate time, however, to tweak that philosophy? For the first time in their history, might the Nationals sacrifice long-term potential in exchange for short-term satisfaction?

This might be the most compelling, over-arching question of the offseason. Clearly, this is a team that will enter 2013 with a real shot at winning the World Series, no matter what moves Rizzo makes before pitchers and catchers report for spring training. But there are moves Rizzo could make to bolster his club's chances of immediate success, if he's willing to perhaps hinder his chances of winning down the road.

It starts, really, with Adam LaRoche, the most-pressing offseason question facing the Nationals. Both Rizzo and the free agent want to continue their marriage, hoping to build off a fantastic 2012 that saw LaRoche win both the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove at first baseman while finishing in a sixth-place tie for NL MVP.

There's no question LaRoche's return would give the Nationals a better chance of winning the World Series in 2013. But the only way LaRoche will be playing in D.C. in 2013 is if he gets a long-term contract, most likely with at least three years guaranteed.

The Nationals may be willing to meet those demands, but doing so could hamstring them down the road. With LaRoche locked up through, say, 2015, there might be no spot on the diamond for young slugger Tyler Moore, or no vacant spot that would permit Michael Morse or Ryan Zimmerman to some day make a position switch. And, of course, there's no guarantee LaRoche would still be a 30-homer, 100-RBI threat at age 35 in year three of a contract that could turn into an albatross.

Speaking of Morse, he figures into this dilemma as well. Signed for one more season at a reasonable salary of $6.75 million, he'll be poised to strike it rich next winter as a free agent. Given all the other long-term financial commitments the Nationals already have on the books (Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez) and those they would like to add in the very near future (Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann) there probably isn't enough money left over to re-sign Morse.

Which is why you've heard some speculation the slugger could be traded this winter. Rather than lose him via free agency and receive a draft pick as compensation, Rizzo could be inclined to seek a deal now that would bring a larger return back to Washington.

That would certainly be a wise long-term strategy. But if the Nationals are more interested in going for broke in 2013, they'd much rather keep Morse one more season and then let him walk away after that.

And then there's the dilemma in center field, a longstanding issue for the Nationals that could easily be resolved this winter if they're willing to pony up for one of two big-name free agents on the market: Michael Bourn or B.J. Upton. Either would make a nice addition to the lineup, particularly the leadoff-hitting Bourn.

But the cost to acquire either free agent could be a five-year contract, one that would certainly have long-term ramifications for the organization. Would Bourn help the Nationals win right now? Absolutely? Would he still be as helpful in 2017, more than someone the Nats could promote from their own farm system like Brian Goodwin? That's debatable.

Put this all together, and it becomes clear Rizzo faces quite an interesting dilemma this winter. He could decide to go for broke, play all his cards and assemble a roster that has the very best chance of winning a championship in 2013. Or he could decide to stick with the plan that has worked so well to this point, making calculated additions that give the Nationals a chance to win now but not at the expense of winning in the future.

It's a dilemma the Nationals have never faced before, but it's certainly one worth considering now that they suddenly find themselves in a position they've never held before.

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Report: Under Armour taking over MLB jerseys in 2020

Report: Under Armour taking over MLB jerseys in 2020

Majestic’s reign as the maker of MLB jerseys are about to come to an end. 

In 2020, Fanatics and Under Armour will be teaming to make on-field jerseys and apparel for all MLB teams, according to a Sports Business Journal report. 

The news outlet also reports that the deal means the MLB’s licensing relations with Nike will be over as well. 

Under Armour will produce the jerseys starting in Spring Training of the 2020 season, and “broad apparel rights” will go to Fanatics. 

New Era will continue to be the maker of MLB hats. 

Given that Maryland native Kevin Plank founded Under Armour, and that the business' headquarters are in Baltimore, it’s sure to be a splash with baseball fans in the DMV.

You can read the full Sports Business journal report here. 

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Early look at the Nationals' biggest questions this offseason

Early look at the Nationals' biggest questions this offseason

Here is an early look at the biggest questions facing the Washington Nationals as they embark on another offseason in their quest to build a championship team...

What to do with Wilson Ramos and the catcher position?

The Nationals' biggest question entering this offseason is without a doubt at catcher with All-Star Wilson Ramos on the mend after having the ACL in his right knee repaired on Friday. Not only is the recovery a long one - he could be out until well into the 2017 season - it is the second time he's had the ligament fixed. At 29, his viability as a primary catcher moving forward is a real question. Even Ramos admitted he may have to transition to the American League with his next contract.

If Ramos does leave, behind him will be a significant hole on the Nationals. They have several in-house options, but none that are anywhere close to Ramos, who emerged this season as the best offensive catcher in baseball. Pedro Severino is a nice young player, but has a career .632 OPS in the minors. The drop-off on offense from Ramos to him would be significant. The same can be said about Jose Lobaton.

It won't be easy replacing Ramos with an external option, if that's the way the Nats opt to go. Catchers who can hit and play defense like him are a rarity. Matt Wieters of the Orioles would be the best option in free agency, but he's a year older and is also a step down offensively. Unless they like Wieters - who does happen to be represented by Scott Boras - they may have to trade for a new backstop, and that won't be easy either. 

This is all not to rule out the Nationals re-signing Ramos, but right now it's difficult to project what type of contract he will garner and whether that could fit in their plans. Surely it would be tough for them to offer a long-term deal, but maybe they make sense if he decides to take a short-term contract to reset for free agency either next offseason or the one after that.

Any major upgrades needed?

The Nationals are in an interesting spot, having won 95 games and the NL East, but with yet another disappointing end to their year. General manager Mike Rizzo loves to make big splashes in the offseason. Every single winter he does something aggressive and unexpected. What will he do this year? There aren't many areas where he could potentially upgrade, but that hasn't stopped him in the past.

If Ramos leaves, catcher is obviously the biggest need. But beyond that, the two major problem areas in their lineup this season were at shortstop and first base. Danny Espinosa played solid defense and hit 24 homers, but held an unsightly .209 batting average. His .552 OPS in the second half was worst in baseball among those with at least 165 at-bats. 

Espinosa is always looking over his shoulder this time of the year and just this past winter appeared to be the odd-man out when the Nats traded for Ben Revere and signed Daniel Murphy. Espinosa managed to overcome the odds and play 157 games. He has one year left on his contract, so one way or another the Nats will need to start thinking long-term about his position.

Shortstop is an easier situation to evaluate than first base, where Ryan Zimmerman is due to make $14 million each of the next two seasons and $18 million the year after that. He had the worst season of his career with a .642 OPS through 115 games. Bringing in a first baseman to flat-out replace Zimmerman seems unrealistic, given his contract. But perhaps they can find someone who plays both first base and left field, with Jayson Werth having just one year left on his deal.

Who will be the closer?

The Nationals found success in the ninth inning with Mark Melancon after they acquired him at the trade deadline in a deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates. But it was just a rental. Now Melancon is due for free agency and the Nats once again have questions at the position. They could opt to re-sign Melancon, or go with another free agent option. Aroldis Chapman, whom they have coveted in the past, will be available. So will Kenley Jansen, who just helped end their season with the Dodgers. It's an unusually deep crop of star closers and it would be a surprise if the Nationals didn't snag one of them. Another option would be to promote Shawn Kelley or Blake Treinen, but that would be out of the Nationals' character.

Are they content with the rotation?

If one were to pick the biggest reason the Nationals lost their NL Division Series against the Dodgers it would have to be the starting rotation. It was their most glaring weakness and it wasn't even close. This is despite the Nats being built on starting pitching and boasting one of the best regular season rotations in baseball. Losing Stephen Strasburg to injury didn't help, but they still had four capable starters left over. Max Scherzer struggled in Game 1, while Tanner Roark, Gio Gonzalez and Joe Ross combined to pitch just 11 1/3 innings in their respective outings. 

If you look at the year as a whole, starting pitching was not a major concern. But the Nats are always aggressive in addressing their needs, whether big or small. They have top prospects Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, but neither distinguished themselves this season. Do they sit tight and hope things improve, or do they try to make another game-changing move? With a weak free agent class, any outside upgrade would have to come through a trade. Also, Gonzalez' $12 million team option is definitely something to watch this winter.

Will extension talks with Harper heat up?

Both the Nationals and Bryce Harper, one could argue, may have incentive to back away from the negotiating table this winter, given the Nats have to be less confident in giving Harper a record-setting contract after his disappointing year, and that Harper may not be wise to sign his new deal when his stock has lowered. But if the Nats and Harper do not come to terms this winter, that sets up a lot more pressure for the following offseason. Harper has two years left on his contract. Heading into next offseason without a deal, with just one year remaining, would create a lot of uncertainty for all sides involved, including the fans who certainly want to see the 2015 MVP remain in Washington for a long time. The storyline would dominate their offseason.

This upcoming winter always seemed like the best time to broker a deal to avoid that scenario, but the timing has not worked out with Harper's production on the field. Also, would anyone be surprised if it turns out Harper was dealing with an injury this season that held him back at the plate? If it were a serious one, he wouldn't have kept playing. But any injury has to be factored in those discussions.

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