The Washington Nationals and Roster Construction

The 2013 Nationals roster, when compared to other perceived contenders has one advantage: The Nationals have the most complete roster in baseball. They lack the star power of a Josh Hamilton or a Prince Fielder, but what they lack in star power they make up for in having solid two way players at every position. The only real questions on the Nationals roster are who will be the sixth and seventh man out of the bullpen and if Ramos is healthy enough to be a productive major league catcher at the start of the season.  

In 2012 the Nationals had a few weaknesses. Without Ramos the Nationals got below average production from the catcher's spot producing a .659 OPS for the season. Kurt Suzuki was acquired from Oakland and in 43 games for the Nationals in 2012 produced right the .725 OPS level of an average NL catcher. The Nats two main flaws though were outfield defense and the lack of a lead-off hitter. Denard Span solves both of those issues. His defense in center and pushing Harper to left will upgrade the Nats outfield defense monumentally.  

In 2012 Nats lead-off hitters combined for a .325 OBP and that includes the .388 OBP Jayson Werth produced in 38 games. For his career Denard Span has a .359 OBP. If he can simply produce at his average level then the Nationals have improved their two biggest 2012 weaknesses with one move.

Every member of the 2012 Nationals has the reputation as an above average offensive and defensive player. The one people might question is Danny Espinosa but in his terrible offensive year of 2012 he produced a .717 OPS when the MLB average for second base is .701. When looking at Danny Espinosa a person can get caught up in the minutia of strike outs or they can appreciate the player that he is and recognize him for the above average offensive production and elite defense.  

Every position on the Nationals has the chance to be above average offensively and to be solid in the field. The last piece of this puzzle was Adam LaRoche. If the Nats had gone with Morse at first they would have had better offensive production, but would have missed the defense and the Nats are built not just to score runs but to prevent them as well. Having so many players that can do both is rare and unique and a reason that the Nationals are expected to be quite good once again in 2013.

Being built to be as good as the Nats look on paper doesn't guarantee them much. The Rays, Brewers, Dodgers, Angels, and White Sox were all over .500 teams in 2012 and all of them missed the playoffs. That doesn't mean they weren't good teams it just means that enough went wrong with those teams that didn't with others, and a team like the Rays, who won 90 games, plays in an incredibly tough division. The Nats are built to be a great team, but a couple of injuries to the starting rotation and they may settle for being a good team.  

The most likely outcome is that the Nats win a lot of games and go to the playoffs again, but as Nats fans learned in Game 5, baseball will break your heart. Being the best or most well-built team means little in a short series in the playoffs. The Nats are built to be very good over the course of 162 games and there isn't much that can stop that. A player like Jayson Werth who had a disappointing 2011 and an injury plagued 2012 could be better than both seasons simply by playing more at his career average level. If Werth plays to his career .267/.362/.462 batting line more than his .300/.388/.440 2012 batting line he will be a higher WAR player by playing more games.

There are other Nats that could suffer a form of regression. The question remains if Gio Gonzalez's 2012 was a breakout season or a career year. The same goes for Ian Desmond, and Bryce Harper could suffer a typical sophomore slump. Even if everything goes wrong for those players it will be counter balanced by better outfield defense and production from the lead-off spot, more playing time for Strasburg, Storen, and Zimmerman, and breakout years from other players like Danny Espinosa and Jordan Zimmermann.  

With as many talented players as the Nats have a down or injured year from one player can be balanced by a breakout season from another. It happened in 2012. While Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth both dealt with injuries in 2012 Ian Desmond had a massive breakout season. The very same thing could happen in 2013 with different players struggling and others breaking out. It all sort of means the average level of production for the Nats should be considered to be the most likely outcome, and when the rosters average career fWARs are added up and added to the expected win total from a replacement level team (45) the Nats should be just as good in 2013 as they were in 2012 if not a little bit better. 

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