The Finish Line is Too Far Away

It is less than two weeks until Opening Day, but yet it feels so far away. This entire off-season has passed slowly. The trade for Denard Span came out of nowhere. Everyone was expecting the long period of waiting out Boras for Michael Bourn until both sides ironed out a deal, but then the Nats made a preemptive strike by trading Alex Meyer to the Twins for Denard Span. Span gives the Nats the lead-off hitter they have long desired and helps to upgrade the outfield defense. These two areas were perhaps the Nats weakest in 2012.     

Aside from adding a center fielder the biggest need for the Nationals was replacing Edwin Jackson. When the Nats made no effort to offer Jackson a qualifying offer it became clear that they were done with him and didn't even want to face any risk of him returning to the club. The Nats instead of trying to wait out the Kyle Lohse market or spend big money on Zack Greinke or Anibal Sanchez they instead opted to offer Dan Haren a one year deal. In Haren the Nats get a pitcher with the fifth best K/BB ratio of all time and a pitcher that has had multiple 6.0 fWAR seasons, the last as recently as 2011. Haren was hurt last season, but that is how the Nationals could get him on only a one year deal.  

With Span and Haren in the fold the Nats had a decision to make. They could go with Michael Morse at first who is a better hitter than Adam LaRoche or opt for the defensive upgrade and minor offensive downgrade of LaRoche. By all reports LaRoche was waiting on a three year deal and at times it looked like it would be coming when the Red Sox ran into trouble with Napoli and when the Rangers lost Josh Hamilton. It never came to that though and with multiple two year offers on the table Adam LaRoche went to Drake LaRoche and found out that his son wanted to stay in DC.

The return of LaRoche meant that the end of Michael Morse’s tenure as a National was inevitable, and as the trade talks for Morse progressed Mike Rizzo had one surprise up his sleeve. The Nats one remaining weakness was bullpen depth. They had lost three key 2012 relievers and while Zach Duke looks to be a strong replacement for Tom Gorzelanny they had no replacement for Sean Burnett or Mike Gonzalez. Instead of signing Matt Capps or Jose Valverde to a minor league deal and letting them earn their spot in Spring Training, the Nats went out and added the best reliever on the market in Rafael Soriano. It took quite a bit of money in a two year $28 million deal, but the Nats got the best talent available on a short term deal. If Soriano falters then Storen or Clippard can take his spot. 

With news of the Soriano deal still fresh in everyone's minds the Nats went out and finally completed their trade of Michael Morse by sending him to the Mariners via the A's and receiving back AJ Cole who the Nats had previously dealt for Gio Gonzalez (Interesting note: Gio Gonzalez was traded from the White Sox to the Phillies as part of the Jim Thome package and then back to the White Sox for Freddie Garcia). Since the trade of Morse the Nats Opening Day roster has been known. The games of Spring Training have done nothing to change it and even the line-up that was predicted soon after the LaRoche signing has come to pass.  

The off-season included five major moves by the Nationals and one of those was bringing back a player that was part of the roster last season. Of the members of the projected 25 man roster only Haren, Span, and Soriano saw no playing time with the Nationals in 2012. That means 22 of the players that will be introduced on Opening Day are familiar faces. The Nats 2013 Spring Training has lasted longer than any other Spring Training in recent memory, but that is because the make-up of the team was known on January 16 when Michael Morse was dealt to the Seattle Mariners. All that is left before the season starts is to rehash the predictions we've already made and expectations we've already set.

The only good news is that there is only one more Monday until we gather at Nats Park, leaving the world at the turnstiles, and settle in for what looks to be a classic season in Natstown.    

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