Nats' World Series quest starts in Spring Training
Additions of Span, Haren, Soriano solidify already strong roster for Johnson's final year
WASHINGTON -- Nationals manager Davey Johnson was bold during the Winter Meetings in December, saying that he wants a World Series title with the Nats before he retires after the 2013 season.
"I think we're in a perfect position to show the world that we're a pretty good ballclub, and we can go farther into the postseason, and I want to be a part of that," Johnson said. "I still have a love of the game, and I have a love of this organization. 'World Series or bust,' that's probably the slogan this year. But I'm comfortable with that."
The 70-year-old Johnson has every reason to feel comfortable about the Nationals. Led by Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, the Nats have arguably the best starting staff in baseball. The bullpen is even better after general manager Mike Rizzo signed free agent Rafael Soriano to a two-year, $28 million contract.
Washington's offense is balanced, thanks to Rizzo's trade to acquire center fielder Denard Span from the Twins in exchange for right-handed prospect Alex Meyer. It also helps that the Nationals were able to re-sign Adam LaRoche to a two-year deal.
Last year, the Nats had the best record in baseball at 98-64, but they lost to the Cardinals in the National League Division Series. This season, Washington expects things to be different.
Pitchers and catchers report
Full squad reports
First Spring Training game
Away vs. Mets, Feb. 23, 12:10 p.m. ET
Home vs. Marlins, April 1, 1:05 p.m. ET
Triple play: Three questions that need answers
1. Will Gio Gonzalez get suspended?
That has not been determined by Major League Baseball. The Miami New Times linked the left-hander to Anthony Bosch, who reportedly supplied PEDs to professional athletes. If Gonzalez is suspended, almost everyone would move up in the rotation, and a spot in the back end would have to be filled. The Nationals have spent most of the winter looking for pitching depth. They have expressed interest in free agent Javier Vazquez, but he has not made a decision if he is going to stay retired or play in the big leagues.
2. Will Danny Espinosa be able to play the entire season with a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder?
Espinosa believes he can. He spent the offseason rehabbing the shoulder and is expected to be ready for Spring Training. When the exhibition games start, it will be interesting to see how much power he has from both sides of the plate. Espinosa had problems generating power because of his ailing shoulder in September and October of last season.
3. What is the status of Wilson Ramos?
Ramos missed much of last season because of a devastating right knee injury. The Nats plan to start him off slowly in Spring Training, and they will most likely name Kurt Suzuki the starting catcher. Ramos spent most of the offseason rehabbing the knee and is not expected to have any setbacks when Spring Training starts.
98-64, first in the NL East
Projected batting order
1. CF Denard Span:
.283 BA, .342 OBP, .395 SLG, 4 HR, 41 RBIs in 2012
2. SS Ian Desmond:
.292 BA, .335 OBP, .511 SLG, 25 HR, 73 RBIs in 2012
3. 3B Ryan Zimmerman:
.282 BA, .346 OBP, .478 SLG, 25 HR, 95 RBIs in 2012
4. 1B Adam LaRoche:
.271 BA, .343 OBP, .510 SLG, 33 HR, 100 RBIs in 2012
5. LF Bryce Harper:
.270 BA, .340 OBP, .477 SLG, 22 HR, 59 RBIs in 2012
6. RF Jayson Werth:
.300 BA, .387 OBP, .440 SLG, 5 HR, 31 RBIs in 2012
7. 2B Danny Espinosa:
.247 BA, .315 OBP, .402 SLG, 17 HR, 56 RBIs in 2012
8. C Kurt Suzuki:
.235 BA, .276 OBP, .328 SLG, 6 HR, 43 RBIs with Nationals and A's in 2012
1. RHP Stephen Strasburg, 15-6, 3.16 ERA in 2012
2. LHP Gio Gonzalez, 21-8, 2.89 ERA in 2012
3. RHP Jordan Zimmermann, 12-8, 2.94 ERA in 2012
4. LHP Ross Detwiler, 10-8, 3.40 ERA in 2012
5. RHP Dan Haren, 12-13, 4.33 ERA with Angels in 2012
The new guys
CF Span: The Nationals finally have their leadoff hitter, which means Jayson Werth will be hitting in the middle of the order. Span is also an excellent center fielder, which also means that Werth and Bryce Harper will play the corners.
RHP Dan Haren: He effectively replaces Edwin Jackson. Of the pitchers available this offseason, Haren was Washington's top choice. Rizzo acknowledged that Zack Greinke was the top free agent from a pitching standpoint, but it was pretty clear the team was not in the mix for Greinke's services because he wanted too much money.
Prospects to watch
3B Anthony Rendon: He is considered the Nats' third baseman of the future, but he will play all over the infield during Spring Training. Rendon missed a lot of time in his first full professional season because of an ankle injury. He played only 43 games and hit .233 with six home runs and 12 RBIs across four levels that culminated at Double-A Harrisburg.
CF Brian Goodwin: He is considered the club's future center fielder. In his first full professional season, Goodwin hit a combined .280 with 14 home runs, 52 RBIs and 18 stolen bases between Class A Hagerstown and Harrisburg.
RHP A.J. Cole: The Nats were able to reacquire Cole for outfielder/first baseman Michael Morse earlier this year. A fourth-round pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, Cole went a combined 6-10 and posted a 3.70 ERA with Oakland's Class A Burlington and Class A Advanced Stockton affiliates in 2012. He struggled the most at Stockton, going 0-7 with a 7.82 ERA. Rizzo said Cole replaces Meyer as the top pitcher in the team's Minor League system.
On the rebound
C Ramos: He missed most of the season because of a knee injury. Ramos will likely start the season as the backup catcher.
RF Werth: He is looking to have his best season since his days with the Phillies. If the second half of last year was any indication, Werth will be a candidate for the NL Comeback Player of the Year Award.
2B Espinosa: He is expected to play for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic, but a shoulder injury he'll be battling all season may prevent him from playing for the team.
OF Roger Bernadina: He had a chance to play in the Classic in 2009, but turned it down because he wanted to make the Nationals' big league club. This time, Bernadina will represent the Netherlands in the Classic and return to the Nats as the backup center fielder.
OF/1B Morse: He became expendable after the Nationals re-signed LaRoche to a two-year deal. Morse was a popular player who hit in the middle of the order and drove in a lot of runs when he was healthy. As part of a three-team deal, the Nats traded Morse to the Athletics for two Minor League pitchers.
RHP Jackson: Replaced by Haren, Jackson signed a multiyear deal with the Cubs. He was a consistent pitcher for the Nationals until the month of September, when he had a 7.52 ERA. Jackson's postseason against the Cardinals was also rough.
LHP Sean Burnett: The Nats were not willing to give Burnett a multiyear deal, which is why he signed with the Angels. He ended the season with an injured elbow and had surgery to remove a bone spur after the postseason.
LHP Tom Gorzelanny: He turned out to be a good long reliever for Washington for more than a year, but he was making too much money for the role and was non-tendered by the club in December.
INF Mark DeRosa: He was a leader off the field, but didn't do much on the field because of injuries. Johnson wanted DeRosa back, but there wasn't any room for him on the bench, a role he'll fill in Toronto.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.