Pitchers and catchers, believe it or not, report to spring training in 10 days. Am I the only one who feels like that’s too soon? Probably not, because there are still so many unsigned, big-name free agents out there and it’s hard to believe all will be employed by the time players start arriving in Florida and Arizona.
Close to home, the rapidly approaching reporting date is particularly disconcerting because the Nationals have so many unresolved issues right now. Is this team really ready to start engaging in on-field activities? Seems like there are a load of personnel issues that need to be sorted out first. But unless you own a 1985 DeLorean with a working flux capacitor, we all know you can’t turn back time.
So the Nats (and everyone else in MLB) have no choice but to prepare for spring training with uncertaintly looming over the franchise. Let’s take a quick look at the still-unresolved issues facing the Nats.
1. No middle-of-the-order slugger has been added to date.
This was the organization’s No. 1 offseason priority back in November, and it remains so. Washington made a legitimate, serious run at Mark Teixeira, but the chances of pulling that one off were always slim. Since losing out to the Yankees, they’ve made a strong push for Adam Dunn, but nothing has come out of that yet. Can the Nats really afford to open camp without having added that big bat they so covet?
2. The first base job remains up in the air.
Jim Bowden and Manny Acta have said all along that as much as they love Nick Johnson, they simply can’t count on him to be healthy and play a full season. But what has the organization done to account for that? Nothing yet. They failed to land Teixeira. They’ve failed so far to land Dunn or any other potentially available first basemen. They’ve removed Dmitri Young from their major-league roster. In other words, unless something dramatic happens in the next 10 days, Nick Johnson goes into spring training as the starting first baseman with no real competition.
3. The second base job remains up in the air.
If first base was the organization’s top priority heading into the offseason, second base was right behind it. When Emilio Bonifacio was traded to Florida in the Scott Olsen/Josh Willingham deal, it left a sizeable void on the right side of the infield. The Nats have shown interest in free agent Orlando Hudson but so far have balked at his asking price. So again, unless something dramatic happens in the next 10 days, you’re looking at Anderson Hernandez as your starting second baseman, with Ronnie Belliard pushing him for playing time. Hernandez has, I should point out, played brilliantly this winter in the Dominican (he finished second in MVP voting) but he’s played well in winter ball before only to struggle once he returned to the States. He’s far from a sure thing.
4. The bullpen remains largely unchanged.
Aside from some minor-league signings (Gary Glover, Wil Ledezma) the Nats have done nothing to alter a bullpen that was completely re-made late last season. The relief corps currently consists of untested closer Joel Hanrahan, reliable setup man Saul Rivera and the very green Mike Hinckley, Steven Shell, Garrett Mock and Terrell Young. This unit seems in desperate need of some veteran influence. Can the Nats find someone to fit that bill?
5. There’s very little depth in the starting rotation.
Remember how impressed everyone was last spring that the Nats had five legitimate major-league starting pitchers and five legitimate prospects behind them at Class AAA? Well, here’s how the organizational depth chart looks at the moment: John Lannan, Scott Olsen, Daniel Cabrera, Collin Balester, Jordan Zimmermann, Shawn Hill, Jason Bergmann, Shairon Martis, Tyler Clippard, Josh Towers and Gustavo Chacin. What’s your current confidence level with that group?
Obviously, a lot can still happen in 10 days. And plenty more can happen between Feb. 14 and April 6. (I guarantee you the Nats will sign at least one player during spring training who makes the Opening Day roster.) But it’s remarkable just how much remains undecided at this late stage of the offseason.
- Mark Zuckerman