The Washington Nationals are on the cusp of being really, really good. Their farm system is ridiculous but don't be surprised if they open up the checkbook this off-season. Last season they finished in third place with an 80-82 record, a huge improvement from past seasons. Going into free agency their biggest needs are a center fielder and pitching. There's two players you shouldn't be surprised that aren't pitchers or outfielders that they may go after. I'll address that soon.
The Washington Nationals have two really good starting pitchers. Those two starting pitchers are Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann. Strasburg is now over a year removed from Tommy John surgery. The time that he did pitch this season he was absolutely ridiculous. He had a 1.28 FIP and a 2.43 xFIP. He struck out 9 per 9 innings and only walked .75 per 9. He also already had a 1.1 WAR. All of this was only in 5 starts so it's a small sample but I believe it's safe to say that he's back. Zimmermann also had a nice season, posting a 3.16 FIP and 3.78 xFIP. He doesn't strike out as much as Strasburg, he only had 6.92 strikeouts per 9 innings but his walk rate was just as impressive. 1.73 per 9 innings.
After those two their starters aren't the best. I don't expect them to sign C.J. Wilson but some other players they may look at are Hiroki Kuroda, Roy Oswalt and possibly Paul Maholm. Kuroda would be the one out of this group that wouldn't surprise me if he signed there. He's a very solid pitcher, two seasons ago he posted a 3.43 xFIP and 4.1 WAR. This past season he only posted a 2.4 WAR and 3.56 xFIP. He saw a 5% decrease in ground balls and a 3% increase in HR/9. If he can get back to being a ground ball pitcher and cut back on the home runs he could easily be a 3-4 win a season pitcher for a few years.
I don't see the Nationals making a run at any of the free agent outfielders this year. After signing Jayson Werth to that contract and only getting 2.5 WAR out of him I'm not sure they want to hand out another deal to Beltran or Cuddyer.
Instead, I see them making a run at B.J. Upton of the Tampa Bay Rays. The past five years Upton has posted 20 WAR. In 2009 he posted his worse, only 2.4. Other then that he's an exceptional player. He has power, speed, and ok outfielder. The Rays have been wanting to move him for a while but they haven't found the right match yet. The Nationals have also wanted him for a while so it seems like this deal only makes sense. I'm not the best with prospects so I'm not sure what TB would exactly require but they could get themselves a nice little haul.
I got a WAR graph from Fangraphs comparing B.J. Upton with some of the young outfielders of day. Out of the three he has the highest WAR, still only 28 he's only into his second year of his prime and should be productive for years to come.
The rest of their roster is pretty solid. Danny Espinosa had a very good rookie year posting a 3.5 WAR and Michael Morse had a break out season posting a 3.4 WAR. Wilson Ramos looks like he will be a solid catcher, if Ian Desmond wants to start he'll have to work on some things but it looks like Danny Espinosa may shift over to shortstop and Stephen Lombardozzi will get a chance at second base. There are two players they probably will have their eyes on though...
...and they are
That's right. Don't be surprised if Washington makes a run at one of these two. While I'd be surprised if they got one they have shown that they will spend money in order to improve the team. If they got one of these two and with Bryce Harper on the way the Nationals could be scary. Even if they don't they will be much better heading into the 2012 season.
With that my off-season outlook on the Washington Nationals comes to end. Keep checking in periodically for more off-season write-ups.