By Adding Chicago’s Adam “Spanky" Eaton to their starting lineup at baseball’s winter meetings last week, have the Washington Nationals really improved much? We shall see. They certainly gave up a lot with three top pitching prospects, including Lopez and Giolito, who both looked Major League Ready last year.
Eaton looks like a solid guy. He’ll hit 14 homers with about 55 RBI, if he replicates his last two years in 2017; maybe a little more in hitter- friendly Nats Park vs Comisky’s canyons. His OBP is good, and he hustles, look at his total number of doubles and triples in the last three years with ChiSox. His arm is plus, and he covers a lot of ground in center, his natural position.
But will he be a marked improvement on Trea Turner in center? Spanky’s young (28), and cheap at $38 mm for five years, so it’s a solid move by Rizzo. He’s comparable to a Dexter Fowler, who signed with St. Louis this week. BTW, the defection of Fowler to the Cardinals and Aroldis Chapman to the Yankees, measurably weakens the World Champion Cubs. But that’s another story.
Back in DC, some people think Giolito’s fastball is too straight, and his curveball isn’t a plus pitch, so they let him go. Lopez throws 100 MPH, but Washington’s had a lot of trouble with flame-throwers over the years. They prefer pitchers who can mix it up.
Turner is now the shortstop, putting Espinosa on the trading block as it turns out just days later, to the Angels, who have a strong defensive team, but now a weak hitting middle infield with Espinosa at second and the Braves former shortstop, Andrelton Simmons. Simmons and Espinosa both can pick it, so their defense will be plus. But, the Angels are contenders for the AL West cellar with this move.
For Washington, now that Melancon is gone to San Fran the priority is a closer in the bullpen. So far, crickets from South Capital Street, but we shall see.
Other issues: Zimmerman, at $150 mm hitting seventh is also a real problem. If he can’t hit, look for Espinosa to play second, Murphy goes to first, and Zimm to ride the pine --- and if Zimm gets off to a slow start, that could happen quickly, by no later than May. A piece in the WAPO this week contends that Zimmerman’s run out of chances, that this is his last year to prove he can still rake. He hit .218 last year…..
So, the opening day lineup, at this point, looks like this:
Derek Norris C
If Zimm is a bust, then it’ll look like this:
The black hole of Norris, Difo and the pitcher at the bottom of the lineup makes the Nats’ lineup that much weaker, as Ramos is now gone to Tampa Bay. Speaking of Ramos, he was an important source of power and hitting this past year before he shattered his knee. He hit 25 homers and over .300, and really did a nice job behind the plate. He will be sorely missed. Eaton and Derrick Norris combined may not replace Ramos’ homer power.
So, adding Eaton may help as a table setter, as someone who hits both lefties and righties with RISP.
Again, Rizzo may not be done yet. He’s reportedly about $52 million below the salary cap after dumping Espinosa’s $5 mm projected arbitration salary. A lot is pending on arbitration issues with four current players. Stephen Drew wants to come back, but also wants more playing time and $5 mm per year. Wilmer Difo, the backup to Drew in the infield, will cost about 1/10th as much, so look for some combination of Drew, or Difo to play second if Zimm is a bust.
Drew is a free agent, and wants to play everyday. So, probably Drew goes and Difo is held onto because, well, he can run, play good defense, and is inexpensive.
Either way, the issue (again) is the bullpen. They need a ninth inning closer. Nobody on the roster even resembles such a thing. And, as Cleveland and Chicago showed us in the World Series, if you want to play in October, you need a first-rate closer.
Meanwhile, we wait and watch as Rizzo tries to wheel and deal below the salary cap and without a decent settlement in the TV dispute with Angelos and O’s anywhere on the horizon.
The rest of the NL East is still weak, though Atlanta and Miami look better. The Mets look weaker to me, and Philly is still rebuilding. So, Washington should win the division again, even if they don’t make any more changes. But, finding a closer would be helpful.
Stay tuned; Rizzo probably has something else up his sleeve.
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