By Ryan Decker
The Washington Nationals were the center of attention at last week’s MLB Winter Meetings. Dusty Baker’s club was at least rumored to be in connection with a number of big names, including two of the three top closers (Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen), a possible trade candidate for former MVP Andrew McCutchen, and other big names.
Instead, the Nats haven’t been able to acquire any of the top players on the open market, nor did they work out a trade for McCutchen. In place of that blockbuster trade, Washington dealt three of their top prospects to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for center fielder Adam Eaton.
While other top teams in the NL — San Francisco (signing Mark Melancon), Los Angeles (reportedly re-signing both Kenley Jansen, and Justin Turner), and St. Louis (signing Dexter Fowler) — are getting better, the Nationals stayed stagnant and hindered their future.
Sure the Eaton trade gave Washington a true centerfielder, which it desperately needed. Attempting to mold infield prospect Trea Turner into an everyday outfielder wasn’t a plan that was going to succeed, especially on a team that wants to win a World Series.
Eaton provides extra defense, and what has proved to be a steady bat (.290/.362/.422) since becoming an everyday player in Chicago in 2014.
Sure it got Turner out of center and Danny Espinosa traded, but when Washington goofed up the chance to get a former MVP, five-time All-Star and four-time Silver Slugger Award winner in McCutchen and has to settle for Eaton, who has never made an All-Star team or hit more than 14 long balls or driven in 60 runs in a season in his career, there’s a sour taste left in your mouth.
Maybe the sour taste comes from other teams getting better, while the Nats appear to be staying in place.
The Cubs aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Chicago is going to be good for a while.
San Francisco singed Melancon to be its premiere closer for the next four seasons. He bolsters a pitching staff that already features Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija and Hunter Strickland, and is managed by one of the best in the game in Bruce Bochy.
With the Dodgers reportedly re-signing both of their major FA’s Jansen and Turner, as well as getting younger by slashing the contracts of Howie Kendrick and Chase Utley.
St. Louis also has a young core in place, and added veteran experience in Fowler.
That’s four teams that, including management, history and on the field talent, you can easily make the argument are better contenders to represent the National League in the 2017 World Series than the Nationals.
Bryce Harper had an astronomically great season in 2015 but took a giant step backwards in 2016. Ryan Zimmerman continues to be a shell of his former self. Not many players get significantly better after their age-31 season, which tells me to hold off on expecting a repeat performance from Daniel Murphy.
Washington’s pitching staff is fine now, but another injury by Stephen Strasburg and/or any other starter could prove catastrophic without MLB-caliber arms in Giolito, Lopez and Dunning waiting in the wings.
Are the Nationals a good team? Yes.
Are the Nationals a really good team? Sure
Are the Nationals a true contender for a World Series title?