August 18, 2019

The Doomsday Scenario

There’s a lot of hope and expectation in NatsTown these days.  The Nats have a rebuilt and (hopefully) fully healthy starting rotation.  The bullpen is deep and talented.  The lineup has some dependable veterans, some power in the middle, and some still-developing but highly talented younger players.

And Bryce Harper seems to be on the verge of his Major League debut.

What’s not to like?

The Nats are getting so much good publicity these days, many national baseball writers are picking them as their “surprise team” for the upcoming season, with some picking them for the post-season.  It all adds up the most highly anticipated season in Nats history since the move in 2005.

But, what if…

What if Bryce Harper isn’t ready to play right field in the Major Leagues on opening day?  What if, during spring training he looks ready to casual baseball fans but GM Mike Rizzo decides he needs to see Harper get more seasoning at Triple-A?  What if the Nats organization decides they can rationalize a half-season in the minors for “baseball reasons” while delaying Harper’s arbitration clock?

Now, say we’ve gone through three weeks of spring training and first baseman Adam LaRoche — and his surgically repaired left shoulder — hasn’t hit a ball out of the infield yet.  Say that shoulder is technically healed, but isn’t quite responding to baseball activities.  Say then the Nats have LaRoche go over to extended spring training to start the season to get back into baseball shape, or even start the season on the disabled list.

What then?

First of all, Jayson Werth slides back into his familiar right field and Michael Morse takes over at first base where he performed admirably last season in his first extended time at the position. That’s the easy part.  But you then need to fill the center field and left field positions.

It seems center field would be manned by a pair of veteran players given minor league contracts, meaning they aren’t even on the 40-man roster, yet.  Mike Cameron, 39 and Rick Ankiel, 32, are both still capable defensively, with the recently signed Ankiel possessing possibly the best outfield arm in the bigs.  But last season, the two combined for an OBP right around .300.

Then in left field, the Nats would have to settle for a combination of Roger Bernadina (.243/.301/.362 in 91 games in 2011) and one of their right-handed hitting non-roster invitees, either 35-year old Jason Michaels (.199/.256/.295 in 89 games with Houston in ’11) or Brett Carroll, who only got two at bats with Milwaukee last season.  The Nats have been trying to replcace Bernadina for several seasons, yet he’s still on the 40-man roster, now out of options.

Not as appetizing, eh?

Yup.  If two completely plausible scenarios were to play out in this fashion, the five outfielders the Nats carry on opening day could be Jayson Werth, Rick Ankiel, Mike Cameron, Roger Bernadina and Jason Michaels.  Go ahead and look at the 40-man roster and the list of non-roster invitees and try to project 85 wins if Bryce Harper and Adam LaRoche both don’t get 600-plus plate appearances this season.  It will be hard enough if only one does.

I certainly don’t wish this to happen.  I hope LaRoche comes back perfectly healthy and is stroking line drives all over Viera in a couple of weeks.  I hope Harper looks like Ken Griffey, Jr. or Alex Rodriguez did at that age, performing at the bat like players ten years their senior.  I hope Harper has taken enough professional reps in the outfield to take good angles to balls in the gap and in the corner, and he knows what to do with the ball once he picks it up.

But you can’t plan a baseball team on hope.  It has to be based on something more.  Here’s hoping the Doomsday scenario doesn’t play out.

About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press and is a copy editor for the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, WA. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP

Comments

  1. You are forgetting the John Lannan bargaining chip for acquiring an outfielder to fill any gap. There are a lot of what-if’s here. I wonder if maybe we need to just wait until ST.

    • Dave Nichols says:

      Frank, thanks for the comment. I appreciate that there may be some player movement between now and opening day, but I was working with the roster as it stands today. Perhaps that illustrates the need for some player movement?

    • Looking at Lannan statistically with the curly W red glasses off paints an ugly picture over the past 3 years. There are valid reasons he lost his arbitration while Anibal Sanchez won his.

      Bottom line: unless a team is desperate for innings from a bottom of the barrel left-handed starter they aren’t going to want to pay Lannan 5 million. This will be his last year making that kind of money you can be assured. BUT THEY might if they are suddenly decimated by a rash of injuries to their starters.

      The guess here is that happens and opportunity knocks the Nats will get a decent prospect or two back. Not the coveted CF everyone believes. It ain’t happening people. Give it up.

      Rizzo is going to wait for Upton to become an FA first. And it may end up costing the Lerners a bunch. Upton’s stats show a definite upward trend much like those of Matt Kemp. If he has a break out year next year with the Rays he could be quite expensive and top the list of free agents. Believe me it could happen. That’s why it behooves the Nats to trade for him and immediately sign him to an extension if they can.

  2. Your article seems to assume that Zim/Espi will stay healthy. If one of them does get hurt, there is no Jerry Hairston Jr. to take their place this year. The best we have to replace them is probably a clone of Desi’s bat with inferior fielding in DeRosa, or Lombardozzi.

    • Dave Nichols says:

      Yup, I assumed health for everyone except LaRoche who has a prior condition. DeRosa is the backup corner guy, Lombo in the middle. If any of the regulars go down, it’s up to them.

  3. Spot on. Call it a Doomsday scenario but it’s actually quite likely. Laynce Nix was a huge insurance policy that the Nats cashed in on last year. Now he’s playing for the Phillies. I am not a fan of rushing Harper, but unless more moves are made, Rizzo may not have much choice.

    • Dave Nichols says:

      Thanks for the comment LTW. Even best-case Cameron, DeRosa and Ankiel are going to be primary bench players, which in my opinion is underwhelming.

  4. I know I sounded sanguine about the doomsday scenario over dinner, but I’ve had a chance to go over the numbers again, and they worry me. A lot.

    The loss of LaRoche is just punishing. Not only do you lose his bat, but you lose his defense. The UZR stat does NOT love Morse at 1st base, so the runs allowed stat creeps up.

    The outfield is not pretty. In the worst case, I see a Shark/DeRosa platoon in Left with an Ankiel/Cameron platoon in center field. The offense suffers.

    It all adds up to a collapse in the runs-scored projection. Under the Doomsday Scenario, I have the Nats winning 79 games.

    Hopeful note, though: the fact that the DOOMSDAY scenario nets a possible 79 wins is pretty neat, considering the fact that that’s only one win under last year’s total of 80. A couple of seasons of mediocrity or minimal competence will feel like a breath of fresh air compared to previous seasons of despair and dismal defeat.

    • Dave Nichols says:

      thanks for the projection update. like we discussed, that’s about what I expected. give or take for adjusted plate appearances or an untimely (is there a timely) injury and uh oh. but let’s not get ahead of ourselves even before spring training starts.

      you’re right in one thing, “Doomsday” out of the box being 79 wins sure as hell beats 59 wins. can you just imagine how bad that team was?

  5. This is the first time that we have been able to feel good about this team. First time that I can recall where I turn on MLB and they are actually talking about the Nats. Can we at least wait until Spring Training starts before we start the Doomsday discussions.

    • Dave Nichols says:

      LOL Bill. Just fodder to think about, that’s all. Yes, lots of folks are optimistic on the Nats, but optimism shouldn’t come with blinders on!

      • Said it before and I’ll say it again (& again): when “doomsday” is 79-81 wins, I feel pretty darn good about that. Sing it with me now: IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT, AND I FEEL FIIIIIINEEEE:

  6. Dave,

    Just based on the stats the guess here is that neither LaRoche nor Ankiel will hit … given the scenario of returning Harper to the minors. This will cause a lot of heartburn for Johnson who will have to move the lineup around to get a left-handed bat. If Harper doesn’t make the 25 out of ST as many expect I expect Steve Lombardozzi to make it.

    Why? Not just because there isn’t anyone else with his skill set both defensively and offensively but he comes with a platoon bat and the ability to bat left-handed for Johnson. You must might Lombo in right or left field leading off with Werth and Morse covering the outfield positions. If LaRoche doesn’t hit they may move Morse to first and Lombo will fill out one outfield position and Harper the other in June.

    My guess is both Ankiel and LaRoche will not be effective. I wouldn’t call it doomsday but it will definitely get Davey Johnson a bit hot.

    • Dave Nichols says:

      Thanks for the comments. It would really surprise me if the Nats contemplate putting Lombardozzi in the outfield as you suggest. He’s never played anywhere but the infield his entire professioanl career.

  7. Dave,
    Thanks for ruining sleep all over NatsTown :). If the scenario plays as you lay it out, I think that forces Rizzo’s hand to either trade from weakness or recall Harper. The alternatives (beyond what you suggest) would be LaRosa as the everyday 1B (not particularly appealing), or pulling someone *else* from the AAAA list at Syracuse (Blanco? Teahen? Bueller? Bueller?)

    • Dave Nichols says:

      Thanks for the comment. Let’s hope LaRoche is healthy. I’ve said all winter long, his health and return to production, however average for the position that is it, is the key to the Nats competing this season for anything.

Trackbacks

  1. […] between 84 and 86 wins–on track for their best season since arriving in DC. And, even in a “doomsday scenario” without Adam LaRoche, the Nats look to get anywhere between 79 and 81 […]

  2. […] situation becomes more complicated if LaRoche is not healthy. Morse has to move to first base. Werth slides to center, Harper moves into right. Left field sees […]

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