Wide Open

Updated: February 17, 2014

You often hear the phrase “window is closing” when referring to sports franchises. In the case of the Washington Nationals, the window is “wide open”! Long gone are the days of the $50 million dollar Bud Selig payroll and RFK Stadium. Although the Nationals had a relatively quiet offseason when it comes to contract negotiations, the day of decisions is creeping closer.

The Nats began with the free agent signing of Jayson Werth and have added Gio Gonzalez and Ryan Zimmerman to long term deals along the way. No money talks with Gio until at least 2017 and Ryan is set until 2020. Club management negotiated with Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann over the Winter, but both will be looking for a big pay day following next season.

Following THIS season, the front office may be a bit busier. Strasburg will be eligible for arbitration and will certainly be expecting more than four million. Six other pitchers scheduled for arbitration heading to 2015 include, Doug Fister, Ross Detwiler, Jerry Blevins, Tyler Clippard, Craig Stammen and Drew Storen.

Washington added what appears to be an ideal backup catcher in Jose Lobaton, the switch hitter acquired from Tampa. Both he and starter Wilson Ramos have arbitration following the season. Decisions will have to be made at the end of the season with first baseman Adam LaRoche (2 million dollar buyout), center fielder Denard Span who is scheduled to make nine million ($500k buyout) and closer Rafael Soriano with a 14 million dollar club option.

Free agency down the road includes Jordan Zimmermann, Fister and Desmond in 2016 and Strasburg the following year. Harper will also be arbitration eligible again heading into ’16 and will be coming off salaries of only $2.15 and $2.25 million dollars. Just as the core of the team approaches free agency, Werth’s contract increases to $21 million a season in 2015 for each of the final three years of his deal.

Fortunately, the Nats have some young talent that is already becoming part of the fabric of the team, names like Taylor Jordan, Tanner Roark and Anthony Rendon. Despite interest from Houston Manager Bo Porter, Tyler Moore remains a factor, especially if this is the final chapter for LaRoche in DC.

Danny Espinosa is reportedly in great shape and a dozen teams are calling, including the second base hungry Yankees, if he doesn’t earn a roster spot. There is a reason so many clubs are interested in a 26 year old, switch hitting, natural shortstop who has already had two productive major league seasons. At a minimum, I can’t think of better qualifications for a utility infielder.

This season we will begin to see even more youngsters nearing their chance in “The Show”. Third baseman Matt Skole has reportedly already put on a show in batting practice in Viera and is healthy again following Tommy John surgery a year ago. The 2011 fifth round pick had a monster 2012 season and figures to have a future role. Outfielder Brian Goodwin is one of the top-100 prospects in all of baseball and if the Nats play their cards right, the former 1st round pick should be ready to take over a year from now.

Pitching help is also on the way. Top prospect Lucas Giolito can’t be expected to take regular turns until 2016, but A.J. Cole and Sammy Solis are much closer to spots on the major league pitching staff. Matt Williams has indicated that best case scenario his bullpen has two left handers, which is good news for Felipe Rivero. The 22 year old left hander was acquired from the Rays, along with Lobaton for pitcher Nate Karns.

No serious concerns on the injury front. Strasburg had bone chips cleaned up, Ryan Zimmerman some shoulder work and Harper’s knee repaired in October. No setbacks yet and none expected. For now, the Nationals window remains “Wide Open”, as solid young talent is maturing together. It is in 2015 when the window begins to close, if young talent isn’t ready to step up and take their turn alongside the stars.