Nov 21, 2013, 9:00 AM EDT
Before the offseason really heats up — I mean, heats up here in D.C. Based on last night’s earth-shattering trade, I’d say the offseason is now in full swing in both Detroit and Texas — it’s perhaps worth one final look back at last offseason. The Nationals didn’t conduct many transactions during the 2012-13 winter, but nearly every one of the decisions they made about their 40-man roster was significant.
Below are the six major transactions the Nationals made, with revisited analysis of each…
NOV. 29, 2012: ACQUIRED OF DENARD SPAN FROM TWINS FOR RHP ALEX MEYER
The rationale: The Nationals had been searching for a leadoff-hitting center fielder since … well, really since the franchise arrived in town in 2005. Mike Rizzo had his eye on Span for several years but balked at a potential July 2011 trade in part because of concerns about Span’s concussion history. Once that issue moved to the backburner, Rizzo pulled the trigger on the deal, sending 2011 first-round draft pick Meyer to Minnesota. It was a steep price, but the Nats felt like they had enough pitching depth to deal Meyer, and they knew they’d have Span under contract for at least two years.
The result: Span got off to a sluggish start at the plate, his timing thrown off by some mechanical tweaks the Nationals tried to get him to make. He hit just .257 with a .310 OBP through June 29 but then found his stroke at last. Over the season’s final three months, Span hit .300 with a .343 OBP. He also posted the majors’ longest hit streak of the year (29 games) and finished with a .279/.327/.380 split line, all slightly below his career norms. Defensively, Span was brilliant, tracking down balls in center field with ease and earning recognition as a Gold Glove Award finalist. Meyer, meanwhile, put up solid numbers at Class AA (3.21 ERA, 84 strikeouts in 70 innings) but missed two months with a shoulder strain. He returned strong in the Arizona Fall League, and the Twins continue to have high hopes for him.
The verdict: Though Span wasn’t as good as the Nationals expected, his first season in D.C. was an overall success. He brought much-needed stability to center field and took pressure off Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth at the corners. He made the necessary adjustments in the second half to give the team reason to believe he can productive throughout 2014. And he became a popular clubhouse figure who will continue to hold a key role for the Nats for at least one more season. Meyer may ultimately develop into a frontline, big-league starter, but he’s not there yet and the Nationals continue to boast farm system deep in pitching.
NOV. 30, 2012: NON-TENDERED LHPs JOHN LANNAN and TOM GORZELANNY, C JESUS FLORES
The rationale: The Nationals didn’t believe any of the three were worth retaining, certainly not at the prices they figured to command through arbitration. They could have optioned Lannan back to Class AAA yet again but showed some mercy in letting the lefty become a free agent and sign elsewhere.
The result: Of the three, only Gorzelanny enjoyed anything close to big-league success this season. Signed by the Brewers for two years and $6 million, he posted a 3.90 ERA in 43 games, mostly serving as a long reliever but making 10 starts due to injuries to others in the rotation. Lannan got a one-year, $2.5 million contract from the Phillies and opened the season as their No. 5 starter. He struggled mightily, with a 5.33 ERA in 14 starts, and wound up needing knee surgery. Flores never played in the majors in 2013; he hit a combined .174 with two homers in 74 games split between the Dodgers and the Rays’ Class AAA clubs.
The verdict: The Nationals certainly made the right decisions with Lannan and Flores, and they probably did as well with Gorzelanny. Though left-handed relief was an obvious problem-area this season, Gorzelanny’s value was as a long reliever and spot starter, not a late-inning, matchup lefty.
DEC. 7, 2012: SIGNED RHP DAN HAREN
The rationale: In need of a No. 5 starter, Rizzo took a bit of a gamble on Haren, who was coming off a rare down year with the Angels. Ultimately, the right-hander’s track record of durability and dominance, plus the fact he was willing to take a one-year deal, convinced Rizzo to sign him for $13 million.
The result: Haren didn’t have a particularly encouraging spring, and that proved an ominous sign of things to come. He was terrible through the season’s first half, racking up a 6.15 ERA while serving up a staggering 19 homers in 82 innings. The Nats placed him on the DL with a made-up shoulder injury to let him clear his head, and Haren did return much better. He posted a 3.29 ERA over his final 15 starts to somewhat salvage the year, though it still proved a major disappointment for the right-hander and the Nationals.
The verdict: There wasn’t much disagreement with the Haren signing at the time, but few could reasonably justify it by season’s end.
JAN. 8, 2013: RE-SIGNED 1B ADAM LaROCHE
The rationale: This was perhaps Rizzo’s biggest offseason question. In the wake of a Gold Glove/Silver Slugger season, LaRoche found himself a free agent. Davey Johnson desperately wanted him back. LaRoche desperately wanted to come back. But the veteran wanted at least a three-year contract, and Rizzo refused to offer anything more than two guaranteed years. The two sides engaged in a game of chicken for two months before LaRoche finally relented, accepting a deal that guaranteed two years and $24 million (though it also includes a mutual, $15 million option for 2015).
The result: LaRoche didn’t come close to duplicating his 2012 performance, at the plate or in the field. His .237 batting average and .403 slugging percentage were the lowest of his career for any non-injury-plagued season. He also regressed at first base, both in his range and ability to scoop up poor throws. LaRoche believes his battle with low weight — the byproduct of ADD medication — was a major contributor to his woes.
The verdict: One year in, the LaRoche deal certainly doesn’t look good. But he’ll get a chance to bounce back next season, just as he did during his first contract with the Nationals. We can’t truly pass judgment on this one until then.
JAN. 16, 2013: TRADED 1B/OF MICHAEL MORSE TO SEA, RECEIVED RHPs A.J. COLE and BLAKE TREINEN and PLAYER-TO-BE-NAMED (LHP IAN KROL) FROM OAK
The rationale: Once they acquired Span and re-acquired LaRoche, the Nationals knew they no longer had a spot in their starting lineup for Morse. Coming off a solid — though injury-plagued — season and eligible for free agency after 2013, Morse was deemed expendable, so Rizzo set out to find the best offer for the popular slugger. In the end, he managed to pull off a three-team trade that sent Morse back to Seattle, catcher John Jaso from Seattle to Oakland and three prospects (including original Nats draft pick Cole) from Oakland to Washington.
The result: When Morse got off to a torrid start in Seattle — six homers in his first nine games — it was easy to complain that the Nationals made a huge mistake. But then Morse’s injury history cropped up again. He spent a month on the DL, and even when on the field never found his groove at the plate. The Orioles acquired him for the stretch run but he was dreadful in Baltimore, going hitless in his final 22 at-bats to finish the year with a .215 batting average, 13 homers and 27 RBI over 337 plate appearances. What about the three prospects the Nats got from the A’s? Cole was OK at Class A Potomac but then dominated Class AA Harrisburg (2.18 ERA in seven starts). Treinen was solid at Harrisburg (3.64 ERA in 20 starts). And the player-to-be-named turned out to be Krol, who made his big-league debut in June, was fantastic for about a month and then slowly regressed over the rest of the season.
The verdict: Though both Span and LaRoche underperformed this season, each proved far more productive than Morse, who unfortunately picked the worst possible time to slump and battle injuries. He’ll now have to settle for whatever offer he receives as a free agent this winter, hoping to re-establish his value. Cole continues to look like a potential No. 2 or No. 3 starter down the road. Treinen is a borderline prospect. Krol showed flashes but will need to prove he can do it over the long haul to stick in the Nats bullpen.
JAN. 17, 2013: SIGNED RHP RAFAEL SORIANO
The rationale: Rizzo insists he was never in the market for a closer, but as the offseason dragged on and Soriano remained available felt he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to bolster what already appeared to be a strength. Soriano’s two-year, $28 million contract included tons of deferred money, so the price wasn’t as severe as it appeared. The bigger question would be how this out-of-the-blue signing would affect Drew Storen, who was now losing his closer’s job after blowing Game 5 of the NLDS.
The result: Soriano’s season-ending numbers (43 saves, 3.11 ERA) were solid enough, though he wasn’t as effective as the Nationals hoped. He blew six saves, saw his strikeout rate plummet and wasn’t always well-received by the public. Storen, meanwhile, clearly wasn’t himself. Whether it was a byproduct of the playoff loss or the Soriano signing, we’ll never know. But after Storen was optioned to Class AAA in July, fellow reliever Tyler Clippard publicly criticized the organization for the bad message it sent Storen with the Soriano signing. The Nationals bullpen, which looked on paper like one of baseball’s best, didn’t live up to the billing.
The verdict: This will be another one that can’t truly be judged for at least another season. Rizzo signed Soriano because he felt he needed a veteran closer to get the Nats over the October hump. They never got themselves into a position to find out if Soriano could be the final piece to the puzzle. They’ll try again next year, though Storen’s future with the organization remains a significant question mark.
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