As far as I can figure, the 2015 Nationals will head into Spring Training with at least 23 of their 25 slots filled and ready to go. A luxury to be sure, and not one that will repeat itself anytime soon. Over the next few seasons, at least a handful of free agents will be leaving each year, many from key positions. For example, the 2016 Nationals could be starting the season without Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister, Ian Desmond and Denard Span: And that’s just me thinking of starters off the top of my head. Each year after next, similar names may be on the way out the door, each requiring a spring training for new players to become acquainted with the team, young players trying to play their way on, and a parade of healthy competition for starting spots.
But the future is the future, and today is today: And today, the Nats won’t have to think too hard about a lot of the spots on the team. Each MLB club is allotted a 25 man roster to play day-to-day with, and an expanded 40 man roster where the additional 15 players are in the minor leagues, but available for call up at a moment’s notice.
Seriously, I just went through the roster and I’m not sure there is anywhere for anyone to break into the top 25. There, legitimately, may be no camp battles in 2015. So let’s count them up.
Barring injury or some insane trade, the Nationals will start the season with:
- Jayson Werth, Denard Span, and Bryce Harper (3) in the outfield (although not exactly where they all were last year);
- Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond, and Anthony Rendon (3) in the Infield (although not exactly where they all were last year); and
- Wilson Ramos at Catcher (right where he was last year). (1)
That’s 7 of your 25 right there.
- Yunel Escobar is going to play second base (1), bringing you to 8.
- Throw in Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez, Doug Fister, Jordan Zimmermann, and Tanner Roark (6)- five of which will be starting pitchers, the sixth of which will be a starting pitcher stuck in the bullpen (more on that in a future post).
That’s 14 players already. More than halfway done.
Even with the departure of Tyler Clippard, the bullpen will feature many old faces:
- Drew Storen (to close games), Craig Stammen (maybe to be the new Tyler Clippard, or at least new Ryan Mattheus), Matt Thornton, Jerry Blevins and a new face in Casey Janssen (5). Now you’re up to 19.
- It’s not just starters and role players that are shoe-ins, but many bench and utility players as well. Jose Lobaton will be the back up catcher again, and Kevin Frandsen is definitely going to be on the bench.
Those 21 guys, short of getting traded or hurting themselves, are going to be on the Nationals regardless of how good or bad they play this spring. They are major leaguers, through and through, and the team will roll with them unless there is a specific reason not to.
Of the four remaining spots, you’ll need some more back up infield, outfield, and at least one more relief pitcher. While spring training is about figuring these last few spots out, even these don’t seem to be much of a competition.
Nate McLouth might not have made the team if the Nats hadn’t parted ways with Steven Souza Jr., but they did and so he’ll probably be back. He had his worst year of his career last year, and I don’t really see what would change this year – but he’s a lot more polished than Michael Taylor, who might benefit from playing every day in AAA. Who knows: if Taylor has a great spring and McLouth an awful one, they might make a switch: but I doubt it. Count him as 22.
In fact, the only guy who might replace McLouth is new signee Mike Carp. Before falling apart in 2014 with the Red Sox and Rangers, Carp played solid first base and outfield for Boston. He hits left handed, like McLouth, and would be an established backup for the new-to-first-baseman Ryan Zimmerman in case of injury (which, you know, has happened to him). If there is one guy who can legitimately show up and take a spot, its Carp.
As to the bullpen, you’ve got Aaron Barrett probably coming back. He was the goat of Game 4 (even if Matt Williams really was to blame. More on that later), but he finished the back half of the 2014 season as a go to reliever. I really can’t see him not being guy number 23.
In the back-up infielder spot, Danny Espinosa is already on the major league roster where as World Series Champion Dan Uggla is not. Danny Espinosa can play defensively at shortstop or second base. World Series Champion Dan Uggla can play just second base. The Nats are taking a very inexpensive chance on Uggla that he could return to a fraction of what he once was and give Espionsa competition. Right now, Espi probably has the inside track to the first spot on the bench given his defensive stuff-but Uggla could hit his way on to the club. That could be 24 and 25 right there, and if not both of them then one of them will plus Carp.
The remaining guys on the 40 man roster are either simply not ready for the bigs, or are behind five or six guys who are better. The Nats are stacked. Tyler Moore, Sandy Leon, Jeff Kobernus, Erik Davis... all guys who in previous years might have made the squad, but don’t really have a chance this year. They, along with Mike Taylor, are probably the first guys up in the case of injury-but they haven’t shown they are good enough to make the squad before, and there is no real reason to assume they’d break through into this group this year.
Is that it then? Is the 25 man roster that set? I tend to think so.