Patrick is a Nationals blogger over at Federal Baseball, and the Mets are hosting Washington for a three-game series starting tonight. It seemed like a good time to get to know each other better.
Amazin' Avenue: How necessary was the Nationals' acquisition of veteran shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera in exchange for prospect Zach Walters? Both players would be asked to play second base for Washington, but Walters is younger, cheaper, and has hit for a higher slugging percentage in the big leagues this season.
Patrick Reddington: I'm not sure you can read all that much into Walters' 43 plate appearances in the majors this season, but he put up really good numbers at Triple-A (.300/.358/.608, 18 doubles, 15 HRs) after he hit for power (32 doubles, 29 HRs) last season but struck out a lot (20 walks vs 134 Ks in 521 PAs) and was shaky defensively (31 errors at SS). I think the Nationals were just more comfortable with a veteran presence at the major league level when they're in a good position to compete this season, they needed to upgrade on Danny Espinosa at second (as good as he is defensively, he's lost from the left side at the plate) and wanted someone who could play short if necessary if anything were to happen to Ian Desmond since there is little infield depth in the organization.
What's going on with this outfield in the future? Bryce Harper, Denard Span, and Jayson Werth seemed like a solid unit heading into the season, but now Steven Souza has surged into the majors. Even though he got hurt, Michael Taylor (who might even be more talented) is up to replace him. What does the outfield look like by Opening Day 2015?
This is one of two big roster questions the Nationals will have to answer this winter along with what they're going to do at first base with Adam LaRoche headed for free agency again and Ryan Zimmerman seemingly in need of a new position. As for the outfield, when the Nationals acquired Denard Span from the Twins, Nats' GM Mike Rizzo talked about him as a bridge to the next generation of center fielders coming up. Michael Taylor jumped ahead of 2011 1st Round pick Brian Goodwin on the depth chart in the last year, but Taylor is just 23 and didn't play above A-ball until this year when he really took off at Double-A, moved to Triple-A last week and then got the call when Souza ran into the right field wall in Atlanta this week. I have a hard time imagining that the Nationals, who are in a window of contention now, are going to hand the center field job to Taylor next season. There is a $9 million club option in the 5-year/$16.5 million extension Span signed with Minnesota in 2010. Picking up that option and bringing Span back, the way he's playing now, seems like a logical move to give Taylor some time at Triple-A to continue his development. I think that's the only question in the outfield, Harper and Werth are locked for the near-future. If they think Souza, who's crushed Triple-A pitching, can work in a bench role, he makes sense as a backup outfielder who can fill in on a regular basis and allow Werth/Span to get some rest. Opening Day 2015: Harper, Span and Werth starting with McLouth, Taylor, Souza in the mix.
Bryce Harper has disappointed this season. Whether it be due to injury or growing pains, the young star hasn't yet progressed into the all-around player that so many fans and analysts think he can become. Is there reason for concern yet, or is that kind of talk too early when we're dealing with a kid who doesn't turn 22 until October?
I think the biggest factors this year are the knee injury and surgery from last season and the thumb injury this year. In the past year he's had two significant surgeries which also happen to be the first surgeries he's undergone. The torn ulnar collateral ligament in his thumb this year set him back significantly because obviously you can't do anything in terms of swinging a bat as you recover from surgery. Harper started slow this season, but was getting comfortable at the plate when he injured the thumb. He missed 57 games and jumped right back in after not being able to even swing a bat until right before he started his rehab assignment, so I'm not surprised he's struggled at the plate since returning. There are some signs in recent weeks that his timing is getting there and the power is coming back, but I think all of his struggles this year are tied to the injuries. And yes, he is still just a 21-year-old who jumped from high school, one year of junior college and a year-plus in the minors right to the majors, so the fact that he's still experiencing some growing pains as talented as he is probably shouldn't be a surprise. Man, I sound like a Bryce Harper apologist...
Finally, a little Mets talk. New York and Washington are the only two teams in the NL East with positive run differentials. The Mets have gotten a big boost on offense this season with the emergence of Lucas Duda, and next season their pitching staff could be even stronger than it is now. Do you see the Mets as the Nationals primary competition for division supremacy in 2015 and beyond, or does that role still belong to the Braves?
I lamented a few years back that I was really unhappy that the Mets brought Sandy Alderson in to right the ship because I thought for sure he'd actually do a good job. I don't know that I see the Mets and Nationals alone as the top contenders in the division in 2015 and going forward because I also like, as in "am impressed by," the talent the Braves have assembled and locked up and as much as everyone was ripping the Marlins for building and quickly dismantling their roster in the last few years they've managed to collect a talented of group of young pitchers and fielders who are staying relevant a lot later into this season than I would have thought without Jose Fernandez available. The Mets doing the same without Harvey has been equally impressive. Unfortunately I think both the Marlins and Mets are going to cause trouble going forward as the Nats try to maintain their lead in the division and I think all four teams are capable of hanging around deep into the season next year. Sorry, Phillies.
Thank you, Patrick! We look forward to an exciting series between the Mets and Nats starting to night at 7:10 p.m. Rafael Montero and Doug Fister will do your starters for the series opener.
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