As the start of spring training approaches, the Washington Nationals are waiting right along with the rest of the world to find out where Bryce Harper will be playing next season.
The 2012 NL Rookie of the Year and 2015 NL MVP has never worn a major league uniform other than Washington’s, but his shot at free agency finally arrived — even if no new contract has, as of yet.
With the Nationals coming off a disappointing season, general manager Mike Rizzo didn’t exactly sit around and wait to see whether Harper would return or not.
“The ‘Bryce situation’ and filling some of the other things that we’re trying to do are independent of each other,” Rizzo said early in the offseason.
“We’re very impatient people,” Rizzo said. “We have a wish list, and we try to get things done.”
He got quite a bit done, in fact, turning over a chunk of the roster in the hopes of righting the team after it flopped under rookie manager Dave Martinez. Washington went just 82-80 and missed the playoffs after winning two consecutive NL East titles with Dusty Baker in charge.
Some things to know about the 2019 Washington Nationals:
Rizzo made additions to every aspect of his club except, notably, the outfield, where the runner-up for NL Rookie of the Year, Juan Soto, joins Adam Eaton, top prospect Victor Robles and Michael A. Taylor as holdovers. The rotation got lefty Patrick Corbin and righty Anibal Sanchez; the bullpen was restocked with Trevor Rosenthal and Kyle Barraclough; the infield has a new second baseman in Brian Dozier; there are two new catchers, Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki.
ROOKIES TO WATCH
A brief stint last season allowed the 21-year-old Robles to display flashes of the speed and power he’s expected to provide if given the chance to play regularly. In 59 at-bats, he had three steals, three homers and 10 RBIs while batting .288. Put him alongside Soto, who hit 22 homers at age 19 last year, and the Nationals could have a young, dynamic outfield for years to come. Asked whether Robles is ready to be the starting center fielder, Martinez said: “I think Victor is ready to play baseball. He’s itching to play. We’ll see how that transpires.”
The rotation could be among the best in the big leagues, led by righty Max Scherzer, a three-time Cy Young Award winner who was the runner-up to Jacob deGrom of the New York Mets for that honor in 2018. He’s followed by Stephen Strasburg and new additions Corbin and Sanchez. The only thing up in the air is the No. 5 slot, now that Gio Gonzalez (traded during last season) and Tanner Roark (traded in the offseason) are gone. Jeremy Hellickson is probably the front-runner, with Joe Ross and Erick Fedde also in the mix to add depth.
Martinez is still an unknown quantity, especially after the team’s performance in his first year didn’t come anywhere close to living up to expectations.
There are a lot of new pieces to fit together, and Martinez has vowed to put a renewed emphasis on fundamentals during camp. “I already told the guys at the end of last year: Spring training will be a lot different. We’ve got a lot of work to do,” the manager said. Washington will open the regular season March 28 at home against a revamped division rival, the Mets; it could be an enticing pitching showdown between the teams’ aces, Scherzer and deGrom.