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February 9, 2009
Team Health Reports
Head Trainer: Lee Kuntz
Trend: Neutral. They couldn't have been much worse, but with a roster full of players like Nick Johnson and Dmitri Young adding injury days in bunches, it's tough for Kuntz and his staff to make much headway. The injury to Ryan Zimmerman is perhaps the most significant cause for concern, but there's little a medical staff can do in a traumatic case like that, and the team's management of the situation does seem positive. The next big worry will be the influx of young players, especially pitchers, that will need to be monitored and managed.
The Shape of the Season:
The Big Question: Dave Sheinin of the Washington Post asks, "Are the Nationals truly willing to count on Nick Johnson to play first base. To put it another way, what is the over/under on games started by Nick Johnson?"
Johnson is a fascinating case for medheads; his problem is that there's no evidence that he can play baseball and stay healthy at the same time. The Nats hedged their bets somewhat by signing Dmitri Young, figuring that at least one of them would be healthy at any given time, but that didn't really work out either. Plan C might be to shift Josh Willingham to first base, taking some of the pressure off of his back and freeing up a slot for the Nats' glut of outfielders. Regardless of what else they might come up with, the Nats are hoping that Johnson can remain healthy long enough to have an impact, and that they'll have adequate options available so that when the inevitable happens, they won't be left wondering what to do next. The over/under? I'm giving him an optimistic 100 games, and wondering if he's ever had the same run of tests Rocco Baldelli had last spring.
Fantasy Tip: There's a temptation to look for some buy-low guys here, but the true value of most of these players is low to begin with. If there's a sleeper to be found, it's Scott Olsen, who has shown better stuff in the past than he did in last year's healthy campaign. Those of you that are going to take a chance and pick Nick Johnson (or Dmitri Young) should go ahead and stock up on Maalox. Fantasy owners have been gambling on Johnson's talent for a while, but the guys that draft him are seldom the same ones that pick up the trophy at the end of the year.
SP Daniel Cabrera: Risk and reward? Cabrera chafed under Leo Mazzone's program, and he has resisted any change to his high-effort delivery. Maybe the elbow sprain that wasn't quite bad enough for surgery will get his attention. Probably not, but his velocity alone is going to get him a lot of looks and have a lot of pitching coaches thinking, "I can fix him."
SP Shawn Hill: It doesn't get much redder than this. Hill ended his season on Jim Andrews' table in Pensacola, as his elbow required shutting him down early for the second consecutive season. Spurs, nerve compression, and a whippy motion all combine to make him a ticking time bomb. The bigger issue is that he hasn't been that great on the few occasions when he's been healthy.
1B Nick Johnson: Someday, we'll have genetic information that will show us why Nick Johnson just couldn't hold it together. His wrist was the breakdown point last year, so expect some loss of power before the next thing breaks. Even with low PECOTA expectations, he's still firmly at the high end of the red range.
LF Josh Willingham: His back is going to act up, but this team has enough depth in the outfield that they should barely notice the 20-30 games that he'll miss. His power fell off after a minor wrist injury in July, so there's some upside there as well. Some time at first base, or moving to the position completely, would help.
SP Scott Olsen: Olsen crossed the 200-inning mark for the first time last year after finishing the previous two seasons around 180. He became slightly more efficient, but gave up some strikeouts to do so. He was used somewhat rationally, with lower innings totals as the season wore on, making him a good bet to maintain the performance level. A history of elbow issues seems to be behind him, as do some stupid decisions he made. He's not an ace, but he's not bad and not that risky. PECOTA's low innings expectation offsets some of the risk.
SP Collin Balester: His 2008 was split between the majors and Triple-A, and he put up almost identical numbers in each assignment. As long as he doesn't go significantly over 150 innings, he should be OK physically, but his results may not be good enough to hold off some of the Nats' better prospects, making that inning total irrelevant.
3B Ryan Zimmerman: His power totals weren't helped by the new park in '08, and the shoulder injury sapped them all that much more. But what if the injury was a bit more chronic, and the park effect was overshadowed by the effect of the injury? Zimmerman denies that this is the case, but I think that he'll come back a bit more than most expect. That Eric Chavez comp does worry me a bit, though.
RF Austin Kearns: Kearns is just a placeholder at this point, so the low PA totals keep him from being too risky. The stress fracture that ended his season shouldn't be an issue, but there will be something else soon enough. The funny thing is that losing some playing time could keep him healthy enough in the long run to be more productive.
SP John Lannan
C Jesus Flores: He'll be fine after a nasty ankle sprain he suffered courtesy of a play at the plate in early September. He's young enough that an increase in games caught shouldn't be a huge challenge. That makes him one of the few green-rated catchers around.