Unless you play in a dynasty or long-term keeper league and are already placing bets on the futures of Trea Turner and Joe Ross, the Nationals have had a very quiet offseason thus far. This is boring if you are an avid follower of the hot stove, but from a fantasy perspective boring can be good. Barring a late trade or free agent signing, the Nationals will be bringing most of the same core back for another run at a division title in 2015. The biggest loss for fantasy is Adam LaRoche, who the Nats allowed to leave so that Ryan Zimmerman could move to first base due to a chronic shoulder injury. The Nats are the kind of team that doesn’t seem to have any obvious superstars, but do have a number of reliable contributors who provide more fantasy value than you would expect at a glance. While this provides the potential for a few cornerstones, it does take away the odds of landing a sleeper; as a result, Washington does not have any sleepers identified for 2015.
[A note for our readers. While informative, since we are still months away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training, these previews are far from definitive or complete. Free agent signings, trades, and other offseason news will change the landscape for most if not all teams. For any moves that take place after a team preview is written, please look to our Transaction Analysis coverage for instant reactions, and then check back on the Team Previews for more detailed updates (including lineups, rotations, bullpens, etc.) as we get closer to Opening Day.]
[Another note for our readers. The characterizations below (for example, “stud”) are designed to be taken in context for each team. Not every team has a Mike Trout or Giancarlo Stanton, so the “stud” category represents the best player or players on each team, not necessarily in comparison to the league.)
Ian Desmond – SS
A spike in Desmond’s strikeout rate led to a significant drop in batting average and kept him from being a true five-category contributor, but Desmond’s near guarantee of a 20-20 season at shortstop makes him an elite fantasy player in any format. He has earned $28, $29, and $27 in NL-only over the last three seasons, and should be good for a near-$30 season again in NL-only and at least a $20 season in mixed. Troy Tulowitzki and Dee Gordon both have higher earning ceilings, but there isn’t a better money-in-the-bank shortstop in the game than Desmond.
Anthony Rendon – 2B/3B
The easy call would be to say that Rendon is going to slip in 2015 because his 2014 banner campaign came out of nowhere, but then the easy call last year was to rank Rendon as a middle-of-the-pack option in mixed and fail to predict his mammoth breakout. Talent trumps any worries of regression here, and while Rendon might drop in steals, he should provide enough overall value to stick in the top five at either second or third base, and the multi-positional eligibility helps.
Stephen Strasburg – SP
Post-Tommy John surgery, instead of becoming the out-of-this-world ace that many hoped he would become, Strasburg has become a reliable-yet-“boring” ace. But there is value in this ennui. Strasburg has cleared $20 in earnings in mono formats from 2012-2014, joining Madison Bumgarner, Zack Greinke, Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw, Chris Sale, Max Scherzer, and James Shields as the only other pitchers to do this in either league. There is the possibility that Strasburg takes a step forward in 2015 and steps into the stratosphere, but even if he doesn’t, he’s a virtual guarantee to be a Top 15 arm in standard mixed.
Jordan Zimmermann – SP
Zimmermann has always flown under the radar in mixed leagues, but the 28-year-old right-hander quietly took another step forward in 2014, increasing his strikeout rate while dropping his already low walk total even further and allowing a scant 13 home runs. The only thing arguably keeping Zimmermann from being an elite pitcher is his innings total, but everything else in his profile screams ace. He’s a pretty solid consolation prize if you miss out on one of the arms mentioned in Strasburg’s blurb above.
Tanner Roark – SP
Roark is not going to completely fall off of the map, but it is difficult to envision a repeat of his 2014 breakout without a significant spike in strikeouts. A $10-15 season in NL-only seems like a far more likely outcome than the $21 season Roark put up last year. His K/9 was below 5.0 from August 1 until the end of the season. Even if Roark somehow defies the batted-ball gods and manages to repeat a sub-3.00 ERA while being that hittable, the low whiff rates will tamp down his fantasy value.
Denard Span – OF
Like Roark, Span isn’t exactly a dud. Almost everything had to go right for Span to post $27 in earnings in NL-only in 2014, including maxing out his stolen base abilities and hitting over .300 for the first time since 2009. Push Span’s batting average down to .275 and his steals to 25, and he drops down from $27 to $22 last year. That’s solid, but if your league insists on paying for a repeat of 2014, it is best to stay away and look for cheaper speed sources.
Ryan Zimmerman – 3B/OF
Perhaps Zimmerman belongs in the “X-Factor” group below. After all, putting last year’s injury-riddled season aside, he only missed 32 games in 2012 and 2013 combined. The problem is that there is almost nothing to go off of from last year and Zimmerman is likely to get paid a little extra for his last year of third base eligibility. Zimmerman could certainly bounce back and hit 25 home runs, but a 15-20 home run season where he misses 30-40 games would surprise no one.
What You See Is What You Get
Doug Fister – SP
As with Roark, it is unlikely that Fister duplicates a super-low-3.00s ERA with his peripherals. The difference with Fister is that he has a track record of being a solid citizen despite the lack of big time strikeout numbers. His high groundball rate generates outs and keeps Fister away from the big inning that plagues other pitchers with low whiff rates. The lack of strikeouts puts a low ceiling on Fister’s earnings but his performance makes him a relatively safe investment for a pitcher with this profile.
Gio Gonzalez – SP
Some minor shoulder issues (perhaps this is an oxymoron) early in the season kept Gonzalez’s innings total down, but otherwise it was more of the same for Gonzalez, with a slightly higher ERA that was likely the product of sample size variance. If the shoulder is fine, there is no reason that Gio can’t put up another 195 solid innings and hover around $20 in mono league earnings.
Jayson Werth – OF
Werth’s ISO from 2011-2014 supports the notion that his 2013 power spike was an anomaly, and that 14-18 home runs is a more realistic outcome than the 25 he swatted in that banner campaign. Werth is a solid all around contributor, but it is probably worth discounting him somewhat assuming a gradual, age-related decline (he turns 36 in May). Even if Werth isn’t a traditional fantasy asset, his all-around contributions make him a great guy to have in mono and a solid second or third outfielder in mixed.
Bryce Harper – OF
Given what he has done so far, there is still an excellent chance that Harper is going to be a perennial All-Star and perhaps even an all-time great. However, there are enough short-term questions that it is valid to wonder what 2015 will bring for Harper. In 2014, his production plummeted, his whiff rate spiked, and his stolen base output nearly disappeared. Yes, it was a product of injuries, but Harper has dealt with injuries nearly every season of his career. There is a $35-40 Rotisserie monster lurking inside of Harper, but it is an open question if we will see it in 2015, later than that, or perhaps never.
Wilson Ramos – C
The belief that injuries lead to future, non-related injuries is one of the most wrongheaded beliefs there is in fantasy sports, but with some players, you cannot ignore all of the time they have missed, particularly if they play at a defensively demanding position. Ramos has played in a grand total of 191 games over the last three seasons, or a mere 39 percent of the Nationals’ games in that span. He has been very productive power hitter when he is one the field—particularly for a catcher—but paying for 130-140 games of production is a mistake. Assume 10-15 home runs and let someone else pay for the 20 percent chance that Ramos will beat the odds in 2015 and stay healthy.
Drew Storen – RP
Storen is penciled in as the Nationals’ closer and he should be fine in the role. But his non-elite strikeout rates make him a non-elite option, and the presence of Tyler Clippard behind him puts him in a more precarious position than many closers. The “proven closer/track record” thing is nonsense from a data science perspective, but if Matt Williams loses confidence in Storen early, none of that matters. Again, Storen “should” be fine, but he should probably be ranked in the bottom half of mixed closers at your draft.
Danny Espinosa – 2B
Espinosa could be far more than an NL-only option if he returns to his 20/20 caliber performances from earlier in his career. But this “earlier in his career” was way back in 2012, and Espinosa is a significant wild card based on his lack of playing time over the past two seasons and his down performance when he was on the field in 2014. His experiment with not switch-hitting might be good for Espinosa in the long-term, but for fantasy owners there could be some immediate pain before there is gain in 2015.
Tyler Clippard – RP
This is cheating. Clippard provides enough value that he is most certainly viable in mixed leagues whether he is getting saves or not. While the concerns about his eventually losing effectiveness or his arm falling off are viable, this has been Clippard’s background song for the last three or four seasons. Clippard will provide a little bit of everything across the board, and given that Storen is no lock, Clippard should be at the top of your list of set-up relievers in 2015.
Prospects for 2015
A.J. Cole – SP
The Nationals’ rotation is stacked, but Cole is on the short list to get the call if there is an injury. The low strikeout rate in the minors would be more of a concern in some organizations, but with Roark and Fister having some success with this model, it’s entirely possible that Cole could survive with a 5.5 or 6.0 K/9 rate in his first time through the majors due to the Nationals approach and the team’s steady defense. He is one of the better spec pitching plays for one-and-done leagues out there, even with the low strikeout rate.
Brian Goodwin – OF
2014 was a lost campaign due to injury and ineffectiveness, but Goodwin still has the potential to provide some decent fantasy value due to his power/speed combination if he gets an opportunity. He would need an injury to break into the lineup, but a gig as a fourth outfielder at some point in 2015 isn’t out of the question. Goodwin could be what recently departed Steven Souza was shaping up to be: a fourth outfielder who could provide NL-only value as a power/speed threat. All of this being said, there are a lot of “ifs” to contend with here.
Michael Taylor – OF
Taylor’s numbers in Double-A last year were comically ridiculous, as he put up a 22-homer, 34-steal, .313-batting-average season in a mere 96 games. He didn’t do nearly as much at Triple-A and the majors in two extremely abbreviated stints. The Nationals deep outfield gives them the luxury of keeping Taylor at Triple-A all year if they so desire. There are still some contact issues to work out, but if the Nats did have an injury, Taylor could be a better bet than Goodwin to nab a starting job and run with it. The subpar contact skills might only play to a .240 batting average in the majors, but in 2015’s offensive climate, that could still translate to a $20 season in mono formats.