The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: The Final Spring Training Game (Nats vs. Mets)

If this doesn’t get you excited, then I don’t know what will — the Nationals wrapped up their Spring Training schedule today against the Mets, and will soon be boarding a plane and heading back to Nationals Park.  It’s been a long offseason, but baseball is finally upon us once again.  As far as Spring Training contests go, today’s game was about as compelling as the rest; the Nationals were backed by quality pitching, took an early lead, and added on once the regulars were out of the game.  Here now, the good, the bad, and the ugly, from the final contest in Florida, a 4-0 Nationals victory.

THE GOOD

Jordan Zimmermann was dominant all spring long, and today’s start was no exception.  In five innings, Zimmermann made 71 pitches, struck out 3, allowed 4 hits, walked none, and did not allow a run.  In the first inning, he got into a jam, putting runners on second and third with one out. However, he escaped the jam by striking out Curtis Granderson with the help of a slider that Stephen Strasburg would do well to take notes on:

zimmermann slider granderson

Coming to bat with the bases loaded and two out in the bottom of the second, Zimmermann even helped his cause by legging out an RBI infield single.  His final line for the spring: 18 innings pitched, 11 hit, 1 earned run, 1 walk, and 15 strikeouts.  He’ll make his first start of the regular season against these Mets a week from today.

— Plenty of Nats bats finished Spring Training in fine fashion.  Denard Span went 3-5 with a run scored, raising his average for the spring to a remarkable .370.  Bryce Harper went 2-4 with two singles, including this lined shot for an RBI, which flew over pitcher Jeurys Familia’s head at 107 MPH (according to the notoriously unreliable stadium gun):

harper linerDanny Espinosa went 2-3 with a double and a walk, while Kevin Frandsen lined a double to left in his Nationals’ debut.

— Three players who figure to be key members of the Nationals’ bullpen — Rafael Soriano, Tyler Clippard, and Drew Storen — all closed their springs on a positive note.  Each allowed a hit in a scoreless inning, but combined for five strikeouts on the day, including two apiece by Clippard and Soriano.  Soriano was put in a jam thanks to an error by Anthony Rendon, but escaped by striking out Granderson looking on a slider.

Jerry Blevins was even more dominant, allowing just an infield single while striking out the side to close out the Grapefruit League season.  For the spring, Blevins gave up only three hits and a run in 9.1 innings, with 11 strikeouts to 3 walks.

THE BAD

— Harper may have been good with the bat today, but he struggled on the basepaths in the sixth inning. Against Mets’ lefthander Scott Rice, Harper rocketed a line drive to the wall in left, but jogged out of the box and was held to a single.  Then, Harper went first move on Rice, but Rice threw over, and Harper was thrown out.

THE UGLY

— Anthony Rendon left five on base in the game, going 0-5 and dropping his spring batting average from an impressive .325 to a still-healthy .289.

The Nationals finish up Grapefruit League play with a 15-13 record (not that it really matters).  They head back to Nationals Park on Saturday for one exhibition game against the Tigers; Tanner Roark will get the start, while Taylor Jordan will enter in relief.  Then, it’s off to Citi Field for Opeining Day against Dillon Gee and the Mets; the game starts at 1:10 PM.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Spring Training Game 19 (Tigers vs. Nats)

Yesterday, we at Serious Jammage took the day off in order to soak up the beautiful DC weather, which finally felt more like spring than winter.  Today, the weather was miserable once again, so we’re back in action.  At any rate, the Nationals had a split-squad day, keeping the starters at Space Coast Stadium in Viera (where the weather is seemingly always beautiful) to play the Tigers, and sending the reserves to Kissimmee to play the Astros.  Here now is the good, the bad, and the ugly from the 2-1 loss to the Tigers.

THE GOOD

Jordan Zimmermann struggled with command in the first inning, but recovered well to put togather a fourth consecutive strong start.  In that first inning, Zimmermann gave up a leadoff single to Rajai Davis, then hit Ian Kinsler with a fastball that ran too far inside.  Davis and Kinsler managed a double steal, and Davis came around to score on a Don Kelly groundout.  But Zimmermann was near-flawless over the next three innings, allowing just three hits and a walk.  He struck out three, including a called strikeout of Rajai Davis, whom he caught looking at a slider away:

zimmermann k 2 2-16The run Zimmermann gave up was his first of the spring — in 13 innings, he has struck out 12, walked one, and given up just that one run.

Ryan Zimmerman played seven innings today, including the first two innings he has played at first base in his professional career.  He moved to first in the sixth, and almost immediately got his first chance at the not-so-hot corner:

zimmerman debut firstAs you can see, Zimmerman looked to second to turn a double play, but bobbled the ball, and had to settle for the one out.  This was the only ball hit to Zimmerman in his two innings at first, though he managed to record four additional putouts.  He also went 1-3 with a double at the plate.

— At age 25, southpaw Sammy Solis is trying to prove he is ready to make a big league roster.  The 2010 second round pick, who suffered a career setback when he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2012, made just his second appearance of the spring today, after being held out with back spasms.  Solis threw two hitless innings, and while he didn’t strike anyone out, he managed four groundball outs of the six he recorded.  Solis’ fastball hit 93 MPH on the radar gun (which seemed to be running a little slow), and seems poised to insinuate himself into the conversation for a spot in the Nationals’ bullpen.

THE BAD

— With the wind blowing in, and with two upper-echelon starters in Zimmermann and Justin Verlander on the mound, the odds were stacked against offense today.  The Tigers managed just two runs on seven hits in the game, and it was even worse for the Nationals.  Against Verlander, the Nationals were held hitless for the first four innings, with Verlander striking out three and looking dominant.  With two out in the fifth, the Nationals finally managed to break through against Verlander, with Adam LaRoche lining a 1-0 fastball to center:

laroche singleIt didn’t get too much better after Verlander left — the Nationals managed to manufacture a run without a hit in the seventh, but managed just a Ryan Zimmerman double and a Jhonatan Solano single in the final four frames.

THE UGLY

— The Nationals have been quite aggressive on the basepaths thus far this spring, and they got a taste of their own medicine today.  Against starting catcher Jose Lobaton (who threw out only 14% of base stealers with the Rays last year), the Tigers stole three bases, including the double steal by Davis and Kinsler that set up the Tigers’ first run.  Then in the eighth, Lobaton’s replacement Jhonatan Solano allowed three more steals, including two to ertswile Nat Steve Lombardozzi, who stole second and third, scoring the game-winning run on a Danny Worth double.  The Nationals have struggled with holding baserunners in the past — they threw out just 17% of base stealers last year, well below the league average of 28%.  It’s only Spring Training, but if this continues to be a problem, it will be a frustrating one indeed.

 

 

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly: Spring Training Game 13 (Yankees vs. Nats)

The New York Yankees very rarely travel from Tampa to Viera during Spring Training — they made the trip just once in 2012, and not at all in 2013. But today, the Yankees brought several of their regulars — starting pitcher C.C. Sabathia among them — on the two hour cross-state trip to Space Coast Stadium to take on Jordan Zimmermann and the Nationals.  Here now, the good, the bad, and the ugly of today’s 3-2 Nationals’ victory.

THE GOOD

Jordan Zimmermann’s impressive 2013 season (19 wins, 3.25 ERA, his first all-star appearance) all but ensured that he would never again be overlooked in the Nationals’ rotation. And so far this spring, he has done nothing to dissuade from thinking that his next season will be equally as impressive.  Zimmermann threw four innings today, making 54 pitches, 37 of which were strikes.  In that span, he struck out four, and did not allow a single baserunner.

zimmermann outing 2Zimmermann seemed in total control of all four of his pitches, including his changeup:

zimmermann change 2In nine scoreless innings pitched for Zimmermann this spring, he has allowed just three hits and a walk, and struck out nine. Even if Spring Training stats don’t matter, those are some pretty impressive numbers.

Anthony Rendon didn’t get a hit until his ninth at bat of the spring, striking out six times in those first eight at-bats.  But in the 11 plate appearances since that first hit, Rendon has been scorching — 6 hits in 10 at-bats, a walk, a home run, and 3 RBI.  Today, Rendon walked in his first at-bat, coming into score on a Wilson Ramos force out.  Then in his second at-bat, with two outs and two on, Rendon roped a double into the left-field corner, scoring both runners:

rendon double 2 rbiRendon, involved in a heated competition for the starting second base job with Danny Espinosa, is now hitting .333 with a .688 slugging percentage for the spring.

— There’s a lot more to aggressive baserunning than simply stealing bases.  Intelligent, aggressive baserunning also entails taking the extra base whenever possible and, as we saw today, successfully executing the hit and run.  The Nationals put on the play twice today, and both times, it worked to a tee.  With one out in the first, Anthony Rendon took off for second, forcing the second baseman to vacate his position. Jayson Werth placed a ball right into the newly created hole:

werth h and r singleRendon moved to third on the play, and came around to score later that inning.  In the second, Tyler Moore came up with Danny Espinosa on.  Espinosa headed for second, and Moore blooped a ball into left-center field:

moore hit and runThese types of plays don’t get all that much attention, but they can make a big impact if properly executed, and today, they were.

THE BAD

Drew Storen has now made three appearances on the spring, and in each of them, he has given up a run.  Today’s outing was much better than the first two — Storen managed to strike out the side, and both his slider and changeup looked stronger than they did at many points last year.  But with two outs, nobody on, and two strikes on Eduardo Nunez, Storen left a fastball right over the middle of the plate, which Nunez promptly banged into the right field corner for a triple.  He then left a fastball up in the zone to the next hitter, Dean Anna, who pulled it into right field for an RBI single.  Storen was one well-located fastball from a strong bounceback outing, but two mistake pitches turned a good outing sour.

THE UGLY

— After Jayson Werth’s single to lead off the third, the Nationals had four hits and three runs in two plus innings.  But in the next six, they would only manage one more hit (a Chris Snyder 8th inning single), and would not score again.  Obviously, this is just Spring Training, when the regulars are long gone after the first several innings.  But in the regular season, adding on runs will be essential — today, the Nationals watched a comfortable lead turn into just a one-run win.

— Not the Nationals, but this is about as ugly as you can get while still recording an out:mccann falls

BONUS GIF

Nate McLouth’s catch in the fourth inning:

mclouth catch

The Nationals have another split squad day tomorrow, with one squad traveling to Orlando to face the Braves and another heading to Kissimmee to take on the Astros.  Chris Young will start against the Braves, while Tanner Roark will get the ball against the Astros.  Both games will start at 1:05 — the Nationals-Astros contest will be televised on CSN Houston and MLB.tv.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Spring Training Game 7 (Nats vs Braves)

This seems like the 100th time this Spring that these two teams have played each other. Tonight, the Nationals started Jordan Zimmermann to face Julio Teheran of the Braves. The Nationals lineup was filled with bench players and minor leaguers galore, with the exception of Anthony Rendon/Danny Espinosa (depends on who you ask).  Nationals gave the Braves there second Spring win, losing 3-2 on a walk off single. We look at the good, the bad, and the ugly from this game.

GOOD

Jordan Zimmermann continues the trend of Washington Nationals starting pitchers who look good in Spring Training, sans Ross Detwiler. Zimmermann’s started the game going 1-2-3, including a strikeout of Justin Upton. In the second inning, Zimmermann got Evan Gattis to ground out, which was then followed up by a Chris Johnson single. However, nothing amounted out of that base hit, as Zimmermann was able to strikeout Dan Uggla and get Andrelton Simmons to ground out. Then, Jordan Zimmermann did something that no other Nationals starting pitcher has done this Spring, pitched in the third inning. The third was Zimmermann’s most eventful inning, as he gave up an infield single to Matt Lipka and a walk to Justin Upton. But Zimmermann was able to get out of a jam by striking out Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman. Final line on Jordan Zimmermann: 3.0 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K’s.

Will Rhymes is a very unlikely candidate to make the Nationals out of Spring Training, but today, he looked very good in the starting role. Rhymes, who started today at third, had a very solid day with the bat, going 2 for 3 with 2 singles. In a game with little offense, Rhymes was a highlight.

Anthony Rendon started this Spring on a sour note, going 0 for 7 with 5 strike outs. However, today, Rendon broke his mini-slump with a 2 for 3 performance with 2 singles. Another player snapping their Spring hitless streak was fellow infielder, Danny Espinosa, whose single in the first snapped his 0 for 10 streak. 

Aaron Barrett was recently featured in an Washington Post article, where writer Adam Kilgore anointed him as a potential future closer for the Nationals. Barrett, who was almost out of baseball in 2010, has managed to build his way through the Nationals farm system all the way to AA, where he posted a 2.15 ERA and piled up 69 strikeouts in 501 / 3 innings. Today, Barrett made his second appearance of the Spring, retiring the Braves in order in the 6th.

Chris Snyder‘s chances to make the team were shot down when the Nationals acquired Jose Lobaton back on February 13th. But that won’t stop Snyder from trying, as he hit a big home run in the bottom of the ninth to cut the Braves lead in half, and starting the Nationals ninth inning rally.

BAD

Tyler Moore has looked sloppy all this Spring. His woes continued today where he had two poor plays, one with the bat and one in the field. In the top of the third inning, Moore came up to bat with runners on first and second an one out, hoping to take brake the 0-0 tie. However, Moore did no such thing, as he rolled over a pitch to a fastball to shortstop Andrelton Simmons to start a 6-4-3 double play, and end the inning. Then, in the bottom of the third, Moore was holding on the runner, Matt Lipka, at first. When Lipka was slowly walking back to the bag, catcher Jose Lobaton made a snap throw to try to catch the snoozing Lipka. Not only did Lobaton catch Lipka off guard, but he also caught Moore of guard, as Moore wasn’t expecting the throw, and let the ball get by him. The error allowed Matt Lipka to get all the way to third, and made Tyler Moore look foolish.

UGLY

Ross Ohlendorf did not have a good day. Ohlendorf, who was making his spring debut, started off the sixth inning by loaded the bases on singles and by Edward Salcedo and Andrelton Simmons and a walk to Dan Uggla. Then, Ohlendorf gave up the tie with a single to Todd Cunningham. After that single, Ohlendorf started to feel some discomfort in his lower back, leading to Matt Williams and trainer Lee Kuntz to pull the pitcher from the game.

The Nationals take on the Astros tomorrow at 1:00 PM. Doug Fister takes on Brett Oberholtzer at Space Coast Stadium in Viera. You can hear Charlie and Dave call this game on WJFK 1580 AM and WFED 1500. The game can also be heard on the Astros broadcast through Nationals.com or the MLB At Bat app.

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly: Washington Nationals Spring Training Game 2

After weeks of drills and intrasquad practices, Space Coast Stadium played host to a Spring Training contest for the first time in 2014, as the Nationals played their Spring Training home opener today against the rival Atlanta Braves.  This was a game that represented all that is awful about Spring Training baseball.  It featured no-name pitchers who couldn’t throw strikes as well as reserve position players who couldn’t field, and seemed like it would only end after the heat death of the universe.  The Nationals, after letting up nine runs in the fifth inning, somehow came back to win by a final score of 16-15, tying the game in the sixth inning on a bases-clearing double from Mike Fontenot, and taking the lead on an RBI single from prospect Matt Skole.  Here now is the good, the bad, and the ugly of today’s game; believe me, there was a whole lot of ugly.

THE GOOD

Jordan Zimmermann picked up almost exactly where he left off in 2013, displaying the trademark efficiency that made him a 19-game winner last year.  In two innings, he allowed only a leadoff infield single to Jordan Schafer, a runner he then erased on a double play.  All told, Zimmermann managed five groundball outs, then finished his outing with a flourish, getting Dan Uggla to chase a slider for strike three.  Zimmermann, of course, has a guaranteed spot in the Nationals’ rotation, and today, he demonstrated the form that makes him one of the NL’s top pitchers.

Matt Williams has pledged to be far more aggressive on the basepaths than his predecessor, and he got a chance to show off his team’s new style of play today.  The Nationals attempted four to steal four bases in the first four innings, including two attempts to steal third; they were successful on all of them.  Baserunning is one of the more underrated aspects of the game, and the Nationals were about league average on the bases last year (14th in the league in baserunning runs added), so they clearly have room to improve.

Denard Span looks to be the biggest beneficiary from Williams’ new baserunning approach; despite blazing speed, he stole only 20 bases last year.  In the third inning, Span singled to center.  He proceeded to steal both second and third — his steal of third came without a throw on a double steal with Bryce Harper.  Look for Span, who went 2-3 with a run scored on the day, to be more aggressive on the bases come the regular season.

Luis Ayala is one of many relievers in Nationals’ camp with an outside shot at making the ballclub, so for him, every good outing makes a difference.  And Ayala had the best outing of any Nationals’ reliever on the day.  Entering with the bases loaded and one out in the eighth inning, Ayala promptly induced a 5-3 double play off the bat of Tyler Greene, protecting a tenuous one-run lead.  He stayed in the game in the ninth, and got the first two batters of the inning.  He gave up a two-out single to Matt Lipka, who then stole second and reached third when the throw went into center field.  But Ayala struck out Jose Constanza, ending the game and mercifully shielding us from the possibility of extra innings.

THE BAD

Matt Purke entered the spring finally healthy, and looking to prove that he has a future in the major leagues.  But the 22-year old Purke was ineffective in his first Grapefruit League appearance, struggling mightily with his command.  He walked only two, but fell behind several others, giving up four runs on four hits in an inning and a third.  Purke, who made it to High-A Potomac last year, isn’t really a threat to crack the Opening Day roster.  But he needs to show the ability to pound the strike zone if he wants to work his way back into the Nationals’ long-term plans.

THE UGLY

— The Nationals’ defense in the fifth inning wouldn’t have even made a Little League coach proud.  The inning started with a throwing error by Mike Fontenot.  After a strikeout, Chris Johnson hit a line drive that fooled center fielder Brian Goodwin and fell for a double.  The next two batters singled, scoring two.  Then Matt Lipka blooped one down the right field line.  Michael Taylor misjudged it, let it get past him, picked it up, and threw it well past third.  Lipka came around to score — the old-fashioned Little League home run.  The Braves would go on to score four more runs in the inning, turning a 6-5 deficit into a 14-6 lead.  The Nationals, by virtue of some more ugly baseball, would go on to score 5 in the bottom half of the inning — by the time the fifth was over, it was 3:45 PM, some two hours and forty-five minutes into the game.

— Despite the fact that this was the Nationals’ Grapefruit League home opener, neither MASN nor WJFK decided to broadcast the game.  Which meant that if you wanted to follow this game as a Nationals’ fan, you were stuck with the decision to either follow the MLB Gameday feed or listen to Jim Powell and Don Sutton on the Atlanta Braves Radio Network.  The two veteran broadcasters did a good job, treating this game with the sense of bemusement befitting the farce that it was.  But it would have been smart of the Nationals to put their home broadcasters on the air for the home opener.

WRAP-UP

The Nationals improve to 2-0 on the spring, while the Braves fall to 0-4.  Tomorrow, the Nationals will take on the Marlins at Space Coast Stadium; the 1:05 game will be Doug Fister’s first appearance in a Nationals’ uniform, and will be televised on MASN (WJFK will also be on the call).

Top 10 Nationals Moments of 2013 – Part 2

harper standing o

The Washington Nationals had a 2013 season in which they failed to live up to the lofty expectations of the previous campaign.  Despite this disappointment, 2013 was filled with moments that are well worth remembering.  Here now are the top 5 moments of the 2013 season (moments 6-10 are covered here).

5.  Jordan Zimmermann’s 91 pitch, one hit complete game — April 26th, Cincinnati Reds

One night after Gio Gonzalez one hit the Reds in an 8-1 victory, Jordan Zimmermann took the mound, hoping to match Gonzalez’s performance. Zimmermann came out strong, retiring the first three batters on only 7 pitches. Zimmermann continued to dominate in the next inning, striking out Jay Bruce on 3 pitchers and setting down the side on only 11 pitches. In the top of the third, Zimmermann gave up a single to former Nationals farmhand Xavier Paul.  However, it only took Zimmermann 9 more pitches to get out of the inning. After three, Zimmermann had faced 10 batters on 30 pitches. Zimmermann only got better after that. In the final six innings of the game, Zimmermann only allowed two more base runners, one reaching on an error, and the other reaching on a walk.  Zimmermann finished what he started, going the distance for the second time in his career, and his first complete game win. On a night where Zimmermann needed to be almost perfect (the Nats only scored one run) he was just that.

video here

4. Ian Desmond game winning grand slam – June 19th, Philadelphia Phillies

Even though they are no longer the juggernaut they were just two seasons ago, it still feels special when the Nats manage to pull a win from the Phillies. But even in that context, this one was special.  The Nationals were in danger of getting swept in Philly, and through 8 innings, it looked like that was going to happen. The Nationals were down 2-1 heading into the ninth, facing off against Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon. With two outs and two on in the ninth, Jayson Werth came to the plate and knocked the first pitch he saw into left field, tying the game at 2.  Relievers Tyler Clippard, Ian Krol, and Drew Storen kept the game scoreless going into the 11th.  With one out in the 11th, the Nationals loaded the bases against Michael Stutes, and Ian Desmond walked to the plate.  Desmond, who had gone hitless to that point with three strikeouts, lifted a hanging Stutes slider high over the left field wall, handing what at that time seemed like a must-win game to the Nats.

video here

3.  Denard Span’s 29-game hit streak — August 17th to September 18th

On August 17th, Denard Span got 3 hits in at bats, playing all 15 innings in the Nationals’ marathon 8-7 win over the Braves.  It was a promising performance in what had been to that point a disappointing season — Span was hitting .260/.311/.354, all well below his career norms.  But Span was about to go through a stretch that would salvage his season.  Span made it a little more than halfway to DiMaggio, putting together a 29-game hit streak, over the course of which he had 46 hits, including 5 doubles, 2 triples and 2 home runs.  The 29-game streak was one short of Ryan Zimmerman’s Nationals-record 30-game hitting streak, a record he set in 2009.  More importantly, the Nationals went 22-9 over the course of Span’s hit streak, turning a disaster of a season into merely a disappointment.  The streak came to an end on September 19th, as Span went 0-4 against Henderson Alvarez and the Miami Marlins.  But through the streak, Span managed to remind the Nationals why they traded for him in the first place, solidifying the outfield coming into the 2014 season.

video here

2. Doubleheader sweep of the Braves – September 17th, Atlanta Braves

On the morning of September 17, the Nationals sat at 79-70, 5 games back of a wild card spot — just close enough to dream of the postseason.  After the Navy Yard shootings had postponed the first game of a three game set with the division rival Braves, the team had to play two must-win games on one day.  In game 1, the Nationals took an early 3-0 lead, but saw it slowly evaporate until an 8th inning Evan Gattis home run made it 4-3 Braves.  The Braves added one more in the top of the ninth, and turned to near-unhittable closer Craig Kimbrel, who to that point in his career had never given up 3 runs in an outing.  But this inning became one of the more improbable in Nationals history.  After walking the leadoff man, Kimbrel got a ground ball up the middle off the bat of Wilson Ramos.  But second baseman Elliot Johnson made a poor flip to second, and Ramos (the slowest player on the team) was credited with an infield single.  Kimbrel then walked Anthony Rendon, and after a Chad Tracy RBI groundout, the score was 5-4, and the Nationals had runners at second and third.  Denard Span stepped to the plate, needing only contact to tie the game.  He rolled a soft grounder to shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who according to advanced defensive metrics, was in the midst of the greatest defensive season in baseball history.  But on this improbable day, Simmons let an easy chance go through his legs, two runs scored, and somehow, the Nationals had won game one.

video here

In game two, the team rode seven shutout innings from Tanner Roark, in just his third major league start, to a 4-0 victory.  It wasn’t to be, but after this day, a Nationals fan could dream that 2013 would end in something other than disappointment.

1. Bryce Harper two home run opening day – April 1st, Miami Marlins

Nothing embodied a season filled with much hope and potential more than Bryce Harper’s opening day debut. On the first swing of the 20 year old phenom’s season, Harper hit a Ricky Nolasco change up over the scoreboard in right center field. The capacity crowd was delirious, waving their 2012 postseason rally towels in the air — an immersive sea of red.

bryce-harper-homer-opening-day

Harper came to bat again in the fourth inning, facing off against Nolasco once again. When he connected on another Nolasco offspeed pitch, sending it over the right field wall once again, he somehow managed to raise the crowd’s already sky-high expectations. The team was already projected by most to make a World Series appearance, but on this day, anything seemed possible.

bryce-harper-two-homers-on-opening-day-gif

Contemplating Extensions for Desmond and Zimmermann

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The Washington Nationals are at an impasse. After the 2015 season, they are in danger of losing two of the biggest pieces of their recent run of success — Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann. Over the last two years, Desmond has been the Nationals’ most-valuable position player by fWAR, Zimmermann the most-valuable pitcher. Both are entering their age-28 seasons, and could be due contracts that reach or exceed $100 million. So the Nationals have a decision to make; do they extend one or both, or can they afford to walk away?

Desmond, over the past two years, has developed into a top-flight offensive player at a position that has seen very few develop in recent years. Since the heyday of offensive shortstops midway through the last decade, the position’s offensive production relative to the league has diminished significantly; in 2007, shortstops slugged .402, 35 points better than they did in 2013. The relative paucity of offensive shortstops makes Desmond’s performance stand out even more; since his breakout in 2012, Desmond is tops in the majors in home runs by a shortstop, and ranks among the league leaders in slugging percentage, wOBA, and wRC+. Additionally, Desmond runs the bases well (a team-high 42 stolen bases in the two years), and according to UZR, is well above-average defensively (DRS, however, is much less impressed). All this, plus Desmond’s durability (he missed just 4 games last year) makes Desmond among the most-valuable players in baseball; his 10.0 fWAR from 2012 to 2013 was not only the highest by a shortstop, it was the 13th highest by any position player.

Moreover, the Nationals, who will presumably look to contend after 2015, lack any sort of replacement for Desmond in the near future. Of the top-20 prospects in the Nationals system (as rated by MLB.com), only one is a shortstop — Zach Walters. But Walters, despite impressive power numbers, is nobody’s definition of a suitable replacement for Desmond’s production — he had a .286 OBP last year at AAA, and made a league-high 31 errors. And the lack of replacements for Desmond extends to the free agent market — with the possible exception of Hanley Ramirez, few all-star caliber shortstops are due to hit free agency in the next two years, and none better than Desmond. It seems unlikely that the Nationals will find anything better than Desmond. Barring the unforeseen, extending him seems like the most sensible course of action, regardless of cost.

Jordan Zimmermann is a different story. It isn’t that Zimmermann is without value. He has been one of the most consistent starters in the major leagues — over the last three years, only ten pitchers have a better ERA than Zimmermann’s 3.12. He’s coming off his first 200 inning season, first all-star selection, and first season receiving Cy Young votes. Zimmermann has been an integral part of the Nationals’ rise from the basement. But with the Nationals having to free up payroll to retain Stephen Strasburg and eventually, Bryce Harper, the team has some tough decisions to make. And as hard as it will be, Zimmermann can be replaced. In fact, the Nationals might have an internal replacement for Zimmermann in the form of highly-touted prospect Lucas Giolito. Giolito, with a fastball that can reach triple digits and a very sharp curveball, has drawn favorable comparisons to Pirates starter Gerrit Cole and, of course, Strasburg. And by 2016, Giolito will be 21 — the same age as Strasburg was when he made his major league debut.

And even if the Nationals feel uncomfortable giving a spot in the rotation to an unproven prospect, they have many options on the free agent market. In the next offseason, James Shields, Max Scherzer, and Clayton Kershaw are due for free agency. While the Dodgers seem highly unlikely to let Kershaw slip away, the Nationals will still have several viable options they can choose from if they decide to replace Zimmermann via free agency. If they sign Shields or Scherzer, they could trade Zimmermann away for a solid return, a year before he was due to leave without the team receiving compensation.

Both Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond have made invaluable contributions towards turning an 100-loss team into a bona fide contender. But it seems the Nationals could create a viable contingency plan if they lose Zimmermann; losing Desmond would leave a hole that would be much harder to fill.