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Washington Nationals 2018: Scouting, Projected Lineup, Expert Insight

Bryce Harper

Bryce Harper

The Nationals in 2017 posted the second-best record in the NL, won their division by a whopping 20 games and came within one fluky game — which they lost with Max Scherzer on the mound — of advancing to the NLCS. And they responded with the biggest act of upheaval available to them: firing Dusty Baker as manager.

Aside from the pivot to rookie skipper Dave Martinez, nothing much else changes for 2018, with the roster largely intact and the path to another NL East crown largely unimpeded. But what hangs over this franchise are the October failures of the past and an uncertain future after 2018, with lineup cornerstones Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy reaching free agency and GM Mike Rizzo coming to the end of his contract. 

Opposing Scouts Size Up the NATIONALS

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"If they don’t run away with the division, it’d be a huge surprise. It’s all a matter of finally getting past that first round. They’re solid in every area, and Adam Eaton should be back to spark the lineup. Dave Martinez plans to lead him off, and if he gets on base like he did with the White Sox, he could lead the league in runs. Bryce Harper is the kind of guy who thrives under pressure; it’s his contract year, of course, but he’s already making $20 million, so it’s not like he’s worried about his next meal. I’d expect some regression from Ryan Zimmerman, but his injuries the previous few years obscured that he’s actually a really productive hitter, and he proved it again. On the mound, there’s no better 1-2 than Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. They brought back the three relievers they got last summer — Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson, Brandon Kintzler — and now they have good reason to be confident at the end of games."

Beyond the Box Score

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Worth Every Penny

Though he is still less than halfway through the monumental, seven-year $210 million contract he signed prior to 2015, Max Scherzer has already proven to be worth the investment. The three-time Cy Young winner’s numbers since he signed with the Nationals: 50–25, 2.76 ERA, 0.931 WHIP, 11.3 K/9 IP, 2.0 BB/9 IP. Due to the massive deferrals in Scherzer’s contract, the Nationals are paying him just $15 million per season during the length of his contract — a reality that has allowed them to pursue other high-priced talent — but the real cost will come at the contract’s end: The Nats will continue to owe him $15 million annually for seven more years.

Tax Man The Nationals’ payroll exceeded the MLB luxury-tax threshold for the first time in franchise history in 2017, though their overage was minimal and thus did not carry a large cost. Still, the penalty will rise from 20 percent of overages to 30 percent if they go over the threshold again in 2018, so the team is being mindful of trying to stay below it.

Bright Future Though many are fond of saying the Nationals’ championship window is open only through 2018, after which they could lose Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy to free agency, it is worth remembering that the team still controls the following players beyond 2019: Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon, Adam Eaton and Trea Turner. Even without including prospects such as Victor Robles, that’s a formidable core.

Deep Outfield The Nationals have a curious logjam of outfielders that extends all the way to the top levels of the minors, where Robles, Juan Soto and Daniel Johnson rank among the top prospects in the organization. Robles, especially, is regarded as one of the best outfield prospects in the game and is considered close to being big-league ready. It’s not as if any of them could replicate the production of Harper, a once-in-a-generation type of talent, but their continued emergence throughout 2018 could make it easier to swallow Harper’s potential departure at the end of the year.

Projected Lineup

LF     Adam Eaton (L)
SS     Trea Turner (R)
RF     Bryce Harper (L)
3B     Anthony Rendon (R)
2B     Daniel Murphy (L)
1B     Ryan Zimmerman (R)
CF     Michael A. Taylor (R)
C    Matt Wieters (S)

INF     Wilmer Difo (S)
C     Pedro Severino (C)
1B     Matt Adams (L)
UT    Howie Kendrick (R)

RHP     Max Scherzer
RHP     Stephen Strasburg
LHP     Gio Gonzalez
RHP     Tanner Roark
RHP     Erick Fedde

LHP     Sean Doolittle
RHP     Ryan Madson
RHP     Brandon Kintzler
LHP     Enny Romero
LHP     Sammy Solis
RHP     Koda Glover
RHP     Shawn Kelley
LHP     Matt Grace