The countdown to has reached single digits. A week from Sunday, pitchers and catchers will officially report for the season. The most anticipated Washington Nationals Opening Day since 2005, which will take place among the dead-brown April ivy at Wrigley Field, is less than two months away. It’s getting closer.
The Nationals have fewer questions concerning their roster heading into spring training than perhaps any other time since baseball returned to D.C., but the spring will still be stocked with story lines. Where does Bryce Harper start? What to do with all those starting pitchers? Who the heck is playing center field?
As an initial attempt to sort them out, here’s our first and too-early educated guess at the Nationals’ Opening Day roster.
2. Gio Gonzalez
NOTES: It’s hard to see how any of these five don’t make the rotation. Wang has no minor league options, can’t be traded until late May because he signed as a free agent and can’t pitch out of the bullpen because of the time it takes his shoulder to get loose. John Lannan looks to be the odd man out, whether that means he’s traded (which seems most likely) or get shipped to the minors (which, because he’s making $5 million, would be stunning). By the way, Jackson, who had a 3.58 ERA in 78 National League innings last year, is a pretty good fourth starter.
6. Drew Storen
9. Sean Burnett
10. Brad Lidge
11. Tom Gorzelanny
12. Ross Detwiler
NOTES: With the glut of starters forcing Detwiler to the bullpen, Ryan Mattheus, very effective in 2011, looks like the odd man out. Mattheus is a better fit, since the Nationals already have a left-handed long man in Gorzelanny. But Mattheus has options, and Detwiler does not. As usual, that’s what it’ll come down to. (Craig Stammen should also get a shot, but it’s hard to see him fitting in with all this depth.)
13. Adam LaRoche
14. Danny Espinosa
15. Ryan Zimmerman
16. Ian Desmond
NOTES: No drama here. The most interesting on-field spring story in the infield will probably be how Anthony Rendon plays.
17. Jayson Werth
18. Rick Ankiel
19. Michael Morse
NOTES: No Bryce Harper. No matter how much Davey Johnson wants him on the team, Harper’s presence on the Opening Day roster makes little sense from a development or business standpoint. Harper, 19, has never played at Class AAA and has less than 600 professional plate appearances. Also, by delaying his arrival until May, the Nationals can essentially promise an entire season of Harper at age 25 by sacrificing one month – the first month – of his age 19 production. My prediction: Harper’s starting point will be the dominant story line of the spring, but it will ultimately be an easy decision to send him to Syracuse.. . . As for Ankiel in center, here’s guessing he’ll beat out Roger Bernadina and the Cubs will start a right-hander Opening Day.
20. Wilson Ramos
21. Jesus Flores
NOTES: Rather clear. One wonders where Pudge Rodriguez ends up. With Flores in the mix, the Nationals obviously don’t have room for him. Teammates will miss him around the clubhouse.
22. Mark DeRosa
23. Mike Cameron
25. Roger Bernadina
NOTES: Once Ankiel signed, this group actually became pretty clear. Lombardozzi, 23, isn’t a perfect fit as a utility infielder, since he’s at a stage in his development when he really should be playing regularly, whether that’s the minors or majors. And we know that Espinosa and Desmond love to play. But unless the Nationals sign a veteran middle infielder to a minor league deal in the next couple weeks, there’s really no one else.