One of the biggest story lines of last season for the Nationals, and a major reason for their success, was their organizational depth. When regular starters fell to injury, young, unproven but talented players stepped in and helped carry the team. When the starters returned, the Nationals’ bench was stacked — maybe more so than ever before.
The same will hold true next season, with Manager Davey Johnson again faced with the difficult decisions of finding a role, place and even playing time for them. Roger Bernadina filled in all over the outfield. Tyler Moore smashed 10 home runs in limited playing time. Steve Lombardozzi was an invaluable infielder and leadoff hitter. Chad Tracy was the master pinch hitter.
“Holy moly,” Johnson said Tuesday during his availability with reporters at the winter meetings in Nashville. “I’ve got a lot of good players.”
Last spring training, a handful of players were fighting to make the major league roster. Now, the bench and role players are almost set. That means it’ll be tough for players like Eury Perez and Corey Brown to find a spot on the roster. Perez, a September call-up, needs more time in the minors, Johnson said. Brown has proven he is ready to play in the majors but the team has plenty of left-handed bench players with Tracy and Bernadina. (It’s worth noting that in years past, Brown could quite possibly have been the team’s starting center fielder.)
Johnson also didn’t rule out of the return Mark DeRosa, the wily veteran who spent stretches of the season on the disabled but was a major influence in the clubhouse behind the scenes. (“I’m not saying he isn’t going to be back,” Johnson said. “We have to have somebody doing karaoke in the clubhouse.”)
At the of the season, DeRosa, 37 and a 15-year major league veteran, was weighing retirement but was reluctant to do so because he felt like he could still play.
“If DeRo makes my club, I’ll have him catching in spring training,” Johnson quipped. “He’ll also be an assistant coach. I might make him a sixth or seventh coach.”
“I’ve talked to him over the winter, and it just depends on what happens the next few days or months here, but I thought he was — he didn’t put up the numbers, but pretty good numbers pinch‑hitting and pretty good stabling influence on my young guys,” Johnson added. “Depending what we do, I still wouldn’t mind having him on the bench.
“But his big influence was he was kind of a bridge between the Henry Aarons and the Sandy Koufaxs to the Chipper Jones and those guys. So I could give him my philosophy from those guys, and he’d pass it on from Chipper and Pujols to the younger guys. He was a great influence.”