WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Hello from the Washington Nationals’ last day in West Palm Beach, where they just completed a six-week spring training that, if you ask most players, was entirely too long. But no matter. Opening Day against the New York Mets is at 1:05 p.m. Thursday, Max Scherzer will take the mound against Jacob deGrom, and the 2019 season will begin. Finally.
Washington will debut a new-look squad after a busy offseason, which brought in a third ace-caliber starter, two veteran catchers, a power-hitting second baseman and many more. (Read Barry Svrluga’s recent column about all the changes here). Thanks, as always, for sending along thoughtful questions on Twitter and by email. Since I can’t get to them all, feel free to shoot me a note if you still want thoughts on a player or topic. See you up in Washington. We’ll do this again soon enough.
What do you think the chances are the Nats extend Rendon? I’m not too optimistic after this most recent report.
Jesse Dougherty: I don’t want to put a hard prediction on it — mostly because that’s a dangerous game — but it is still true that there is a mutual interest in Rendon staying with the Nationals beyond this season. The report referenced is of the Nationals making an offer in late February, right around when third baseman Nolan Arenado signed a big extension with the Colorado Rockies, and Rendon saying that talks have since stalled. But both Washington and agent Scott Boras expect there to be more conversations going into the season, as Rendon is okay with that happening during the year. He would become a free agent after this year if a deal is not reached before then.
The most important element here is that Rendon has instructed Boras to work with the Nationals on a possible extension. Does that mean one will be agreed upon in the near future? Not necessarily. But Rendon is more than open to it if the numbers work for both sides (which, of course, is the most complicated part).
How is the team preparing for having AAA players in Fresno instead of Syracuse? Any chatter from likely minor leaguers about the switch?
Dougherty: The Nationals will keep starter Erick Fedde and catcher Spencer Kieboom with Class AA Harrisburg to start the season. That’s because they are the first options if there are injuries in the rotation or behind the plate, and Washington doesn’t want them across the country in case they’re needed in a pinch. Those are the initial adjustments the Nationals have made since their AAA affiliate moved from Syracuse, N.Y., to California.
Regarding any chatter among minor leaguers, not much changes for them. Fresno is much farther away from Washington than Syracuse, sure, but they are still only a flight away if the Nationals want to call them up. And, wherever they are, they still need to play well to get a chance.
Can you talk about the OF depth issue with Michael A. Taylor’s injury and Kendrick’s? Any insight on the organization’s view of its internal outfield options? Any indications if General Manager Mike Rizzo thinks he needs to go outside the organization to address?
Dougherty: If the Nationals thought Taylor was going to be out for a while, they would be more inclined to seek a veteran outfielder on the free agent market. But Taylor has progressed well since spraining his left knee and left hip March 15. He will almost surely begin the season on the injured list, yet I wouldn’t expect his rehab to linger too far into the season.
There isn’t a ton of confidence in the internal options to replace Taylor if this were a long-term situation. But Andrew Stevenson, a plus defender with some major league experience, is a viable Band-Aid and can play all three outfield spots. With Kendrick, who is also on the mend with a left hamstring strain, the Nationals are without a depth option in right and left. That isn’t so consequential — since Juan Soto, Victor Robles, Adam Eaton and Stevenson should be enough — but Matt Adams or Wilmer Difo can moonlight in the corners if need be.
Jake Noll has been tearing it up in spring training, Nats’ OF depth is thin, does Jake have any experience in the OF? Could his success translate to the big leagues soon?
Dougherty: Noll was the surprise of spring training for the Nationals, an unassuming nonroster invitee who impressed with his bat and made the trip north for Washington’s exhibition against the New York Yankees on Monday.
Noll’s value is at the plate, but the Nationals were able to move him around the field in the past six weeks. He started at third base, second and first, and he didn’t make any appearances in the outfield. Manager Dave Martinez joked about trying him there, and Noll played some outfield in high school, but he projects as a utility infielder. As for whether his success could translate to the big leagues soon, the first part is hard to predict. Yet Noll’s spring may have positioned him to be a call-up in the not-so-distant future. Exhibitions can count for something.
Do Nats fans boo Bryce on April 2?
Dougherty: That’s up to you, though my hunch is that Harper won’t get the warmest reception in his first game back at Nationals Park. Since Jeremy Hellickson is starting the season in the bullpen, Max Scherzer is lined up to face Harper and the Phillies on April 3 in Washington. Boos for Harper or not, I expect that to be pretty good theater.
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