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The Great Enigma of the Washington Nationals: Scherzer’s Gem, Who Will Leave? (Part 2 of 3)

Via mmcnews.com
Via mmcnews.com

After I wrote the first story in this three part set, Max Scherzer proceeded to pitch one of the greatest games ever pitched against the New York Mets on October 3.

In nine full innings, the $210 million dollar man didn’t allow a hit while striking out 17. While it was against most of New York’s backups, nine straight K’s and only 28 batters faced is incredible.

But it didn’t come in a game that mattered. It evokes somewhat of a bittersweet feeling in Nationals fans — the sight of their team celebrating at Citi Field is one they yearned for during the entire latter half of this season. Sadly, it won’t be proceeded by a champagne party.

Scherzer’s gem might just be the best sendoff for a lost season we could have hoped for. He joined Roy Halladay (2010), Nolan Ryan (1973), Virgil Trucks (1952), Allie Reynolds (1951) and Johnny Vander Meer (1938) in throwing two no-hitters within a season.

“Guys, I’m speechless about that,” Scherzer said. “I don’t know what to say. You go out there and try to have as much success as possible. You try to accomplish as much as you can and do everything you can. To have that happen twice in a season, it’s special. And when you start talking about the history of the game, you can’t even really think about that.”

The accolades don’t stop there. Apart from throwing his first no-no against the Pirates on June 20, he has taken one into the seventh inning three other times. We are looking at a man that could have five no-hitters this season.

On both June 20 and October 3, Scherzer came within one play of a perfect game. In the former, Jose Tabata leaned in to an inside pitch with two outs in the ninth. Against the Mets, third baseman Yunel Escobar’s skipped throw to first base on Kevin Plawecki’s leadoff grounder in the sixth inning resulted in an error.

That’s baseball. Those games were as close to perfect as you can get. Looking ahead, it’s great for the Nationals that he isn’t on a one to three year deal. He’ll be here for the rest of his career, and even though he’s already on the wrong side of 30, you need to have a long-term ace if you want to win a championship.

And everyone knows what Bryce Harper did this season. The 22-year-old is already the best player in baseball, and yes, he’s still the NL MVP despite not making the playoffs. He was tied for third among all players in batting average and home runs, and was first in OBP, SLG, and of course OPS. A .460 on-base is ridiculous, and he was in a league of his own along with a certain Joey Votto, who finished second with .459.

So the Nationals have their most basic core — a young, dominant hitter, and a veteran pitcher locked up to a big contact (7 yrs, $210 mil). But now, with the past season not going to plan, a long list of expired contracts are looking to jump ship.

SP Jordan Zimmermann (29 y/o), SP Doug Fister (31), SS Ian Desmond (30), and CF Denard Span (31) are all key players that will be free agents this coming offseason.

What is the probability that each return?

Rob Carr/Getty Images
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Zimmermann: 10%. An underrated starter for years, Zimmermann had by far his worst season as a member of the Nationals’ rotation (besides his first two seasons) in 2015. He was wild at times, and that wasn’t helped by a dock in velocity. He somewhat recovered in the late second half, and finished with a 3.66 ERA. He wants “Lester” money, and he isn’t going to get it. The Nats have offered multiple lucrative extensions that have been turned down. He’s more likely to go to a team with a large payroll that needs an ace, like the Red Sox. 

Fister: 5%. He was terrible prior to his bullpen demotion, putting up an ugly 4.66 ERA. A rookie pitcher replaced him in the rotation (Joe Ross) and that should be enough to show him what the organization wants. He’ll sign a short deal with a team who needs a middle-rotation starter, like the Angels. 

Ian Desmond: 5%. Desi has been a big part of the clubhouse culture and a mainstay in the lineup since he was drafted and trained by the Expos and the early Nationals franchise. If he leaves, there will be no remaining Expos on the Nats roster, and that’s a likely conclusion. He had one of his worst years at the plate despite heating up dramatically as 2015 came to a close. He was offered a $100 mil + extension last offseason, but he turned it down in favor of a one year deal. He definitely regrets that choice after putting up a .233/.290/.384 line. Another National League team with a need at short might take a look, like the Padres.

Denard Span: 25%. Span appeared in only 61 games in 2015, making way for the youngster Michael A. Taylor. Taylor isn’t the on-base threat the Span was at the top of the order, but he has shown a great deal of pop and talent in the outfield. It’s come out that Span is hard-set on a multi-year deal, but with his injury history the Nats won’t give him anything more than a year. That decision is made easier with the emergence of Taylor as a future full-time replacement. If a team like the Orioles offers anything more than a one-year with a vesting option, then he’s gonzo.

Despite the uncertainty, there is one thing we now know for sure:

Matt Williams: 0%. The Nats’ infamous manager is now looking for work. In the first part of this series, I laid out many of the reasons why Williams cost the Nats a playoff berth and reasons supporting him getting the axe. GM Mike Rizzo didn’t stop there, though. He fired Williams’ entire coaching staff, most of which were here prior to his hire. It makes sense — whoever the new manager is, he’ll want to handpick his own staff. But Nats fans were surprised to see longtime pitching coach Steve McCatty and bench coach Randy Knorr go.

Who are the most realistic candidates to replace Williams as the skipper?

Via mlb.com
Via mlb.com

Bud Black: 60%. The widely respected “pitcher’s man” was let go by the Padres on June 15 after a 32-33 start. In eight years with San Diego, he accrued a .477 winning percentage. This may evoke questions pertaining to his ability as a manager, but he’s a great fit for the Nats if one looks deeper. Players enjoy him in the clubhouse, he handles starters and relievers well, has a great deal of experience, and has made some truly terrible teams better than they would have been with a replacement level manager.

Jim Leyland: 30% He did have some great teams in Detroit, and has success and experience to show for it. The Nats have a great base roster with the core talent I outlined above, and anyone coming in would have a low-bar of expectations and a clean slate to work with. Both Black and Leyland aren’t as intense and separated as Williams was with his players, and a coach with the ability to constantly communicate with his clubhouse is exactly what the Nats need right now.

There a lot of trade opportunities and free agents waiting to be signed, and Washington has the payroll to recover with some smart moves. As far as the team these managers might take over, I’ll cover that in Part 3.

Grant Thomas View All

18 year old Washington sports fan and Penn State freshman. I'll cover the MLB, NFL, and NBA.

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