Saturday, January 10, 2015

Catching Up on Old News

And we’re back! During our time apart, we had some Nationals related news, so I’ll quickly give you my take on the items before returning to our normally scheduled programming.

Werth Surgery

Obviously, the biggest and most impactful news of the last few days was the revelation of Jayson Werth’s surgery to repair the AC joint in his right (throwing) shoulder. By all counts, it was an injury that he sustained in August. He had an MRI then, showing only inflammation. He took a cortisone shot and ended up only missing a few days of action. I’m assuming another MRI taken recently showed more serious damage, and he had the surgery this week. The operation has a 2-3 month recovery period, so he will be healthy right around the start of the season.

That doesn’t mean we can or even should hope to see Werth in the starting lineup on opening day. He will miss most of spring training so will need several weeks to work his way back into playing shape. Werth can also use the time off at the beginning in the year to extend the start of his season and hopefully put off some of the wear and tear of the regular season, leaving him in better shape come the end of the season. The surgery Werth had, though, is the same surgery as Ryan Zimmermann, and we all know how well he has recovered from that. It is still a major surgery and assuming Werth will be back to his normal abilities isn’t a 100% safe assumption. 

While I’m not second guessing my initial assessment of the Souza trade, this is exactly the scenario that I said Souza would have been a great asset for the Nationals. As it stands, Werth’s absence should mean more time for Michael Taylor, and consistent time at that. He will have to beat out Nate McLouth (coming off of his own surgery), Kevin Frandsen, and Tyler Moore, but I am assuming he wins that battle. Taylor’s presence in the outfield will most definitely boost the defensive ability of the Nationals’ outfield as he has been pegged as the heir apparent to Denard Span in centerfield due to his athleticism. To hang offensively, Taylor will need to drastically cut down on the strikeouts that plagued his brief cup of coffee with the big league squad last year. On a positive note, he won’t have to deal with uncertain playing time like he had at the end of last season, as I would hope Matt Williams gives him the starting role until Werth’s return. 

The biggest question this whole saga raises to me, though, is what the Nationals’ medical staff is doing. If this was really an injury that occurred midseason, why wasn’t the surgery done as soon as the season ended? If Werth did something during the offseason to reinjure his shoulder, why wasn’t the medical staff keeping an eye on what kind of workouts Werth was doing? For me, you can add this to the long list of gaffe’s the part of the Nationals medical team: Espinosa’s refusal to get surgery for his rotator cuff, Harper’s various attempts to come back too early from injuries, Ryan Zimmermann’s continuing issues with his throwing shoulder. While injuries for teams have never correlated well year to year (meaning these kind of things are more pure chance than anything else), there does seem to be some consistency here in terms of mishandling injuries. On the other hand, the team has had great success in rehabbing arm injuries for pitchers, including great luck drafting so called “damaged goods” from the amateur ranks and turning them into bonafide prospects (see: Lucas Giolito). So maybe I’m reading into the tea leaves too much. 

 Dan Uggla

The Nationals signed Dan Uggla to a minor league contract. While it is an entertaining tidbit (and a good excuse to go back and find Uggla memes), I don’t see this as big news in itself. He’s not even guaranteed to be on the roster come opening day. The news about his undiagnosed concussions and the possible effects on his eye sight make him an interesting bounce back option. But even when he was apparently healthy, he hit like Danny Espinosa and doesn’t provide the stellar defense you get out of Espinosa. Uggla is a right handed hitter, so he can’t platoon with Espinosa effectively. He will be an interesting player to keep an eye on during spring training, but I don’t think it will be much more than that.

The bigger implication of this signing comes when you look at the free agent and trade market for second base options after a couple weeks of activity. Just now, Ben Zobrist of the Rays (the ultimate utility man who had been linked to the Nationals for a while) was traded to the Athletics. Before that, Jed Lowrie signed with the Astros, Asdrubal Cabrera signed with the Rays, Emilio Bonifacio signed with the White Sox, Stephen Drew (my sleeper pick for the Nats to pick up) signed with the Yankees, and Howie Kendrick was traded to the Dodgers. That doesn’t leave the Nationals a lot of options left, at least from the names that have been bandied about by the media. The third base market has mostly dried up too, so the option of moving Rendon back to second base in favor of some new blood at third base might be fading. 

There is still some time for Rizzo to work his magic, but as it stands we will have to hope for a recovery by Danny Espinosa going into yet another season.

Rick Ankiel returns

Rick Ankiel returns to the Nationals as a “life skills coordinator,” a role that I guess requires you to be a pitcher who subsequently forgot how to pitch and turned yourself into an outfielder. Not really major news, but a good excuse to down the black hole of Rick Ankiel lasers from the outfield

 Still to come

Coming tomorrow, a closer look at Strasburg’s delivery, including something to watch for in 2015. Check back tomorrow for more.

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