Just a quick one today as I battle various ailments.
One of the big concerns in the off-season is how Danny Espinosa will play through his rotator cuff injury. It's scary sounding, mainly because history has show that if a pitcher gets that injury in his throwing arm you might as well call it a career. Danny has three things going for him though. He's not a pitcher, he plays 2nd base. He's youngish (26 in April) which means he should recover better than someone on the wrong side of 30. The injury is in his left shoulder, not his throwing arm. Basically if you had to have someone on your starting team get this injury, that is what you would ask for - an injury to the off-arm of a young position player.
But what about his numbers last year? Clearly that shows that he was being bothered by his injury, right? Not really. While his numbers were down last year a lot of it had to do with an absolutely terrible start.
April : .205 / .300 / .369
Rest of Year : .254 / .317 / .422
As unimpressive as you might see those "rest of the year" numbers as, they're actually enough to maybe squeak him into the Top 10 offensive 2nd basemen in the majors. Add in his defense and he might just be a Top 5 2nd basemen. The competition is weak here.
Month by month you'd call his offense : TERRIBLE!, good, bad, great, good, fair. That doesn't look like someone bothered by his injury. Sure he says he was but so would you if given an easy excuse for what looks like an off year.
So I wouldn't worry about Danny. I wouldn't necessarily expect him to have a Desmond like break-out, but simply a little above average should make him one of the better second basemen in the league.
Now what I worry about in the back of my head is the bullpen. While we all talk about how young the Nats are, their bullpen is of pretty average age. Drew Storen is the only young one at 25. Clip will be 28 this year, Stammen and Mattheus 29, and Soriano 33. I'm not saying that's old. It isn't. Outside of Soriano none of these guys are at the age where you'd expect a drop in production. But at the same time they aren't in a age range where you can reasonably expect improvement.
That in itself would be fine - they've all been good pitchers so they don't need to improve. And I like the fact that the three "middle inning" guys were all former starters (I think that means they can handle more innings - of course this is just a feeling) But each one has an issue you can pick out. Storen had his injury and his breakdown in the playoffs. Clippard, who is among the most used pitchers over the past 3 years, completely washed out at the end of last season. Mattheus pitched his most innings as a reliever and battled through a foot issue early in the year. Stammen threw 88 innings, which is was the 2nd most for a pure reliever last year. Soriano missed a good part of 2011 with injury.
If I'm looking for a place where a lot can go wrong fast it's here. A couple arms go down, one guy just doesn't pitch well this year, suddenly that strength becomes... well, it probably wouldn't be a weakness. The addition of Soriano means we're looking at five decent arms here and even just two decent arms can be ridden to an average season. But it wouldn't be a strength and given how the Nats pen held up last year, no one would be looking forward to a post-season where you didn't feel good about the pen.