While it feels like the offseason ended with the flurry of trades around the 19th and then the Christmas break, it is in fact still going on. Max Scherzer is still unsigned as is James Shields and the underrated Nori Aoki. Guys who were thought to be potentially on the market - Cole Hamels, Tulo, Rangers/Cubs young IFers, Zobrist, Seattle's two SS, remain undealt. And the Nats still have lingering questions that you'd love to see resolved by the time Opening Day starts.
What's going on with 2nd base?
Two years ago rolling with Espinosa seemed like a good idea. It didn't work out. Last year rolling with Espinosa was a questionable gamble. It didn't work out. This year rolling with Espinosa is a fool's errand, yet it's arguably the best plan the Nats could work out with the current roster. There's been rumors that he'll stop switch hitting, which would seem to make sense given his inability to hit from the left-side in the recent past, but it's just talk at this point. Assuming nothing changes he'll be a solid 2B in the field who is a strike-out black hole at the plate.
The FA options were slim to begin with and have gotten worse. Well actually the 2B market hasn't changed much which tells you what it was like to start. The two biggest names left are Gordon Beckham and Rickie Weeks. Beckham is an acceptable fielder who like Danny is an offensive hole. The one thing Beckham has going for him is a past as top prospect. Rickie Weeks looks to have some use left in the bat but is hard to keep at 2nd as age and injuries have turned him into a statue. While neither of these are appealing, Rizzo might be drawn by the potential very cheap 1-yr deal he could make for them if the market keeps stringing them along.
Zobrist remains the best option in trade that wouldn't cost an arm and a leg (just an arm), but the Nats are ever reluctant to deal control away and not receive control back and Zobrist is a FA to be after 2015 (not to mention 34 in May which makes following a deal with a long term signing questionable). There are some young MI that are available in theory but they'd be more costly and even with the recent influx the Nats system is not deep.
Are they going to sign or trade Desmond/ZNN/Fister?
Negotiations are ongoing. I guess we're supposed to believe that but we haven't heard much beyond the initial "they are talking" reports. Zimmermann and Desmond are due for big money. ZNN should approach and maybe surpass Lester money (6/155). Desmond is probably looking for Sandoval like money (5/95). Fister something less but still a multi-year deal for something like 15+ a year. Chances for contracts like this coming from the Nats are slim as the Nats are not great believers in signing players to long term deals especially pitchers.
The Nats also may now believe they have replacements lined up for all of these guys. Giolito & Cole/Ross/Fedde for ZNN & Fister and Trea Turner for Desmond. Most of the more recent rumors haven't been about re-signing but about trading. However, teams are reluctant to deal because the Nats' price is expectedly high. It may end up that they simply keep all of these players and focus on the draft picks they can receive, however that's a longer and more variable process for keeping the team competitive than trading for top prospects.
Are they going to sign or trade Strasburg/Ramos/Storen?
It's been hidden from sight because of the free agents to be with the bigger ticking clocks, but all three of these key players are just 2 years away from FA. Last year in the same position the Nats shored up the remaining arbitration years for ZNN and Desmond and at least offered them deals. They were unfair, team friendly, borderline insulting deals but deals nonetheless. They helped us gauge where exactly the Nats stood with these players (more serious with Ian (7/107) than ZNN (5/85))
This is important because while you think the Nats' general acceptance of Clippard leaving and reluctance to give ZNN market value may tell you all you need to know, there is a big fact in favor of Storen and Strasburg. They are a couple years younger. Something like that can make all the difference in the years offered in a deal.
Ramos is a bit different in that he is the one player of import coming off an off-year and may be able to be signed to a deal that would be below market in other circumstances. It's a gamble given his injury history but the temptation to lock up a young catcher at a cheap cost would be great to me.
Is there another LH relief arm or long reliever coming?
Probably not. The Nats don't pay for relief pitching and have several decent in-house options. Still that was the role Detwiler had for at least some of the year and there are arms out there; Joe Beimel if you are serious, Phil Coke if you just want an arm, Sean Burnett if you like to gamble, that you may be able to pick up on the cheap at the back end of free agency to replace him.
Are the Nats not improving the bench?
After getting as lucky as one can be with the bench in 2012, the Nats did nothing in 2013 and paid the price. Last year they made some decent moves getting Lobaton and McLouth, but by year's end neither had worked out exactly as planned and the bench was just barely functional. Now going into 2015 they again haven't made any serious improvements. It can be seen as unnecessary, the Nats did in fact win 96 games with the bench as-is, but it seems once again a penny foolish.
There may not be much the Nats can do about catcher. It's a weak position and Lobaton, lefty and not old, is probably as good as any replacement. But at the other spots things get murkier. Werth and Bryce (and to a lesser degree Span) are injury risks in the outfield and the Nats presumed top option to replace either, Souza, was traded away. It's likely that Taylor, who will probably start in AAA to keep getting ABs, would fill in for any long absence, with McLouth covering the short ones. However that still leaves a 5th OF spot open and it's an important one as neither McLouth or Taylor are reliable at this point. Right now Frandsen is the IF back-up but virtually no one sees him as an everyday player if Espinosa once again can't hack it. Ryan Zimmerman should be healthier at the less demanding position of first base but he's still a risk. Tyler Moore, who has failed at the plate in two long auditions and provides no other value, is currently the most likely back-up.