Good news and bad news on the injury front over the weekend. The good news is Jayson Werth appears to be pretty much on schedule for his return. He may even play in some minor league games this upcoming weekend. If so, consider him a good bet for Opening Day.
If not... well probably the worst case would be the 16th of April but I would simply say "not Opening Day". The problem would be just not getting enough at bats. The Florida segment of the minor leagues ends in two weeks from today, with two extra Yankees exhibitions before the start of the season. If he plays this weekend he could play in 10+ games. If not, then with the bye day on Tuesday, he probably plays in only 7 or so. He might not feel ready at that point. Still, whether it's April 6th, 8th, 10th or whenever it's still going to be on target with what was planned barring a setback. The rare Nats recovery that takes the time you were told it would.
The bad news is everything else. No news is not good news on the Span front. He's still expected to be out for a long time. Yuney Escobar did come back after his oblique strain. However it was at the full 10 days given as the max before hand and it wasn't right back into the swing of things. He merely resumed "baseball activities" which means he did some light tossing and exercised with the team. He still isn't taking any sort of batting practice. If the team is worried Werth might not get enough ABs to make Opening Day, well Yunel is clearly not. I'd peg him for a mid-April return.
The worst news is Rendon's "miss a few days" bruise that grew into a "miss a week" mild sprain, has progressed to a "no timetable" worrying situation. He's still sore, they won't let him play while he's sore, so he sits and waits and we all pray he doesn't get sent back for more tests. Right now it's still a mild sprain - the MRI (which they did have - shhh don't listen other teams! Rizzo thinks you not knowing this is a strategic advantage!) showed that. Of course I'm sure those aren't 100% right and the last thing we want to find out is that the mild strain was misread and it's actually a small tear. The difference with Rendon is he's had some playing time in the Spring so he'll need less time to get ready. Still given the Nats precautionary tendencies (correct in this case) I'd expect a slow return for Rendon and I'd peg him right now for a mid-April return too. That's probably conservative (we could hear news today that would peg him for Opening Day) but I'd rather be conservative.
These players have to be replaced so what are the drop-offs between the starters and the replacements?
Jayson Werth to Nate McLouth. Huge. Despite fielding like his beard has weaved itself into the grass below, Werth's bat is still incredibly strong. If you love McLouth he's probably a 1 win type player. Werth is probably a 4.5 win player. So it's something like a 3+ win difference over a season. (Moore would likely be an even bigger predicted gap) The good news is over the course of say 1-7 games that's a pretty meaningless distinction.
Yunel Escobar to Danny Espinosa. This depends on what kind of Yuney you think the Nats got. If you think it's 2014 Yuney (a fair guess seeing that it's the closest time-wise and he's coming off injury) it's a wash. If you think it's 2012/13 Yuney than the loss is a couple games or so. Let's split the difference and say half a game? Again it's not going to amount to anything significant assuming Yuney misses ~9 games or so
Anthony Rendon to Kevin Frandsen. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHA. Ok You want to bet on Ian Stewart because he hit a few Spring home runs? Fine. I'll continue HAHAHAHAHHHAHAAHA. We're talking a Grand Canyon esque gap between great and barely in the league. Hell even 2015 Rendon probably won't match 2014 Rendon and he's the same guy. 6.5 wins? 5.5? The gap is so large that even a small amount of missed time, say the ~9 games I predict, is around enough to lose a third a win.
All in all a half-win from the three combined injuries is a good guess up to this point. Then there's the big one.
Denard Span to Michael Taylor. The hardest one to judge but let's get something straight off the bat. Span was great last year. Taylor might match up to Span ok, but he doesn't match up to 2014-name-bandied-about-for-MVP-votes Span. Understand that. People love Taylor's fielding and assume that'll be fine. I'm not as sure. Fielding can fail to translate as well. Remember, the "Harper can play CF" thoughts when he was in the minors? Yeah. Never happened. There's a lot more upside in those scout rankings than you think or else we'd have 20 guys fighting for rookie of the year each season. But let's just say he can match the fielding for the sake of argument. Even acknowledging the issues with D-stats, we can admit 31 year old Span is probably slowing down. The bat is the real issue. Span was a force last year. Taylor struck out almost 40% of the time and that's not an outlier given his minor league tendencies. Through bat alone I'd expect a 3 win loss. If you want to say 2 that's fine, because we didn't predict Span himself to do as well, but that's still significant. Assuming Span is out half the year (a good guess) that's a win to a win and a half.
So all in all the injuries right now peg the Nats with about 2 wins fewer than you'd expect a healthy team to put up. That's not what you want to hear. Lucky for the Nats you probably also pegged the team for say 95/96 wins or something like that. so they are down to 93/94 win territory. Still an easy pick for division champs. The only thing that really starts to be a question is best record in the NL. Of course you see what an important injury Rendon's is. That's a huge fall-off and one that by itself could put the Nats from easy division title to a potential fight. There are a lot of things that can pick the Nats right back up (most obviously a Bryce breakout) but let's just get Rendon back healthy and not worry about finding the silver linings.