We've spent a lot of the off-season mired in specific moves. Will they re-sign this guy? What trade will happen next? How are they going to get a closer? But now that we've hit the holiday home stretch, it's time to zoom out and look at the Nats as a whole. Do they project out in our heads to be better or worse than the 2016 Nats? By how much? This helps us get a feel for what needs to be done after the New Year when there is only a month and a half (woo!) before actual players start doing actual things*
The Nats are replacing a full-season of Danny Espinosa, a half-season of Revere/MAT, and a half-season of Trea Turner with full-seasons of Trea Turner and Adam Eaton.
Revere/MAT was a disaster and it's hard to imagine anything replacing that half-season that isn't a huge improvement. Danny was at best production-neutral meaning anything positive would be a noticeable change. Turner looks to be a positive player the only question is how much. Eaton should be a positive player even if his fielding in CF is more what we fear than what we hope.
Bryce should be better, right?
The guy put up a season for the ages at 22 and then hit for his lowest average ever in the majors in the next season. Injuries make the most sense, especially given that he started the season almost exactly the way he finished 2015 and that was with a .228 BABIP. So the offseason should improve that. At least we'd think so.
A full healthy season of Anthony Rendon is possible
He hit .254 / .341 / .406 in the first half. .291 / .357 / .508 in the second half. It's the difference between average and All-Star.
The catching situation went from career year Wilson Ramos to hoping a Lobaton/Norris platoon will be successful.
Best case Lobaton hits like his .737 OPS line vs RHP in 2016. Norris like his .810 OPS line vs LHP in 2015. That still won't match Ramos' .850 OPS overall for 2016. Worst case it's a giant sucking pit of despair. As usual expect the middle - a small pothole of disappointment.
The Nats bullpen has not yet made up for the dropping of the combined arm of a top-notch closer and the 50 IP of better than you think pitching that was traded for said closer. They also haven't replaced the 60 or so innings from Belisle and Rzepczynski.
This isn't quite the 2014 into 2015 idiocy of letting 200 IP of your bullpen walk and replacing it with hopes and dreams but it's getting closer. 137 innings of quality relief pitching is out the door, and while no one would ever want it back - 35 innings of sometimes effective relief pitching is gone too with Papelbon. Granted the 2014-15 situation broke when Stammen went down to injury but are you betting against a pitching injury to someone now important to the pen? With Glover and Kelley ending 2016 with issues? You have to make those innings up with quality somehow. Doesn't mean "top notch closer!" Just with quality somehow.
Right now the bench is a little worse
It wasn't great last year but it had one really good bat and one very useful one. The useful one, Heisey, is back. The really good one, Drew, is not yet. It may be tough to get him back as he's likely got a chance to start - or play a super utility role - somewhere else.
Hard to tell
How dead is Ryan Zimmerman? / Can Murphy repeat his 2016?
Murphy will be hard pressed to do better, Zimm hard pressed to do worse. But based on eyeballs and stats, repeats of last year are not out of the question. However, these are both singular seasons for these players which immediately prompts a "do it again before I believe it" response. There's a lot of variability here but also no strong reason to predict a likely better/worse swing.
Can Werth squeeze out one more decent year at the plate?
I've written Werth off twice and twice he's come back though the last one was last year and the comeback was definitely muted. All the Nats need is 2016 again. It's not much but Werth is 38 and he hasn't played two full seasons back to back since joining the Nats.
How's Strasburg's arm? What about Joe Ross?
Since they were both pitching at the very end of last year you have to go into 2017 thinking they are healthy and ready to go. If so there is room for improvement - mainly in IP but also in pitching. At the same time neither pitched full years and neither got back to full-time starting status by the time the season ended. So like Zimm/Murphy - a lot of variability here.
The Eaton/Turner/Bryce/Rendon should easily balance out the known drop at catcher. Even if Zimm doesn't bounce back, Murphy dips a little and Werth is more 2015 than 2016 (all slightly negative outcomes in coin flip scenarios) the Nats offense should be pretty similar to last year. Very good - not great. Enough to make playoffs. Enough to win division easily with a top notch pitching staff.
The pitching staff unfortunately is looking more down than up. The relief core is not gutted but has suffered a decent stomach stabbing and the injury question hangs over the rotation. If the Nats don't fix these issues the pitching staff will mirror the offense. Very good not great.
That's not terrible - but it sets the Nats up for another "odd year" situation. In those the bats and arms were both very good and the Nats had an 85-90 win team that was beat out for the division and kept out of the playoffs. There isn't a guarantee that would happen this time. The Braves were an obvious rival in 2013. The Nats had some bad luck in 2015. But it leaves the door open wider that it could.
So in the next two months I'd like the Nats to sign/trade for a couple decent bullpen arms. Doesn't half to be a closer, just something reliable. Boone Logan, Jhan Marinez, Liam Hendricks. Since a reliable starter is almost certainly out of the question, both because of cost and because if Ross/Strasburg are healthy there isn't a place for them, I'd suggest a handful of minor league deals / 1 million dollar flyers for starters that make it to the end of FA unsigned and might have been good say 3 years ago? Henderson "shoulder surgery" Alvarez? Dillon Gee? Scott Feldman? Doesn't anyone else think there's a junkballing two-year decent stretch before Jered Weaver goes into retirement? You need to fill up AAA with major league ready guys, if not major league good guys because right now the Nats have a hole there with the current next up selections being Austin Voth and "The A stands for 'Are you sure Austin Voth didn't work out?" AJ Cole.
*Even if those things are best ignored for any real news