If you’re vaguely aware of baseball and somehow missed the fact that the Washington Nationals lost some guy whose name rhymes with Nice Sharper this offseason, that’s actually pretty impressive.
But you-know-who, who spent seven great years in D.C., signed with the Philadelphia Phillies on a 13-year, $330 million deal towards the end of February. Now he’s off doing the good PR rounds about how Philadelphia is the greatest city in the world and how he “longed to see the Liberty Bell” despite playing there 50 times in his career already.
Normally, losing a face-of-the-franchise type player could be a dagger to a team, but not this one, even if they are currently on course to go 0-162. Sharper himself said he wanted to bring a title back to D.C. in his first press conference. Phillies fans can pretend he didn’t mean it if they want.
Let’s get one thing straight first. No matter which way you paint it, if you put some guy on this team right now, they would be better. He’s an MVP-calibre player at his peak and is a near-generational force at the plate.
But compared to where they were at the end of the 2018 season, it’s a significant improvement.
The biggest acquisition of the offseason was Patrick Corbin; givingthe Nationals the best 1-2-3 punch in the National League. The lefty broke out last season with a 3.15 ERA, striking out 246 in just 200 innings on his way to a career-high fifth-place finish in the NL Cy Young voting.
He replaces Gio Gonzalez, who was going peak-Gio throughout most of the season. He loved to put men on base and find a way out of it without it being too catastrophic. But that caused a taxed bullpen and starts that sucked the life out of the team. Corbin should change that, providing both length and a high level of performance, at least for the start of his contract.
Looking back on that signing, it appears as though it was the final nail in the coffin on a return for some guy. With the Lerners adamant on staying under the luxury tax – thinking for some reason, it’s a cap, weirdly – the lefty’s arrival left little room for a gargantuan deal like Sharper’s.
But with the money saved, they were also able to transform their weakest area, behind the plate, into a huge strength. Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki both finished inside the top 15 in catcher’s fWAR over the last two seasons. Nats fans definitely won’t be missing Matt Wieters.
Catcher is so often a position that teams struggle to get right. It looks like the Nats might be one team who have been able to with these two.
As a team that is actually trying this winter – which can’t be said for several other teams – they made additions to at least somewhat cover each of their other weaknesses. Trevor Rosenthal, Kyle Barraclough, Brian Dozier, Matt Adams, Anibal Sanchez, Jeremy Hellickson, and Tony Sipp were all also brought in over the offseason. They certainly kept Nats writers busy after a timid 2017-18 offseason.
And don’t worry, they aren’t lacking in star power either. Max Scherzer and Juan Soto have all the charisma in the world and lead from the front. So while Sharper jerseys have been put to the flame in recent weeks, jerseys for Soto and Scherzer continue to appear more prominently.
And lest we forget Anthony Rendon, baseball’s unknown superstar. He’s got one eye on his precious Houston Rockets and the other on the baseballs he’s just torn the cover off of. Is he a bit boring? Yes. But he’s going to be a driving force in this lineup again.
All of this is why some bumbling British idiots, despite the loss of some outfield dude, predicted that the Nationals would finish top of the NL East this season. Even though someone whose name rhymes with Dom Tingle was initially ready to pick the Phillies, Darius saved the day and won everyone over.
The Nationals, to put it sinply, appear to have the best all-round team in the division. And that’s even with a mini arms race that Game of Thrones would be proud of.
The Phillies may have the lineup in the league, but have several pitching questions. The Braves are in a similar spot, though they do have pitching in abundance in the minors that could be ready soon. And the Mets somehow refuse to stay healthy for a full season anymore.
Even the actual experts around baseball are still not hesitant to select the Nationals to win the division and some even are ready to predict them as NL champions.
Yes, yes, the NLDS jokes will also fly around with these predictions, and even I don’t have the Nationals winning the NL East this season in favour of those Phillies. But perhaps, with slightly less of a spotlight on them, they can finally live up to the expectations that some guy brought with him.