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2011 Fantasy outlooks: Washington Nationals

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The Nationals may have finished in last place for the sixth time in seven seasons, but that didn't stop them from entering "Phase 2," as general manager Mike Rizzo put it, with the signing of Jayson Werth to a seven-year, $126 million deal.

Which is great as long as Phase 2 means overpaying for second-tier players on the wrong side of 30.

As misguided as Rizzo's optimism may be, the Nationals do seem to be on the verge of improving. They'll miss Adam Dunn -- who got a paltry $56 million from the White Sox -- but with the signing of Adam LaRoche and the continued development of Ryan Zimmerman, their one perennial All-Star, they have a legitimate middle of the order. Their supporting cast leaves much to be desired, with two of their three outfield spots more or less up for grabs, but at least youngsters Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa and either of Wilson Ramos or Derek Norris have them secured up the middle for years to come.

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Pitching remains a problem that new acquisition Tom Gorzelanny isn't going to solve. Jordan Zimmermann and John Lannan both look like long-term pieces, but neither is an established frontliner, and Chien-Ming Wang likely won't be the same after losing two years to shoulder surgery. The bullpen should help make up for some of those deficiencies, though, with each of Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett and Henry Rodriguez doing their best to steal saves from each other.

Of course, the Nationals don't honestly expect to compete until Bryce Harper, the No. 1 overall pick from last year, reaches the majors, and Stephen Strasburg, the same from 2009, returns from Tommy John surgery. When both get up to speed, potentially sometime in 2012, they'll give the Nationals a franchise hitter and pitcher much like the Marlins have with Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson ... or the Cardinals with Albert Pujols and Adam Wainwright ... or the Tigers with Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera. Yes, really.

Breakout ... Jordan Zimmermann, SP

Well before Stephen Strasburg was affiliated with a major-league organization, the future of the Nationals rotation was Zimmermann, and that future appeared on the horizon when he struck out a batter per inning with a 3.18 ERA and 1.24 WHIP over the final eight starts of his rookie season. But then came Tommy John surgery and the months of recovery that follow. By the end of it all, Zimmermann was old news in Washington, which made him practically a ghost in Fantasy. All that potential didn't go anywhere, though, and considering he had the same walk rate in his return last year that he had during his rookie season, he's ready to pick up where he left off. Zimmermann has one of the highest ceilings of all the pitchers you could draft in the late rounds, and with Strasburg recovering from his own Tommy John surgery, the door is open for him to regain his ace standing -- and not just by Washington standards.

Bust ... Ian Desmond, SS

Desmond is yet another example of wishful thinking overtaking physical evidence. Everybody wants to have a high-end shortstop, so when they find one with even the slightest hint of potential, they convince themselves he can fit the bill. Desmond can't. It's not that he's a bad player. He may even be an above-average shortstop by major-league standards. But in Fantasy, where only 12 shortstops matter, he doesn't do enough to set himself apart. Yes, he offers some power and some speed, but he'd need to take a big step forward to become more than average in either category. And based on his 4-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio as a rookie, he's limited to baby steps. He's still working to catch up to Miguel Tejada and Juan Uribe, much less legitimate middle-rounders, so if you miss out on high-upside players like Stephen Drew and Elvis Andrus, don't reach for Desmond just because he's the next-best thing. You'd be getting a late-round shortstop for a middle-round price.

Sleeper ... Michael Morse, OF

Morse won't get a lot of attention on Draft Day, and rightfully so. He has never been a full-time starter and doesn't project as one now. But after his exile to the minors for the better part of four years, the 28-year-old finally got a second chance in the majors last year and exceeded all expectations in the process. This wasn't a case of a reserve putting up unsustainable percentages in limited exposure. Morse got everyday at-bats from about the time Josh Willingham hurt his knee Aug. 15 and was at his best then, hitting .303 with seven homers and a .930 OPS in 132 at-bats. Considering the guy never had a 100-strikeout season in the minors, you can trust he knows how to hit. The Nationals still have their doubts, favoring Roger Bernadina in left field, but neither he nor center fielder Nyjer Morgan has an especially long leash. If Morse winds up getting regular at-bats again, he'll matter in mixed leagues.

Washington Nationals Fantasy Outlook
Projected Lineup Pos. Projected Rotation
1 Nyjer Morgan CF 1 Livan Hernandez RH
2 Ian Desmond SS 2 Jordan Zimmermann RH
3 Ryan Zimmerman 3B 3 John Lannan LH
4 Jayson Werth RF 4 Jason Marquis RH
5 Adam LaRoche 1B 5 Tom Gorzelanny LH
6 Danny Espinosa 2B Alt Chien-Ming Wang RH
7 Ivan Rodriguez C
Bullpen Breakdown
8 Roger Bernadina LF CL Drew Storen RH
Top bench options SU Tyler Clippard RH
R Michael Morse OF RP Sean Burnett LH
R Jerry Hairston UTL RP Henry Rodriguez RH
R Jesus Flores C RP Todd Coffey RH
Rookies/Prospects Age Pos. 2010 high Destination
1 Bryce Harper 18 OF DNP -- unsigned Class A
Much-hyped hitting prospect no mystery to Fantasy owners. Talented enough to reach majors as teenager.
2 Danny Espinosa 23 2B Majors Majors
Projected starter made splash last year. Might not hit for average, but clearly a power-speed threat.
3 Derek Norris 22 C Class A Double-A
Rare combination of power and patience for catcher. Year or two behind Ramos, but has higher ceiling.
4 Wilson Ramos 23 C Majors Triple-A
Defensive gem could start now, but Flores might force him to minors. Offense still a work in progress.
5 Yunesky Maya 29 SP Majors Triple-A
Nats gave Cuban defector $7.4 million, but didn't get big return last year. Probably needs fine-tuning.
Best of the rest: Chris Marrero, 1B; Sammy Solis, SP; A.J. Cole, SP; Cole Kimball, RP; Eury Perez, OF; Brad Peacock, SP; Stephen Lombardozzi, 2B; Tyler Moore, 1B; Destin Hood, OF; Josh Smoker, RP; William Rhinehart, 1B; and Stephen King, SS.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter . You can e-mail us your Fantasy Baseball questions to DMFantasyBaseball@cbs.com . Be sure to put Team outlooks in the subject field. Please include your full name, hometown and state.

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Player News
Brewers reliever Jim Henderson throwing again
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:13 pm ET) Brewers reliever Jim Henderson, who had shoulder surgery last August, began throwing off a mound last week and will toss bullpen sessions this week, reports MLB.com. Henderson hopes to be 100 percent by Opening Day, the report added.

Henderson was limited to 14 appearances last season. He went 2-1 with a 7.15 ERA.


Ryan Braun says his thumb feels 'significantly better'
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:05 pm ET) Brewers right fielder Ryan Braun, who underwent a thumb procedure last October, said his thumb feels "significantly better" than at this time last year, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Braun was plagued throughout last season by a nerve issue at the base of his thumb, the paper noted.

"Knock on wood, I feel great; it feels really good," Braun told reporters.

"Everything is going well. Regular offseason, regular routine. I started hitting a little bit earlier than I typically do, just to see how it felt. So far, so good. It feels really good.

"I do everything I regularly do. I don't hit off live pitching but I take regular batting practice like we would during the season, and it feels good. I don't feel anything at all."

Added Braun: "I know it's significantly better than where it was this time last year, which I'm encouraged by. But as I told you guys the last time I saw everybody (at Thanksgiving) the real test will come in spring training, once we've played games for a couple of weeks and that everyday wear and tear. See how it recovers, see how it responds."


Stiff competition for fifth spot in Mariners' rotation
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:16 pm ET) Taijuan Walker, Roenis Elias and Erasmo Ramirez are the leading candidates for the fifth spot in the Mariners' starting rotation, reports the Tacoma News Tribune. "The more competition, the better," Walker told the paper.

"It brings out the best of everyone who is fighting for the spot."

Walker posted a 1.96 ERA in six outings last September after being recalled from Triple-A Tacoma.


Report: Yankees decline reconciliation with Alex Rodriquez
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(11:50 am ET) After meeting with new Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred to clear the air over his year-long suspension in 2014, Alex Rodriguez also reached out to the Yankees to set up a meeting, but was turned down, reports the New York Post.

Rodriguez requested to meet with the Yankees to apologize for his role in the Biogenesis scandal, but was told to wait until spring training. Reports also surfaced that Rodriguez is looking noticeably thinner compared to recent seasons, a source told the New York Post.

Rodriguez is set to report to spring training Feb. 25.


Rockies' Boone Logan appears to be fully healthy
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(11:33 am ET) Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich said pitcher Boone Logan has completely recovered from elbow issues that ended his 2014 season, reports The Denver Post.

Boone struggled in 2014 and was placed on the disabled list with elbow inflammation. He produced a 6.84 ERA over 25 innings.


Report: Yelich, Hechavarria turn down offers from Marlins
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(11:21 am ET) The Marlins are no longer discussing multiyear contracts with outfielder Christian Yelich and shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, reports the Miami Herald.

A significant gap between Yelich and the Marlins has caused contract talks on a long-term deal to stall. Hechavarria turned down the Marlins' multiyear contract because the offer was not significant enough. He can become a free agent after the 2018 season, while Yelich can become a free agent after 2019.


Rockies' Jhoulys Chacin ready for bounce back 2015 season
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:46 am ET) Rockies pitcher Jhoulys Chacin had a tough 2014 season. After injuring his shoulder in spring training, Chacin struggled in 11 starts, posting a 1-7 record with a 5.40 ERA in 63 1/3 innings. He suffered right rotator cuff strain, which forced him to miss nearly half the season.

However, manager Walt Weiss is happy with Chacin's progress this offseason.

"He's doing great. He's been throwing and working out really hard. He's had a really good offseason," Weiss said to The Denver Post.

Teammate and pitcher Jorge De La Rosa thinks 2015 will be much kinder to Chacin.

"He surprised me a lot," De La Rosa said. "He was playing catch with me every day (in Scottsdale, Ariz.), and his arm looks really good. His ball really had some life, and he's lost some weight. I think he's getting stronger. He's going to have a good year."


Report: Braves sign reliever David Carpenter
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1/24/2015) The Braves signed relief pitcher David Carpenter, reports Baseball America.

Carpenter spent the last three seasons pitching for the Angels. During his career, Carpenter has pitched 43 innings and produced a 5.23 ERA.


Rockies' Troy Tulowitzki wants to move past injury concerns
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1/24/2015) Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki has heard the rumors about being injury-prone and he said it only motivates him to play better, reports MLB.com.

Tulowitzki only appeared in 91 games during the 2014 season and said his main goal for 2015 is to stay on the field.

"I've heard that I'm injury-prone. I've heard that I'm getting older. I like it," he said. "That stuff fuels me. It makes my workouts better. It makes me want it that much more. I just want to prove that I can do it. For so long, I've worked so hard to try to stay on the field. That's what keeps driving me - to stay on the field, help this team win and try to solidify myself as the best player in the game."

He added that he wants to play between 140 and 160 games, but he knows it will be a challenge as he gets older.

"It's been a battle for me, no doubt," Tulowitzki said. "I do everything I possibly can to prepare for the season and make myself healthy."


Red Sox's Hanley Ramirez confident he can play outfield
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1/24/2015) When Hanley Ramirez makes his spring training debut, he’ll be trying to learn new teammates and a new position.

The Red Sox signed Ramirez in the offseason with the intent of having him play in left field. Ramirez has never played in the outfield during his career, but has been working on outfield mechanics, including tracking balls and hitting the cutoff man. Ramirez believes the switch from the infield to the outfield will be seamless, once he receives enough experience, reports ESPN.com.

"I think if I put in all the work that I need to put to get better it's not going to be that hard," Ramirez said.


 
 
 
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