The science of team chemistry

Essentially, the Nationals’ five-man bench was finalized months ago.

Chad Tracy signed a one-year extension covering the 2013 season during the Nationals’ postseason run last year, keeping him a part of the Goon Squad, which will also contain Steve Lombardozzi, Tyler Moore, Roger Bernadina and whichever catcher doesn’t start that particular day - Kurt Suzuki or Wilson Ramos.

That five-man group didn’t really leave room for Mark DeRosa, so even though manager Davey Johnson hoped to bring DeRosa back, we had an idea the 37-year-old utility man wasn’t going to be returning to D.C. for the 2013 season.

Still, DeRosa signing with the Blue Jays yesterday served as a reminder that the Nationals will lose some of the personality that they had last season. A couple of readers suggested that this might also mean the team’s chemistry will take a hit.

As I mentioned yesterday, DeRosa and Michael Morse were both very well-liked in the Nats clubhouse. Morse was the team DJ and goofball, DeRosa the guy who held the karaoke mic and provided jokes and advice to younger teammates.

Sean Burnett and Michael Gonzalez, two popular, outgoing members of the bullpen, are gone, having signed with the Angels and Brewers, respectively.

This isn’t to say that the Nats will lack character or be a team filled with bland, business-only players. Gio Gonzalez certainly brings plenty of personality to the table and enjoys adding some flair to a clubhouse. That goes without saying.

Among the Nats’ offseason additions, Denard Span has a very good reputation within the game as a well-liked, high-character guy, and same goes for Dan Haren. The more experienced and comfortable that players like Ian Desmond and Bryce Harper feel, the more they can potentially emerge as high-energy presences in the clubhouse.

Other guys, like Adam LaRoche, Ryan Zimmerman and Kurt Suzuki, might not be as bubbly as DeRosa or Morse, but still serve as team leaders who can bring a clubhouse together.

Does winning create chemistry? Does chemistry help lead to success?

One doesn’t necessarily guarantee the other. Over the years, there have been teams with excellent chemistry that stunk on the field. There have also been plenty of squads where the many of the players didn’t necessarily want to hang out on off-days, but the on-field talent was enough to make the team successful.

The Nats have retained much of their core group from last season and with Johnson leading the way, will likely be a loose bunch entering and throughout the season.

The decibel level and amount of laughter in the clubhouse might decrease a bit without DeRosa, Morse, Burnett and others around. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the team chemistry will take a hit.

And even if it does, that could mean very little as long as the Nats keep winning ballgames.

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