WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - The Nationals are off today. It’s only their second off-day of the entire spring.
Which makes this a good time to hit the pause button and reflect on what has taken place in the five weeks since pitchers and catchers first reported. Are there any conclusions that can be drawn yet?
Here’s one: This has been an awfully boring camp. And I mean that in the most positive way.
There simply hasn’t been any drama in Nats camp this spring. None. What’s the biggest controversy? Max Scherzer complaining about the 20-second pitch clock (which has since been axed by Major League Baseball)?
What negative developments have occurred? Nobody of consequence has looked terrible at the plate or on the mound. Nobody reported out of shape. Nobody has been unable to play as planned, aside from the three guys who have suffered injuries.
And even those injuries haven’t proven to be devastating for the team. Sure, they’d love to have a healthy Koda Glover. But they’ve rarely ever had a healthy Koda Glover, and they certainly weren’t assuming they’d have one this spring.
Howie Kendrick strained a hamstring and Michael A. Taylor sprained a knee and a hip, but neither injury appears to be as serious as first feared. Kendrick, who got hurt March 5, has been taking grounders and batting practice and still has an outside shot at making the opening day roster. (Even if he doesn’t, his debut shouldn’t be delayed much.) Taylor, who got hurt March 14, is already playing catch and hitting off a tee, making manager Davey Martinez’s declaration that the outfielder would miss “significant” time appear to be overly pessimistic.
Roster moves? They’ve been pretty standard fare. The Nationals released Sammy Solís before they owed him more than one-sixth of his salary. Then they signed Tony Sipp to take his place as the lefty specialist in the bullpen. Hardly earth-shattering stuff.
At this point, the opening day roster has few real unanswered questions. The rotation has been set since Day One of camp. The batting order could still be tinkered with, but we know which seven position players will be in there, and the catchers will share the job as planned all along. There’s a spot or two on the bench up in the air, but only because of the Kendrick and Taylor injuries. There may not be a spot in the bullpen up in the air, with seven pitchers having pretty much established themselves as the choices.
Contract negotiations? Well, there never were any serious talks with Bryce Harper after camp opened. This team had long since mentally moved on from the slugger before he agreed to his then-record $330 million deal with the Phillies. It was met with much interest in the Nationals clubhouse, but it also was brushed off after a day or two by a group of veterans who had been ready to move on for a while.
Anthony Rendon? He and the Nats have had some discussions about a contract extension, but at last check the two sides remain far apart. It would be nice to get a deal done before opening day, but nobody’s going to panic if it doesn’t happen in the next week.
Even the second-year manager has been boring. Martinez hasn’t brought out any camels (or other live animals) or DJs to the practice fields, only some extra fundamentals drills that weren’t emphasized as much in his first year.
This is what happens when you build a strong organization, when you aggressively fill every significant roster hole over the winter, when you have a clubhouse full of players who all seem to be on the same page and are motivated to be better in 2019 than they were in 2018.
It makes for boring headlines. But from the Nationals’ standpoint, a boring spring is exactly what the doctor ordered.