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The SportsTalk Shop: Redskins, Eagles, Nationals & Phillies Off-Season

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It certainly has been an interesting few weeks for these four pro teams in the RCN viewing area—all for different reasons.  The Nationals are heading into, what I believe, is a very critical season for them sustaining their long-term success.  The Redskins are trying to figure out how everything went tragically wrong in 2014 and how to rebound as quickly as possible.  The Phillies are starting a rebuilding process that—if it doesn’t gain traction over the next several months—could produce massive changes to their long-time front office personnel.  And the Eagles…well, even the most seasoned beat writers are still trying to figure out just exactly what happened over the last month, and whether the off-season moves they’ve made so far will make the team dramatically better—or worse.

First, here are some thoughts on all four teams as discussed by a panel of media pundits.

Now, a little more now on the Nationals.  I, too, see 2015 as a huge year for Washington.  They clearly are the best team in the National League East and should have no trouble holding off any “surpassing expectations” type of season the Marlins or Mets might have.  Washington is very similar to what the Phillies were as they were entering their 2008 season, with their core reaching the prime of their careers—and several players about to begin their “contract year”.  In my opinion, the Nats MUST get to the World Series this season.  I’ll explain why in a moment, but first, here are three things that have to happen for the Nats to have success this year.

 1) “Go To” Players Must Step Up

It’s time for the big-money guys to do what they get paid for—win.  It’s not enough to put up big individual numbers.  It’s not enough to say the right things in the media. The “go to” guys have to take it to another level and make the players around them better.  Jayson Werth, a player who has experience doing that with the Phillies, will have to make a successful recovery from his arthroscopic shoulder surgery this week.  He won’t be ready by the start of spring training, but needs to be ready to play by mid-April.  The old adage of “you can’t win a pennant in April but you certainly can lose one” applies.  Highly touted prospect Michael Taylor will probably be patrolling Werth’s left field spot (remember, he’s switching positions with Bryce Harper this season) for a good chunk of spring training.  While I’m very high on Taylor and feel he can be an everyday Major League outfielder at some point, it’s extremely risky to rely on a minor leaguer—no matter how high their pedigree—for anything in a season as critical as this one…which brings us to topic #2…

 2)  Stay Aggressive Adding Role Players.

Signing these guys are not flashy moves.  Some of these acquisitions won’t even register on national sports news programs.  But these types of moves are what help win championships.  Sticking with our parallels to the ’08 Phillies, imagine that team without the following moves:  Pat Gillick taking a chance on Werth as a ‘complement’ to Geoff Jenkins in RF; not having J.C. Romero anchoring the 7th/8th innings; not having Matt Stairs available to pinch hit…

Injuries will occur.  Players will go into slumps.  The Nationals have already added some nice pieces over the last year (and a gritty player like Kevin Frandsen last year was a great example).  However, I’m not expecting much out of Dan Uggla, and continuing to search for diamonds-in-the-rough will be even more imperative as 2015 unfolds.  GM Mike Rizzo must continue to look for even the slightest moves that can improve his team.  The organization must continue to add depth and leave nothing to chance this season.

3) Sign Desmond NOW!

Ian Desmond is one of the best shortstops in the game.  The Nats will have many questions heading into the offseason, resigning free agents-to be that are currently on the roster, regardless of how the team does this season.  The last thing this year’s team needs is added distractions.  You clearly must bring him back for next season, and entering spring training with his future in limbo opens the door for speculation and puts doubt into the minds of other players about the future of the team.  I mentioned earlier how important it is to get off to a quality start.  You don’t want one issue snowballing into an avalanche of ambiguity.  There is no question that Desmond should be the one guy you bring back for next year, and to go into March with him NOT signing a long-term deal would be a colossal mistake.

The Phillies were able to build on what they established in 2007 to capture a World Championship.  A failure by Washington to at least get beyond the NLDS would signal a lateral progression…or worse, a regressive atmosphere around the organization.  This isn’t the type of feeling you want to have lingering as you try to re-sign as many of the current, productive Nationals players as you may need after this season.  Hard decisions will have to be made on both sides, and those decisions get tougher for all involved if there are questions about the direction of the franchise.

Philadelphia—now—is in a full-blown rebuilding process, and many more things need to be done.  It will certainly not be easy to accomplish those things (moving Ryan Howard, Jonathan Papelbon, et al).  While I actually think they have made some good moves—so far—this winter, I’ll wait to talk about them more in detail until we see more of their off-season work.  The Phillies now have the luxury of time to let their plan develop…the element of time is exactly what the Nationals could soon be running out of.

What are your thoughts on the four pro sports teams mentions?  Who makes the biggest noise this offseason and what moves do you see happening?  Email your comments to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and keep checking back to the RCN-TV website as we’ll continue to follow these teams’ storylines and in the coming weeks will have more programs on these franchises on ‘RCN SportsTalk’ (live, Thursdays at 6pm