Eventful week for Nationals

Eventful week for Nationals
November 16, 2012, 9:15 am
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And so I have returned from my week-long respite. Mrs. Z and I had a wonderful time on our vacation, thanks for asking. But it's time to get back to the daily grind, and I see there was plenty of Nationals news in my absence.

The manager finally has a contract for 2013. He's got a new coach on his staff, as well, not to mention a new piece of hardware for his mantel. As does the no-longer-19-year-old outfielder. The 21-game-winning left-hander, was not as fortunate.

So let's rehash the major events of the last week...

DAVEY JOHNSON GETS A NEW CONTRACT
Not that there was ever any doubt this would get done, but it's nice to finally have some resolution to this lingering issue. Johnson and the Nationals agreed late last week to a new contract that ensures he'll return as manager in 2013 ... but then ensures he won't return in 2014.

To be honest, I was a bit surprised Davey came right out and said next season will be his last. I didn't think he'd want to manage more than one year, but I suspected he'd at least leave the door open just in case. I mean, what if the Nats reach Game 7 of the World Series and then lose? Are you telling me Johnson wouldn't want to take one more shot at glory? Evidently not.

Given all that, two thoughts: 1) How motivated is Davey going to be to try to win it all in 2013? Very. 2) How many sets of eyes will be on Randy Knorr over the next year, trying to determine if the popular bench coach really is ready to ascend to the managerial position in 2014? Plenty.

BRYCE HARPER WINS NL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Stop for a moment and contemplate this: When Harper made his big-league debut on April 28 at Dodger Stadium, would you have predicted he'd wind up winning Rookie of the Year? Perhaps there was some thought he could achieve this, but no one really knew how the 19-year-old would perform in his first trial at this level.

What Harper did accomplish was noting short of remarkable. It wasn't just the 22 homers, 98 runs scored, 57 extra-base hits, 18 steals and eight outfield assists. It was that he took his game to an entirely new level in September while the Nationals were in the midst of a pennant race and often was the best player on the best team in baseball.

History is littered with one-hit-wonder Rookies of the Year who never amounted to much else after their award-winning debut performances. Something tells me that's not going to be the case here. Harper only scratched the surface this season, and there's really no limit to what he could do in 2013 and beyond.

DAVEY JOHNSON WINS MANAGER OF THE YEAR
This was probably the easiest selection out of all the BBWAA awards this year. (OK, aside from Mike Trout as AL Rookie of the Year.) With all due respect to Dusty Baker and Bruce Bochy (the other finalists), Johnson was unquestionably the manager of the year in the NL.

This award almost always goes to the guy who's team most exceeded expectations over the course of a season. And certainly the Nationals exceeded expectations. But Davey deserved the honor for much more than that.

Let's not forget just how many injuries devastated the lineup through most of 2012. And let's not forget what a masterful job Johnson did in helping his team overcome those injuries. He wasn't afraid to play unproven rookies, even if they were out of position. He wasn't afraid to tinker with his bullpen roles when the situation called for it. And he once again proved to be the ultimate player's manager, understanding how best to communicate and relate with everybody on his roster.

GIO GONZALEZ FINISHES 3RD IN CY YOUNG VOTE
Though he was named a finalist last week, Gonzalez didn't really seem to stand a chance against R.A. Dickey, who wound up winning the award with 27 of 32 first-place votes. That's taking nothing away from Gio, who had a fantastic season and deserved his top three finish.

I had a Cy Young vote this year, and I had Gonzalez second on my ballot behind Dickey. (I had Clayton Kershaw third, Craig Kimbrel fourth and Johnny Cueto fifth.) My reasons for selecting Dickey ahead of Gonzalez? There were many.

In addition to his 20-6 record and 2.73 ERA, Dickey led the NL in innings (233), complete games (five), strikeouts (230), quality starts (27) and a category I call "dominant starts" (two or fewer earned runs allowed over seven or more innings). Dickey had 18 of those, tops in the NL. Gio only had eight.

Dickey also had the fewest "bad" starts in the league, failing to complete five innings only twice. (Gonzalez failed to do it six times.)

Now, you can certainly make the case that Gonzalez pitched all season in the thick of a pennant race while Dickey pitched for a 74-win team. Shouldn't Gio get extra credit for pitching in far more pressure-packed games? Yes, and I did give him extra credit for that. But it wasn't enough to topple Dickey's complete resume. In the end, I would say Dickey deserved the Cy Young because of his consistent dominance over the entire season. Gonzalez was occasionally dominant, but not on nearly as regular a basis as the New York knuckleballer.

TONY TARASCO NAMED NEW FIRST BASE COACH
The Nationals had one vacancy on their coaching staff following Bo Porter's departure to Houston, where he'll get his first career shot to manage. Though the initial thought was that they'd simply hire a new third base coach, there was the potential all along to hire a first base coach instead and shift Trent Jewett to the other side of the diamond.

Jewett has plenty of experience coaching at third base. He spent three seasons there with the Pirates (2000-02), not to mention 10 seasons as a Class AAA manager (a job that includes third base coaching duties in its description).

Tarasco's addition to the big-league staff certainly makes sense. He had been serving as the organization's roving outfield instructor and was influential in helping Harper learn his new position. He'll continue to work with Harper on a daily basis now, as well as take over the Nationals' baserunning duties.

ADAM LAROCHE TIES FOR 6TH IN MVP VOTE
Nobody expected the veteran first baseman to win the whole thing -- that honor went to Buster Posey, and deservedly so -- but it was nice to see the rest of the baseball-writing world recognize just how much LaRoche meant to the Nats this year. He actually received more fifth-place votes (six) than any other, but wound up settling for a sixth-place tie with David Wright (behind Posey, Ryan Braun, Andrew McCutchen, Yadier Molina and Chase Headley).

Can't find fault with the way the top five shook out, nor with the fact three other Nationals received top-10 MVP votes. Ian Desmond finished tied for 16th, named on six of the 32 ballots. Gonzalez actually finished tied for 20th despite appearing on only two ballots (one voter had him fifth). Ryan Zimmerman finished tied for 24th (also received one fifth-place vote). And Harper finished tied for 30th, receiving one ninth-place vote.