I admire all sorts of people. But I reserve a special sort of admiration for baseball executives who don't sleep. You know, like rust. Or Mike Rizzo.
This year, the Washington Nationals won more games than anybody else. And they essentially finished the season with not a single hole in their lineup, their rotation, or their bullpen. Which is no mean feat. They also finished the season with not a single prospective free agent of note. So Rizzo and the Nationals could easily -- and justifiably, if you buy into the ol' don't-mess-with-success paradigm -- have simply said this winter, "Nah, we're good."
As tempting as that might have been, Rizzo didn't say that. Instead he said, "Yes, Minnesota Twins: I will trade you one of my surplus pitchers for one of your veteran outfielders."
The surplus pitcher isn't just any surplus pitcher. He's Alex Meyer, the Nationals' first-round draft pick in 2011 and probably their (ex-)best pitching prospect. This, just a year after the Nationals traded Tom Milone, another fine prospect, to the Athletics.
The veteran outfielder is just any veteran outfielder. He's Denard Span, who's such a good fielder that most people probably don't realize what a good player he is. And he's signed through 2014 for roughly $12 million. Which is about as long as you'd want him signed for, as Span is now entering his decline phase (it should be a relatively mild decline, though).
Where will Span play? Remember, the Nationals don't have any holes. Well, we know he's going to play in the outfield, because he's an outfielder. Probably center field. Which will push strong-armed-and-speedy Bryce Harper to left field, and strong-armed-and-not-as-speedy Jayson Werth to right field, and Michael Morse to ... somewhere. Maybe to first base, or to the bench, or to another team. One thing you should know is that Morse is a pretty terrible outfielder. He's a better hitter than Span, but that's more than balanced by his inferior defense.
So what happens to Morse? Again, we don't know yet. But with first baseman Adam LaRoche exploring the wonders of free agency, it seems likely that Morse will simply slide to the initial sack, where he's got some experience. Granted, he won't hit like LaRoche did last season. But he might hit as well as LaRoche will next season.
In the long term, Rizzo will have to do some things differently. There won't be any more Stephen Strasburgs or Bryce Harpers when the Nationals draft, and the minor-league prospects cupboard is nearly empty. But barring a rash of serious injuries, the Nats are well positioned for the next two or three years.