I went through this exercise last year with pretty good success, so we'll do it again. Let's take a look at every player on the 40-man roster and evaluate if/how they fit in for 2012.
Ryan Zimmerman, 3B: The Face needs to have a good, healthy season in 2012 as he becomes primed for his free agent season in 2013.
Danny Espinosa, 2B: The rookie went cold in July/August but picked it back up in September. He never wavered with his glove work though.
Michael Morse, 1B/LF: Where Morse ends up in the field is a bigger question than where he hits in the order, as he's established himself as the team's clean-up hitter. Due big raise in arbitration.
Jayson Werth, CF/RF: The $126 million man had a decent enough second half (.255/.345/.426 with 10 homers post All-Star break) to think he could maintain that production next season. Forget about justifying the contract though.
Wilson Ramos, C: The young catcher already hold Nats record for homers at the position.
Stephen Strasburg, RHSP: His start on the last day of the season is what Nats fans will dream about all winter long.
Jordan Zimmermann, RHSP: If Strasburg is the No. 1 starter, Zimmermann is No. 1-a. His control (already good) just needs to catch up to his command (elite) and we'll see more swing-and-misses.
Drew Storen, Closer: 43 saves in 48 attempts is, uh, pretty good. Closers on bad teams are overrated. This team might not be a bad team next season.
Tyler Clippard, Set-up: Potential injury from being overworked the last two seasons is the only concern about Clippard, the Nats lone All-Star rep in 2011.
Sean Burnett, LHRP: Burnett mostly returned to form in the second half (1.80 ERA post All-Star), but his K-rate of 5.2 per nine was down by 3.7 from his previous year. That screams injury.
Henry Rodriguez, RHRP: The guy terrifies you every appearance because you don't know which Henry is going to take the mound. He's a singular talent but enigmatic. Needs to learn not to over throw the slider.
John Lannan, LHSP: Lannan might have some of the best trade value of anyone on the current big league roster. His solid, steady production at the back of the rotation shouldn't be underestimated.
Ian Desmond, SS: Desmond cut his errors down this season by one-third from 2010. If he could make the same improvement offensively... Was decent in the leadoff spot down the stretch, any wonder the offense looked better late?
Jesus Flores, C: The still young catcher proved his health, now he just needs to see more pitching to get his stroke back. Will play in the winter ball for after missing last two seasons.
Roger Bernadina, OF: The versatile outfielder has double-digit power and speed, but there are some in the organization that have soured on him ever becoming a full-time Major Leaguer.
Rick Ankiel, CF: His value as a defensive replacement and left-handed power source off the bench could be valuable to a contending team. His value as an everyday center fielder is as low as any full-time player. But the organization loves him, so I expect him to the lefty bat off the bench next season.
Todd Coffey, RHRP: Did a mostly very good job as a guy coming into the sixth or seventh innings with the game in doubt and was always available. There's a place in the game for arms like his.
Ryan Mattheus, RHRP: Injured for most of the second half, but showed enough to think he can contribute. But he's already had major shoulder surgery and the injury concerns linger.
Adam LaRoche, 1B: His shoulder injury and resultant surgery was more extensive than thought at the time. He's got a long rehab in front of him (see: Flores, Jesus) and whether the Nats think he'll be ready for opening day will go a long way in determining the make-up of this team.
Cole Kimball, RHRP: The hard-throwing reliever underwent season-ending shoulder surgery July 13 and won't be ready next season until the All-Star break at the very earliest.
Elvin Ramirez, RHRP: The Nats liked this Rule 5 player's arm in spring training, but has been shut down all season with shoulder surgery in May.
THE BIG DECISION
Ross Detwiler (LHSP), Brad Peacock (RHSP), Tom Milone (LHSP): If the team retains Lannan and Wang, there will be one spot left in the rotation for one of these three to claim, unless Rizzo also buys another free agent starter. Detwiler had the advantage of getting a few more starts than the other two this year, but all three impressed in the chances they got down the stretch.
All three look like Major League pitchers, and each has their particular "extra" that makes them appealing to the Nats: Detwiler has the first round pedigree, Peacock the funky delivery and wicked knuckle-curve and Milone has unfailing accuracy. But they all have their limiting factor as well: Detwiler has release point issues, Peacock doesn't have a third pitch and Milone can't break glass with his fastball.
BACK TO THE MINORS
Chris Marrero, 1B: Marrero's status will be directly impacted by LaRoche's. If LaRoche can't start the season, Marrero could very well find himself in the opening day lineup. The power, which was his calling card as an amateur, has to show next year.
Steve Lombardozzi, 2B: Impressive minor league season, unimpressive Major League cup of coffee. He's a hard worker, decent defender and very patient at the plate, but I still don't see the tools out of him that says "Major League". Maybe he sticks as a utility guy.
Yunesky Maya, RHSP: They paid him too much to release him, so look for another year of Syracuse shuttle out of Maya. He certainly will not live up to his billing -- his fastball is just too flat to succeed in MLB.
Atahualpa Severino, LHRP: If he Nats are on the verge of becoming a contender, they are going to want a second lefty in the pen with Burnett, but they'll probably look outside the organization for one with experience.
Corey Brown, OF: Came on late this season in Syracuse, maybe the ankle injury he sustained in spring training lingered longer than anyone imagined. Regardless, next season is his make-or-break year.
Bryce Harper (OF), Matthew Purke (LHSP), Anthony Rendon (3B): None made an appearance for the Nats this season, but we're willing to bet all three will at the end of next season.
ON THE FENCE
Chien-Ming Wang, RHSP: Wang's story of rehabilitation and perseverance is remarkable. It would seem Wang has as much invested in D.C. as the Nats have in him, so a deal could come together pretty quickly unless Rizzo wants to upgrade the "veteran starter" position he seems to have carved out in this rotation.
Collin Balester, RHRP: I love Bally, let me just put it out there. But there's something in the way the Nats use him in the Majors that leads me to believe they don't have very much faith in him. He thrived in Syracuse knowing he was going to pitch two out of three days, but once in the bigs he'd sometimes go a week between appearances.
Craig Stammen, RHRP: Stammen was productive as a starter for Syracuse this year, but used out of the pen, to good results, with Washington. Could find himself in the "long man" role in the pen next year.
Tom Gorzelanny, LHP: Gorzy started strong in the rotation, struggled, was sent to the pen, and proved valuable as the long lefty. Can they do better than him in that role next season?
Pudge Rodriguez, C: Pudge is a role model, exemplary citizen, extra bench coach and wants to come back. But Pudge the player also wants to get to 3,000 hits and play four more years. I don't think he'll get a multi-year deal anywhere this off-season, certainly not here.
Livan Hernandez, RHSP: Never say never. The ageless one also expresses a desire to stay here, even volunteering to pitch out of the pen. But the Nats have better, younger, cheaper options available to them now. He's been a loyal soldier.
Alex Cora, INF: He can still play defense anywhere in the infield, but he just can't hit a lick.
Laynce Nix, LF: A nice first-half turned into a miserable, injury plagued second half. It's his career story.
Jonny Gomes, LF: I still don't understand why they traded for Gomes. They can't offer him arbitration to potentially get a second round pick for him because at this point he'll absolutely take the offer. He's NRI material at this point in his career.
Brian Bixler, UTL: The guy can play almost anywhere on the field, but speed and grit only take you so far.
Doug Slaten, LHRP: He used to be serviceable. Whether his injury robbed him of action on his fastball or whatever, he really stunk it up all season long.
ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
Davey Johnson, Mgr: I think the job is Davey's if he wants it, and by all public accounts he seems to. The Nats have to go through a formal interview process to comply with MLB's minority hiring practices since Davey was a mid-season "emergency" replacement, but that seems a formality. Rizzo loves Davey, Davey wants to return, he's on the payroll either way since he'd be retained as a consultant if he isn't the field manager. It seems a slam dunk to me.
WHAT I WOULD DO
The Nats need to address the top two spots in the batting order. They need to find a high OBP guy, and with Werth playing decent CF defense in September, they aren't limited in only looking for players in center, though long-term that would be preferable. If Desmond's gains of the second half are real, he and the new OBP guy can be slotted in the 1-2 spots. It's possible the Nats slot Desmond and Werth 1-2 and go after a slugger to hit behind Morse though.
Whether or not Wang returns, I think the rotation is in real good shape. I'd spend my money on the high-OBP outfielder. Problem is, it'll probably come through trade since the best OFs on the market this year are Carlos Beltran, Coco Crisp, David DeJesus, and Jason Kubel.