This team is going to stay together for a long time now, thanks to that Ryan Zimmerman deal. Because besides locking up a great player long term, this contract did something else for the Nationals. It tipped the balance of position players with long term contracts.

Now, more than half of their starting position players are locked up through 2016 or beyond. Between Wilson Ramos, Danny Espinosa, Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper and now Zimmerman, 5 of the 8 starting position players are in place for the next half decade or more. That, of course, counts Harper as a starter, which is an assumption I’ll make even if it doesn’t come true for 3 or 4 months. Additionally, if Ian Desmond ends up working out, he’s locked up through 2015. But that’s not all.

Their top 3 starting pitchers, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, and Gio Gonzalez, and their closer, Drew Storen, are also here long term. Zimmermann is the one who they lose control of the soonest – and that’s not til the end of 2015. The Nationals have control of the other guys for longer term that that.

But if we just look through 2015, in other words the next four seasons, look at their lineup and what they have locked up:

C – Ramos
1B – ?
2B/SS – Espinosa
2B/SS – ?
3B – Zimmerman
LF – Werth
CF – ?
RF – Harper
SP1 – Strasburg
SP2 – Zimmermann
SP3 – Gonzalez
SP4 – ?
SP5 – ?
CL – Storen

The core of this team is set, and it’s set with players who are well above average. Every one of those guys has a shot at an All Star game. They’re missing clarity on CF (and even if Werth starts there this year, he’s probably not long term) and a second middle infielder. And that doesn’t even count he of 31 HRs and .303/.360/.550 fame last year, Mike Morse, who they have for 2 more years and could try to extend if he approaches those numbers again. It doesn’t count Adam LaRoche who could hit 20+ HRs this season. And it doesn’t count Steve Lombardozzi, who, despite never impressing scouts with hitting “projectability”, has managed to hit at every level in the minors and totaled .309/.360/.430 in AA and AAA last year at age 22.

It doesn’t count Chien-Ming Wang, John Lannan or Ross Detwiler, who have all shown themselves to be, at the very least, effective 4th or 5th starters. In the case of Lannan, he would probably be one of the best #4 guys in the league based on what he’s done in the past. Those guys will help them win now, and could be had for longer term if Washington wants them.

For years we’ve been talking about how bright the future is for this team. Now that future is starting to manifest itself in a real team that casual fans will recognize. That means they’ll be able to relate to this team more, and that means they’ll pay more attention and show up more. But for those of us who have always cheered, what’s really important is that they have built a solid core to this team. If they do go out and spend some money on one or two free agents, those players could realistically put them over the top into a championship caliber. It’s an exciting time to be a Nats fan, and the best part is – it should continue to be for at least another 5 years.

By Charlie