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'08's Officially Over, What Will '09 Bring For DC's Nationals?
There have been two recurring messages out of the DC Front Office this offseason about the direction the Washington Nationals would take to improve on their 102-loss 2008 season and continue to rebuild the moribund franchise they purchased from Major League Baseball...(after MLB had devalued the Expos significantly enough to warrant their removal from Montreal, Olympic Stadium and the assumed-to-be apathetic Montreal masses who had rejected the Expos and baseball in general after the '94 strike/season).
The First Message, which Washington Nationals' Team President Stan Kasten repeated at the recent NatsFest press conference, is that the Nationals should follow the model of the Tampa Bay Rays*, and build a winner rather than trying to buy a winner, or as Mr. Kasten himself put it, as quoted by Washington Post writer Chico Harlan in a Nationals Journal post entitled, "The Stanifesto":
"Do you want last year's -- I won't name the teams in the American League that had payrolls all over $100 million that ended up last -- do you want those $100 million teams? Or do you want the $40 million team from Tampa that went to the World Series?"
As far back as October 2, 2008, just a week after the '08 season had ended, MLB.com's Bill Ladson started an article entitled, "Nationals see reason for optimism in '09", by writing that:
"After watching the Rays go from the worst team in 2007 to the American League East champions this season, the Nationals have hope they can turn things around in 2009."
...and for as long as there have been comparisons to the Rays, there has been the persistently stated desire to add a middle-of-the-order bat to a lineup that failed to produce nearly enough offense to support the efforts of the Nationals' beleaguered rotation and beaten up pen. New options arose in the bullpen, however, with Mike Hinckley, a former Expos' draft pick emerging as a late-inning lefty, and Steven Shell and Garrett Mock pitching well enough to earn themselves spots-to-lose heading into Spring Training, while "Wild" Joel Hanrahan successfully flirted with disaster and Saul "Sa-ool" Rivera did the yeoman's work whenever and for however long it was necessary...
As for the starters...The Nationals have added two new starters, towering righty Daniel Cabrera and left-hander Scott Olsen(signed after being acquired in a trade w/ the Marlins), and brought back lefties John Lannan and Odalis Perez, as well as right-handers, Jason Bergmann and Shawn Hill to challenge the young arms of Jordan Zimmermann, Shairon Martis and Collin Balester -- who was successful enough his first time through the Majors to all-but-guarantee a starting spot in the rotation -- so regardless of what you might think of the pitchers they've assembled, the Nationals know who they'll be turning to...
But still, they've yet to add that difference maker, the middle of the order bat, the Mark Te - - - - ra, Adam Dunn or even Milton Bradley (Really? As an everday player? Good luck, Cubbies!)...Whichever players the Nationals were actually after, they've yet to get the power they've consistently identified as their number one need...
Will the power emerge from within with Wily Mo Pena finally putting it together...or, uh, more realistically, Elijah Dukes or Lastings Milledge reaching their potential, or maybe Austin Kearns reaching back to find what he's lost since he was named Mr. Baseball in the Commonwealth of Kentucky (or less-humorously when he was signed by now-DC GM Jim Bowden and debuted with the Reds). Will Ryan Zimmerman's power be back 100% after the first real injuries of his career? Will Willie Harris continue to do everything right? Can Nick Johnson stay healthy enough to contribute? Can Jesus Flores continue to improve? Is "The Hammer" the answer? "The Hammer"? Josh Willingham, who was acquired along with Scott Olsen early in the offseason...Will Willingham make the difference offensively? (Notice, I'm not asking where all these outfielders will play? Why harp?")
The Washington Nationals still want a middle of the order bat...again, according to MLB.com's Bill Ladson, who writes today, in an article entitled, "Nats head south with unfullfilled desires", that we shouldn't, "underestimate general manager Jim Bowden", when there are so many free agents still available, and Mr. Bowden himself is quoted by Mr. Ladson, (from the Nationals Caravan), reiterating:
"'Certainly, there is a big bat that we think could help us...Whether or not we are able to sign them and make it work remains to be seen, but we are working on it.'"
If you want a bat...Adam Dunn is just sitting there, stalling...Make him come to DC. Don't wait for him to lower his price...(if he's really what you think you need, which, well, uh, whatever, but )**...ask Dunn what he'll accept, meet it, and make it happen. We've all heard about the personal relationship between Mr. Bowden and Dunn, Zimmerman and Dunn, and Kearns and Dunn, (Is it me or is this sounding very country?), but with all this history, Dunn's still "sitting" on the Nationals' offer?" Why not offer Mr. Dunn a deadline? (That totally worked for the Dodgers...") (ed. note - "And don't forget my offer to Manny Ramirez...Manny?)
(ed. note - "For those of you who believe that the Nationals' struggles last season were mostly a result of all the injuries sustained by the DC roster, Baseball Prospectus' Will Carroll posted his 'Team Health Reports: Washington Nationals' diagnosis today. You'll need to be a BP member to read it all, sorry...")
(another ed. note - " * = The Tampa Bay Rays' method of building a winner, does, however, rely on things like the Hated Mets giving you deals like Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano....")
(one last ed. note - " ** = Fans For A Dunn-Free DC.")