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11/3/07 Steel Yourselves Nationals Fans...

     ...because it's that time of year again, and the Hot Stove is in it's preheating stage, so each and every Baseball writer in the nation gets their one shot a year at being funny when they attempt to ridicule the Washington Nationals place in the free agent and trade markets.

     Last year it was one of the local rags where I live telling anyone who ever had dreams of pitching in the Majors to head down the Nationals Spring Training in Melbourne, Florida's Space Coast Stadium, because the Nationals, to paraphrase his mockery, were so desparate for pitching that ANYONE had a chance at making the rotation.

    While some truth lay within all humor, I for one am tired of having the Nationals called a "Triple-AAA team", or of having to hear people, (like Mets fans) lament losses with comments like, "...and to get swept out of the Playoffs by the Nationals of all teams." (Hope it hurt, NY).

    But here we are in early November, and it's starting again. SI.com got the ball rolling this week with baseballprospectus.com writer Nate Silver's "NL East Hot Stove Preview" in which he predicts the amount of movement he expects to see from each team in the division and tries to determine whether the teams will be "Weak" or "Strong" buyers this Winter.

    I'd assumed since 2005, when the team arrived in DC, that the Nationals would increase their payroll to a competitive level with their arrival in a new city, and with their new digs on the way. Their $37 Million dollar payroll ranked twenty-eigth overall in the Majors last season, according to Mr. Silver's article, and as the new Stadium nears completion, it appears that increasing the payroll may be the plan. Mr. Silver seems to agree:

     "It wouldn't surprise me if (Nationals GM Jim) Bowden has a
     mandate to start behaving like he's got a big-market team,
     which is really what the Nationals ought to be in their new  
     ballpark."

    Nonetheless, Mr. Silver predicts that the Nationals will be "Weak" buyers this winter, suggesting:

     "...a revised version of the Tiger Plan, where you're looking to
     sign a couple of free agents not so much for 2008 but to set
     yourself up for 2009."

     I generally agree with Mr. Silver's assessment. He lists the "Key Needs" for the Nationals as, "1. As many starting pitchers as possible; 2. CF; 3. SS; 4. C," which is pretty obvious, though the catcher spot, with Brian Schneider and Jesus Flores on the roster, would be a distant fourth in my opinion.

     With Cristian Guzman and Felipe Lopez set to become free agents in 2008, acquiring a shortstop makes sense, but only if one of the two, Guzman or Lopez, is moved.

     The Nationals don't seem to have any Big League ready shortstops on the way up. The Nationals Farm Authority...

(http://farmauthority.dcsportsnet.com)

     ...compiled a list of the Nationals top prospects recently, and listed 17-year old Esmailyn Gonzalez as the top shortstop prospect(7th overall), just ahead of 19-year old Stephen King(#10), and twenty-two year old Ian Desmond(#22), though only Desmond has played above Class-A ball.

    Mr. Silver warns in his article about avoiding "redundant" moves, like inking DY with Nick Johnson still attempting to return, or possibly signing a center fielder, when Ryan Church remains on the roster. (Which is something I've definitely mentioned as well, especially with the Wily Mo Pena acquisition last season overloading the outfield).

     Mr. Silver does sneak in a decent joke, listing the current President Bush in Washington's 2008 Free Agent Class, but otherwise there is an absence of the usual derision that is sent the DC franchise's way. Maybe a new day is finally arriving for Washington Nationals fans. Then again, it is still November, and the Hot Stove is barely warm enough to burn yourself...

Links and Links and...*

Nate Silver's SI.com "NL East Hot Stove Preview":

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2007/baseball/mlb/10/29/bp.nleast/index.html

Nationals Farm Authority's Prospect List:

http://farmauthority.dcsportsnet.com/nationals-top-prospects-2007/

MLB.com's Washington Nationals writer Bill Ladson's article on Esmailyn's Gonzalez's signing:

http://washington.nationals.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20060702&content_id=1534629&vkey=ne ws_was&fext=.jsp&c_id=was

Esmailyn Gonzalez's stats at thebaseballcube.com:

http://www.thebaseballcube.com/players/G/Esmailyn-Gonzalez.shtml

Stephen King's stats at thebaseballcube.com:

http://thebaseballcube.com/players/K/Stephen-King-1.shtml

Ian Desmond's stats at thebaseballcube.com:

http://www.thebaseballcube.com/players/D/ian-desmond.shtml