Nationals 2009 preview

With February just hours away and spring training around the corner, I’m taking on the challenge of previewing all 30 MLB teams. Each of the teams will have its own post, and most will continue to change or adjust as more free agents finally begin to sign.

Let’s start with the Washington Nationals.

Everybody knows the Nationals were among the worst teams in baseball last year, but do you remember that this team actually held the best record in baseball for 3 days last year?

Of course that stemmed from the North American opening day (where they were the only game on – remember the Red Sox & A’s split their series in Japan) win over the Braves & an 11-6 victory over the eventual world champion Phillies on March 31. After beating Philly again on April 2, they were the only team at 3-0. Then came a 9 game losing streak and well, a typical Nationals/Expos season.

If there’s anything positive to say about a 59-102 record, it’s that you’re probably not going to lose much talent and just about anybody you add to the roster is a potential extra win or two.

That said, other than the Nationals flirting with Texiera and rumors about Manny, the group of knuckleheads running this team apparently aren’t real interested in winning more than 65 games in 2009.

Positives: The additions of Scott Olsen and Daniel Cabrera to the rotation should bring a little more stability and less innings (201.2 and 180.0, respectively) for a very incomplete bullpen. In 2008, John Lannan and Tim Redding were the only two Nationals to throw more than 160 innings. While Redding left for the Mets, Olsen, Cabrera and Lannan should at least help the Nationals have a chance to stay in more games going into the 7th inning and beyond. The other key add for the 2009 Nationals is RF Josh Willingham. Willingham, who spent portions of last year injured and talked about as a party to the Manny Ramirez trade fiasco, has never fully lived up to his potentials. Of course, anytime you can add a career .833 OPS guy to a roster that had a .696 OPS the year before, it should have some sort of an impact.

Negatives: Look over the roster, there’s loads of names you probably don’t recognize (C Jesus Flores, pretty much everybody in the bullpen) or names of guys who were thought to have lots of potential that never realized it (1B Nick Johnson, Willingham, CF Lastings Milledge, OF Wily Mo Pena).

Lineup, here’s how I’d start the season based on depth chart: 1. SS Christian Guzman; 2. CF Lastings Milledge; 3. LF Josh Willingham; 4. 3B Ryan Zimmerman; 5. RF Elijah Dukes; 6. 1B Nick Johnson; 7. 2B Willie Harris; 8. C Jesus Flores. Then it would take me about 3.46 seconds to start giving guys like Kory Castro, Anderson Hernandez, Justin Maxwell, Alberto Gonzolez and Roger Bernadina major playing time.

Prospects

  • RHP Jordan Zimmermann, 22, Jordan has shown some stability and control especially as situations get tougher. For his short AA season last year in Harrisburg, his OAVG dropped as the base-running conditions changed from .230 with nobody on to .210 with runners in scoring position. My biggest concern, based on his basic stats & the couple videos I could find of him, is whether or not he can keep the ball down. Nine homers in 100 innings in AA doesn’t seem so spectacular. His K/BB ratio is about 3:1, so he may be able to succeed in a Bert Blyleven type of way.
  • RF Michael Burgess, 20, again I don’t have a lot of reference here, but upon instincts through one video (senior year H.S.) and his stats from his first professional season, he appears to fit right in with the Washington model, lots of promise, but not performance. Of course it is very early to rule him out.
  • SS Esmailyn Gonzalez, 19, couldn’t find any video, and stats are rookie league only, where he excelled. Not much power, looks like an on-base machine.
  • LHP Ross Detwiler, 22, he looks to be an innings eater with some upside, but questions about reliability and keeping runners off base will come up.
  • OF Roger Bernadina, 24, for a short term help, Rogearvin may be a boost to the Nationals offense. The kids got speed, 41 steals in AA/AAA last year, and an OBP of .400. The unfortunate thing for the Nats is that Bernadina plays the OF, where the Nats aren’s stocked, but it is the team’s best position in terms of depth (Elijah Dukes, Austin Kearns, Ryan Langerhans, Lastings Milledge, Corey Patterson, Wily Mo Pena, Josh Willingham).

It’s not a bright future for the Nats. There is some talent around, but much of the “can’t wait for” talent is still at least two years away, while most of the rest of the guys who have shown good numbers in AA/AAA are getting to the 26yo+ range where their chances are decreasing by the day.

Other notes: Other than manager, Manny Acta and pitching coach, Randy St. Claire, the rest of the coaching staff is new, including some good clubhouse guys when they played (Marquis Grissom, Pat Listach and Randy Knorr) and former Cubs manager Jim Riggleman. If nothing else these guys should help keep the team moving in the right direction.

Bottom line: Expecting 70 wins out of the Nationals in 2009 is probably a stretch. Will they be better, sure, but mainly better in the sense that they won’t be outscored 5.12 to 3.98 every game, which should amount to 5 or 6 more wins and avoiding a 100 loss season.

What can the Nationals do to make quick changes: A) Sign a damn free agent. You threw $180M at Texiera, that means you aren’t fully afraid of someone accepting your money. Guys like Manny, Adam Dunn, Orlando Hudson, Ben Sheets, Bobby Abreu and Oliver Perez are still out there. These are all guys who can and will make a difference. If the Nationals pony-up and sign just 2 of them, the chances of contending at least to the All-Star break multiply exponentially. Sadly though, it won’t happen. Nationals fans are stuck with what they see. The Nats will get somebody (maybe Hudson), but one player isn’t enough here.

Update

2/11/09: The Nats have done something to help out. Adam Dunn has agreed to a 2 year deal which should help with some pop out of the lineup. The Nats’ OF was already a stockpile of players, and adding Dunn likely means someone else is getting released or with any luck for Nats fans, a trade for another piece. Dunn certainly isn’t enough to put the Nats in contention, but 2-3 more wins is likely.

Prediction: 63-99 65-97; 5th place in NL East, 2nd worst record in baseball.

 

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