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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

2010 Washington Nationals team preview

2009 Record: 59-103   .364

Run Differential: -164

2009 could not end soon enough for the Nationals and their fans.  Aside from having the worst record in the league, the team had a public relations nightmare in the front office.  Fantasy owner/GM Jim Bowden resigned after being linked to a bonus shaving scandal in Latin America and top scout Jose Rijo was fired for the same offense.  Manager Manny Acta served as the scapegoat and was fired in July after the team had managed to win 26 games in 87 tries.  Although Jim Riggleman had better luck in the second half, the team still had the worst rotation in baseball and the bullpen was constantly changing in an effort to find someone who could get three outs.  At times a  poor pitching staff can be offset by a good offense and that seemed to be the plan for the Nationals going into the season.  Unfortunately only the core players in Adam Dunn, Nick Johnson, Ryan Zimmerman, and Josh Willingham performed to their standards.  Highly regarded second year catcher Jesus Flores tore his labrum and missed nearly the entire season causing the team to suffer with Josh Bard and Wil Nieves behind the dish.  This change alone probably cost the team three or four games.  Christian Guzman, fresh off his shiny new two year extension, reverted to the Guzman of old (no power, no walks), and Elijah Dukes regressed completely.  What should have been one of the league's best offenses ended up being mediocre.

This season arrives with similar expectations as last: an above average offense and improved defense look to carry a mediocre pitching staff in the team's first quest to finish with a winning record.
The same core of offensive players return (minus Nick Johnson) though the team is worried with the slow recovery of Flores from shoulder surgery.  This prompted them to overpay for the services of Pudge Rodriguez, who at 38 is no longer a quality every day player but should be an improvement over Nieves.  If they can get league average innings out of Jason Marquis and Scott Olsen while John Lannan holds onto the strides he made last season then this team may turn a corner.  Top prospect Stephen Strasburg will likely be called up in May and will immediately be the best pitcher on the team. Team officials are hopeful the bullpen will be much improved as several players seemed to perform better once they found their niche. So, yes, there is reason to be optimistic for 2010.  The biggest question Washington should be asking themselves is whether or not they should be big spenders.  The team made a couple of thrifty acquisitions with Matt Capps and Marquis but then paid Rodriguez as if it's 2003.  The team's minor league system is not likely to contribute any top talent other than Strasburg unless Dunn or Willingham is moved therefore making smart spending key.  Signing several pitchers to non-guaranteed minor league contracts can only help the franchise as they'll either help the team contend or help improve minor league depth.  Whatever happens this season it's not going to be as bad as 2009 and at least Jim Bowden can be left to focus on building a contender in his fantasy league.

Likely Opening Day Roster:
Pos.
Name
My Two Cents
C
Ivan Rodriguez
I don't care what ESPN says, he's nearly washed up.
C
Wil Nieves
Just a placeholder until Flores is healthy
1b
Adam Dunn
2009 was the first time since '03 he failed to reach 40 HR as he finished with "only" 38
2b
Adam Kennedy
Big second half with Oakland gives him leg up on starting job
3b
Ryan Zimmerman
If he can duplicate last season's performance one could argue for him as NL's best 3bman
SS
Christian Guzman
No power + no walks = inconsistent performance dependent upon batting average
LF
Josh Willingham
Acquiring Willingham might rank as Bowden's best move with the franchise
CF
Nyjer Morgan
Best defensive CF in baseball? He's in the discussion
RF
Elijah Dukes
At least he stayed out of trouble last season
IF
Ian Desmond
When Guzman flops, Desmond will get his shot to be starting SS
UT
Willie Harris
Saved his career by learning how to draw a walk. One of the most fun players in the game
OF
Michael Morse
Only player to be suspended twice for performance enhancers.
OF
Justin Maxwell
Could form a speedy platoon with Morgan
SP
John  Lannan
Team's number one starter may be doing with with smoke and mirrors: 3.9 K/9 last year
SP
Jason Marquis
His team has never missed the playoffs.
SP
Scott Olsen
If shoulder is fully healthy will help shore up rotation
SP
JD Martin
Pitched pretty well last year. Deserving of a chance to prove that wasn't a fluke
SP
Garrett Mock
Still too early to give up on him as a starter
Cl
Matt Capps
Hard to believe he was non-tendered and not traded. Make or break year for him as "closer"
SU
Brian Bruney
3.25 ERA in four seasons with Yankees
RP
Sean Burnett
Thriving now that he has a permanent role in the bullpen
RP
Colin Balester
Former top prospect failed as starter, now seems destined to be a reliever.
RP
Tyler Clippard
New slider allowed him to post 2.69 ERA in 41 appearances last year
RP
Jason Bergmann
Will probably be a roster casualty when Strasburg is called up
RP
Tyler Walker
Well traveled veteran hopes to stick with Nats
DL: Chien Ming Wang, Jordan Zimmerman

Say Hello To: Matt Capps, Adam Kennedy, Ivan Rodriguez, Jason Marquis, Chien-Ming Wang, Brian Bruney, Eddie Guardado, Tyler Walker

Wave Goodbye: Wily Mo Pena, Joe Beimel, Julian Tavarez, Nick Johnson, Austin Kearns, Josh Bard, Livan Hernandez

Rookies: Stephen Strasburg, Justin Maxwell

Potential Breakout: Strasburg is the only real candidate here. It should be fun.

Welcome to Earth: Jason Marquis - I'm just not convinced he's for real.

Likely to Rebound: Elijah Dukes - If he remembers how to take a walk the rest will come.

Top 3 players: Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn, Stephen Strasburg

Top Prospect: Stephen Strasburg - The once in a generation talent likely will begin the year in the minors.  After a month or so fans can expect to see his 100mph fastball every fifth day.

Prediction: 74-88  5th place N.L. East
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