A fan's observations on the Washington Nationals, from across the virtual divide.

Remind You of 2005?

It shouldn’t.

The Nationals of 2005 were a very different animal than the Nationals of 2010. In many ways, it feels the same, and Mark Zuckerman wrote today of the last time that the Nationals were four games above .500. But on September 18, 2005, the Nationals were riding the escalator down, while our 2010 Nationals are riding the escalator up.

The Nationals in 2005 were the bare bones leftovers that Major League Baseball decided to impose on its thirtieth city – in many respects, worse than an expansion team, because there was no need for MLB to create the illusion of fairness of an expansion draft. The league, with the able assistance of Omar Minaya and Jim Bowden gave Washington a team with a  slashed payroll and traded away every significant prospect. Even if the 2005 Nationals had found their way into the post-season, nothing between 2006 and 2009 would have been appreciably different.

Our Nats sucked, and they would have sucked, no matter what.

But here we are in 2010. The Nationals are about in the same place in the standings as they were in 2005. But the Nats’ future looks very different.

The problem is, nobody really anticipated that the Nationals would be all that different this year. I think most of us had absorbed the idea of 70-92, and most of us would probably have be OK with that. We were ready to accept twenty-two games below .500, knowing that we would be better next year.

But we’re better this year.

Which makes me wonder. At what point does Mike Rizzo decide that the Nationals need to make a run at this season?

The Nationals shopping list is actually rather short. While the Nationals desperately need improved starting and relief pitching, they have ample reinforcements on the way, in the form of Stephen Strasburg, Drew Storen, Chien-Ming Wang, Jason Marquis, Ross Detwiler, and perhaps Jordan Zimmerman. Last night’s game exemplifies why the Nationals need to shore up their pitching. They won, but the bullpen made things exciting… perhaps a little too exciting for some people’s tastes. If we can wait out three weeks of Super-Two purgatory (and several rehab stints), the Nationals pitching will be getting a lot better very quickly.

The other glaring hole is in right field, where there is no in-house answer. The platoon of Justin Maxwell, Roger Bernadina, Willie Harris, Willy Taveres and who-knows-who-else (actually, I do know, Cristian Guzman) has been adequate to good defensively – and defense is a big part of the Nationals success in 2010. But at the plate, well… not so hot. There are some who argue that we should just let Willie Harris play the position.

I am torn. I think that Willie Harris will be a better hitter if he plays every day. But what he won’t be is the guy that offers protection to the lineup… and I think that the Nationals need one more feared bat in the lineup. Say what you will about Elijah Dukes, opposing pitchers at least respected him. Sure, you could throw breaking balls at him, but you couldn’t make a mistake to him.

The Nationals will be Also-Rans if they don’t solve their right field problem. The question is whether Mike Rizzo is going to be satisfied with meeting the 70-92 expectation, or whether he’s going to shoot for 92-70. If he chooses the latter, the Nationals are going to have to make a trade. The current winning formula isn’t sustainable… even with better pitching. They need their entire lineup to wake up at the plate. As it is now, there’s a path through the lineup where you can pitch around the hot hitters. A legitimate bat with the defense and arm for right field is what they need.

Right now.

Purity of Heart

Filed under: Organization,Personnel,Players — Tags: , , , , , , — Wigi @ 1:34 pm December 22, 2008

The withdrawal of the Angels from the Mark Teixeira sweepstakes adds some important philosophical clarity to the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ in baseball.

There are really only two players left – The Red Sox and the Nationals.  Maybe the Orioles, but maybe not… they probably don’t have the money or the stomach to be at this table.

To me, Teixeira’s choice comes down to being a cog in a corporate juggernaut, or the cornerstone of an up-and-coming franchise. About the choice between buying success and building success. About the choice between being a hired gun and a hometown hero.

It is about good and evil.

OK, not really about good and evil… but the old adage of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” just doesn’t hold with the Red Sox. It is possible to hate the Yankees AND the Red Sox. They’re both on the evil side of the ‘Evil Empire’ continuum. They’re more alike than different.

The stakes are vastly higher for the Nationals than for the Red Sox. Signing Teixeira doesn’t transform the Sox the way it does the Nationals. Collin Balester, Willie Harris and Ryan Zimmerman have all weighed in on the pursuit of Teixeira, and all three agree that it changes the entire focus of the team. It at very least starts the clock for respectability, which until now was just a vague notion of some goal in the future.

It also transforms the Nationals in the eyes of the league, and the public in general. Numerous articles and blogs have been written about the perception of the Nats now that they’re serious players in the pursuit of Teixeira. The disciples of “The Plan” (myself included) have either seen through this misperception – or kidded ourselves into believing that the Nats austerity was part of a larger view – but my opinion is in the minority. For the doubters, here is the proof… but for at least some of the doubters, being in the game is not the same as winning. For them, anything short of a contract would be as if nothing happened at all.

There’s also this: Mark Whicker’s piece in the Orange County Register about the departure of Teixeira from Anaheim. Between the lines in this piece is the argument that there is a lot of pressure in being the “Final Piece” of the puzzle – the very thing Stan Kasten suggested that the pursuit of a major free agent would be for the Nats. Clearly, Teixeira isn’t the final piece for the Nats, but in fact, he’s something more. He’s a necessary piece. He answers questions on the field, but he also answers questions about the Nats future, and for the cynics among us, he answers a huge marketing question, too. Teixeira will not draw fans to the park like Soriano did, but the acquisition of Teixeira will draw fans because the fan base will finally believe that “The Plan” is a viable path to perennial success.

I don’t envy the Lerners. They probably see the acquisition of Teixeira to be as much about  a referendum on their commitment to excellence as improving the on-the-field product.

I like the Nats’ world view a lot better than Boston. Sure I am biased. But it doesn’t matter. Failure isn’t an option.

Use the force, Ted.