Nationals making moves for 2012
The Nationals’ offseason moves are starting to make it look like the team will be competitive, but not in 2011. A common guess at the end of the 2010 season was that the front office would be content to suffer through another season in the NL East cellar for a long window of competitiveness starting in 2012. That is when Stephen Strasburg gets back to full strength and Bryce Harper likely makes his Major League debut.
When the Nats surprised everybody by agreeing to a mega-deal with Jayson Werth and throwing their hat into the Cliff Lee contest, it looked like they were anxious to become something other than an also-ran. Now it looks like Washington is back to playing its cards the logical way, with an eye towards 2012.
I was shocked by the Josh Willingham trade, but with only a year left before he hits free agency I can understand the move. Willingham will be 32 during the 2011 season. For a team whose best pieces are still unable to rent a car without hefty fees it’s smart to try and form a younger nucleus around them. The major piece in the Willingham trade, 23 year-old Henry Rodriguez with his hard fastball and youth, is the type of pitcher Mike Rizzo has been accumulating over the last year for a team that had a dearth of power pitching when he arrived. Corey Brown is a not-so-young outfield prospect coming over with Rodriguez from the Athletics. At 25 and yet to have his first major league at-bat, you hope for, but don’t expect to catch late-blooming lightning in a bottle. It’s important to understand that once Washington’s uber-prospects are ready to compete with the stacked Phillies, guys like Willingham and Adam Dunn will be in the twilight of their careers. It will be important to have pieces like Rodriguez as Zimmerman, Strasburg, and Harper’s supporting cast.
The Nats still have some holes to fill. Their offseason search for outfielders, first basemen and pitchers has only shored up one of those positions. If the Nationals continue with late offseason moves like their most recent ones: signing Rick Ankiel, re-signing Chien-Ming Wang and trading Josh Willingham I’d expect the team to get younger overall, but older in the margins.
At first base, you still have Adam LaRoche and Derrek Lee available. LaRoche and Lee were comparable last season, both sporting an average OPS, .788 and .774, respectively. The Nats would be better off signing LaRoche who is four years younger than the 35 year-old Lee. The fact that the Nationals best prospect at first base, Chris Marrero, continues to drop in the organization’s prospect rankings, makes it necessary to pick up a first basemen who can man the position for a few seasons in case Marrero isn’t the answer.
The Nationals still need to figure out if they’re going to make any moves for starting pitching. I’d like to see what middle infielders Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa can do over a full season in the infield together, so I was glad to see that neither of them were used, as rumored, in a trade to bring the Nationals Zach Greinke. None of the pitchers still available make me jump out of my seat. Brandon Webb would have been a guy to take a chance on before news came out Sunday that he signed a one-year deal with the Rangers.
This offseason’s moves and lack of moves are pretty compelling evidence that the Nats are trying to become competitive, starting a year or two from now. I just hope they’re watchable in the meantime.
| December 27, 2010; 8:28 AM ET
Categories: Nationals, Ryan Korby | Tags: Nationals, Ryan Korby
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