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Posted at 8:28 AM ET, 12/27/2010

Nationals making moves for 2012

By Ryan Korby

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.

By Ryan Korby  | December 27, 2010; 8:28 AM ET
Categories:  Nationals, Ryan Korby  | Tags:  Nationals, Ryan Korby  
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Comments

Great post Ryan. I can't wait to see the Nationals at the end of the 2012 season. I think there's a decent chance of a wildcard berth if things fall correctly (Strasburg dominating again, Jordan Zimmermann becoming the pitcher we know he can be, and Bryce Harper possibly bringing his big bat to the majors.)

I actually like the Werth signing more than most. I don't love the seven years, but I love that we got him and I believe he will be productive for the majority of the seven years.

When it comes to first base, I'd rather see Derek Lee over LaRoche. I know Lee is much older, but he has been way more consistent over the course of his career, with last year being his worst due mostly to injuries. I think he'd be a great guy for Desmond and Espinosa to lean on defensively as well.

I doubt the age would hurt all that much either, as Marerro is still in the minors and actually hitting better than some would think. He's still also only 21 I believe, so it's nowhere near time to hit the panic button on him yet. Also, the Nationals second ranked prospect Derek Norris is a fantastic hitter. Granted he plays catcher right now, but if Wilson Ramos can help solidify that position, I'd be shocked if they didn't attempt to switch Norris to first base within the next year or so.

Then when it comes to pitching, I hope we stay where we're at for right now. Our staff is nowhere close to being world beaters, but they don't have to be yet. Let the young guys get innings and see if anyone can surprise you. I don't think we need anyone such as Carl Pavano. Hopefully last years Jason Marquis disaster tempers how much the front office pushes for Pavano. I also believe he's 35, not exactly the time pitchers get better, and especially not ones with an injury history like his.

Other than first base, I love our roster the way it is right now. Not necesarily for right now, but for the future. Hopefully the front office doesn't try and go out to make many more financial statements this offseason, there just isn't the talent to justify it.

Posted by: gnelligan1 | December 27, 2010 10:44 AM | Report abuse

I don't understand your comments about Willingham and Dunn and their ages. How do you overlook the fact that Werth is the same age at those two? And, he is signed to a seven year contract??? I would think that certainly Dunn has been as healthy as Werth, and has played as many or more games during the last few years. I realize that Willingham has been hurt, but is still only 32. If healthy, he has several more good years ahead of him.

Posted by: bamabug | December 27, 2010 12:12 PM | Report abuse

Building for 2012-13 makes a whole lot of sense.

Posted by: cr8oncsu | December 27, 2010 1:19 PM | Report abuse

I think Marerro after posting .300 ba's first 2 years in GCL with no homers he started or was told needed to hit with more power. Last year he was .294 with 18 hrs in AA. .305 in winter ball. Why are they down on him? Can someone answer this please. Is he not a nice guy or something? Thought he was a catcher in High School and Nats tried him in the outfield? Mike Morse never hit more than 3 hrs in a season till last year.
Why so high on him?

Posted by: joeortega4 | December 27, 2010 6:49 PM | Report abuse

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