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Top Ten Questions For Spring Training

OK. Today it begins. Pitchers and catchers report. Every statistic and every record shares a starting point, zero. It feels a little like the start of a vacation, when everything is alive with possibility, and nobody is yet sunburnt.

In obligation with the Sportswriter Code of Conduct (Rules 1-15), I have drafted a top ten list. No sports season can begin without one. I'm curious, too, to hear your opinions. What do you think are the biggest storylines that Washington will/must/should resolve in spring training 2009?

My list.

1. Does Ryan Zimmerman sign a long-term contract, or even a one-year deal? Both sides are still trying to find a way to avoid arbitration. If Zimmerman goes to a hearing, it could lead to a potentially damaging conflict between the franchise and its face.

2. Where does Adam Dunn play? Initial odds are saying left field. Unless you're betting 'No' on No. 3...

3. Can Nick Johnson finally prove he's healthy?

4. Does Jim Bowden pull off any trades? He's got a surplus in the outfield. Washington doesn't have enough room on its roster to satisfy everybody, and the Nats could well use a middle infielder, a bullpen arm, etc. They'd also be happy to find a taker for a certain $8 million salary, unlikely as that may be.

5. Will the young arms win those back-of-the-rotation spots? Jordan Zimmermann and Collin Balester will have to perform to lock 'em down. I'm guessing Washington breaks camp with one of the young guys and Odalis Perez. So yeah, that's my over-under. One. Yes, very adventurous, I know.

6. Who plays second base? Who plays second base well?

7. Can the Nats patch together a competent bullpen with all of that youth?

8. How does the new coaching staff come together? Does this revamped group really have the intended effect? Best case, Washington has an old miracle worker (Randy St. Claire), a young energizer (Pat Listach), a hitting savant (Rick Eckstein), a learned guru (Jim Riggleman) and a respect-commanding presence (Marquis Grissom). Which sounds like a considerable upgrade. Or maybe I'm getting carried away.

9. What gives in the corner outfield spots? Yes, this is tied in with Nos. 2, 3, and 4. I'm guessing Dukes in RF, Dunn in LF.

10. What about Shawn Hill? John Patterson redux? Gosh, everybody hopes not. A little luck, and he can still have a fine career.

By Chico Harlan  |  February 14, 2009; 8:00 AM ET
 
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Next: The Day When Everybody Is In The Best Shape Of His Life

Comments

How about what happens with Dmitri? If he comes back and is in good health he can provide a fairly strong bat off the bench.

Posted by: twinbrook | February 14, 2009 8:24 AM | Report abuse

That's a fine list. I wouldn't have included Zimmerman; I don't get worked up about his contract or lack thereof. I think he's a reasonable businessman, and I also can't see the franchise cutting off its nose to spite its Face.

Speaking of contracts -- and the $8 million one that was mentioned in the post -- can't trading teams still agree to pay a traded player's salary? Or part of it? I mean, I assume the front office understands sunk cost: is the team better if they a) pay Austin Kearns $8 million to be a backup outfielder or b) pay Kearns + Player X $8 million (or 10 or whatever) to play second base (or whatever). The guaranteed money is already gone, baby. Look at the team you'll put on the field.

Posted by: Scooter_ | February 14, 2009 8:46 AM | Report abuse

... halleluiah, halleluiah ... the world begins again today ... halleluiah!

... and now to get back to work:

1/ get Zim under long-term contract, and right soon
2/ Dunn @ 1b
3/ NJ goes to the Jr. Circuit where he can DH all year
4/ yes, gotta get some IF for NJ
5/ hate to say it, but Jim/Manny have to take a long hard look at my homey Canuck Shawn Hill, to determine if he's worth keeping
6/ [see no. 4]
7/ St. Randy is still on the job - it'll work ... somehow
8/ get those 'go home' signals straightened out at third, get Eckstein some good luck talismen to hang around a few necks, and we'll be ... okay
9/ put AK on the pine (tell Adam it's a 'temporary thing') and go with Elijah, Lastings, Adam.
10/ [see no. 5]

Posted by: natscanreduxit | February 14, 2009 8:50 AM | Report abuse

1. If the FO doesn't sign Zimmerman to a long term contract, it'll be a disaster. Flat out.

2. Dunn plays LF because you play him where he wants to play and it sounds like he wants to play LF.

3. I hope Nick is healthy. It'd be nice to have two solid LH bats in the lineup.

4. Best case scenario: Nats trade away some of the outfield surplus for a solid 2B.

5. I agree on the young pitchers and the rotation. I'll say we start with Balester and go from there.

6. We need to trade for a 2B. Hernandez isn't ready (sorry) yet. Just trade for a solid glove and bat and be done with it.

7. Good question. Odds say no, but there's always hope, right?

8. I like the coaching staff and think they'll gel nicely. Manny picked them himself so that common thread should help a lot.

9. Dunn, LF. Dukes, RF, Harris CF?

10. If Hill doesn't make some progress this season, it's time to part ways amicably. The Nats days of waiting for Patterson should be over.

Posted by: pwelshans | February 14, 2009 8:55 AM | Report abuse

Good list. Here's a couple random guesses.
1. no hearing, no long-term deal.

2. LF, 1B against LHPs to spell Nick (replacing Dunn with Willingham to add another RH bat)

3. it will take the rest of his life to convince some people. but I say he starts opening day.

4. no I think he keeps them all

5. Perez, Lannan, Olsen, Cabrera, Balester. If Hill's healthy, it's him over Balester.

6. a) pure platoon split to start with AHern on the strong side, and b) neither

7. no. it'll be ugly.

8. sure, they'll be great. but you can't make chicken salad out of....

9. that's correct, with Willingham playing against LHPs and Kearns a defensive replacement.

10. I'll guess.... he'll be our most effective SP, for about 60 IP.

Posted by: sbiel2 | February 14, 2009 8:56 AM | Report abuse

The envelope please: 1. No, not off last years performance. 2. LF. 3. Lets pray for him. 4. The eight ball says....yes. 5. Both come north, an arm or two will fail in the spring. 6. Belliard/Belliard 7. Best guess...average at best. 8. Improved, to say the least. 9. I agree with your picks. 10. Answer found to be same as question 3 answer.

Posted by: cokedispatch | February 14, 2009 9:30 AM | Report abuse

All good questions. Can't think of any new ones off the top of my (cold-ridden) head, but if I do think of some I will add them into the mix.

Also, flowers and chocolate did report today. Yay.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | February 14, 2009 9:31 AM | Report abuse

Your #2 and #3 are so intertwined. If Nick is healthy (and can't be traded) then he plays 1st base otherwise Adam Dunn has to play 1st base.

#1 for Mr. Zimmerman is something you would want to see long-term as payroll should drop next year (unless they can trade their deadwood this year-OUCH) the Nats should give in and overpay Zim with the hopes that he returns to 2006 form.

Posted by: GoingGoingGone | February 14, 2009 9:55 AM | Report abuse

So, based on the prior thread, MChico will probably go to the 60-DL, which technically opens another spot on the 25-man. On the face of it, Odalis is best positioned to fill that spot, particularly if Hill can't go out of ST.

On the current subject - 1) RZimm will do a one-year deal; 2) LF on Opening Day, from there?; 3) Probably not, but we can hope; 4) There's probably a card or two up Trader Jim's sleeve, so yes; 5) Chico, I'm with you on this one; 6) I think AHernandez has the goods, but needs to prove it; 7) Yeah, I think so; 8) Looks better than last year, but only time will tell; 9) Dunn in LF and Dukes in RF, barring injury; 10) To be Determined.

Posted by: BinM | February 14, 2009 9:57 AM | Report abuse

Two more questions:

Can the team stay relatively healthy this year? Should be at least 10 more wins if they can.

Can Elijah Dukes keep making progress on the field -- and stay out of jail? If Dmitri goes, who will mentor Elijah?

Posted by: UnionStation | February 14, 2009 9:59 AM | Report abuse

... and one more question: Does Manny improve, destruct or maintain his position this year?

Posted by: natscanreduxit | February 14, 2009 10:05 AM | Report abuse

Chico, I keep hearing about the "damaging effects" of arbitration hearings. I've been following arbitration hearings for ten years (mostly relating to the Reds, my old team) and, win or lose, I've never noticed any real effects: it always seems that, afterward, both sides seem to wash their hands of it. I've certainly never seen any interviews in which a guy eventually parts ways with a team and says "We were getting along just fine but that arbitration session last winter ruined everything." Whereas there is evidence galore of bad relationships with veterans that fester and then eventually burst (Manny, any number of Red Sox / Yankees / Mets in recent years). Do you have any examples of situations where arbitration really ruined the relationship between team and player? Or is this some sort of empty unproven bugaboo?

Posted by: jonb5 | February 14, 2009 10:34 AM | Report abuse

If Dmitri comes in fit and tearing it up then Bowden has a challenge: get value for him from an AL team needing a GOOD DH. Might even take half his salary to grease the wheels for a couple of good prospects (or one good and 1 ?), or a solid setup man.

NB: this is the year (with outfield surplus) to see if Dukes can survive without a dedicated mentor.

Posted by: angusgoodson | February 14, 2009 10:40 AM | Report abuse

1. 1 yrs deal befor hearing, extension signed by mid-season.

2. Dunn plays LF until Nick is hurt.

3. Nick starts 100 games, but not in a row...

4. No major trades, maybe Belliard - or maybe not. Can we trade Willingham to ARI to get Rauch back, thus getting Olsen for "free"?

5. Rotation out of ST is Lannan, Olsen, Cabrera, Balester and Perez, Jordan Zimmermann joins the rotation in June or July.

6. If he's still on the team Belliard will play while NJ is at 1B, but if/when Dunn moves to 1B Hernandez gets the nod to improve the IF defense.

7. Define "competant"? Hanrahan/Rivera/Mock will be a decent 7-8-9 combo, but the rest are going to get pounded, so if we aren't up in the 7th inning it will be tough catch up, even with the new Offense.

8. We won't be able to tell the difference in coaching staff, but if the team hits better Eckstein may rise to St. Claire level of reverence - whether he deserves it or not.

9. Dunn/Milledge/Dukes till NJ is out then Willingham/Milledge/Dukes, Kearns is a valuable defensive replacement off the bench. He can't be traded since he's the only other guy who can play RF.

10. Shawn Hill either starts 25 games for 125 innings and a sub 3.50 ERA or is released (aka "Pattersoned") in ST. We have no patience left...

Posted by: estuartj | February 14, 2009 10:56 AM | Report abuse

Hey, who is the closer on this team? The Chief is gone and so is Rauch. Does anyone have this job locked down going into spring training?

Posted by: glennpc | February 14, 2009 11:00 AM | Report abuse

I'll just answer a few.
1. I agree with Scooter, it doesn't matter. Zim is a professional and will play hard regardless and not cause trouble, which is to his credit. I also understand why they haven't reached agreement - Zim wants to be paid like an elite young star, while the Nats want to see better performance first. They recognize that they will pay more when that happens (and I think that it is when, not if) but like the risk/reward of that situation better.
4. I don't think so. Sure, he has surplus, but unless he is willing to trade Milledge, none of those guys will bring back anyone that is a net gain, and Bowden knows that. I like Milledge but would trade him if I could get a Jonathon Sanchez type back, but I think that Milledge's '08 first half makes that unlikely. Belliard may be a trade possibility - 1 year left, low cost contract with some pop in his bat and position flexibility (plus it frees up some PT for Willie Harris). Just don't think you get much back.
6. Give it to Hernandez or Gonzalez. This team and pitching staff badly needs defense, especially if NJ can't stay healthy. I would not trade or sign a 2B.
9. Dukes is a lock (or ought to be). If he had no off-the-field problems, he could make a good claim to the best player/potential on the team, equal to or better than Zim. The other spot depends on where Dunn plays, which I see as a referendum on NJ's health (if healthy, he plays. Period. But I am worried given some of the rhetoric that I have heard so far, like he will have to tape it all year) If Dunn is at first, just let ST decide betwen Kearns and Willingham. And, I would organize the roster so that Langerhans is the 5th outfielder. This OF is going to need someone to be a late inning defensive replacement, and he is excellent that way.
10. This is the thing that I am rooting for the most (that Hill is healthy). When healthy (forget about last year), Hill is the best pitcher on this team, other than maybe Zimmermann if he continues to develop. Plus, he is a stand up guy, never makes excuses. I really hope that his injuries are behind him. But he is starting to get expensive, so if they aren't, I am afraid to say that the team should probably part ways with him.

All in all, I am excited about this year. This team is definitely improved over last year, especially when thinking about injury replacements. It is not a .500 team but they should be competitive most of the year, with the chance to surprise if the pitching holds up. I couldn't take another year of a Belliard/Casto platoon at first.

Posted by: Willy2 | February 14, 2009 11:03 AM | Report abuse

jonb--fair question, but since there are so few players who have gone to hearings there's not enough of a sample size to draw any conclusions.

If you want anecdotal evidence, there are lots of players who will say the experience sucks. The best you'll hear is someone like Shawn Hill saying "it wasn't so bad."

As for after-effects, there are examples on both sides. Felipe Lopez would be one--he went to a hearing, seemed unhappy with the Nats, had to be dropped, went to St. L and played better.

Now, there's no evidence of causation there, and I'm not saying the hearing caused Felipe to flop, but if you want some anecdotes that raise the question, they exist.

Probably the best data point to back the theory is that teams so rarely go to hearings, despite the fact that they win something like two-thirds of the time. Clearly MLB GMs think it's not a good idea for the team, even though the system is rigged in their favor. That says a lot, I think.

Posted by: sbiel2 | February 14, 2009 11:05 AM | Report abuse

Here are a few more that I'm curious about: How about Guzman? Will his performance in 2008 be repeated in 2009? Is Flores a real deal? Will Dunn prefer 1st base because his buddy Kearns plays the outfield? What's the deal with Mike O'Connor? Will he be back?

By the way, Chico, is the Post going to publish a special section devoted to spring training so that folks know the schedule, what to expect, etc? Here's a good link for those wanting to go:

http://www.ballparkguys.com/ubbthreads.php?ubb=showflat&Number=197711#Post197711

Posted by: nationalsfan | February 14, 2009 11:14 AM | Report abuse

1. Yes I believe Zim will agree to a long term deal, makes too much sense for both sides for it not to happen. Though I wouldn't be suprised if its not as long as we'd like, say only a 4 year deal.

2. I'm saying Dunn plays 1st. Will get to the why later.

3. I truly don't see Nick getting the chance to prove that here. If he is here I think at best we can hope for 120 games.

4. I think Jim pulls off at least one trade, my guess is Nick to either San Fran or Oakland. Both have some MI guys (Burris from San Fran is a DC boy) and have some depth of arms. Also Nick is a Cali guy so he would be happy and more content with sharing PT. The other one that could be traded is Belliard esp. if another MI gets brought in.

5. I would guess its Perez and Balester as well. Why push Zimmermann so fast the Nats should let him succeed at AAA before making the jump to the majors. I mean Zimmermann is good but he's not a Kershaw or Joba I think he needs more time.

6.I would say Hernandez to start, but with the crowded outfield I'll say Willie harris gets a fairly regular look out there to get his bat and moreso his energy in the lineup.

7.Bullpen will be a problem and maybe they could get an arm in a trade outside of that i'd say look for Colome or another non-roster guy to make it.

8. I like the coaching staff overall, hopefully guys like grissom and listach can work on basestealing so we don't get caught so much. I am looking forward to see what Randy St. Claire can get out of Cabrera and Olsen.

9. I say it plays out how we thought it would a week ago, Willingham in LF and Dukes in RF, Kearns to the Bench with WMP likely to be released.

10. I'm hoping things get better for Hill he could be such an asset if he can stay healthy. Maybe this year they'll give him a shot in the bullpen to streghten that up.

Posted by: Steveo11 | February 14, 2009 11:34 AM | Report abuse

nationalsfan, the dead-tree edition has the ST schedule, stadium info, and other graphics.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | February 14, 2009 11:42 AM | Report abuse

1. a. Will Nats sign Strassburg?

Posted by: RaleighNat | February 14, 2009 11:45 AM | Report abuse

Also, speaking of Dmitri, from today's MLB Network schedule:

1:30 and 10:00 PM: We Are Young, The Story of a Baseball Family: Dmitri Young, Brother Delmon and their Father and Coach, Larry

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | February 14, 2009 11:51 AM | Report abuse

None of these questions is as big as Will They Sign Strasburg?

Not sure why that's not mentioned

Posted by: RickFelt | February 14, 2009 11:54 AM | Report abuse

1) No. They will not make this happen. neither has a strong enough bargaining position to force this deal.

2) Adam Dunn plays first. NJ is not healthy enough to last a season, and will probably not sign next year. Get Dunn there now, and that way you don't have to break him in mid season.

3) No. Trade him before he proves it.

4) Jim will trade someone. He has a whole bunch of spare parts, and ADD. He should look for a young infielder to replace Belliard, a real centre fielder and some pen help. But he'll probably trade Willigham and Kearns for a couple of powerful corner out-fielders that strike out too much. He can't change his stripes.

5) Keep the young arms in AAA, limit their pitch count and bring them up when guys go down, or Perez becomes fatigued.

6) Hernandez, Hernandez, Hernandez! He has earned his shot. Let them man play. Gonzalez can sub in, and cover Guzman who will need a rest.

7) Worth trying. We aren't going to the World Series. Let's see who sticks.

8) Who know? They can't teach less patience and be injured more...

9) Willigham and Dukes. Willighm and Kearns must surely now be being shopped around though so this question could balance on what comes in return for them.

10) Pitching is no like first base. There are five slot so we can afford to try him out. The longer he lasts, the lower we can keep Ballister and Zimmermans yearly pitch count. And if he lasts, we have a genuine no. 2 started. I will personally travel to Viera to rub his arm with Kool-Aid if that's what it takes.

Posted by: soundbloke | February 14, 2009 12:03 PM | Report abuse

Ah, here is the one really important question everyone has missed: Who will be the bobbleheads this year?

What about Jimbo on his Segway.

Posted by: twinbrook | February 14, 2009 12:10 PM | Report abuse

None of these questions is as big as Will They Sign Strasburg?

Not sure why that's not mentioned

Posted by: RickFelt | February 14, 2009 11:54 AM
-----------------
It wasn't asked because that's a May-June question.

Posted by: BinM | February 14, 2009 12:12 PM | Report abuse

Strasburg is still He Who Is To Come, for spring training purposes. But on a young team, that will start having effects, some good, some bad--sort of like knowing you're going to get that trust fund, but not until next year, can affect your budgeting.

Posted by: CEvansJr | February 14, 2009 12:13 PM | Report abuse

Specifically, the team as a whole should gain some optimism, knowing they have a true stud starter on the horizon--the best hope since Zimm came up.
But the starters all know he's going to take a job and a roster spot, and nobody wants that to be theirs.

Posted by: CEvansJr | February 14, 2009 12:15 PM | Report abuse

So that's an interesting list, Chico. Here's mine.

1. Fans. Will Dunn and all the other changes get the fans' interest back? If it does at first, but the team "starts slow" i.e., continues to suck (still talking March, here), will fans give them until May or June before bailing again?

then, in no particular order:

Somebody's going to get hurt, in spring: there's no getting out of it. Who, and for how long?

Starters. Who's healthy, who's effective?
Can Hill regain and keep the Webb-esque stuff he once had, at least until July? That would make a serious difference for the whole team. Will Lannan at least hold up, if not improve? Back of the rotation looks decent, so far: Olsen and Perez are both solid vets, take the ball and keep the team in a five-run game most times (which shouldn't be such a cruel joke, this year). Everybody else on the list will take turns all year on the Syracuse Shuttle, probably.

Who's on First? = How long is Nick able? If "not long," then we're looking at more of last year. (Best of luck, Yulelog, wherever you go.)

What's on Second? If Belliard really is their best 2nd baseman, that's a problem.
(You-know-who is on third; and Guzzie cares deeply, they were referring to Felipe Lopez.)

Dukes of earl(y, but not for much longer):
If he stays out of trouble, but doesn't play very well, is Dukes still a prospect? For how long?

Assuming they can trade some extra outfielders, like Milledge and/or Willingham, what do they get back? Could make a real impact if they get a useful bullpen arm, but what are the odds of that? I can't believe anyone else would bring much. Well, maybe Harris, on Jimbo's best day.

The Hailed-to Chief I still miss: If Hanrahan can't close effectively, Plan B seems to stand for Bupkis. How's the Chief looking, really? And would he come back if they threw in the Segway--i.e., into the Anacostia? With Bowden on it?

How much difference will the new coaches make, really? That's a good-looking list, so far.

Competition: Everybody but Florida seems to have gotten better or stayed good, and I don't trust the Marlins to stay bad for long.

Posted by: CEvansJr | February 14, 2009 12:50 PM | Report abuse

Jonb,
Arbitration could damage the relationship between Zim and the team because during the hearing Zim's people will argue that he is worth more money while the Nationals will argue he is worth less. So basically Zimmerman has to hear all the reasons why the Nationals think he is not worth what he's asking.

Posted by: poet420 | February 14, 2009 1:04 PM | Report abuse

Since Pitchers & Catchers reported today, I'm going to give you my two-cents worth at those positions.

On the starting staff, there are 16 players in camp for five positions (10 on the 40-man, 6 invitees); From the 40-man, Olsen, Lannan, Cabrera are all but "locks" for 25-man spots - Balester, Hill & Bergmann, along with Od.Perez & JZimm are competing for the #4-5 slots. Everybody else is either optioned (Clippard, Martis, Atilano, Detwiler) or re-assigned/cut (Towers, J.Jones, Brownlie, Chacin). Bergmann will probably get shifted to the bullpen, and JZimm will get re-assigned, leaving Balester, Hill & Odalis (still non-roster) to fight over the last two rotation spots.

In the Bullpen, another 16 (or 17) pitchers scrap for seven roster spots - Estrada, Mock, O'Conner, MChico & JD Martin (n/r) in LR; Shell, maybe Bergmann, and Wagner (n/r) in MR; Rivera, Hinckley, & TYoung, as well as Sosa, Ledezma, Colome, & Glover (all n/r) in SU; For the CL position, either Hanrahan, or Larrison (n/r). It looks like MChico will get 60-DL'd, so Mock & either Estrada or O'Conner win the LR spots; Martin gets re-assigned, with either Estrada or O'Conner getting sent down as well.
In the MR spots, Shell & Bergmann get the early nod, due to versility, with Wagner getting sent down. For the set-up roles, Rivera & Hinckley have the inside track, and Shell could also fill this role; TYoung has to prove he's worth a roster spot to make it, with Sosa, Ledezma & Colome all waiting to step in. Glover will likely be an early ST casuality here.
As a closer, Hanrahan is the incumbent, but Shell & Hinckley are also possibles here. Larrison is an invitee that could challenge, but will probably end up in SYR to start the season.

At Catcher, Flores has the #1slot all to himself; the challenge is for the back-up slot between Nieves & Montz (both 40-man), or Molina, Herrera, and Valentin (STI). Unless Nieves stumbles in ST, the #2 spot is his; look for Montz to start at SYR, and Herrera the start at HAR; the other two, re-assigned or released.

Posted by: BinM | February 14, 2009 1:22 PM | Report abuse

1. Zimmerman signs a one year deal. The Nats cave a bit. If the Nats are close to a long term deal they will sign this year because the team is coming together for a run in 2010.
2. Johnson does not start at first by April because of the wrist so Dunn plays first. When Johnson comes back to form then Dunn moves to left. This gives Kearns a chance to establish himself in April. If Kearns does not perform in this trial period he becomes the fifth outfielder, aka defensive sub.
3. see above
4. No trades unless a relief pitcher is involved.
5. I would love to see Bergmann and Hill have a great spring even if it delays the starting of Zimmerman and Balestar. Somebody must have insider type knowledge on Cabrera because this signing still baffles me.
6. Hernandez stays hot. Gonzales pushes at SS. Belliard becomes the super pinch hitter.
7. The bullpen is scary but becomes good. I hope Hanrahan finds control, if so he becomes very, very good. I think that this will be better than the starting pitchers as a unit.
8. The new coaches seem vastly superior to last year's.
9. Dunn at first in April. Dukes, Milledge and Kearns to start since this is better defensively than having Willingham and Dunn in the OF.
10. Gut feeling says that Shawn Hill makes it through the spring but not through the entire season. Lannan, Hill, Perez, Olsen and unfortunately, Cabrera. If Balestar has a hot spring then they have to put him in the lineup. Bergmann makes the team as a reliever.

Posted by: driley | February 14, 2009 1:31 PM | Report abuse

I think Balester is also a lock for the rotation (with Lannan, Olsen and Cabrera) because if we option him down we would have to keep him there almost the entire year to push back his arbitration clock. So if the clock is running, better to have him learning in the bigs (where St. Claire can work with him every day) then up in SYR.

For the same reason I think J-Zimm stays in AAA till mid-summer. One key portion of player development that is often overlooked is making sure guys stay under team control as long as possible.

That rule will hit a brick wall with Strasburg in June, I think they will sign him to a 5 year MLB deeal, virtually making him a guaranteed full time player this year.

Posted by: estuartj | February 14, 2009 1:45 PM | Report abuse

Phew, good to be back. I LOVE ME SOME SPRING TRAINING COVERAGE.

It's all so good.

I like the proposal of Harris at CF. A big storyline this season will be how much more chance Lastings gets to prove himself.

Good luck and good health to everybody in Viera.

Posted by: nattaboy | February 14, 2009 1:51 PM | Report abuse

@estuartj:

You & I are pretty much in agreement - Balester goes down ONLY if 1) he tanks in ST, 2) Hill proves he's capable, AND 3) Odalis (or another non-roster) makes a convincing case for a starting job. I just couldn't call him a "lock" at this point.
I also believe that JZimm goes to either HAR or SYR until either July or September, unless the starting staff collapses.

As for Strasburg (if he's still the #1), if the Nationals' can draft & sign by late July, we might see him in 2009; If he stretches to the deadline, look for him in Viera in 2010; Please don't repeat the "Detwiler error".

Posted by: BinM | February 14, 2009 2:19 PM | Report abuse

The fact that Zimmerman doesn't have a deal yet is probably a good sign. Management probably has a long-term deal on the table, and a one year contract ready as plan B. But there are issues.

1. Zimmerman's agent is hard core.
2. After overpaying AK, Guz, Dmitri, LoDuca and Lopez the front office doesnt want more egg on its face. They want to see the produce and 08 didn't showcase RZ.
3. Its a buyers market, so the team can bide their time.

Posted by: nattydread1 | February 14, 2009 2:26 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the entertainment. Now, do we have a point system to see who wins this guessing game?

1) Agree to a 1 year deal.

2) Dunn to 1st

3) NJ is well enough to trade and will be.

4) There will be trades, most likely with Oakland. Either a simple NJ for bullpen help or a more complex deal involving Lasitngs or Willingham and a MI for something bigger.

5) Predicting with my heart, Hill cracks the rotation, along with Odalis. Lannan - Cabrera - Olsen - Hill - Perez. Bally is the last cut.

6) I'm going with Willie / Belli platoon, which will be average offensively and in need of Hernandez as a defensive replacement for Belli.

7) No. They will need at least one, maybe two more relievers to give the Nats more options.

8) New coaches will be an upgrade.

9) Since I went with Dunn to 1st, I'm going to say Willingham and Dukes, with Milledge in CF.

10) I'm playing the long odds and that Hill pitches a complete season.

Finally, for MASN fans, NESN is broadcasting Boston's pitchers and catchers, showing pitchers' conditioning run and press conferences with Francona and Varitek. Maybe if the Nats owned a chunk of MASN . . . oh, so much for that reason.

Varitek's happy to be back, he taken a lot of steps to improve his offense, solidifying the basics, trying to shorten things up when he bats LH, . . .

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | February 14, 2009 2:41 PM | Report abuse

The biggest question as the team kicks off 09, IMO, is the starting pitching. I think we know what we're getting from Lannan. I also think expectations are reasonable for the kids, JZ and CB. The uncertainty lies with Hill, Olsen and Cabrera, who could each go for 5 or 15 wins, which is a HUGE delta. I don't know what, if anything, can be answered in ST, but starting with a healthy Hill is a good start.

Posted by: natinbeantown | February 14, 2009 3:34 PM | Report abuse

Austin's going to have a great year now that his buddy Adam is there!

Posted by: JoshHamilton | February 14, 2009 4:39 PM | Report abuse

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