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Morning reading

Here is our story from the print edition on the Nationals' off-season goals. The gist: The team sees its needs as starting pitching, catcher, bullpen arms and a middle infielder, in that order. Trades are more likely than major free agent signings. It may not be what everyone here wanted to hear, but remember this is going to be another slow-developing free agent market, and I would expect the Nationals to go bargain-hunting in January/February, as they did last winter.

Also, the Nationals are actively involved in trade talks. I was told by a good source Thursday that they discussed a deal for shortstop J.J. Hardy with the Brewers last month, before those talks fizzled and the Brewers traded Hardy to the Twins.

As for pitching targets, I specifically mentioned Javier Vazquez, Edwin Jackson and Ricky Nolasco, but there are and will be others. (Maybe Gil Meche?) As many of you know, Nationals President Stan Kasten is adamant in his rejection of long-term contracts for starting pitchers, as a concept, but one of his favorite ploys is to capitalize on the mistakes of others, swooping in to scoop up players whose bloated contracts their teams can no longer afford -- with the other team, of course, picking up a portion of the remaining money. I could see a situation like that occurring this winter, whether it's Vazquez, Meche or someone else.

Here are a few more links for the morning:

*Here is an ESPN Insider/ESPN The Magazine piece (subscription required) on Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen. That reminds me to pass along this bit of information: Jim Riggleman told me Thursday that Strasburg's knee is "100 percent" following the knee injury he suffered toward the end of the Arizona Fall League Season. Riggleman added he does not expect any limitations to be placed on Strasburg during spring training as a result of the knee.

*Baseball America's John Manuel put together his five best and five worst farm systems in baseball in this piece for SI.com, and Nationals fans won't be happy with where their team wound up.

Personally, I find the Nationals' ranking (No. 26) a bit odd, given that Baseball America ranked the organization 21st at the start of 2009, and since then they have added two almost-ready-for-the-big-leagues pitching prospects in Strasburg and Storen, plus seen major leaps forward for two premium-position everyday players, shortstop Danny Espinosa and catcher Derek Norris.

*On a related note, congratulations to Bryce Harper on passing his GED, a major step on the 17-year-old catcher's path towards eligibility for the 2010 draft. The Nationals, of course, own the No. 1 overall pick. Harper will play this season for the College of Southern Nevada. (You may want to bookmark this page for future reference.)

*Finally, condolences to Elijah Dukes and his family on the sad and disturbing death of Elijah's father, Elijah "David" Dukes Sr., at the age of 43. The elder Dukes had been released from prison on Nov. 1, after serving 14 years for murder, and died of cancer just three weeks later, with the disease apparently going undetected and untreated while he was in prison.

By Dave Sheinin  |  December 4, 2009; 9:00 AM ET
 
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Comments

Ohmygosh, that is the saddest story. Elijah, I am so sorry.

Posted by: NatsNut | December 4, 2009 9:11 AM | Report abuse

The tragedy continues. My depeest sympathy to Elijah and his family. It is truly remarkable that he has come as far as he has given the early life - and continued life - struggles. I trust someone from the Nationals is reaching out to provide support at this time. I know his paid mentor is no longer with the team, but I am certain the offer of counseling would still be automatic.

Posted by: natbiscuits | December 4, 2009 9:31 AM | Report abuse

My condolences to Elijah and his family.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | December 4, 2009 9:46 AM | Report abuse

Sad news, and I also send my sympathies to Elijah Dukes and his family. I also hope the Nats front office is being supportive at a time such as this.

If I feel angry at the state of Florida after reading that article, I can only begin to imagine how Dukes and his family must feel.

Posted by: greggwiggins | December 4, 2009 10:06 AM | Report abuse

My deepest sympathies for Elijah and his family. Maybe it's just the softie in me, but reading the comments from that article makes me happier that I don't live in that farkatke state. I don't care what your politics are or how you feel about "do the crime, do the time", it's still difficult dealing with the loss of one's father early, especially to cancer. You'll definitely be in my prayers tonight, Elijah ...

Posted by: erocks33 | December 4, 2009 10:07 AM | Report abuse

I am sorry for Elijah and his family. Awful news!

Posted by: poncedeleroy | December 4, 2009 10:34 AM | Report abuse

The reader comments after the Dukes' story are the complete opposite of the comments here. 99% of them are basically "good riddance" or other equally harsh comments. I'm glad the NJers aren't quite so jaded.

Posted by: slewis1 | December 4, 2009 10:40 AM | Report abuse

Deepest condolences to the entire Dukes family. We are sorry for the loss.

Posted by: Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me | December 4, 2009 10:41 AM | Report abuse

slewis1, I noticed that about the comments section of the Dukes article, too. Their reactions make me wonder whether I should be spending any more of my vacation $$$ in that area. They don't sound like very pleasant people so I hope they don't represent the typical resident of the Tampa Bay area.

Posted by: greggwiggins | December 4, 2009 11:45 AM | Report abuse

Not that I particularly wanted to see them, but when I looked at the article it said that there were zero comments on it. Does one have to register at the site to read them?

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | December 4, 2009 11:51 AM | Report abuse

Also, not having read the comments there, I believe it's safe to assume that any comments posted to an online article are not representative of the character of that region's residents as a group. If that were the case, G*d help us, including, at times, comments to this very blog. ;-) (Present company excepted, of course.)

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | December 4, 2009 11:54 AM | Report abuse

Consider the source. It's Florida. 'Nuff said.

Posted by: Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me | December 4, 2009 12:01 PM | Report abuse

My condolences to the Dukes family...

I agree that the sampling of comments on the St. Petersburg Times story are not a scientific sample... but they're so striking that it is hard not to wonder what it says about the community there. The comments are 10:1 unsympathetic... and some of them are just outright rude.

Posted by: wigi | December 4, 2009 12:07 PM | Report abuse

I am not going to claim any saints, they are just regular people, flaws and whatnot. I just feel bad for the family, and it sounds like Elijah is taking his fathers death very hard.

I went and saw the comments as some recommended, people in Tampa seem to hate Dukes Jr. and his family. It seems to me that Elijah has kept his nose clean since he came to DC and out of the cesspool of the south.

Posted by: alex35332 | December 4, 2009 12:12 PM | Report abuse

Deepest sympathies to the Dukes family during a very sad and troubling time...

Dave I understand what you are saying about the Nats prospects rankings but you have to remember how many prospects the Nats 'graduated' last year, Zimmermann, Detwiler, Stammen, Mock, Martis, not to mention Smiley err Alvarez going from a top 10 guy to practically out of the org. A lot of our other young prospects struggled last year also, Nieto, Ramierez, McGeary aren't top 10 guys any more which is pretty bad considering we slipped in the rankings.

Posted by: Steveo11 | December 4, 2009 12:15 PM | Report abuse

Wow. So very sorry for the Dukes family. Just awful.

I'll save my rants about the Nats for another day.

Posted by: dfh21 | December 4, 2009 12:38 PM | Report abuse

I know the Tampa Bay area well and I can assure you that any negative comments on the blog site is absolutely no reflection on the region or the people who live and work there. And how sanctimoniuous to dismiss the entire region with a wave of the hand as though there geographic location were to explain bad behavior of a few. For our purposes, the offenders live on the internet, not in Pinellas County Florida. We are they; they are us.

Posted by: natbiscuits | December 4, 2009 12:43 PM | Report abuse

WaPo - Please pass along your condolences to Elijah and his family. Our rants are best saved for another day.

Posted by: dand187 | December 4, 2009 12:46 PM | Report abuse

OBTW,

http://msn.foxsports.com/mlb/story/10473086/Source:-'Mutual-interest'-for-Smoltz,-Nats

Rosenthal is reporting that Smoltz is at least expressing some interest in the Nats.

Posted by: natbiscuits | December 4, 2009 12:48 PM | Report abuse

Now that Harper has passed his GED, we should go on alert for Boras posturing. With apologies to Tom T. Hall, Harper Volley TBA.

Posted by: Drew8 | December 4, 2009 12:50 PM | Report abuse

So sorry to hear about Duke's father. On a positive note, I have enjoyed the last few posts from DS. They do not seem to carry the negativity of past years and have been balanced and fair imo.

Posted by: sjm3091 | December 4, 2009 1:17 PM | Report abuse

Great sympathy and prayers for Elijah, his dad, and the family. What a horrible thing for a 43-year-old man to die in a way that strongly suggests negligent care.

Posted by: Section109 | December 4, 2009 1:25 PM | Report abuse

Condolences Elijah - truly sad news.

Nolasco/Vazquez/Meche - love them in that order, but at what cost?

Posted by: goexpos2 | December 4, 2009 1:46 PM | Report abuse

I can't stand to read comments on WaPo stories--"downright rude" doesn't begin to cover it. It's depressing, and it undermines my faith in the democratic process to have my nose rubbed in my cognitive distortion: that human beings are being humane.

Yes, the Washingon Post draws attention from farther away (as you know) than the Tampa paper, but still, it's just teh Intertubes, and the people who will say unspeakable things in anonymity are aggreggated and emboldened without accountability. At least in here we have some consistency of presence, even if it is only a screen name.

******************
I agree that the sampling of comments on the St. Petersburg Times story are not a scientific sample... but they're so striking that it is hard not to wonder what it says about the community there. The comments are 10:1 unsympathetic... and some of them are just outright rude.
Posted by: wigi | December 4, 2009 12:07 PM

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | December 4, 2009 1:47 PM | Report abuse

sec3 said it so much more eloquently than I did. Therefore I'll just say, "what he said." :-)

---

Yes, the Washingon Post draws attention from farther away (as you know) than the Tampa paper, but still, it's just teh Intertubes, and the people who will say unspeakable things in anonymity are aggreggated and emboldened without accountability. At least in here we have some consistency of presence, even if it is only a screen name.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | December 4, 2009 1:53 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps he's keeping his January options open and his beer goggles handy, just in case.
We discussed this at length last year with Glavine, but especially with SS and possibly other high-upside youngsters coming on board soon, having a top-shelf role model for professionalism seems worth a few million, especially if he can go 12-12.

*************************
Rosenthal is reporting that Smoltz is at least expressing some interest in the Nats.
Posted by: natbiscuits | December 4, 2009 12:48 PM

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | December 4, 2009 1:54 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps he's keeping his January options open and his beer goggles handy, just in case.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | December 4, 2009 1:54 PM
*********
OMG, laughing all over again. I LOVED that quote from Tavares.

Posted by: NatsNut | December 4, 2009 1:56 PM | Report abuse

My condolences to Elijah and his family, I got to see his son play many times here in DC, too bad his father never had the same opportunity.

Posted by: rvrtis | December 4, 2009 2:08 PM | Report abuse

Oh, no! Smoltzy isn't like that, is he? ;-) I always kinda liked him, even when he was a Bravo.

New post up, btw.


---

Perhaps he's keeping his January options open and his beer goggles handy, just in case.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | December 4, 2009 1:54 PM
*********
OMG, laughing all over again. I LOVED that quote from Tavares.

Posted by: NatsNut | December 4, 2009 1:56 PM

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | December 4, 2009 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Have you heard the latest that further demonstrates that the Lerners fail to treat the Nationals staff with any respect or dignity? They sent out a memo inviting all staff to a "pot luck" holiday party. To attend the party, employees need to bring a Tupperware container of food and the team is not providing anything. This has caused a firestorm of talk among the staff and pushed morale to an even lower level. The staff are the ones who run baseball operations, marketing, ticketing and all of the other departments critical to a successful organization. These people work incredibly long hours and have great pride and dedication in their work. For their efforts, the Lerners throw them a piece of coal and tell them to bring their own food to a holiday party. The Lerners also told employees that for the second year in a row, there will be no raises. The Lerners have one of the most successful franchises, earning millions of dollars a year, and have immense wealth in their other businesses. What kind of message is it sending to the staff when the Lerners will not even buy them a few pizzas? Every story like this makes one wonder why the Lerners would bother to buy the team since they do not want to invest a few dollars to make it competitive or credible. Stan is just their lapdog who tries to be even cheaper than them. The Lerners need to bring someone in who knows how to treat people the right way. That is how you build a successful organization!

Posted by: firestan | December 4, 2009 2:40 PM | Report abuse

oh, if true, that's damning. I still have the DeBartolos (49ers in the Good Old Days) as my model for how to run a successful business model sports franchise--get the best, pay them top dollar, treat them like royalty, and cut them the same day they lose a half a step.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | December 4, 2009 6:31 PM | Report abuse

Those were the days, sec3. Sigh. Where have you gone, Joe Montana?

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | December 5, 2009 7:16 AM | Report abuse

The SI arricle ranking the Nats farm system at #26 is an indictment of the Lerners and Kasten. They have been peddling the "build-from-within" pitch, but the truth is it's a foil to cover up the fact that they are too cheap to invest in a real major league roster. I will refuse to buy Nats tickets until the Lerners put enough money into payroll and the farm system to support a real MLB team.

Posted by: jeb3 | December 5, 2009 10:16 PM | Report abuse

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