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Nationals spring awards and morning links

The first version of the Nationals 25-man roster will take shape later today, when Jim Riggleman announces the final decisions, including the No. 5 starter. I am traveling back from Florida, and Zach Berman will keep you updated from Nationals Park. You're in good hands.

With the Grapefruit League concluded, here's a quick, awards-style recap of what happened the past month:

Best Position Player: Ryan Zimmerman -- It's tempting to take him for granted during spring, because no matter what he did this April, it wasn't going to change his status for the season. Zimmerman punched up a 1.196 OPS and a team-leading six home runs in 54 at-bats. I'd say he's ready.

Best Pitcher: Stephen Strasburg -- Craig Stammen had the most meaningful spring, claiming a spot in the rotation. Strasburg lived up to the impossible hype. Only Scott Olsen had more than Strasburg's 12 strikeouts, and Olsen has 13 -- in 10 2/3 more innings.

Biggest Surprise Player: Jesse English -- He seemed like he would be among the first cut, a pitcher who had never played above Class AA. Instead, he fought for a bullpen position down to the wire and may make it as a lefty specialist.

Biggest Surprise Decision: Releasing Elijah Dukes -- The Nationals seemingly had an everyday right fielder. Now, it's hard to say what'll happen all year long in right.

Biggest Storyline: Ian Desmond wins shortstop -- A prospect for the entire of existence of the Nationals, it came together for Desmond this spring. The Nationals made a bold move in choosing him over Cristian Guzman, who now becomes a high-profile, highly paid utility man.

The guy who pitched against Stephen Strasburg the night he struck out 23 Utah Utes is now a Red Sox farmhand. That's a fun story written by a cool dude. Nyjer Morgan is looking ahead to his and the Nats' season. Old friend Jon Rauch is going to close games in Minnesota. Jim Riggleman answered some questions from readers.

By Adam Kilgore  |  April 2, 2010; 7:27 PM ET
 
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Next: Garrett Mock named fifth starter; Nationals to keep eight relievers

Comments

Biggest Surprise Decision: Releasing Elijah Dukes -- The Nationals seemingly had an everyday right fielder. Now, it's hard to say what'll happen all year long in right.

+++++++++++++++++++++

There is an old saying in business that you don't quit a job until you have another job.

The same can be said for the employer, you don't fire an employee until you are ready to replace that employee with someone better.

IF this RF platoon doesn't work out better than the previous player, then this will be a stain on Rizzo and Rizzo alone. It also put Riggleman in a tough bind.

Posted by: GoingGoingGone | April 3, 2010 9:21 AM | Report abuse

Preview of today's game from the Sox perspective. Looks like we'll see Wakefield and Dice-K. Mr. Lee might need to revisit his Nats sources, though, as he says that our starter for today, Stammen, is not expected to start the season with the MLB club. Oh, really?

http://www.nesn.com/2010/04/red-sox-wrap-up-preseason-slate-against-nationals.html

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | April 3, 2010 9:30 AM | Report abuse

In other news, how about awards for local online beat writer coverage this spring? It's been stepped up considerably here, on the MASN site, and, last but not least, on Nationals Insider. Something to be thankful for, IMO.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | April 3, 2010 9:32 AM | Report abuse

"because no matter what he did this April wasn't going to chance his status for the season."
Chance his status? Change his status?

"A prospect for the entire of existence of the Nationals"
Really? The entire of existence?

"it came togeter for Desmond this spring"
It certainly did.
***************

When the posts about a typo here and a missing word there first started showing up about a month ago, I thought people were being petty.

Now I realize they where jest being patty.

Posted by: Sunderland | April 3, 2010 9:35 AM | Report abuse

BIGGEST GAMBLE: Taking Matt Capps as a closer.

Posted by: GoingGoingGone | April 3, 2010 9:36 AM | Report abuse

HINDSIGHT AWARD: May go to the Braves for picking up Jason Heyward.

Revisit the 2007 Draft:
http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/draft2007/index

I got to see several of the guys from the 2007 Draft players in Spring Training this year and these guys could rival the 2005 Draft in star power if Price, Wieters and Heyward live up to the hype like Upton, Zimmerman, Braun, Ellsbury, Volstad and Tulowitzki have.

It is amazing how quickly the 2005 Draft players became impact players.

Still hoping that Michael Burgess and Ross Detwiler from the 2007 Draft become superstars!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: GoingGoingGone | April 3, 2010 9:57 AM | Report abuse

The Dukes thing makes so little sense as we get ready to start the season that I'm almost willing to go with the various conspiracy theorists -- there must be more to the story. A major league baseball team is starting the season with no player that can realistically be called a right fielder. It was weird that game in the Robby days when they flat ran out of starting pitchers and had to use a bunch of relievers, but this is beyond that. It reminds me of the Abbott and Costello routine, who's on first. There was no right fielder in that either. Ho, ho, ho.

Posted by: markfromark | April 3, 2010 10:13 AM | Report abuse

Most Ominous Unreported Story Line of the Spring: No homers from Adam Dunn. Couple this with his tailoff in production the final two months of last season, and you have to start wondering if his efforts to learn the first base position are adversely affecting him at the plate.

Posted by: TBCTBC | April 3, 2010 10:22 AM | Report abuse

The Dukes thing is going to haunt this team. Guy has an almost classic case of AD/HD IMO. Suspect that it was Riggleman's idea in that Riggleman approached Rizzo about getting rid of Dukes and not vice-versa.

I was reading an article/video within which it stated that one of the big secrets to Jonny Damon's success was his constant smile.

I sincerely doubt that Mr. Riggleman could manage a team like the 1927 Yankees, nor even the 1924 Senators. Everything is now less about talent as who fits "politically"; in other words chemistry. BUT the "political" team still manages to lose 90-100 games a year.

I'll take Frank Robinson over Riggleman.

Posted by: periculum | April 3, 2010 10:25 AM | Report abuse

BIGGEST GAMBLE: Taking Matt Capps as a closer. Posted by: GoingGoingGone | April 3, 2010 9:36 AM | Report abuse

Disagree. This was a good gamble for a franchise that views itself as small-market. Given a small budget that is toward the bottom of all the MLB clubs, I doubt that the Nats could have done much better than Capps. When you have one of the smallest payrolls in the majors, you have to take risks. Capps was an excellent closer as recently as 2008. And reports tell us he still has major league tools.

Of course, if the Nats had an average MLB budget, you would then have a valid point. It is a little humbling to depend on a Pirate reject!

Posted by: EdDC | April 3, 2010 11:09 AM | Report abuse

Ed - It may be a good gamble, but it is the team's biggest gamble of this Spring IMHO.

Some may say Desmond, and I would disagree since Guzy can step back into his old roll.

If Capps fails (hope not), then Bruney will have to step in as MacDougal and Storen aren't ready yet.

Posted by: GoingGoingGone | April 3, 2010 11:17 AM | Report abuse

TBCTBC:

Adam Dunn had no home runs in spring training last year, either.

Posted by: cassander | April 3, 2010 11:20 AM | Report abuse

EdDC - You're right.
GoingGoingGone - You're right.

Given what the Lerners are allowing Rizzo to do, Capps was a good signing, and trusting him to close made sense then, and unfortunately it still makes sense.

Given what Capps has shown us this spring, it's hard to believe he'll be effective.

But he certainly might. Last year was a pretty bad year for him, and he saved 27 and blew 5. I think we'd take that.

Posted by: Sunderland | April 3, 2010 11:28 AM | Report abuse

"TBCTBC:

Adam Dunn had no home runs in spring training last year, either."

He did have several in the WBC, though.

Posted by: TBCTBC | April 3, 2010 11:38 AM | Report abuse

Capps knows that if he falters, there's Bruney, and now English. They all know that they relievers are stacked up down in the minors. That is one thing Rizzo appears to have accomplished.

Of course a lot depends on Riggleman and his latest trend: putting guys in even though they stink out of respect.

Posted by: periculum | April 3, 2010 11:45 AM | Report abuse

@ periculum...and just how long do you think Frank Robinson would have put up with Dukes?

Posted by: Naugatuck-Nats | April 3, 2010 11:52 AM | Report abuse

Riggleman will not have a quick trigger to replace Capps if he blows a few.
And I'm not disagreeing with that. Even with what he's shown us this spring, Capps is still the best bet to close games for us. English and Storen need more experience.
The jump from AA to MLB is big enough without adding the pressure of closing. Closing means you're going in regardless of matchup, and coming from AA to MLB, you need some time where you get good matchups.

And Riggs is not putting a rookie in that role anyway.

Second option is Bruney. Third option is leaving Bruney as set up and using MacDougal.

Shows how far we've come from last year.

Posted by: Sunderland | April 3, 2010 11:54 AM | Report abuse

Ladson's reporting that Mock will be the fifth starter:

http://therocket.mlblogs.com/archives/2010/04/nats_name_mock_as_fifth_starte.html

Posted by: Juan-John | April 3, 2010 12:16 PM | Report abuse

Not sure it matters who the 5th starter is, as #3 through 5 would not be starters on most clubs.

Posted by: EdDC | April 3, 2010 12:22 PM | Report abuse

Agreed, @EdDC, especially since the rotation will likely be a weeee bit different by, say, July 4.

Posted by: Juan-John | April 3, 2010 12:25 PM | Report abuse

Season starts on Monday and Dukes is still sitting at home. I guess all the other 29 teams are as dumb as Rizzo.

Posted by: 1stBaseCoach | April 3, 2010 12:27 PM | Report abuse

Looking at the largest metropolitan areas in the US, the DC region ranks 8th. (Baltimore is separate altogether, with their own region, which ranks 20th in population.)

The top three regions in population have two clubs in each region. The 13th largest region, San Francisco, also has two clubs in it.

The 4th largest region is Dallas, which has a million more people than Washington does. They are bigger. But that's about it, in terms of big regions considerably outranking us. We are a huge region.

If you look at the 5th through the 9th largest regions, they are all pretty close together in population--just a half-million apart. Then you drop down to the 10th largest region, Boston, which has almost a million fewer people in their region than we do in our region.

The Nats' payroll is toward the bottom in MLB rankings. Last year, we were 27th out of 30. If it were even average (the median payroll last year would have been over $80 million, while the Nats will be maybe at $66 or $67 million this year), then we would not be puzzling over so many strange decisions and situations. Our holes would be filled. And they would even be more filled if we had been average over several years.

Why can't we be average?

Our region is way above average. And we are much more prosperous than just about any region. Teams in much smaller regions make a much greater financial commitment than the Nats do.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Table_of_United_States_Metropolitan_Statistical_Areas

Posted by: EdDC | April 3, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

Mock being named the fifth starter does matter. It matters because it looks like the Nats are rewarding incompetence and Olsen never had a chance. It looks like competition wasn't the yardstick for measuring and rewarding performance this spring. Maybe starters 3-5 will be different by June. I concede that point. But the club's leadership and culture will remain unchanged. What poor, uniformed decisions are waiting for us in the future?

Posted by: fpcsteve | April 3, 2010 1:08 PM | Report abuse

EdDC,

I don't think it's a question of payroll...yet. Remember that this team was gutted and left for dead before coming to Washington. It takes a while to build up a franchise from basically dust. That's been the plan all along. As they grow the frachise, from the bottom up, they will add salary and be able to bring in better free-agents.

who do you think they could have brought in? the really big FA's would not come here...they wanted a solid contender...we're not there yet. We're gettign there and with the Dunn signing, going hard after Texierra and drafting and signing Strasburg you can see the evidence of that. The team is growing and getting better. I, for one, am enjoying the ride.

Posted by: Naugatuck-Nats | April 3, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse

Naug:

On the FAs: The two (and it is only two modestly priced ones in the four Lerner years) have worked out well so far: Marquis and Dunn. Every year Sports Illustrated lists the booms and busts of the past season's FAs, and you probably have to accept some of each if you play the FA game. I prefer the younger ones. And don't forget, you can turn the FAs into prospects when you trade them, or for draft picks when they sign elsewhere. So FAs do help you build. Don't make me name names. Of course I can go back in time and cherry pick, but what good is that?

I think of the fact that the Nats take on no salaries when they make trades. They are all bargains. Every single guy traded for under the Lerners made below-average MLB salary. I think of the lack of effort in the international market. The lists of the pricier international signings do not include the Nats. I think of the bargain shopping in the draft--the over-reliance on slot and under-slot picks.

And please do not mention SS or Zim's extension as examples of the Nats' spending. Every club in MLB would have made those two signings. I want the Nats to do something no other club would do, or only a few clubs anyway. Let's start distinguishing ourselves from the bottom-dwellers.

Posted by: EdDC | April 3, 2010 1:24 PM | Report abuse

As i posted yesterday the Dukes situation has me more than a little pissed how stupid do Rizzo and Riggleman look(pretty damn stupid!)with that assinine move and then not to have the foresight to have a suitable replacement, listen Dukes wasn't going to be MVP of this team or in the league but was he given a fair shot? HELL NO! and that in itself is reason enough for me to wonder if Riggleman/Rizzo thought this whole situation out,think they'll rethink this; No! because people in upper management rarely admit mistakes even if they are wrong which in this case both of these jamokes happen to be.

Posted by: dargregmag | April 3, 2010 1:29 PM | Report abuse

"@ periculum...and just how long do you think Frank Robinson would have put up with Dukes?"

He seemed to have no problem handling guys like Jose Guillen? What's the difference?

Posted by: periculum | April 3, 2010 1:36 PM | Report abuse

The difference?

Frank Robinson: HoF MVP in both leagues.

You don't question anything he says if your name is Guillen or Dukes.

Posted by: periculum | April 3, 2010 1:37 PM | Report abuse

Naug, to expound on Ed's thoughts.
If the Nats plan is to build through the draft, that's fine.
But they have conceded a lot of talent in the draft in order to save money. They lose Crow over less than a million dollars. They draft players rounds earlier than they deserve to go in order to save money when they sign.

If the plan is to build through the draft, they've shortchanged themselves, every Nats fan, every season ticket holder and everyone in the Nats organization.

This is a long way of saying the Lerners, yes indeed, have been cheap.

Posted by: Sunderland | April 3, 2010 1:45 PM | Report abuse

Periculum...Guillen played for a season and a half in Washington...and was less than stellar. Does he haunt us? don;t get me wrong on Robinson. I liked him, but he wasn;t going to make Dukes an all-star. Dukes had the talent, but he could never put it together. He had small stretches where he showed what he could do, but then he flopped twice as bad...every time. I was surprised to see him go, but I see the reason. He was trouble in the clubhouse and he performance never justified dealing with it. I would have loved to see him blossom, but it's getting to the point where I don't think he will ever live up to what a lot of people think he could have.

Posted by: Naugatuck-Nats | April 3, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse

ED and Sunderland...I understand what you are saying, I just fail to see the otions that you say would have presented themselves had the Lerners opened the pursestrings anymore. By your reasoning they should have over-paid for any decent talent...and they would have had to overpay by a lot. Who was coming to DC when the franchise first arrived? ...and who didn't they sign that they reasonably could have that proved to be a mistake? Soriano?

Posted by: Naugatuck-Nats | April 3, 2010 2:08 PM | Report abuse

Sunderland,

Someone posted a couple weeks ago with tangible evidence that the Nats preferred Rick Porcello in the 2007 draft, but took Detwiler to save money!

In 2008, the Nats let Aaron Crow go because of a $500K difference. What club forfeits its #1 pick, the college pitcher of the year, over petty cash? (OK, everyone likes Storen, who saved the Nats $1.9 million compared to Crow. Storen's coillege stats were not nearly as good. Yes, the Nats could get lucky with Storen. We will see if Storen is better than Crow--who gave up zero runs in his three spring outings.) And because the Nats did not sign Crow, then and only then did the Nats sign two other guys at midnight. Why not sign them anyway? We are talking about small sums of money by MLB standards. The draft is the worst place to save money!

And in 2009, the Nats had at least two under-slot picks to make up for SS. And every club in the MLB would have signed SS for that four-year price.

I wish the fans would stop justifying the Nats' small-market approach when we have such a large, affluent region. As long as we all take it, then they are enabled.

Posted by: EdDC | April 3, 2010 2:09 PM | Report abuse

I don't like painting Dukes as trouble in the clubhouse. (Or Guzman as bad attitude for that matter)
I don't know of any evidence of that.
If there is, please share.

Posted by: Sunderland | April 3, 2010 2:10 PM | Report abuse

Periculum: Don't get me started on F.Robby and how he could have helped this team in spring training just his presence alone would speak volumes to young players, but do you think Rizzo or Riggleman or even Katsen(God forbid!) would consider that scenario; Naawww! "we got things pretty much squared away" What bothers me Peri is that they never gave Duke's a chance, at least let him play himself off the squad. Damn!this makes me think Riggleman is a joke as a manager.

Posted by: dargregmag | April 3, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

We all knew Soriano was a mistake at $136 million. I can't think of anyone who wanted him at that price.

Posted by: EdDC | April 3, 2010 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Naug:

How about taking Trevor Holder with a 3rd round draft choice this year?
Was he the best available player when he was taken?
Hardly. Not even close.
If the Nats wanted him, they could have taken him 5th or 6th round with no risk.
But they took him 3rd round, signed him well under slot, obviously to keep finances in line knowing they were going to spend big to eventually sign Strasburg.

There are plenty of other examples of this.

They are building through the draft, but they are doing it on the cheap.
And they are doing it poorly.

Posted by: Sunderland | April 3, 2010 2:29 PM | Report abuse

NAUG: You know Dukes was a problem in the clubhouse last season and may I ask what credible source gave you that information? I can't remember one article i read on this blog or in print that lent itself to that information about Dukes so please enlighten me about that situation.

Posted by: dargregmag | April 3, 2010 2:44 PM | Report abuse

Sunderland,

I found this on Holder:

3. Trevor Holder, RHP, Georgia, #81 overall: This was a shocking pick. Holder was a senior starter for the Bulldogs, but was hit hard despite some solid stuff. Most predicted him to go in the 7th-10th round range, so this was surprising. He signed for under slot, though, so I give them props for that. However, this was altogether puzzling, as Holder seems to have middle reliever written all over him. He signed on June 15 and threw 3 shutout innings in his only start for Vermont. DOB: 1/8/87. Signing bonus: $200,000.

http://mlbbonusbaby.com/2009/07/07/draft-review-washington-nationals/

Posted by: EdDC | April 3, 2010 2:45 PM | Report abuse

My focus is not on whether it was smart or dumb to give up on Dukes. My point is they have no right fielder. How can you be three years into owning a team and not have made arrangements for someone to play all 8 positions on the field?

Posted by: markfromark | April 3, 2010 3:03 PM | Report abuse

Holder's ERA in the minors for 2009 was 6.97. He did sign for under-slot, which is the main consideration of course.

On Dukes, I agree with most. He still has some upside, but realistically he is no big prize--can't hit the curve ball apparently. However, he is still a lot better than the utility OF/IF that they have now in RF. Hopefully the Nats will pick up a semi-legit RF cheap when the final cuts are made.

Posted by: EdDC | April 3, 2010 3:18 PM | Report abuse

The argument always comes back to $$$, either spent or wasted. Let's face it, the Lerners' look to be frugal as owners, but it's not like Kasten or Rizzo have a history of pushing for 'the Big Kahuna' free-agent signing either (outside of Texiera).

I'm more worried about 'the Devil in the details' decisions being made currently (Mock over Olsen as the #5SP; Taveras over Morse in a platoon RF role), than I ever could be about how much money the FO spends on the bottom line.

Posted by: BinM | April 3, 2010 3:45 PM | Report abuse

Guys/Gals...I'm not about to go through every pick that the Nats have made since coming to DC...the draft is hit/miss...there is no way to translate college/high school success to the pros. some make it...some don't...others get hurt. But as for FA's...which have we missed out on...(please limit to those we actaully had a shot to sign)? People on this board keep slaming the team for not signing this guy or that guy. Chances are DC was not even a consideration for most top flight FA's unless we overpay...and then you'd be killing them for overpaying. right?

Posted by: Naugatuck-Nats | April 3, 2010 3:53 PM | Report abuse

EdDC: It's not whether Duke's was a "big prize" or not it was the way that situation was handled, poorly and unprofessionally imo like i said Rizzo/Riggleman make me think twice about the braintrust on and off the field of this team.

Posted by: dargregmag | April 3, 2010 3:59 PM | Report abuse

EdDC: It's not whether Duke's was a "big prize" or not it was the way that situation was handled, poorly and unprofessionally imo like i said Rizzo/Riggleman make me think twice about the braintrust on and off the field of this team.

Posted by: dargregmag | April 3, 2010 3:59 PM | Report abuse

Guys/Gals...I'm not about to go through every pick that the Nats have made since coming to DC...the draft is hit/miss...there is no way to translate college/high school success to the pros. some make it...some don't...others get hurt. But as for FA's...which have we missed out on...(please limit to those we actaully had a shot to sign)? People on this board keep slaming the team for not signing this guy or that guy. Chances are DC was not even a consideration for most top flight FA's unless we overpay...and then you'd be killing them for overpaying. right?

Posted by: Naugatuck-Nats | April 3, 2010 3:53 PM | Report abuse

OK, let me quit my job and go back a few years in time, get hired by the Nats, and engage in all the conversations I would need to with FAs and their agents, and then let you know what we should have done. FAs are hit and miss, just like draftees. But if you do not sign them, you are guaranteed to miss on some good ones.

But don't focus just on the FAs. Look at trades, and the fact that the Nats only get low-salary bargains when they trade. These guys have no choice as to where they play. And look at the international guys, who will sign for the highest bucks. Look at the savings discussed above in the drafts. You can't just say pay the fewest bucks you can and you will be just as well off!

I'm glad you are happy with the Nats' level of commitment--near the bottom in all of MLB. I too am glad that the Nats are here. I too just like going out to the park and having a beer on a summer evening, and often it doesn't matter whether the game is close or not. It is good entertainment. For many, that's good enough.

Posted by: EdDC | April 3, 2010 4:25 PM | Report abuse

darg,

I agree 100 percent with you. You are right, Dukes is a bigger prize than anyone the Nats can pick up at this stage (unless they spring for Dye or something like that).

BTW, aren't the Nats facing a Monday deadline in signing Dunn beyond this season?

Posted by: EdDC | April 3, 2010 4:29 PM | Report abuse

Ed...

Who were they trading? As I stated earlier...they had nothing. They started from scratch. What were they using as trade bait to get anyone/anything of real value? I think you might be over-valuing what they've had to work with.

...and yes, as a former Expos fan, I'm pretty happy with the level of commitment from the FO. I don;t agree with everything, but I also don't see them as holding back. They're building a foundation...once that's ready they can start adding better pieces. I don't like the losing, but that was the position they were put in when the franchise was moved. They're getting there.

Posted by: Naugatuck-Nats | April 3, 2010 4:49 PM | Report abuse

EdDC: Not really - Dunn said he'd rather not be in negotiations during the season. RZimm said the same thing last year, and signed a deal two weeks into the season. Dunn might go the same way, with his agent working with Rizzo to get something done in the early weeks.

Posted by: BinM | April 3, 2010 5:08 PM | Report abuse

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