Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Do the Nationals Think They Can Win in 2010?

After foregoing the Rule 5 Draft by dealing their top pick to the Yankees for Brian Bruney, a mediocre pitcher who will make Joel Hanrahan look reliable, a wondered about the realistic short term goals of the Washington Nationals. Everybody wants to win, and winning sooner is always better than winning later, but teams who try to cut corners sacrifice much more further down the road (see: Redskins, Washington).

The draft picks surrendered to acquire this batch of free agents may not amount to a bag of rosin at the major league level; that is the rub with the amateur draft. There are very few "sure things" and even the best picks take three to five years to contribute. However, the conventional way to improve the organizational talent is to draft and acquire other organizations' proven prospects via trade. This doesn't have to be "Moneyball."

Honestly, I expected the Nats to be somewhat dormant in the free agent market, maybe trading for a couple of early arbitration players to get a couple of roster spots filled cheaply. Most of the rest of the work would be done to bring in as many options as possible to grow the talent at Harrisburg and Syracuse to compete in 2011 and 2012. The existing talent on the roster is good for about a ten win improvement in 2010, then as the pitching staff shakes out, modifications through free agency could be made to boost wins in subsequent years. Rizzo, on the other hand, dumped several draft picks in favor of known major league quantities.

Doug Slaten: known quantity, familiar with front office players

Brian Bruney: known quantity with limited major league upside, but should put up better numbers than Hanrahan or MacDougal

Jerry Owens: Nyjer Morgan insurance... somebody to play quality defensive CF in AAA

Ryan Speier: Local kid whose numbers should be league average

Ivan Rodriguez: Offensive production will be easy to project (no a good omen, in this case), clearly a signal that they are worried about Flores

Scott Olsen: Very low-risk, possibly high reward deal... the outlier

Jason Marquis: A good fit if the Nats improve their middle infield defense... though this deal looks like one a team who thinks it is in contention makes to add depth (Jeff Suppan to the Brewers, Carl Pavano to the Indians, etc)... a deal with little reward other than he has more experience than all those AAAA guys

Jamie Burke: Crash Davis?

Joel Peralta: Definition of AAAA

Logan Kensing: Somebody put on their Bad Idea Jeans and handed out a contract.

The Nationals are clearly trying avoid 100 losses in 2010. They may even avoid 90 with these options. However, most of these guys have had a shot and proved that they couldn't contribute much to a contender, aside from Marquis. When the Nats are expected to make another step forward in 2011, they will still have a glut of guys who are past their prime and won't be expected to improve.

The Rays needed four solid years to develop their slew of top picks, and never quit acquiring young prospects. It took an astute GM to sort through the mess and jettison the ones not expected to fulfill their promise (Delmon Young). Mike Rizzo is putting too much faith in the level of talent in the low minors right now, and for the Nats to continue to improve, their cannot be a dud amongst them. If there are, which there always are, they will be playing the free agent scramble every December to piece together a 75-win team from the leavings.

Mike Rizzo looks to be doubling-down on the Nyjer Morgan move and gambling for similar results. The Nats do have more financial resources than many teams, and may feel that the next two years are critical for establishing a paying crowd and television audience; that cannot be done with a AAA roster. In the end, the tactics cannot be condemned, though it should be mentioned that few franchises have successfully rebuilt this way.

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