Coming off of last season's 59-102 record, the Nationals literally have nowhere to go but up heading into the 2009 season. Although the team has not been overly active in free agency, they did make a late push for Mark Teixeira, which turned out to be all for nothing as the Yankees came in late to snatch him up.
That being said, the Nationals seem content to enter 2009 building off of their nucleus of center fielder Lastings Milledge, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, and Cristian "I never thought I would be placing him here" Guzman.
The team has added some new players, highlighted by the early offseason trade with Florida to bring in starting pitcher and sometimes head case Scott Olsen and solid outfielder Josh Willingham.
So with all the pieces coming together for spring training, here is a look at the Nationals this season:
Saying Hello: Scott Olsen (Florida), Josh Willingham (Florida), Brad Eldred (Chicago White Sox), Daniel Cabrera (Orioles), Corey Patterson (Reds), and Jose Castillo (Giants)
Saying Goodbye: Emilio Bonifacio (traded to Marlins), Tim Redding (signed with Mets), Aaron Boone (signed with Astros), and Brian Sanches (signed with Marlins)
What to feel good about:
1. Youth: The Nationals are the youngest team in baseball, and showed their youth last season many times. With another year under them, players such as Milledge and star-crossed, right fielder Elijah Dukes should have more productive seasons.
2. O-O-Olsen: Now do not get me wrong. Scott Olsen will not be the second coming Pedro Martinez or even Javier Vasquez. Olsen does have a lot of untapped potential, however, and many think he finally starting doing some tapping last season.
Although still very inconsistent over the course of a season, Olsen has improved every year in the big leagues, and pitched over 200 innings last season for the Marlins. That alone should be good news to Nationals' fans.
3. He may be "Lerning": Nats' owner Alfred Lerner okaying of the pursuit of Teixeira this offseason sent a good message to those in the organization. Even though there is not a single player that can turn this team around on his own, the message that was sent by ownership has to be good news for Nationals fans.
If the team does find its way into contention this year, ownership may not hesitate to add to the team.
What to feel bad about:
(Nationals fans I apologize in advance, I know most of you feel as though there has been a lot to be felt over the last few years, so forgive me for trying to sum it up in a neat little list)
1. Rotation: The loss of Tim Redding will hurt the Nationals more then they realize. Pair him with Olsen and John Lannan and you have a solid 1-2-3 punch at the top of the rotation.
Although none of them will scare the hell out of you, it looks a hell of a lot better than Lannan, Olsen, and the drifter that we picked up off I-95.
The back end of the rotation is one of the keys to a successful season, and that will make or break this team in '09.
2. Put up your "Dukes", for once: Is Dukes the answer for this team in right field? Well, it depends on who you ask these days.
I am going to refrain from passing judgment, until I actually see Duksey play a whole season. He had respectable overall numbers for only 81 games last year, but he needs to stay healthy and also become more of a leader to be a real difference maker in this league.
If he has another on-the-fence sort of season, then it could be a long one for the Nationals, especially offensively.
3. Impact: This team is still searching for its first big star or impact player. Considering that they play in a division in which the other three teams all have one, it's about time for the Nationals to catch on.
I believe Milledge has that potential, but at this point, that's all it is. I'm not as big of a Zimmerman fan as others are, and if he does not break out this year, I think it's fair to ask if he ever will.
I know that he had the shoulder injury last year, but even in his best season, he was only a 20 HR, 100 RBI guy.
That's not good enough to be the impact player on a team.
I think the Nationals will be better this year. I think they will score more runs and have a better offense than has been seen in DC over the past few years. Pitching however will once again be the Achilles heel of this team.
Not only is the starting rotation not deep enough, the bullpen is not either. If neither of those things checks out, then you can also forget about the season being successful.
I do think that both Scott Olsen and John Lannan both will win 10 games and go 200 innings, and we will see the continued emergence of Milledge as a star.
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