2009 Offseason Preview: The Washington Nationals

Sergio ValdezContributor IIAugust 28, 2009

WASHINGTON - AUGUST 06:  Outfielders Nyjer Morgan #1, Josh Willingham #16 and Elijah Dukes #34 of the Washington Nationals celebrate as they head in from the outfield after they defeated the Florida Marlins at Nationals Park on August 6, 2009 in Washington, DC. The Nationals defeated the Marlins 12-8.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

 I've decided to begin a series that will span over the next few months, most likely. I am going to preview each team's offseason, breaking down strengths and weaknesses, and looking at what each team can do in the free agent market. So, here we go:

Washington Nationals:

The Nationals have a lot to think about this offseason. The team got off to a horrible start in the 2009 record, which lead to the firing of manager Manny Acta (26-61 record with team).
Despite that being true, Jim Riggleman took the Nationals and had them playing only 2 games under .500 under him through August 27th. Perhaps the biggest highlight of the Nationals' season
was the signing of first-round draft phenom Stephen Strasburg, who not only signed a record contract, but is likely to be pitching in the majors for the Nationals as early as the 2010 season.

Strengths in 2009:

The biggest, and probably the only, strength for the Nationals in 2009 was the offense. The team had an offensive line of .266 BA/.345 OBP/ .416 SLG/ 99 OPS+ (565 RBI), which was good for 6th in the National League on the date of August 27th. Key offensive players were Adam Dunn 1B(.283/.417/.573/157) and Ryan Zimmerman 3B (.304/.377/.533/136). The Nationals have the corner infield and outfield spots (Nyjer Morgan and Josh Willingham) solidified for next season, especially with the versatility of Willingham, Dunn, and Morgan being able to play multiple defensive positions.

Weaknesses in 2009:

The first weakness for the Washington Nationals is the horrendous team defense that was played. I know UZR is a better stat to use for defense, but as a team, the Nationals recorded a terrible .977
fielding percentage, recording 113 errors in 4,810 chances. The only true bright spots for the Nationals defensively were Nyjer Morgan (26.7 UZR) and Ryan Zimmerman (16.5 UZR). One thing the Nationals may want to focus on in free agency is focusing on players who can solidify the defense at the catcher and second base position, because the Nationals were weakest up the middle in terms of defense, which will almost always lead to bad team defense.

The other weakness in 2009 for that Nationals was pitching. With a team ERA of 5.09, combined with absolutely terrible defense, the pitching staff allowed an astounding 694 runs (63 were unearned). The pitching staff managed to out-allow the offense by .62 runs every game (4.6 RPG on offense and 5.42 RPG allowed by the pitchers). No Nationals starter had an ERA that was under 4 during the season, with the top starter being John Lannan, who posted a 107 ERA+ over 160 IP with a 1.407 WHIP through August 27th. No other pitcher in the rotation was above the league average in terms of ERA. The Bullpen for the Nationals was much stronger than the starters, posting a main bullpen ERA of 3.98 over 183 IP. Closer Mike MacDougal was the leader of the group, posting a 208 ERA+ in
34.2 IP with a 1.298 WHIP.

Where to Improve:

1. Starting Rotation- It's obvious that the Nationals won't win with any consistency until they solidify the starting rotation. However, they won't have to do anything in the free agent market
to improve the rotation. Without the inclusion of potential phenom Stephen Strasburg, the average age of a Nationals starter was 23.7 years old (not including Livan Hernandez). The biggest way
that the team can improve in the rotation is by learning from their mistakes and gaining experience.

2. Catcher- The Nationals need to solidify their defense up the middle before they can play consistent team defense. The major positions that they need to fix are catcher and second base.
Some potential targets in the free agent market are catcher Jose Molina, who is widely known as one of the best defensive catchers in the game. His lack of true offensive skill won't affect the team
too much if they sign him, because the team's offense is solidified. Also, Molina is an experienced veteran who will be able to teach a ton to the young Nationals pitching staff.

3. Second Base- At second base, a potential target could be Orlando Hudson, who has a career UZR of 17.9 at 2B, even though he was at -3.6 in 2009. If the Nationals don't want to shell out the money for Hudson, which they likely won't get the chance too because of the Dodgers likely wanting to retain him in LA, then they could go after a less flashy target like Adam Kennedy or Craig Counsell. Kennedy is much younger than Counsell, but is only average defensively, while Counsell is a solid defensive player, but 39 years old. The Nationals might want to turn to the draft for more long-term option defensively at second base. Anderson Hernandez is average defensively and 26 years old, but is severely lacking any offensive skills.

Potential Major Splashes:

The only potential splash I can see the Nationals making would be to sign Orlando Hudson to play second base. However, Hudson's above average performance will most likely mean that LA will want
to keep him for the next few years. However, the complication comes in when the Dodgers are forced to look at the 20 million dollar player option on Left Fielder Manny Ramirez. If the Dodgers
opt to keep Manny, then it is possible that Hudson could get more money from a team like the Nationals, Cubs, or Twins. If the Dodgers let Manny go, then it is very unlikely that the Dodgers
would let the talented second baseman go.

Overall, I expect the Nationals to be fairly quiet this offseason. The biggest way for them to improve, in my opinion, is to let their young players grow into the talented major leaguers they expect them to

Well, this is the first part of the series. Hope you enjoy!