New Washington Nationals, Same As the Old Nats?

Dave NicholsSenior Analyst IDecember 29, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 04:  Pitcher Jason Marquis #21 of the Colorado Rockies throws a pitch against the Los Angeles Dodgers on October 4, 2009 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California.  The Dodgers won 5-3.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The Washington Nationals, over the last few weeks, have made a series of significant moves to try bolster the 2010 team in advance of some home-grown talent arriving in 2011 or 2012.

Stephen Strasburg. Drew Storen. Derek Norris. Danny Espinosa. Chris Marrero. Brad Meyers. Definitely some upside there.

Maybe by then, this organization will actually be in a position to compete within the division, something they haven't been able to accomplish since Frank Robinson's inaugural team of 2005 was in first place in the N.L. East as late as Jul. 24, before succumbing and finishing at an even .500 at the end of the season.

The big question is: How much will Ivan Rodriguez, Jason Marquis, Matt Capps, and Brian Bruney actually help the product on the field?

All of the four players come with a certain amount of bona fides, but all come with caveats as well.

Pudge is a 14-time All-Star and 13-time Gold Glove winner, but it's been several years ago that he garnered either accolade. He's 38, and he hit .249/.280/.384 in 121 games last season. If you look at his splits, he had a couple of decent months at the plate, but several atrocious ones as well.

If he's coming in as a backup/mentor to Jesus Flores, great. But this signing will blow up if the Nats have to look at 500 at-bats from a 38-year-old catcher.

Marquis, 31, is a veteran sinkerballing workhorse. Again, he'll be counted on as a mentor to a very young starting rotation. He's coming off an All-Star season, in which he was much better in the first half of the season than in the second, though his K/9 actually went up in the second half along with his ERA and WHIP.

It's indicative of his career numbers, though, as he wins at a 60 percent clip before the All-Star break and 43 percent after.

And, of course, in 2006 he had an ERA of 6.02 and led the league in allowing home runs and earned runs—in St. Louis.

Matt Capps is a 26-year-old fireballing closer. The Nats got him for one year. Bully. He's a good gamble to take, as he's has some good success in his role in Pittsburgh, and I guess his agent, by insisting on the one-year deal, figures he'll return to form. Because last season, he stunk, despite the gaudy saves total.

Let me throw some 2009 numbers out and I'll let you decide which player you'd rather have closing games.

Player A:  4-8, 5.80 ERA, 1.656 WHIP, 7.6 K/9, 2.8 BB/9 in 54.1 IP

Player B:  1-4, 4.78 ERA, 1.672 WHIP, 10.1 K/9, 4.8 BB/9 in 64.0 IP

Player A is Capps. You've probably guessed by now Player B is former Nats' reliever Joel Hanrahan, who might well take over for Capps in Pittsburgh.

Brian Bruney? He is most famous for starting a fight with Francisco Rodriguez . He was left off the Yankees playoff roster in favor for a third catcher. All he's done since being traded for a Rule 5 pick is talk about how he wants to be the closer

In his only experience at closing games, he had a 7.43 ERA with Arizona in 2005.

You might think by now that I'm tearing the Nats down for signing these players. Back at the beginning of December, I wrote that if I were Mike Rizzo, I wouldn't spend $20 million on free agents just because I had it.

And I'm not implying that that's what he's done.  All but the Pudge move were done efficiently and relatively cheaply.

All I'm saying is that when you read the Nats' press  releases on these players , and listen to the talking heads about how the Nats are doing things "the right way ", just keep in the back of your mind the things they aren't reminding you of.

I guess we'll find out as the season goes just how much these players help the Nats. If Marquis can avoid injury after pitching so many innings, if Capps returns to 2007-2008 form, if Flores is healthy and can keep Pudge off the field four days a week, and if Bruney actually proves an upgrade over Saul Rivera, then the Nats should be better off in the ledger at the end of the season.

Let's just say I'm skeptical of all those things happening at once.  Hopeful, but skeptical.