Initially, when hearing a productive and established player such as Jayson Werth signed with the Washington Nationals, it was bewildering.
The Nationals had stunk for years now with the only shining start, pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg already out for the entire 2011 season, as he needed Tommy John surgery. Not good news for any pitcher, especially a 21-year-old as the blame is on the organization. The Nationals' meager fanbase turned up in droves for Strasburg, only to have him taken away—an all-too-common theme since settling in Washington five years ago.
Regardless, the Nats' 2010 record speaks for itself, as it was the NL East’s worst finish with 69 wins and 93 losses. At home, they were above .500 closing out 41-40; but on the road, 28-53 is nauseating and not numbers that draw big stars.
With crappy stats the only resolve is to go after a semi-star, like Werth, then pay up with a big contract. Werth is a star but he not the same level as Carl Crawford or Cliff Lee, making the dollars number so outrageous that the player will at least meet with you. The Nationals came with a plan, first by promising Werth that his money would not cap out the club, as the Nats pockets ran deeper to find him some more help.
That is still just talk about things that had not happened yet, and it is the Nationals making it easier said then done. What must have caught Werth’s attention was the Nationals farm system because this club is stacked for the next few seasons.
I guess sucking for so long does have its positives—just look at the Tampa Bay Rays, who made a 180 from bad right into the World Series in what seemed like nano-years.
Unlike down in Tampa Bay, the Nationals claim to have money to spend. So, presumably holes can be filled and if not by the green, then the Nats can head on down to the farm.
Remember that quality not quantity does apply here, meaning talent doesn’t come in numbers so it is taking a chance. Any club who wants to win now has to think like the Yankees or Red Sox. The one or two times trading works out has usually been the difference maker for a successful season.
So, who are these youngsters? Other than Strasburg, I watched the other three in the Arizona Fall League and each caught my eye.
Stephen Strasburg, SP
The most hyped rookie in MLB history. Strasburg is an outstandingly talented pitcher that every baseball fan salivated over during his brief stint in 2010. This is a special kid, as he won games, is only 22-years old, sold 78,00 jerseys in June and literally filled an empty Nationals ballpark. In his first 68 innings pitched in the bigs, Strasburg finished with a 2.91 ERA and 92 strikeouts.
Bryce Harper, OF
The 2010 No. 1 draft pick will be just 19 on his next birthday. Harper bats with plus-power, attacks pitches and can hit to the opposite field. He already possesses the ability to make changes at the plate and has an above-average throwing arm in the outfield. This kid will make his debut in 2011 and you can bet Harper will be a superstar.
Derek Norris, C
Norris is 21-years old, hits with power, has long at-bats and draws ample walks. Norris has a strong arm, but mechanics and technique need some improvement but experience can fix any slight flaws. Keeps getting better.
Eury Perez, CF
Perez is the pest opposing teams dread because this kid can steal bases like you read about. Finishing with 64 steals, ranking second in the minors. Perez doesn’t hit home runs, but can get on base so fast, turning a single into a triple. Nice addition to break up any team’s batting order.
More young talent to look for in Washington…Pitchers: A.J. Cole, Sammy Solis, Robbie Ray and don’t forget 2009 rookie tandem of SS Ian Desmond and 2B Danny Espinosa, who showed serious potential in the infield.
This leaves the question, would it be a smart move to add some more experience for balance, at least mentally in the Nationals' clubhouse? Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman will at least help, but he didn’t do much in 2010 motivation-wise.
It might sound crazy, but the Nats can learn from the Rays' mistakes. Tampa possessed an exceptionally rare group of talent troubled by immaturity, particularly after losing the 2008 World Series and playing like sore losers in 2009. Veteran players can handle the pressure and leadership is essential in any sport.
Maybe Jayson Werth just got richer, but he could just be the smartest free agent this offseason.
Practice makes perfect, but it takes patience and looking forward the Nats could be the team to beat in the NL in 2012 season.
It looks like things are about to change in the Nation’s capital. Young, talented and hungry are a dangerous combination.