After another sub .500 finish from the Washington Nationals, finishing with a 73-89 record, work needed to be done in America's capitol.
And this past off-season, the Nationals have done that, filling out their roster. The Nats offense was a major problem last year, finishing last in the whole MLB in runs scored. Defense also needed to be improved, as they were 24th in the league in fielding percentage.
In the 2007 season, the Washington Nationals pitching staff was the high point for them, and even that was not all that impressive. Anchored by ace Shawn Hill, they managed to record a team ERA of 4.58, ranking 19th in the league.
As you can see, the Nats were in line for some shaking up.
To fix the offensive problem, they went out and got Elijah Dukes and Lastings Milledge. These are two undeniably talented players; however, they have very controversial off-field acts. It seems that the Nationals are willing to take a risk on two head cases who have the potential to be two cornerstones for their new team.
Midway through the season last year, they also acquired Wily Mo Peña from the World Series champion Boston Red Sox. He is a young kid with a very bright future and the ability to be a true home run threat in the Nationals' line-up. That being said, at times he has struggled with consistency, and with his lack of playing time in Boston, his career may have been set back a bit. They also signed veteran Dimitri Young to a long-term deal, so that some of the younger kids on the club can look up to him, as he has successfully been in drug-rehab, fighting to stop his addiction. Young is a Peña-type slugger with some quality MLB experience under his belt and was an All-Star last season.
Hopefully, this will rub off on the rest of the club. Another offensive weapon that they added is Aaron Boone off the bench. He is a veteran slugger, and an occasional homerun swing. He will fit nicely for pinch hits and be a good role player, as well as add extra depth down the stretch.
17 year old top prospect Esmailyn Gonzalez will not help the Nationals in the 2008 season, but the slick-fielding Dominican shortstop will be a key player for many years to come.
It was clear that the Nationals had their mind on improving their pitching when they drafted Ross Detwiler in last year's mid-summer draft with the 6th overall pick. Detwiler went 4-5 in his senior year at Missouri State, posting a 2.22 E.R.A in 89 innings with 110 strike outs, while just walking 38. The 6 foot 5 inch, 185-pound lefty continued his success in his first professional season, allowing just 3 earned runs in 12 innings of rookie ball, with 15 strikeouts. After that, he was promoted to high single A, where he posted a 4.22 E.R.A in 21.1 innings, striking out 13. Soon after that, Washington Nationals fans got their first taste of him in the big leagues, as he pitched one scoreless relief inning in late September.
Detwiler wasn’t the only high touted pitcher the Nationals drafted. They also picked up Jack McGeary in the 6th round from Roxbury Latin High School. McGeary was going to be a high first round pick, until he declared he was almost 100% sure he was going to take his scholarship to Stanford, as he was a top student at his elite Boston area high school that he attended last year.
This decision turned many teams off. But the Nationals were willing to take a risk on him. Washington put together a very unique contract offer to him, offering him first round money for starters. What got the deal done was that the Nationals were willing to let him attend and take classes at Stanford, and fully pay for his classes during the off-season. In his next four academic years at Stanford, he will be on a very extensive workout routine during the school year, and he will pitch for the Nationals organization during the summer. Although he will probably not pitch in the MLB for the Nationals until the 2010 season, the Nationals have pulled out a masterful deal with the young McGeary.
As for immediate pitching help, a fully healthy Shawn Hill has the ability to produce a respectable ERA between 3.20 and 3.90 to anchor a Nationals pitching staff. A healthy Luis Ayala will play a key role in setting up closer Chad Cordero. With a year of Major League pitching under his belt, Matt Chico, 25, will be able to build off of his impressive rookie campaign and turn into a nice #2 starter. A Hill/Chico 1-2 punch has the potential to be very lethal in the NL East in 2008.
Also, 2008 marks the first season of the new “Nationals Stadium.” It is a very modern and sleek improvement off of the old R.F.K Stadium last year. It will attract many more fans (including a weekend trip down to Washington from me!), and more revenue, meaning more money to spend on players in the future.
2008 is the start of a new Washington Nationals franchise, and they will be a top franchise for many years. They draft well, and spend their money very well. Right now, they are in the middle of a re-building process, so this will not be their year to contend for the NL, but that year is coming. I project an 83-79 season, good enough to finish 3rd in the NL West.
But in years to come, expect the Washington Nationals to be synonymous with a top 10 franchise. GO NATS GO!