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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving Nats Fans!

I'm thankful for all of you that read my blog on a regular--or semi-regular--basis.

Thanks for all the comments and kind words along the way, and the criticism where warrented

I'm also thankful for my fellow Nats bloggers--All Of You--for providing a healthy and diverse forum for discussion about our shared passions: Baseball and the Washington Nationals.

Best wishes for a happy holiday weekend. Hope everyone ate too much turkey and pumpkin pie!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Ryan Wagner--Nats Property or Not?

Checking out all the info about the upcoming Rule 5 draft, most lists have Ryan Wagner listed as a Washington National. According to the Nats press release of October 30:

The Washington Nationals today announced they have outrighted right-handed pitcher Chad Cordero, right-handed pitcher Ryan Wagner and infielder Pete Orr to Syracuse of the Triple-A International League. All three players elected free agency.

But in the transaction section of, the transaction was listed thusly:

Washington Nationals: Sent RHP Ryan Wagner and INF Pete Orr outright to Triple-A Syracuse. Orr refused the assignment and is a free agent. Activated INF Nick Johnson, OFs Justin Maxwell and Wily Mo Pena from the 60-day disabled list. Activated RHP Chad Cordero from the 60-day disabled list and sent him outright to Triple-A Syracuse. He refused the assignment and is a free agent.

So did Wagner indeed refuse the assignment becoming a free agent, as the Nats press release clearly stated, or was the transaction report in legit and Wagner accepted his demotion to Triple-A Syracuse? Now we know Pete Orr has subsequently re-signed this the Nationals, per and (and other sources):

Washington Nationals: Signed INF Pete Orr to a Minor League contract.

But no mention of Wagner resigning anywhere, if he ever was a free agent in the first place.

Even Natosphere minor league resident expert NFA is confused on Wagner's standing:

RHP Ryan Wagner (heard he re-signed … trying to confirm)
Since Major League Baseball doesn't post a list of players eligible for the Rule 5, this type of situation is tough to fact-check. It's not like it's a tremendously huge deal, since Wagner's velocity had not returned by September, and any team claiming him would be taking a big risk on holding a roster spot on a guy that last time he pitched competitively was only throwing 83-84 with his fastball.

But it would be nice to know the facts going into the game.

Glad to be back, and much thanks to staff photographer Cheryl Nichols for turning this once-proud Nats blog into a Ken Griffey Jr. tribute page in my absence. Just kidding, she did a great job and I have expressed my gratitude to her in person, you can rest assured.


Good news to the followers of the Bottomfeeder Baseball!

My husband and founder of Bottomfeeder Baseball blog is back from vacation and I am happy to turn the reins back over to him. I did my best under my time constraints to get a few posts done while he was out, however, wish I could have done more. It was a busy 10 days for me. Not a ton of Nats news to report, however, I fully enjoyed making a few "fun posts." :)

Thanks for continuing to check back even though you knew he was out of town. He does a great job and hope you keep reading.

Go Nats!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Happy Birthday Junior!


It has been a joy to grow up with Junior and watch him play the greatest game on earth.

Since being selected as the first overall pick by the Seattle Mariners in 1987, Griffey has been one of my absolute favorite players of all-time (and I have a lot of favorites so that means something!).

Griffey Jr. has another job to keep him busy in the off-season which is a great honor. I am very proud to have him represent the game and our country.

"The Kid" has played major league baseball for twenty seasons. I sure hope that I get to see him play another season because it would not be the same without seeing that big smile, effortless swing and name on the scoreboard.

Special Highlights and Memories for Me:

09/14/1990 - First, and only, father and son to hit back-to-back homers

07/14/1992 - All-Star Game MVP (Hit single, double and home run in San Diego)

07/12/1993 - MLB All-Star Game Home Run Derby - Griffey was the first and only player to hit the warehouse at Camden Yards in Baltimore

1997 - Griffey Jr. was awarded the AL MVP (.304 BA/56 HR/147 RBI)

06/27/1999 - Jr. hit the final home run at the Kingdome, a three-run homer off of Rangers' Aaron Sele in the first inning

07/15/1999 - Safeco Opens - "House that Griffey Built"

09/26/1999 - Junior's last home game in a Mariners uniform (I was there!)

06/22/2007 - Junior's return to Seattle for the first time since trade to Reds

And my absolute favorite memory.....
10/08/1995 - Griffey Jr. buried underneath his teammates, having scored from first on Edgar Martinez's epic double off Jack McDowell in the 11th inning of Game 5 against the Yankees to win the A L Division Series!!! (I start tearing up every time I was this!). My Oh My - The Miracle Mariners!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

John Lannan named to Topps Major League Rookie All-Star Team

Photo (c) Cheryl Nichols 2008

Press Release from the Nationals:

Washington Nationals left-handed pitcher John Lannan today was named to the
50th Annual Topps Major League Rookie All-Star Team. Lannan was one of 10
players to earn the citation, which annually recognizes one rookie for each
position on the field, as well as the top right-handed and left-handed pitchers.

The 24-year-old turned in one of the top rookie seasons in franchise
history, going 9-15 with a 3.91 ERA in 31 starts. Lannan led all big league
rookies and tied for eighth in the NL with 21 quality starts, which represented
the third-highest total ever by a Washington Nationals (2005-08) pitcher and
tied for the fifth-highest rookie total in the past 23 years, beginning with the
1986 season. He finished among this season's freshman leaders in wins (tied for
sixth), ERA (fourth) and starts (tied for third), while also ranking among the
top rookies with 182.0 innings (fifth), 112 strikeouts (fifth) and a .252
batting average against (third).

Lannan has a career mark of 11-17 with a 3.95 ERA in 37 starts. He was
selected by the Nationals in the 11th round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft
out of Siena (NY) College.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Griffey becomes American Public Diplomacy Envoy

This blog is dedicated to the Washington Nationals, however, in the absence of breaking news like Teixeira is now a Nat, I am posting something that has impact on baseball and Washington so seemed fitting. Besides, Dave is unavailable and said that I could post whatever I'd like and Griffey Jr. is one of my favorite baseball players of all time. Congrats Ken!

The following is the AP press release:

WASHINGTON -- Ken Griffey Jr. has joined a new team.

The star outfielder became the newest American Public Diplomacy Envoy, introduced Tuesday by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Griffey is set to make his first baseball-related trip for the State Department to Panama in January. In his role, he'll represent the "values of the United States, not the government of the United States," Rice said.

"When Ken Griffey travels overseas, one of his greatest objectives will be to talk to young people and to spark their interest in America and in our culture," she said.
Griffey said he was eager to get going.

"When Dr. Rice called and said that she would like me to do this, I didn't really have to think about it," he said.

"After a certain age, you pretty much set your ways. But if we can reach out to young children about our culture and also about our pastime, which is baseball -- not those other sports like football," he said, drawing laughs in a State Department ceremony.

Griffey, who turns 39 this week, is sixth on the career home run list with 611. He played for Cincinnati and the Chicago White Sox last season, and later filed for free agency.

Griffey joined former baseball star Cal Ripken Jr., figure skater Michelle Kwan and actress Fran Drescher as envoys.

On the same day Griffey was introduced in the role, a baseball clinic Ripken was to give for kids in Nicaragua was canceled by its sponsors because protests surrounding local election results were causing travel problems.

Ripken became an envoy for the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in 2007.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Nats Sign Matt Whitney to Minor League Contract

Matt Whitney signed a minor league contract with the Nationals on November 15th which includes an invitation to spring training, according to

Whitney was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 1st round (33rd overall) in 2002 and the Nationals claimed in Rule 5 draft from Cleveland in 2007.

Whitney, 24, spent all of 2008 with Triple-A Akron, where he hit .268 with 10 home runs and 56 RBIs.

BOTTOM(FEEDER) LINE: He is normally a third baseman, however, can also play first. He will most likely not have a job out of spring training.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Pete Orr Returning to Nats?

According to Mark Zuckerman at The Washington Times, Pete Orr will be returning to the Nationals.

Photo (c) C. Nichols 2008.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Meet the Press with Willingham and Olsen

The Washington Nationals held a press conference today at Nationals Park to introduce OF Josh Willingham and LHP Scott Olsen, acquired Wednesday night for 2B Emilio Bonifacio and minor leaguers RHP P.J. Dean and SS Jake Smolinski. General Manager Jim Bowden, Assistant GM Mike Rizzo and Special Assistant Bob Boone were also in attendance.

Some highlights:
  • Willingham on his position:
    "I'm a left fielder as far as I know."
  • Bowden on Willingham's position:
    "We acquired him as a corner outfielder, not as a first baseman."

  • Olsen on his fluctuating velocity last season:

"I missed a week and a half of spring training which kind of set my throwing program back which might have been arm strength that wasn’t able to get built up like it had been. "

  • Bowden on the message this trade sends to the fans and to the team:
"This is a huge message to send to the Washington Nationals' fans."
Here's the full transcript. If you just want my commentary, it's at the bottom.

Bowden: The Washington Nationals want to wish everyone a happy Veteran's Day. We chose to trade three minor leaguers for two veterans on Veteran's Day. Last Wednesday at the General Managers' meeting we completed a five-player trade with the Florida Marlins. Late last night we concluded the trade: the Washington Nationals acquiring 24-year old left handed pitcher Scott Olsen and outfielder Josh Willingham. This continues our plan to build an organization for the long term. We believe Scott, a young left handed starting pitcher that pitched over 200 innings last year, 190 the year before, continues to improve, developed a third pitch this year, his changeup, to go along with his fastball and his slider and certainly we feel he has the chance to be a major part of our rotation for a long time. Josh Willingham gives you a tremendous at bat every time up, in fact he's sixth in the major leagues for right hand hitters with 4.1 pitches per at bat. He can hit the tough pitcher and the tough pitch. Really knows how to give a good at bat. Both these guys are winners. We're very very pleased to introduce them to you today. And we'll start with Josh Willingham.

Willingham: I'll just say that I'm happy to be a Washington National. Florida was the only organization that I knew. I was drafted in 2000 by them and had developed good relationships and they gave me the opportunity to play at the big league level for the first time. So I have a lot of good things to say about that organization and very grateful for the opportunity that they gave me. Moving forward this is a brand new opportunity that I'm looking forward to. I know some of the guys on this team, met everybody, everybody's been great. I'm really looking forward to moving forward with the Nationals. You talk about the plan they have for this team and I'm going to believe in it. You know what you'll get from me. I'm going to play hard every day. I love playing the game, I think that's the most important part. Just to have an opportunity to play in this stadium of this caliber, it's brand new and think it's going to be a good opportunity and I'm looking forward to it and I appreciate the opportunity.

Olsen: Very similar story to Josh. I got drafted by the Marlins and that's all I've ever known. I've never been traded before so this is all new for me and meeting all the new people here, everybody's been great. It's the same game no matter where you're at and I look forward to playing here and being a National and try to win. That's the bottom line is you want to win ballgames. And with the group we have we're going to go out and play hard and hopefully we're going to be able to do that.

Olsen (on confidence): I developed a third pitch which helped tremendously. Coming into 2005 and 2006 I really only had a fastball/slider and it worked well for a year. I never had enough confidence in the changeup until about half way through 2007 and then in 2008 I started throwing it a lot. I finally found a grip I liked. A lot of it was just having confidence in the fact that if you throw it where you want to threw it you're going to get a good result. My confidence got built up with that pitch and it really turned things around for me.

Olsen (on being the ace): You want to be the ace no matter where you're at. I think that at least for me I apply myself so that I can be out there every five days. I don't like missing any starts and as part of an ace that's what you've got to do. I'm sure I'm not the only one of people in the rotation that want to be that. I expect an open competition and we'll see in spring training what happens since it's not my decision.

Olsen (on what it will take to get to the next level): I hope there's another level. I would like to think you're never satisfied with the year. As a pitcher you pretty much aren't going to go 33-0 so there's always room for improving and you just try to do that. You watch tapes and you try to improve on any small aspect or big aspect of the game to help you win. But I hope there's another level up there.

Olsen (on his fluctuating velocity last year): Honestly, I have no idea. I got a lot of questions about my velocity early on in the year. I was pitching pretty well early on and it didn't seem to affect anything. I missed a week and a half of ST which kind of set my throwing program back which might have been arm strength that wasn’t able to get built up like it had been. Over the course [of the season] by September your arm strength is there so the velocity comes back. I think, presuming we stay healthy, I don't think that'll be an issue.

Willingham (on his position): I've played a lot of positions. I'm a left fielder as far as I know. The past three years that’s where I've played exclusively. I've done some catching before and was in infielder before that. I'm comfortable in left field now. I can play other positions but that something I haven't discussed.

Bowden (on Willingham's position): We acquired him as a corner outfielder, not as a first baseman.

Bowden (on trading for vets): It shows the commitment from ownership and from Stan Kasten, our president. We're really determined on winning for our fans. This is a huge message to send to the Washington Nationals' fans. But remember, these guys are still very young, they’re in their 20's so we control them for three more years. This was not a trade and rent-a-player for a year. These are two players that can spend a long time playing here. We're all embarrassed by the season we had last year. Its strictly unacceptable. You want to talk about injuries or lack of depth or whatever it was--it's embarrassing and except for the first pick overall we're getting in June, we don't ever want to have that happen again. We're on a mission to continue the plan and bring winning baseball back here to Washington.

Bowden (on 2B job): Manny Acta will make that decision. Those decisions will happen once we get to spring training, not now. There's a lot that can happen between now and then. Certainly we were impressed with what Anderson did here in September. He hit over .300 for us (ed. .333/.407/.383 with no home runs and 17 RBI in 81 at bats for DC last season), drove some runs in. He's gone to winter ball and he's hitting .400 over there (ed. .404/.432/.629 with one home run and 15 RBI and four steals in 89 at bats). Our reports are tremendous on what he's done there. We remember that he led the Pacific Coast League in hits the year before. So maybe he's just starting to mature, come into his own and he's certainly someone that's going to be given consideration.

Bowden (on OF sorting out): I'm always a big fan of competition. Whenever you have depth you also have means to make other deals to make your team better in other areas. Those are decisions Manny will make when we get to spring training and have our team set at that point.

Willingham (on trade rumors): You knew there were going to be some deals made because of the significant number of players that were going to be going to arbitration. As far as who, you didn't know who. I think they [the Marlins] made it pretty obvious that they were going to make some deals. I didn't have a clue if I was going to be in it until last night.

Olsen (on trade rumors): I had a pretty good idea that I was going to be moved, just based on the situation and all the starting pitchers that they had in Florida. I had a feeling, it was just a matter of where and when it was all going to be finalized.

Olsen (on maturing): I knew something had to change. It just started off slow and you just try to keep yourself out of situations where there might be a problem. I think that's the biggest thing with this maturing and everything that everybody claims that I've done. It think it comes down to one thing and that's just don't be in a situation where something might happen.

Rizzo (on Bonifacio): He's an exciting player, but you have to give to get. To get a 24 year old starting pitcher and an established power corner player you have to give up some things to get them and Bonifacio was certainly something that was painful to give up, as were the two young players. But in this industry, to land a position player and a pitcher of their ability levels you have to give up something.

Bowden (on financial flexibility): We have flexibility. There's no question that Stan [Kasten] and ownership want to build an organization that can win not just in the short term but the long term, and we're continuing along that same plan--that's not going to be changed because one year that we had. If there was a free agent that fit into those long-term plans, that’s a possibility. I think our preference is always to build through the draft and trades. All of us agree that’s the best way to do it, but will we look at other avenues and free agency, of course. It would be stultifying not to.

Bowden (on team morale): It shows that you have a commitment to winning. A commitment that we're going to continue to go in the right direction and we're not just going to wait for the farm system to develop players here. We said when we were building up our development and scouting that one of the means of using it would be for trading, and we've lived up to that. Without that great scouting…this trade doesn't happen for us.

Willingham (on his back injuries): The back is good. It's been good since I was able to come back and play, I guess late June -- I don't know the exact day I came back. I was healthy, it just took me a little while to get going when I came back and it's been good every since. You never know what's going to happen, but it's something that I'm a lot more comfortable managing myself. I met with a lot of doctors and it's something that we've got definite plan when something flares up.

So there you have it, for better or worse. There's already a lot that's been written about this deal, and I'm sure that there will be many more volumes as well. The deal makes next year's team better and I don't think they gave up all that much to accomplish that. Bowden's larger message is that the organization realizes that the fan base is going to shrink and that they HAD TO address the talent level on the major league roster, what Nats fans pay to watch.

Are Willingham and Olsen all-stars? Probably not. We pretty much know was Willingham is, barring a Ryan Ludwick-type explosion. Olsen? He's just 24. He's got three full seasons in the bigs. His velocity returned in September. He still hasn't entered his physical prime.

I'm not going to harp on the team for deviating from "The Plan" like some of my brethren. They didn't trade anyone away that was going to be part of the "first great Nats team". They aren't blocking anyone that should be playing. To the contrary, Olsen will allow Martis and Zimmermann to stay in the minors where they belong for another season.

The Nats got two completely average major league players for a utility infielder and two fringy low minors prospects. Love it or leave it.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Nats Add Willingham, Olsen

Washington Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden made his first significant move of the off-season, acquiring OF Josh Willingham and LHP Scott Olsen from the Florida Marlins for 2B Emilio Bonifacio and low minor leaguers RHP P.J. Dean and SS Jake Smolinski.

Willingham and Olsen are both arbitration eligible, so their big league salaries will increase this off-season. This marks a major acquisition for a team that has been practicing patience and rebuilding through the draft and the minor leagues.

Willingham, 30, appeared in 102 games last season and hit .254/.364/.470 with 15 home runs and 51 RBI. He hit 26 and 21 homers in 2006 and 2007, and he has a lifetime .361 on base percentage He's a corner outfielder by trade, and the deal will have repercussions throughout the lineup. If Willingham plays in the outfield, something will have to give with Lastings Milledge, Elijah Dukes or Austin Kearns. Willingham could also play first base, which would displace Nick Johnson, who is recovering from wrist surgery.

Olsen is a 24-year old left hander. He went 8-11 with a 4.97 ERA in 2008 over 33 starts and 201.2 innings. Last year's numbers were somewhat of a regression from his rookie season, and Olsen has a history of physical confrontation with teammates and a drunk driving arrest. But he represents a major upgrade over most of the other candidates for the Nationals 2009 rotation.

Bonifacio, acquired from Arizona at last year's trade deadline for reliever Jon Rauch, was slated to be the Nats starting second baseman and lead off hitter, but was outplayed down the stretch by Anderson Hernandez and Alberto Gonzalez.

Dean, 22, pitched for Class A Vermont, going 4-1 with a 1.57 ERA in 10 starts. Smolinski, 19, played for the Gulf Coast Nationals, Vermont and Class A Hagerstown, and hit .271 with four home runs and 33 RBIs.

BOTTOM(FEEDER) LINE: So Stan Kasten and Jim Bowden think the Nats aren't that far away and acquired a couple of major league parts for what will be a utility infielder for Florida and a couple of low-level prospects. As soon as I saw this, I thought to myself, "What's the next domino to fall?" This only makes me think MORE that the Nats will sign either Teixiera or Dunn this off-season.

With as bad as the team was last season, and season ticket holders dwindling, the organization HAD TO do something to improve the quality of the major league product. This obviously gives them two more major league players. With a legitimate cleanup hitter, their everyday lineup won't be all that indistinguishable from anyone of eight or ten teams that consider themselves wild card candidates. The starting rotation needs another veteran, but at least Nats fans will watch major league baseball this summer, without -- and this is the key -- giving up the farm.

Photo (c) C. Nichols 2008.

Nats Add Three to 40-Man Roster

The Washington Nationals announced today that they have added OF Leonard Davis, SS Ian Diamond and RHP Luis Atilano to their 40-man roster, thus protecting the three players from the Rule 5 draft of eligible minor league players. If selected, a player must remain on the selecting team's 25-man roster the entire next season or offer that player back to his original club. Jesus Flores was a Rule 5 pick of the Nats from the New York Mets.

Davis, 24, is the reigning Nationals Minor League Player of the Year. He hit .310 with 28 doubles, 25 home runs, 76 RBI, a .365 on-base percentage and a .567 slugging percentage in 122 games for the top three affiliates in the Nationals’ system in 2008.

Diamond, 23, with Harrisburg this season, hit .251 with 14 doubles, 12 home runs and 44 RBI in 93 Eastern League contests. Desmond has tallied 74 extra-base hits (45 doubles, four triples, 25 home runs) the last two regular seasons.

Atilano, 22, began the season in the Single-A South Atlantic League and finished in Double-A with Harrisburg. At the three levels this season, Atilano went a combined 5-2 with a 2.50 ERA (26 ER/93.2 IP) in 24 games (15 starts). He posted a .248 batting average against and walked just 2.2 batters per 9.0 innings pitched.

BOTTOM(FEEDER) LINE: None of these three players figures to be a significant contributor to the Nats, but since they had the space on the 40-man roster they are worth protecting. Davis and Desmond are playing in the Arizona Fall League with decent results though, and could bear watching as the season progresses as low priced alternatives should injury or ineffectiveness rear its ugly head on the Nats 25-man roster as the season goes along.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Nats Unveil New Unis

I'll have more updates later when we can load all of the pictures we took today, but the Nats had a fashion show of their new uniforms today at ESPNZone.

As you can see, Lastings Milledge was more than happy to get up and model with the models.

The changes are pretty significant to the road and alternate jerseys. The Road Grays get a curly W and script "ashington" across the chest, the Sunday Reds get white piping, the curly W replaces the interlocking DC on the left chest, and the DC goes on the left sleeve.

As for the Alternate Blues, well, what can I say to accurately describe them? The white piping on the blue looks great, but the logo is an interlocking DC is "Stars and Stripes". They'll wear an accompanying blue hat with red bill and interlocking stars and stripes DC logo. The team said they would wear these monstrosities for July 4 and other military appreciation days. Honestly, they would have been better off wearing camo like the Padres, cause that logo is just plain terrible. The above picture doesn't do it justice.

More pictures to come tonight.

Here are the pictures we took yesterday at the unveiling of the new unis.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Holy Cow (no pun intended)--Young Sent To Syracuse

This just in, a single sentence press release from the Nats:

First baseman Dmitri Young has been outrighted to Syracuse of the Triple-A International League. The Nationals’ 40-Man Roster now stands at 35.
Bottom(feeder) Line: I guess that's how they move Young off the roster. He obviously won't decline the assignment, cause where else is he going to get a $5M major league contract? So he accepts and becomes the highest paid minor leaguer. Either way, it's pretty cold.

How bad does this look right now? This is a guy that the GM and the team heralded in his all-star comeback player of the year season of 2007, then grant him a HUGE two-year reward contract for $10M. And now, half-way through that contract, flat demotes back to Triple-A. That's just great roster maintenance (noted with sarcasm). For a team that has upper management preaching fiscal responsibility, how many more of these terrible reward contracts do they have to see before they do something about the guy handing them out?

Young got a big raise, now he's sent to Siberia (ever been to Syracuse in April?). Guzman got a new contract and promptly went out and got hurt. Belliard got a two-year deal. Willie Harris' new deal has to pop up any day now. At least Willie is in shape. But here's still more evidence, if any more are needed, of Jim Bowden's ineffectiveness. Here's a team that loses their first round pick over $700,000, but is paying their Triple-A first baseman $5M.

Photo (c) C. Nichols 2008

Monday, November 3, 2008

Much Ado About Nothing

Now that the World Series has thankfully passed and gone away, we're onto the Hot Stove portion of the baseball season. The GMs are collecting in Dana Point, CA this week for their annual meetings to discuss free agents and trade markets over pina coladas.

Nats' GM Jim Bowden (yup, still here) has a lot of work to do in overhauling what was the worst team in baseball last year. Garnering the #1 pick in next year's amateur draft is nice, and since it's doubled up with the tenth pick for failing to sign last year's first rounder Aaron Crow, the Nats' scouting department (Now With More Scouts!) had their work cut out for them. But the fruits of next year's draft will only be realized down the road, not benefiting next season's big league squad.

That's where Jim Bowden -- for better or worse -- comes in. It's his job to put together a major league squad in the off-season. And if you're a season ticket holder like me (who has already, by the way, received my invoice for next year), you'll want to know what Bowden does to improve the squad. If you objectively take a look at the Nats 40-man roster and project an opening day roster the answer, unfortunately, is probably not much.

After essentially waiving Chad Cordero, Pete Orr and Ryan Wagner last week, the Nats have six players eligible for arbitration: Ryan Zimmerman, Tim Redding, Saul Rivera, Willie Harris, Jesus Colome and Shawn Hill. They still have control over Zimmerman, so don't expect the team to open up their pocketbooks any earlier than they have to. They'll extend the least amount possible to renew Zim, further alienating him and his agent to the possibility of along-term deal. But that's another column. Guess that they offer Redding, Rivera, Harris and Colome arbitration. Hill's a big medical question. Anyone heard anything about him lately? I haven't.

So where does that leave the squad? Here's one blogger's impression of the opening day roster:

OF (5): Milledge, Dukes, Kearns, Pena, Harris
INF (6): Zimmerman, Young, Johnson, Belliard, Guzman, Bonifacio
C (2): Flores, back-up (Nieves hopefully)
SP (5): Redding, Lannan, Balestar, Martis, Free Agent
RP (7): Hanrahan, Rivera, Hinckley, Bergmann, Colome, Mock, Shell
Players on 40-man left out: Bernadina, Maxwell, Montz, Hernandez, Casto, Gonzalez, Chico, Clippard, Detwiler, Hill, O'Connor, Estrada

So where, exactly, does that leave the Nats room to ponder new players, either by free agency or trade? Obviously, first base needs to be upgraded, but the team is on the hook for both Johnson ($5.5M) and Young ($5M) at a significant rate. They both come off the books at the end of 2009, but can/will the Nats eat either of these contracts?

There's a lot of speculation right now, about what the Nats may or may not do this off-season about upgrading the offense next season. Adam Dunn is the rumor that won't go away. But the bottom line may be: nothing. The infield is set, unless they eat either Johnson or Young's contract. They have three candidates for the second base job as it is, and Belliard is the back up all over the infield. If they re-sign Harris, the outfield is set too, with Wily Mo Pena blocking up a roster spot for someone. So if the offense improves, it will probably come from the internal players improvement.

As for pitching, well, here is the glaring spot that the major league roster needs help. Yes, there's a lot of good young pitching in the farm system, but someone has to pitch until then. Even if you pencil in Redding (not a given) with 24-year old Lannan, 22-year old Balestar and then 22-year old Martis, there's another spot open.

The GM said Jordan Zimermann will compete for the spot, but is that fair? He has just 187 innings pitched in 38 minor league games between Vermont, Potomac and Harrisburg. Granted, his 2.74 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 205/65 strikeout-to-walk rate all look pretty good. But will that translate into a spot in the opening day rotation? Other candidates are Hill, O'Connor, Mock, Bergmann, Clippard and Detwiler. Mock and Bergamnn will probably be pressed into duty in the bullpen, leaving the competition pretty thin.

This leaves the Nats with the option of filling a spot with a veteran if they so choose, much like they did this year with Odalis Perez. Who might that candidate be? Well, it won't be Sabathia, Dempster, Lowe or Burnett, that's for sure. There's no way the Nats spring for someone that will take a multi-year contract. Some guy at says the Nats will sign Pedro Martinez! Fat chance. IF the Nats decide to sign a free agent pitcher, it will very likely be of the bargain basement one-year variety right before--or during--spring training, a la Odalis. Among the group that might be left could be Randy Wolf, Brett Tomko, Steve Traschel, Jason Jennings, etc.

Not very inspiring, but any of these fine gentlemen would allow Zimmermann, Detwiler, et al to get some more minor league time under their belts. Remember, all these scenarios envision Redding re-signing, AND Balestar AND Martis in the rotation. That, my friends, is an awful lot of conjecture.

And the bullpen, for better or worse, looks set. Hanrahan will close. Rivera and Hinckley will set-up. Bergmann, Mock, Shell and Colome pick up the slack. Estrada and a host of others in AAA Syracuse (enjoy April up there fellas) will be at the ready. It's entirely possible the team signs a moderately priced free agent to help out. Someone like Jeremy Affeldt would probably be too expensive, but would be a great addition. He's a quality lefty that could also close should Hanrahan falter. But the market will be flooded with free agent relivers looking for work.

An objective eye into the 40-man roster sees very little opportunity for drastic improvement. The team has stated on many occasions that their primary objective is to re-build the minor leagues and strive for the future. So far, they've stuck to "The Plan". Will this off-season bring deviation to The Plan? GM Jim Bowden has gone on record saying he'd like to acquire a middle-of-the-order slugger that meets the team's stated goals. Here's what he told season ticket holders last September as part of a public Q&A:

"Ideally we'd like to have a controlled player, in his 20s, that can be part of the solution."

Wouldn't every team like that player? In the same widely speculative article that's Bill Ladson published yesterday about Adam Dunn, he also mentioned Prince Fielder and Matt Hollday as possible trade candidates. Fielder is arbitration eligiable, but generally fits the description above, while Holliday is only under contract for 2009 -- basically a rent-a-player, much like Alfonso Soriano.

So as the GM meetings evolve into the winter meetings, and the holidays give way to spring training, ask yourself this: What has the team and GM done today to make the 2009 major league roster better than the 2008 model? The answer, quite possibly, could be absolutely nothing.

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