March 02, 2010
Every day in spring training until we're finished with the entire league, Big League Stew takes a brief capsule look at each team that we visit in Florida and Arizona. Today let's look at those Washington Nationals, who are busy hoping that new additions will put the team on the right path.
'09 RECORD: 59-103, 5th in NL East
BIG ACQUISITIONS: Ivan Rodriguez(notes) will play on in the nation's capital, drawn by the promise of a two-year contract. ... Chien-Ming Wang(notes) is aboard and the Nats hope he'll be the low-risk, high-reward pitcher than they think he is. ... Jason Marquis(notes) turned a good season at Coors Field into a two-year, $15 million deal. ... Brian Bruney(notes) went from a World Series to being dissed by the worst team in baseball. ... Adam Kennedy(notes) is in at second base.
BIG DEPARTURES: None.
1. Should we mark the Nationals down for their third straight 100-loss season? Only if you're an extreme pessimist with a knack for penchant before a team even gets a chance to prove they stink. The consensus around the league seems to be that the Nats are an improved team, but that, of course, comes with a big disclaimer attached because it's pretty hard not to improve on a 59-win season from 2009. After a free agent spending spree — some good dollars spent and some not — I have the Nationals marked down for a win total in the low 70s. Which would be progress.
2. Will Ivan Rodriguez really be that big of a difference maker? No, at least not if you're talking about a statistical performance commensurate to his contract and the amount of press his move to Washington received. But if you're expecting a veteran catcher who can still log a lot of innings, "mentor a young pitching staff" (for whatever that cliche is worth) and also maybe show Jesus Flores(notes) how it's done behind the plate? Well, you probably won't be disappointed with Pudge, then.
3. Which free agent signing did you like the most? I could end up getting slapped in the face by Wang's performance, but I thought it was a shrewd move by Mike "Don't Call Me Jim Bowden" Rizzo to sign the former Yankee to a one-year contract worth only $2 million (and another $3 million in incentives). Wang will have to stay healthy, but getting a motivated former 19-game winner for that price was a bargain.
4. Could Jim Riggleman beat your favorite manager up? After getting a look at the unbelievable shape Riggs is in — especially for a 57-year-old — the answer is an unequivocal yes. (Well, as long as everything's equal. All bets are off if Mike Scioscia decides to get dirty.)
The Nats lifted the interim tag from Riggleman's title during the offseason, giving him the chance to continue what he inherited — something he didn't get in Seattle once Jack Zduriencik took over. One assumes that means Rizzo believes Riggleman is the right man to move the team's plan forward, even if the length of his new contract isn't known.
5. Hey, what about that Strasburg guy? When are we going to see him? Oh, right. Everyone wants to know about Stephen Strasburg(notes) and whether his golden right arm will be coming north once spring training camp breaks. He's already drawing rave reviews from those who have seen him up close, but I still can't see Strasburg being rushed if he's not ready. While it's true that the Nats aren't paying him all those millions to defeat the minor league affiliates of their rivals, there's too much at stake to tab Strasburg before he's fully ready. Ready yourselves for a June or July callup that will draw Matt Wieters(notes)-type hype.
BLS editor Kevin Kaduk is currently on a weeklong tour of spring training camps in Florida. To ride shotgun, follow him at @bigleaguestew.