Throughout January and February, we're reviewing offseason MLB transactions that have fantasy implications, and we're going team-by-team. This isn't quite like Hot Stove Daily. The focus here is limited. We're only looking at ownable fantasy players who've found new employers.
Successful fantasy ownership demands that you know every team inside and out, and that includes a work-in-progress outfit like the Nationals, coming off a dreadful 59-102 season. Washington might have trouble scoring runs again and the starting rotation looks downright pedestrian, but that doesn't mean we won't find some good roto stories (and potential bargains) in the D.C. dugout.
Say this for the Nats, they didn't blow off the hot-stove season like some other also-rans did. We've actually got new players to discuss here (HSH rules-bending won't be needed), and you'll probably consider more Washington players at the draft table in 2009 than ever before.
Signed 1B/OF Adam Dunn to a two-year contract
He wasn't their first choice, that's for sure - Washington danced with Mark Teixeira for a while, and Manny Ramirez's name was floated here and there. But eventually some name player was going to say yes to the wad of cash the Nats were waving around, and finally Dunn stepped forward in February and signed up for two years and $20 million.
Love Dunn or hate him, he's become a fairly easy player to project at this juncture of his career. You know you're getting 40 homers, 100 runs, 100 RBIs, and a batting-average problem (career .247). He'll steal the odd base here and there and he'll draw a gaggle of walks. Fantasy owners need to have an average-maintenance plan if they sign up for Dunn, but at least there's little risk with what you get elsewhere.
In a perfect world the Nats would love to slot Dunn in left field while Nick Johnson handles the first-base gig. Sounds great on paper in February, but Johnson's extensive injury history can't be ignored. Assuming Johnson finds the DL sooner rather than later, Dunn figures to be the first base fixture; if not, Dunn slides into the outfield and it gets tricky and crowded in right field (more on that in a moment).
The Nats will happily slot Olsen near the top of their rotation, but they better hope he's sharper than the mediocre pitcher the Marlins rolled with in 2008. Olsen's fastball was in the mid-80s for most of the year, his slider was flat, and his strikeout rate fell apart (just 5.0 per nine innings). Somehow Olsen cheated the stat man and managed a 4.20 ERA through all this mediocre pitching, but his peripherals suggest his true ERA should have been a run higher. I've spent too many words here, the bottom line is that I'm giving you the strongest "stay away" recommendation possible with Olsen; let someone else chase the promise of 2006.
Willingham was a curious guy to acquire; while he's perfectly capable of hitting 20-25 homers and hitting around .270, the Nats already had a glut of outfielders before they added him (Lastings Milledge, Elijah Dukes, Austin Kearns), and later still they signed Dunn, who might see time in left field. Willingham is probably happy just to be out of Florida (where the home park cost him 106 OPS points over his career), but there's no guarantee he'll have a regular job in his new city.
Signed SP Daniel Cabrera
It's last call for D.C. Cab, who gets one year to prove himself in Washington after five messy seasons in Baltimore. His first four seasons in the bigs were a sea of strikeouts, walks and tease, but in 2008 a sore elbow collapsed his velocity and the strikeouts disappeared (making him absolutely unownable in any format). A league change and a fresh start is enough to get Cabrera on the preliminary NL-only sleeper list, but give him a thorough audit in March before you get tied to anything you can't back out of; keep in mind Cabrera was a one-man ERA and WHIP wrecking crew for just about his entire AL run. Mixed leaguers? Make him prove it to you in April.
Washington Whispers: Manny Acta says Milledge is his center fielder, an easy call to make given how dynamic Milledge looked during the final third of 2008. Dukes also had his moments in the second half of 2008, but he could be hurt by the outfield logjam as much as anyone . . . Several Nats will have to prove they're healthy when camp opens in full force. Dukes dealt with a knee injury in the second half last year, Willingham missed time with a wonky back, a bum elbow and foot kept Kearns down for three months, Ryan Zimmerman lost two months with a bad shoulder, and Johnson is coming back from a broken wrist . . . Joel Hanrahan took over as the new closer last summer when Chad Cordero got hurt, and although the Nats had trouble presenting ninth-inning leads for Hanrahan to protect, the young reliever still posted nine saves over the final two months. His 93 strikeouts over 84.1 innings suggest that he has closer stuff, but he needs to trim the walks this time around (35 unintentional free passes last season) . . . Willie Harris put together a very quiet 13-homer, 13-steal season in 2008 (we had some fun with it in Closing Time), playing all over the diamond as injuries struck. He'll open the year in that same super-utility role, but it's hard to envision him getting 367 at-bats again.