This is one of a series of posts in which we rip each team for their offseason blunders and laud them when necessary for the occasional savvy move.
Since 2002, as I have alluded to previously in this space, the Washington Nationals have let more major league talent slip throught their fingers than probably any other three teams combined. And unfortunately this horrendous record of mismanagement shows no signs of abating.
Nothing symbolizes the Nats’ utter directionlessness and total lack of a game plan than their foolish and futile pursuit of free agent first baseman Mark Teixeira earlier this winter. As good a player as Teixeira is, the Nationals are probably the team in major league baseball that would stand to *least* benefit from his acquisition.
Given that they already have two other first baseman signed to big contracts, are nowhere near contention, and need to rebuild at almost every other position on the diamond. But the Learners and Stan Kasten were all pressing for the signing of a big-name free agent, and happy-go-lucky cowboy/GM Jim Bowden was happy to try to oblige.
Ironically, then, the failure to sign Teixeira may well have been the single best thing that happened to the the Nationals in what was otherwise a disastrous offseason. In addition to missing out on Tex, the team found out one of their top prospects was actually 23 rather than 19 (and therefore that they had essentially flushed $1.4 million down the drain), saw their GM embroiled in a Federal Investigation, had to close down their camp in the Dominican and fire Jose Rijo, and now is reportedly plotting the firing of Bowden right in the middle of spring training.
Not to mention that none of the moves the Nats made this offseason are any good. The trade of three prospects for this years Florida Marlins arbitration victims Scott Olsen and Josh Willingham looks okay on the surface. Well, except that Olsen got lucky last year thanks to an unsustainably low BABIP, and now we find out that his fastball velocity mysteriously dropped over the course of the last two seasons, from 91 mph to 87 mph. And that Josh Willingham has not been able to stay healthy, has never built on the promise he showed in his 2006 rookie year, and is already 30 years old, making it increasingly likely that 2006 was his peak rather than a hint of his upside.
Moreover, while I personally have never been sold on Emilio Bonifacio – the young infielder who was the centerpiece of the package sent to the Marlins – at least lots of people around the game think he can be a good player, and it is baffling to trade him now because he is a second baseman which is currently a gaping hole in the Nats lineup, whereas the Nats had no need for yet another outfielder in Willingham, or another 5th starter-type in Olsen. But most of all it just makes no sense at all for the Nationals to take on overpriced, mediocre players during their highly expensive arbitration years when they are nowhere near contention.
The other big move the Nationals made was the acquisition of free agent 1B/OF Adam Dunn. While I personally think Dunn is a great player, this move possibly makes even less sense for the Nationals than signing Teixeira would have, in that at least giving an eight year deal to Tex might have held the possibility that he would someday play on a contender, whereas giving Dunn $20 million over two years where the Nats have no hope of contending is just flushing money down the drain. It doesn’t even make sense from the perspective of getting more fans to come out to the park, given that 50 percent of people passionately believe that Dunn is a lazy bum who strikes out too much and hates baseball.
What we are left with is an incredibly unbalanced team that seems to have been assembled with the help of a random number generator. The Nats are paying $25 million this year to three different first baseman and have 6 starting outfielders in Willingham, Elijah Dukes, Lastings Milledge, Wily Mo Pena, Austin Kearns, Willie Harris. But meanwhile they have no second baseman, I challenge you to name their shortstop without looking, their bullpen is in tatters, and with the losses of Odalis Perez and Tim Redding the composition of their pitching rotation behind Olsen and lone bright spot John Lannan is largely a mystery.
The good news is that the slight improvements the Nationals made at the hefty pricetag of about $25 million in added payroll are likely to ensure that they will improve on their MLB-worst 59-102 record last season. But that is where the good news ends, as it will be a struggle to win 70 games.
Overall the Nationals’ payroll is projected to be about $75 million this year. Is any team doing less with more?
Offseason Grade: D-
Acquisitions: 1B Adam Dunn, LHP Scott Olsen, OF Josh Willingham, P Daniel Cabrera, C Javier Valentin, IF Alex Cintron, OF Corey Patterson, P Wil Ledezma, P Josh Towers, P Terrell Young
Losses: P Chad Cordero, P Odalis Perez, IF Emilio Bonifacio, P Tim Redding, IF Aaron Boone, P Jesus Colome
Projected Starters, Rotation, and Closer:
C Jesus Flores
1B Adam Dunn – hit exactly 40 homers in each of the last 4 seasons
3B Ryan Zimmerman
SS Christian Guzman – an out-making machine, his ’08 “comeback” was all batting avg.
LF Josh Willingham/Wily Mo Pena
CF Lastings Milledge/Willie Harris
RF Elijah Dukes/Austin Kearns
SP1 John Lannan
SP2 Scott Olsen
SP3 Daniel Cabrera – The modern master of the art of base-on-balls
SP4 Shawn Hill?
CL Joel Hanrahan