A (Fake) Conversation on the Future

I’m not a real journalist. This is why there aren’t actual interviews on this blog. I have no access to people that might be interesting to talk to. Anyway, I do like to take advantage of the baseball chat rooms, and when I can get a question in about the Nats, it’s always interesting to hear what the pros think of the team. Here’s my question for Christina Kahrl of Baseball Prospectus, and her answer:

the Nats have 4 good young position players (Dukes, Milledge, Zimmerman and Flores) and some pitching prospects. What moves do they make next to get themselves closer to respectability

Christina Kahrl: Health is going to make a big difference, to be sure, and I’ll look forward to seeing what Will’s take is on how much of the problem is systemic (if at all), a matter of training staff getting swamped, and how much it’s management’s fault for committing to both Dmitri Young and Nick Johnson. In terms of moves, I think the sad fact of the matter is that they’re just going to have to be patient. Can Austin Kearns recapture any of his value? Either of the first basemen? Sorting that out is going to tell them how much bargaining power they have, and they won’t have that over the winter. OTOH [on the other hand], does Ronnie Belliard‘s inexpensive contract make him a commodity? There’s a lot to sort out, so I wouldn’t bet on any instant solutions. After the teardown by Omar and the Lorians, there was a lot of work to be done; consider it a cautionary tale of the fate that probably awaits the Astros.

She points out a few things that I wanted to touch on. First of all, the comment about injuries. I really don’t think the injury issue is systemic. There have been some tough breaks this year, but as she pointed out, they also committed to some fragile players. I think next year we are likely to see a much healthier team. If not, then maybe we can start pointing fingers. But I’m not ready to do that yet.

As for Austin Kearns recapturing some of his value, I think that ship has already sailed. I was asking myself that question this time last year. It’s been an entire year and still so far the answer has been no. I wouldn’t count on him at all. If you manage to get production out of him, he a great fielder and could really add value. But even a promising split of .260/.350/.470 isn’t all that impressive for a right fielder. At his best he is, as Nats management has recently pointed out, a valuable piece to a team, but not a star. And because of that, and his age, if they can get anything out of him next year, that piece needs to be dealt.

The situation with the first basemen is indeed a question mark. Nick Johnson has been hurt quite a bit in his career, including his lost 2006, he has had 3 relatively healthy seasons and 4 either unhealthy (’03, ’04) or lost seasons (’06, ’08). Counting on him is unwise, but I’m not going to count him out either. Dmitri Young seems further away to me, he hasn’t been in playing shape in a long time, and while he’s uninjured, he has to decide whether he wants to play. Either way, these players are gone after 2009, and it’s really hard to see eitehr of them coming back. Boone may be penciled in to play some, but I expect a different face altogether at first.

Ronnie Belliard, as Kahrl mentioned, is a commodity. Anyone who likes him on the team should like to see him traded. It’s not that I have anything against Belliard, but he isn’t part of this team’s future. If he gets traded in the offseason, or next year, thanks to his inexpensive contract, then pray he does well with his new team. It may turn more heads towards Washington to look for good deals. And if there’s one thing I’ve realized, it’s that beyond the few young guys at the top, this team and the farm system still need many more players to compete. Good deals are something that will get them a tiny bit closer, and every little bit helps.

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