It’s never too early to think about next year. Especially for the Washington Nationals.
At 49-64, the Nats are having yet another typical Washington Nationals-esque season, but there’s every reason to believe this is the last “Washington Nationals” season that the Washington Nationals will have to endure.
That’s why it’s so difficult to understand why Adam Dunn isn’t either in another uniform or signed on as the anchor of the Nationals lineup for the next few years. Dunn wants four years at $60 million, which Nationals GM Mike Rizzo finds to be a prohibitive cost. Having not traded Dunn before the deadline and unlikely to get the kind of yield that Rizzo was holding out for before July 31st, it appears that Adam Dunn is destined to be a Washington National next year.
Well, for all parties, it should probably end up that way. Built on the strong young pitching of phenom Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, Tyler Clippard, and Drew Storen, the Nationals are set up for the long haul with only complementary pieces needed to really build a top-of-the-line rotation.
A rotation built on Strasburg and Zimmerman can rival any rotation in the National League, and a bullpen built around the young, cost-controlled arms of Clippard and Storen can make the Nationals pitching staff the strongest in the NL East perhaps by even next season. With all the cards on the table, it’s not a crazy argument to say that the Nationals could have a far better pitching staff than the muddled, overpaid, injury-riddled staff of the New York Mets, and even better than the weakened Phillies staff of Doc and The Nurses. Really, the Florida Marlins are the only team in the East that matches up well with the Nationals’ rotation, which bodes well for the Nats.
In fact, the eternally youthful Marlins and the up-and-coming Nationals could be the power players of the NL East for the next several seasons if things keep going the way they have been. But what could set the Nationals apart is one thing that the Mets and Phillies have been able to piece together that the Marlins and Nationals have not: a good hitting lineup.
At their best, the Mets and Phillies sport two of the best offensive infields in the game, something that Nationals can emulate if only they’re willing to pony up the cash needed to give some pop to their woefully outgunned lineup.
That’s not to say that the Nats don’t have some quality position players hanging around their clubhouse. On the contrary. That’s why it’s so important that they open that window of opportunity by making sure that the players they’ve got aren’t just going to go to waste. The Nats outfield is already looking pretty good. Josh Willingham is finally starting to look like the player everyone thought he could be, and Nyjer Morgan is continuing to be the player everybody knew he was. The left side of their infield is locked up with Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond for years to come. Second base is a bit of concern, but one hole on the infield on an NL team isn’t going to lose you a playoff spot.
What could win them the division?
|Adam Dunn, since 2004|
Adam Dunn. At 30 years old, Dunn isn’t exactly on the upswing of his career, but then again, he’s not exactly decaying, either. In an age of declining power numbers, Dunn has been a constant, hitting 30 home runs in every full season he’s played in since 2003. At .274/.362/.579, Dunn’s OBP is down, but his average is up and so is his slugging percentage.
Working against Dunn are that similar players, like Jay Buhner and Pat Burrell, started to really slide around their age 32 season, which doesn’t bode well for a guy like Dunn. Also working against him is his inability to play the outfield anymore, and his relative inability to even play first base (although he has been worth -1 runs this season at 1st, a vast improvement).
But the Big Donkey wants to stay in the capital. How many times does that happen that a good player wants to be a Washington National? With Dunn at first, the Nationals continue to have a feared power bat to protect Zimmerman and have a chance at fielding a competitive lineup that can keep their pitching afloat. An infield composed of Zimmerman, Desmond, and Dunn? Yeah, most teams would take that, and so should the Washington Nationals.
Even if Dunn starts to slide and is an albatross for the team for two years, they still will get at least two good years from him, which is just what they need to make sure he’s there for them to start contending. A big deal has been made of getting “value” from players, especially this offseason. The Yankees didn’t bring back Damon and Matsui, except for the right price. Vlad Guerrero had to leave Anaheim. Jermaine Dye never found a job. All because GM’s don’t want to make a bad move. Sometimes, you’ve got to make a move because you need a player, not because he’s a good deal.
On the free agent market next year the clear cream of the first base crop is Adam Dunn. If the Nats don’t give him his $60 million deal, someone else will, and the Nationals will have what’s left. Let’s look at the first basemen who have contracts expiring or have an option that is unlikely to get picked up:
Which one of those guys will replace the production of Adam Dunn? Maybe you can get a good year or two from Konerko, and maybe Lyle Overbay can really do some damage in the NL. The rest are over-the-hill guys who have no business being on a team that’s trying to rise from the ashes like the Washington Nationals.
Maybe Adam Dunn will be a little overpriced. Maybe he won’t “earn” every dollar of his contract. Maybe a couple draft picks from the team that does sign Dunn will eventually net the Nationals a couple good players in the future. But the Nationals have never been closer to the future than they are now, and Adam Dunn is as close to a sure thing as you can get from a power-hitting first baseman, and he wants to be a Washington National.
What else is there to think about?
Odds and Ends
- If Sean Casey is The Mayor, I’m pretty sure that makes Christian Guzman the County Commissioner. These guys have made hitting for an empty average into an art form. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have value. How much better would that Nats infield look with Christian Guzman in it instead? Eh, probably not that much better, honestly. But you just gotta love guys who can hit, even if it doesn’t seem to mean much. It’s too bad it ended up with The Mayor making an early exit before his term was up. Not often a .300 hitter is forced to retire.
- El Duque is in Double-A. How cool would that be if this guy made it as a September call-up? The only problem is, he does his best work in the postseason, so why would you wait until September? Also, 40? Who believes Orlando Hernandez is really 40 years old? Where that came from is anybody’s guess. I always thought that the consensus was he was born in 1965, not 1970. Then again, Orlando’s half-brother (and fellow Nationals pitcher) Livan has managed to fool everybody into thinking he was born in 1975. Oh well, you’re as old as you feel I guess….
- Juan Pierre leads the majors with 43 steals. Food for thought.