Much Ado About Nothing

Posted by Dave Nichols | Monday, November 03, 2008 | , , , , | 0 comments »

Now that the World Series has thankfully passed and gone away, we're onto the Hot Stove portion of the baseball season. The GMs are collecting in Dana Point, CA this week for their annual meetings to discuss free agents and trade markets over pina coladas.

Nats' GM Jim Bowden (yup, still here) has a lot of work to do in overhauling what was the worst team in baseball last year. Garnering the #1 pick in next year's amateur draft is nice, and since it's doubled up with the tenth pick for failing to sign last year's first rounder Aaron Crow, the Nats' scouting department (Now With More Scouts!) had their work cut out for them. But the fruits of next year's draft will only be realized down the road, not benefiting next season's big league squad.

That's where Jim Bowden -- for better or worse -- comes in. It's his job to put together a major league squad in the off-season. And if you're a season ticket holder like me (who has already, by the way, received my invoice for next year), you'll want to know what Bowden does to improve the squad. If you objectively take a look at the Nats 40-man roster and project an opening day roster the answer, unfortunately, is probably not much.

After essentially waiving Chad Cordero, Pete Orr and Ryan Wagner last week, the Nats have six players eligible for arbitration: Ryan Zimmerman, Tim Redding, Saul Rivera, Willie Harris, Jesus Colome and Shawn Hill. They still have control over Zimmerman, so don't expect the team to open up their pocketbooks any earlier than they have to. They'll extend the least amount possible to renew Zim, further alienating him and his agent to the possibility of along-term deal. But that's another column. Guess that they offer Redding, Rivera, Harris and Colome arbitration. Hill's a big medical question. Anyone heard anything about him lately? I haven't.

So where does that leave the squad? Here's one blogger's impression of the opening day roster:

OF (5): Milledge, Dukes, Kearns, Pena, Harris
INF (6): Zimmerman, Young, Johnson, Belliard, Guzman, Bonifacio
C (2): Flores, back-up (Nieves hopefully)
SP (5): Redding, Lannan, Balestar, Martis, Free Agent
RP (7): Hanrahan, Rivera, Hinckley, Bergmann, Colome, Mock, Shell
Players on 40-man left out: Bernadina, Maxwell, Montz, Hernandez, Casto, Gonzalez, Chico, Clippard, Detwiler, Hill, O'Connor, Estrada

So where, exactly, does that leave the Nats room to ponder new players, either by free agency or trade? Obviously, first base needs to be upgraded, but the team is on the hook for both Johnson ($5.5M) and Young ($5M) at a significant rate. They both come off the books at the end of 2009, but can/will the Nats eat either of these contracts?

There's a lot of speculation right now, about what the Nats may or may not do this off-season about upgrading the offense next season. Adam Dunn is the rumor that won't go away. But the bottom line may be: nothing. The infield is set, unless they eat either Johnson or Young's contract. They have three candidates for the second base job as it is, and Belliard is the back up all over the infield. If they re-sign Harris, the outfield is set too, with Wily Mo Pena blocking up a roster spot for someone. So if the offense improves, it will probably come from the internal players improvement.

As for pitching, well, here is the glaring spot that the major league roster needs help. Yes, there's a lot of good young pitching in the farm system, but someone has to pitch until then. Even if you pencil in Redding (not a given) with 24-year old Lannan, 22-year old Balestar and then 22-year old Martis, there's another spot open.

The GM said Jordan Zimermann will compete for the spot, but is that fair? He has just 187 innings pitched in 38 minor league games between Vermont, Potomac and Harrisburg. Granted, his 2.74 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 205/65 strikeout-to-walk rate all look pretty good. But will that translate into a spot in the opening day rotation? Other candidates are Hill, O'Connor, Mock, Bergmann, Clippard and Detwiler. Mock and Bergamnn will probably be pressed into duty in the bullpen, leaving the competition pretty thin.

This leaves the Nats with the option of filling a spot with a veteran if they so choose, much like they did this year with Odalis Perez. Who might that candidate be? Well, it won't be Sabathia, Dempster, Lowe or Burnett, that's for sure. There's no way the Nats spring for someone that will take a multi-year contract. Some guy at says the Nats will sign Pedro Martinez! Fat chance. IF the Nats decide to sign a free agent pitcher, it will very likely be of the bargain basement one-year variety right before--or during--spring training, a la Odalis. Among the group that might be left could be Randy Wolf, Brett Tomko, Steve Traschel, Jason Jennings, etc.

Not very inspiring, but any of these fine gentlemen would allow Zimmermann, Detwiler, et al to get some more minor league time under their belts. Remember, all these scenarios envision Redding re-signing, AND Balestar AND Martis in the rotation. That, my friends, is an awful lot of conjecture.

And the bullpen, for better or worse, looks set. Hanrahan will close. Rivera and Hinckley will set-up. Bergmann, Mock, Shell and Colome pick up the slack. Estrada and a host of others in AAA Syracuse (enjoy April up there fellas) will be at the ready. It's entirely possible the team signs a moderately priced free agent to help out. Someone like Jeremy Affeldt would probably be too expensive, but would be a great addition. He's a quality lefty that could also close should Hanrahan falter. But the market will be flooded with free agent relivers looking for work.

An objective eye into the 40-man roster sees very little opportunity for drastic improvement. The team has stated on many occasions that their primary objective is to re-build the minor leagues and strive for the future. So far, they've stuck to "The Plan". Will this off-season bring deviation to The Plan? GM Jim Bowden has gone on record saying he'd like to acquire a middle-of-the-order slugger that meets the team's stated goals. Here's what he told season ticket holders last September as part of a public Q&A:

"Ideally we'd like to have a controlled player, in his 20s, that can be part of the solution."

Wouldn't every team like that player? In the same widely speculative article that's Bill Ladson published yesterday about Adam Dunn, he also mentioned Prince Fielder and Matt Hollday as possible trade candidates. Fielder is arbitration eligiable, but generally fits the description above, while Holliday is only under contract for 2009 -- basically a rent-a-player, much like Alfonso Soriano.

So as the GM meetings evolve into the winter meetings, and the holidays give way to spring training, ask yourself this: What has the team and GM done today to make the 2009 major league roster better than the 2008 model? The answer, quite possibly, could be absolutely nothing.

Photo by Getty Images