You already know that the Washington Nationals were shut out in two straight games over the weekend by scores of 2-0 and 1-0.  You probably already know that the Nats went 0-for-18 with runners in scoring position in those two games and struck out 30 times in the three-game set with Florida.

Right now, the Nationals middle of the order bats are struggling, especially with runners in scoring position.  But it's not really an aberration.

In fact, through a combination of the top of the order not finding their way on base this season with reguality, the lack of "clutch" hitting by their big boppers, and utter lack of production from the bottom of the order, the Nats are ranked 14th in the National League in runs scored per game at 4.02.

For all the praise the Nats hitters get, they are outscoring just Houston and Pittsburgh in the N.L.

That's not enough.

And these aren't "kids" either.  The average age of a Nationals hitter, weighted by at bats and games played, is 29.5, fifth oldest in the N.L.  So it's not a bunch of rookies out there getting punched out, these guys are, for the most part, seasoned veterans.

There have been a lot of trade rumors the last couple of weeks swirling around Adam Dunn mostly, but also involving Josh Willingham and Matt Capps.  I believe Mike Rizzo when he says the team doesn't want to trade any of them, and to do so it would "hurt" both teams.  But there comes a time when you have to look at the situation and make a call about what you think is best for the future of the organization.

This Nats team is going to lose 90 games again.  It's almost unavoidable.

Right now their record stands at 40-52, a .435 winning percentage.  Those numbers obviously include the stretch at the beginning of the season when they started 20-15.  If the Nats continue to play .435 ball the rest of the way, they will end up at 70-92.

Over the last 20 games, with the players that they've accumulated -- the same ones at the beginning of the season both Rizzo and Manager Jim Riggleman said were the most talented bunch the Nats have ever had -- the Nats have won just seven, a .350 winning percentage.  That too small a sample size to mean anything but how poorly they've played lately.

The team was not as good as the 20-15 pace at the start of the season, not should it be as bad as the 7-13 pace they are currently suffering.

However, 92 games is a big enough sample to tell us where this team stands, and it's on a pace for 92 losses.  Most independent prognostications had the Nats down for 72-78 wins at the start of the season, and I had them at 68, a significant ten-game improvement over last year.

So how do the Nats take the next step?

Well, there are three ways to acquire players in Major League Baseball: 

1)  Draft, Sign and Develop; 
2)  Sign as a Free Agent (Major League, Minor League, or international),
3)  Trade

The Nats are slowly implementing method one -- especially with regard to pitching -- and we're just now starting to see the benefits.  Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler lead the list of young Nats pitchers that should form the basis of the rotation for many seasons.  But the system is still almost barren when it comes to athletic hitters of any position.

Method two has been hit-and-miss, but the Nats have at least participated and showed the willingness to sign free agents where it made sense.  Except internationally, which is a whole seperate issue.

Method three is the trickiest.  So far, Mike Rizzo has shown to drive a real hard bargain when entertaining trade possibilities.  He has some assets that by all accounts should be cashed in for younger, more athletic models, but this organization has always been hesitant to move these assets for fear of looking like they are "giving up".

This team (albeit under previous "management") didn't move Chad Cordero, Dmitri Young or Cristian Guzman in their all-star years when they could have commanded a decent return.  Instead, they were all given reward contracts that proved to be an albatross to the development of the franchise.

Rizzo is faced with those decisions again, specifically with Dunn and All-Star closer Matt Capps.  Dunn is a free agent after the season and Capps will be eligible for arbitration.  Both will command HUGE raises from their current salaries.

Dunn is of the age where hulking sluggers start to break down and he's already a defensive liability.  Capps is succeeding after two injury-ravaged seasons and every save is a nail-biter.  Both players could return Major League-ready players (not lower-level "prospects") from a contending team.  Both players could also outlive their usefulness on their next contract.

A 90-loss team doesn't really have the need for an aging slugger that wants a four-year contract and an All-Star closer. Where I grew up they called that 'lipstick on a pig'.  Some casual fans might be put off by trading an All-Star closer or the 40-homer hitter, but really, if they can lose 90 games with these guys, they can do it without them, too.

And if they are going to lose 90 games, wouldn't you rather see them do that with players that could get better, instead of just getting older and breaking down?

The Washington Nationals, as they are currently constructed, are not a playoff team.  However, from the pitchers that Rizzo has acquired they can start to see the possibility. 

Now is the time to upgrade in several offensive positions with younger, more athletic players than what they currently have.  Now is the time to trade Dunn and Capps for those players.

2 comments

  1. Deacon Drake // July 19, 2010 at 3:17 PM  

    Yup... now is the time. The easiest place is to start in the outfield. No team should have the problems the Nats have had with their corner outfield positions. The players are out there. It's up to the scouts and GM to find the ones who fit their needs.

  2. bdrube // July 20, 2010 at 7:07 AM  

    I agree that the Nats blundered by not trading Guzman and Dmitri during their All Star years. But what sense would it have made to trade Cordero in 2005 when the team was in first place and he was not even arbitration eligible yet?