November 8, 2011

Learning to Love the "Links"

Already this offseason the Nationals have been "linked" in one form or another to free agent starting pitchers C.J. Wilson, Mark Buehrle, Roy Oswalt and Edwin Jackson, as well as potential Japanese imports like Yu Darvish and Tsuyoshi Wada. And that's just the pitchers. The Nationals have also been named as a potential destination for free agent hitters from Prince Fielder and Jose Reyes to Grady Sizemore and Cuban refugee Yeonis Cespedes. Now the Nats aren't going to sign all, most, or necessarily even more than one of these guys. There's a possibility they'll end up with none at all. But even being in the conversation is a sometimes unsettling new reality for Nationals' fans.

A welcome side-effect of the team's status as newly-minted offseason players is a spirited debate among fans. Who's a better fit, Wilson or Darvish?  Oswalt or Buehrle for veteran staff-leader? What's the bigger risk, a Sizemore reclamation project or an unknown quantity like Cespedes?  Hot stove chatter is good for keeping baseball in the DC sports fan's consciousness, particularly now while the Redskins are imploding, the Wizards are locked out, and the Capitals are just beginning their long march toward a playoff berth. If the Nationals are going to become a year-round topic of local sports conversation, now is the time to get started.

Beyond the PR value though, the rumors are a sign that the Nationals have (finally) arrived as an MLB franchise. Fans can be forgiven for thinking that all this chatter is unusual, but really it's a result of the front office doing it's job. Mike Rizzo and his assistants should be making and fielding phone calls, kicking tires, examining all the options. This is what good teams do to get better and the only reason it feels novel is that for the first half decade of their most recent incarnation in DC the Nationals couldn't, or wouldn't participate in the process.

The team's "needs" for 2012 are fairly well defined. Someone has to play centerfield, and someone has to hit at the top of the order. Please, for the love of all things holy, note that these two roles do not have to be filled by the same person. The Nationals have been pursuing a "leadoff-hitting centerfielder" since 2005, with comically disastrous results.

Every thing beyond that is a "want". Rizzo wants to add another veteran starting pitcher, another bullpen arm, possibly a middle infielder and some big bats for the bench. These aren't quite luxuries, but they aren't indispensable either. Between the needs, the wants and the guys they have to find playing time for (Adam LaRoche, eight starting pitchers with 2011 MLB experience), there are a plethora of potential combinations, signings and trades for the Nationals this offseason. That's the biggest reason we're hearing the team's name pop up so often. (The other reason is leverage. Every free agent wants to be courted by as many teams as possible, and the Nats have a recent history of offering up big deals.)

Of course, the team probably doesn't see a fit for every player it's been linked to thus far, and even if it did it won't get them. The Nationals are not the only fish in the sea, nor are they the biggest. But they've finally graduated to swimming with the sharks, and fans will eventually learn to love the ride.

November 3, 2011

Bye Bye Bixler

Scrappy utility player Kory Casto Anderson Hernandez Pete Orr Alberto Gonzalez Brian Bixler was claimed off waivers today by the Houston Astros, ending his Nationals tenure after 79 games, 83 at-bats, a 205/267/265 batting line, and a few memorable plays like this one.

Now we can expect Stephen Lombardozzi to compete with a few veteran free agents (possibly including 2010 Syracuse standout Matt Antonelli) for the all-important utility position.  The waiver claim frees up one spot on the Nationals' 40-man roster.

November 2, 2011

Nate's Nats Notes - 11/2/11

If you're reading this (which I suppose you pretty obviously are) you may have noticed that Nats Triple Play went through some fairly significant content generation droughts in 2011. Some of that is the inevitable impact of running out of new things to say about this team after 6+ years, but more often it went something like:

1. Read/hear/see something interesting about the Nationals.
2. Think of an interesting (to me anyway) angle, start drafting a blog post.
3. Life Happens.
4. Issue is no longer relevant/I'm no longer interested/someone else has covered it better.

That happens a lot, and by and large I'm ok with it. There are a lot of great people (amateur and professional) out there writing about the Nationals and that's a good thing for the team, for fans and for baseball coverage in DC. Still, there are times like now when there are a lot of little Nats-related stories going around that don't merit a full-blown post, but I do want to get out of my head and in to a computer.

That's where Nate's Nats Notes comes in. Hopefully these will be catch-all/dumping grounds for smaller or tangentially-related Nationals news. And they won't always be from me, they could just as easily be Dave or Watson's Nats Notes, but that's less alliterative. So without further ado:

Rob Dibble Has Suffered For His Art - I don't like Rob Dibble. Didn't like the hiring, didn't care for his color work, am glad he's no longer associated with the team in any official capacity. For all those reasons, I hesitate to highlight his latest blowhard rantings, but there's just so much classically idiotic Dibble in there.  As for the assertion that his time as the MASN Nationals color guy was "the worst two years of my life", I can only say, "Right back at ya, asshat."

Players Love D.J. - I'm glad that Ryan Zimmerman and Drew Storen are glad that the Nationals are bringing back Davey Johnson to manage in 2012. It would certainly be bigger news if they weren't happy, and it would be a thumping great read if they publicly said they weren't happy, but I'm happy they're happy. Does this happiness mean the RZA is more likely to sign an extension this offseason? There's your story.

Bryce Harper is Going All Bryce Harper on the AFL - After a shaky intro to AA, a late season hamstring injury and a slow start in the Arizona Fall League, there was a teeny tiny bit of walking back the timeline on all-everything OF prospect Bryce Harper. Predictably he's now punishing pitchers in MLB's finishing school to the tune of .290/.357./.613 and once again generating talk about the date of his 2012 MLB debut. Whether he makes the team out of Spring Training or not, Harper's progress will impact the Nationals' search for a center fielder this offseason.

Turning Taiwanese, I Really Think So - And finally, a Michael Morse double is a no-doubter in any time zone. Ah, baseball.