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THE GOOD WITHIN THE BAD

[June 15th] -- Talk about a dose of reality.

After crafting the best record in Major League Baseball over the last three weeks, the Nationals have again become Washington's "lovable losers." The boys lost four in a row to the Colorado Rockies, a team that was sub .500 before this series started. The Nats didn't just "lose" to the Rockies, they were discombobulated, having been outscored 35-14 over the series. Billy Bray and Mike O'Connor can no longer boast of near-perfect statistics. Errors and strikeouts with runners on base, both of which vanished during the winning streak, have returned with a vengeance. Gary Majewksi and Jon Rauch have once again begun giving up runs in embarrassing numbers. Alfonso Soriano is no longer Superman. What if the past three weeks was "the run" for 2006, and that they're now back to playing Keystone Cops type of baseball?

Actually, I think it's a good thing.

It would have been unfortunate if the Nationals had chosen to keep the team intact for some near-impossible playoff run, with the end result being that players like Jose Guillen and Alfonso Soriano would have left the team through free agency with the Nats receiving only draft picks in return. Perhaps Stan Kasten will now be even more emboldened to make the moves necessary to stock the minor leagues and prepare for that strong future that we keep hearing about. I don't want Nick and Brian and Jose And Livan to be traded, but if those four, plus Soriano and Guillen, can end up adding ten or twelve potential major league players to the minor league roster, well, so be it.

A prolonged winning streak and a climb in the standings won't make Stan Kasten reconsider his "success begins in the minor leagues" policy. Far from it, more wins means that those tradeable stars will have more value and bring even more future stars to the Nationals' minor league system. I fear, however, a backlash from the Nationals' rank and file fan base if many of the team's star players begin to be traded in mid July with the Nats at or near .500. To some, it will look like a cost-cutting measure, when in fact those moves will be a solid investment in the team's future.

What might such a move look like? We only have to go back to last fall and see how the Florida Marlins were destructed, then reinvented. Players like Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell and Juan Pierre were moved out of town in favor of a combination of reduced payroll and an increased prospect base. And some of those prospects are bearing fruit already. Mike Jacobs, a soon-to-be super-slugger, is on pace to hit .260-23-82; he is a first baseman in the mold of Ryan Zimmerman. Dan Uggla has had a strong June and will hit somewhere near .308-26-84 and Hanley Ramirez is hitting .283 and will steal more than 45 bases. And that's just the beginning.

There is no question that the Nationals will get much worse before they get better. But honestly, what's the difference between a 73 win season and and a 64 win season (besides the nine wins of course)? 73 is roughly the number of wins the Nats will likely win this year. 64 is the number of wins the Nats will win if those five or six tradeable players are moved.

I'd say those nine wins are a small investment for a solid future. We'll see.

NATS NOTES: Ryan Zimmerman continues to show that he is one of the National League's best rookies this season. As the Nationals approach the mid-point of the 2006 season, he is on pace to hit the following: AB:622 ~ R:85 ~ H:172 ~ 2B:45 ~ 3B:3 ~ HR:23 ~ RBI: 103 ~ W:60 ~ K:155 ~ SB:10 ~ BA:.277. Youngsters like Zimmerman, if they are going to be real power hitters, tend to have many more doubles than is typical early in their careers, indicating that they aren't quite mature enough to hit home runs on a regular basis. He's on pace to hit 23 homers and will hit 10-15 more doubles than a typical power hitter. Add the 23 homers to the 10 extra doubles, and I'm thinking he's going to be a 35 homer-a-year guy. His strikeouts are still high, but he was on pace to strike out more than 170 times 25 games into the season, and heading for 160 k's at the 50 game mark. As he continues to learn the major league strike zone, his strikeouts will continue to decline. With a solid second half, he might end the season with 120-130 k's ...... It's a good thing that Mike O'Connor and Billy Bray got whacked around on Wednesday. With each passing day, the pressure to not pitch a bad game, or a bad inning, becomes almost insurmountable. Now that it's happened, both of them can go back to pitching and not worrying about failing, because they already have. I'll bet you a pack of Hostess Donettes that O'Connor pitches a gem his next time out; Bray too. .... With John Patterson almost ready to return to the Nationals, Shawn Hill's next start, against the Yankees, might also be his last (at least for the time being). The question is, will Hill go to the bullpen and be kept on the 25 man roster, or will he be returned to New Orleans so that he can remain sharp? ..... Will Jon Rauch ever be given the opportunity to be a starter for the Nationals? Unless the Nats trade both Livan and Ramon Hernandez (and Tony Armas Jr. for that matter -- one year contract, remember?), he's going to have little chance to show his stuff. If he does become a starter, then the Carl Everett for Rauch and Gary Majewski trade will go into the "steal" column. If he remains a reliever, then it will go down as simply a "good" trade. Everett hit .251-23-87 for the White Sox last year, and is on pace for a .243-20-63 campaign with a .320 OBP and a .333 SLG percentage, about what you'd expect from a 36 year old with no wheels.


Comments:
If you can promise me one Hanley Ramirez, one Mike Jacobs and one Dan Uggla in return for Livan, Vidro and Soriano, then we should do it. But can you PROMISE me these guys?
 
What if it were those three guys plus three guys who never quite made the bigs in exchange for Livan, Vidro, Soriano, Nick, Brian and Armas? Betting on youth (like by drafting high-schoolers) isn't a guarantee. The decision isn't as clear-cut as that. This group of guys is relatively old, and getting older, and have shown that they're not capable of being a playoff contender. So do you want to root for these guys to get to 81 wins by some combination of luck and skill, or do you want to take a chance to build a team that can actually win a World Series? Can you PROMISE that Livan, Vidro and Soriano will win us one?
 
Right on anonymous! .500 is great for a young team on the rise (like the Brewers) but it needs to be a beginning point, not something to shoot for.

Some say baseball is a game of "inches," but I disagree. Baseball is a game of timing. If you wait too long to trade Soriano, he is going to turn cold and won't look quite as much as Superman as he once did. Wait, it's already happened ... in fact, we may have lost one pitcher who is a former first round pick but who has never grew into his talent.

tick-tick-tick-tick .....
 
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