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Five Questions: The 2009 Washington Nationals

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I asked Edward Chigliak, a writer at the Nats blog Federal Baseball, to answer five questions about the outlook for the 2009 Washington Nationals, whom we'll face today.

1. The Washington Nationals have had an eventful offseason, to say the least. Who is the likely next general manager? Who do you want? Do you think Stan Kasten will be making any moves while he's in control?

I see Mike Rizzo as the Nationals' next GM. I think he's being eased into the role while Washington does a search of all the usual suspects from around the league. Rizzo's made it clear that he wants to be a GM, and I don't think Washington will pass on him and risk having him go elsewhere, so eventually he'll transition into the position.
I think the Nationals (who have told opposing GM's looking to deal to call Mr. Rizzo, not Stan Kasten) have to make some moves to clear up their overcrowded outfield. If the Nationals don't trade Nick Johnson to clear out first for Adam Dunn, I think Josh Willingham might be the one to go since he has the most reasonable contract and the least troubling injuries of the moveable outfielders.

2. After making a run at Mark Teixeira, the Nats' major offseason acquisition was Adam Dunn. Was this a good use of resources? How does the lineup look next year, with new guy Josh Willingham, along with Lastings Milledge, Elijah Dukes, Ryan Zimmerman, and Dunn in the middle?

I was against signing Adam Dunn because I think he'll pretty much do what Alfonso Soriano did in his time in DC, put up big numbers on a losing team. I would have rather saved the money for the upcoming draft so that you can guarantee that each of the team's 1st Round picks (1st and 10th) are signed, sealed and in DC by September. I think (depending on what the Nationals do with Dunn/Johnson) that this is going to be the lineup (Top 4 confirmed by several DC beat reporters recently):
  1. Cristian Guzman - SS/Lastings Milledge - CF
  2. Milledge - CF/Guzman - SS
  3. Ryan Zimmerman - 3B
  4. Adam Dunn - LF/1B
  5. Nick Johnson - 1B/Josh Willingham - LF
  6. Elijah Dukes - RF
  7. Jesus Flores - C
  8. Anderson Hernandez - 2B

Dunn in the cleanup spot should help Zimmerman get good pitches, having Johnson in the lineup made a huge difference in Zimmerman's #'s in the past.

3. A lot of people have it as a foregone conclusion that Stephen Strasburg will be the newest National, though some (such as Kyle Boddy of Driveline Mechanics) have criticized his mechanics as injury-prone. The Nationals' minor league system has received a lot of scrutiny (and a lot of low grades) in the past few years, particularly after the Aaron Crow non-signing. Other than Jordan Zimmerman Zimmermann, are there Nationals prospects we should keep our eyes on? Is this a system that is being unfairly underrated?

I'd keep an eye on Ross Detwiler (DC's 1st Round pick in '07) and Shairon Martis (Best known for shortened no-no in the 1st WBC), I doubt either will start the year on the DC roster, but both could see time with Washington before the the '09 season's over.
Most reports I've read about the Nationals' system describe their pitching prospects as "back end of the rotation-types", so I think the addition of a pitcher who's expected to be an ace like Stephen Strasburg will change some people's opinions.
As for Aaron Crow, in hindsight, it seems both sides were to blame, something was wrong from the start and the team's approach turned Crow off to the point that he didn't want to play in DC, he actually said at one point that he thought any other MLB team would've handled him differently...I still like what Assistant GM Mike Rizzo assembled in his time with Arizona, so I'm holding out hope for the future.

4. The Nats cut ties with Odalis Perez, though he was one of their more effective pitchers last year. How does their staff look? Can John Lannan continue to improve? What about new acquisition (and frequent head case) Scott Olsen? What do you expect to see from Jay Bergmann, Garrett Mock, Shawn Hill, and Matt Chico? Who is likely to step up and take control of the #1, #2, #3, and #4 spots?

My best guess: John Lannan, Scott Olsen, Daniel Cabrera, Collin Balester, Jordan Zimmermann.
Lannan looks to be improved this Spring, he has confidence now, knows he can pitch at this level -- that being said, a .500 record would probably be considered a success. I've always been a fan of Scott Olsen, didn't follow the personal issues he had with Florida too closely, but there haven't been any reports of attitude problems since he joined the Nationals, so maybe he's matured. I don't expect much from Shawn Hill, who can't seem to overcome forearm/elbow issues. 
I do, however expect big things from Jason Bergmann and Garrett Mock. I think Mock might get a chance as the closer should Joel Hanrahan falter. If Hanrahan's successful, I think Saul Rivera and Mock will have a lot to do with holding leads til the ninth. Bergmann's headed for the pen, and it's something I've been asking for for two years, so I'm excited to see what he can do when he just goes out and throws.

5. What was the most surprising thing about the Nats' 2008? What will be the most surprising thing about the Nats' 2009?

The emergence of Elijah Dukes as a legitimate power threat was the biggest surprise of 2008 for me, and I think his further development could be the story of '09. Dukes could hit .280/25/90 if he stays healthy, and that would make a HUGE difference in the Nationals' lineup.
I think the biggest surprise of '09 overall will be that the Nationals don't stink this season. 70-75 wins, a big season from Zimmerman and Dunn, a new ace once they sign the #1 pick, and some pitching talent finally reaching the majors and impressing.
I am an optimist, though.

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