Since returning from their recent road trip, the Nats have been somewhat lackluster on the field, dropping two straight to the Colorado Rockies. Not surprising, as the Rockies are a team that has really turned things around and is a clear contender for the NL wild card slot.
Off the field, the Nationals have made significant strides towards the long-term future of the organization this week. Unless you've been sleeping under a rock the past few days, the Nationals have acquired the ace they have so desperately needed since moving to D.C. in 2005. Stephen Strasburg is set to be announced to the media and fans tomorrow afternoon at a news conference at Nationals Park, and the Nationals appear to have sold out Friday's game against the Brewers (it would be sad if they hadn't, as they put most tickets on sale for $1 yesterday afternoon). Fans with tickets to tomorrow nights game will have a chance to enter the park early to view Strasburg's press conference live. Since Tuesday, I have seen at least a dozen or so Strasburg jersey t-shirts around D.C., not just at the game I attended Tuesday night but also on the streets and the metro. Its been pretty common to see folks walking around D.C. with Ovechkin and Green on their backs, but its been a long time since we've seen hysteria over a player like this.
Despite conflicting reports yesterday that the Nationals were set to hire Diamondbacks VP Jerry DiPoto yesterday to be their permanent GM, the Nationals website last night announced that Mike Rizzo will have the interim tag taken off his title, giving the team some stability in determining their off-field strategies this off season. I continue to think a big reason that such a move didn't happen earlier is that Rizzo could have (and probably would have) been the fall guy if the Strasburg signing didn't work out. After all, the Lerners have repeatedly given Stan Kasten their backing, and probably could have used the failure to sign Strasburg as a tool to bring a fresh face in to guide the team in 2010 (likely either DiPoto or assistant red sox GM Jed Hoyer, who was also rumored to be a candidate for the job).
Rizzo certainly deserves a chance to continue his career in D.C. After picking up the pieces following the departure of much-maligned former GM Jim Bowden, Rizzo did an admirable job in making a few key personnel moves this season. The trade with the Pirates, where shunned outfielder Lastings Milledge and rocky reliever Joel Hanrahan were dealt for speedster Nyjer Morgan and reliever Sean Burnett, has worked out pretty well so far for the Nats. In Morgan, the Nats have a guy who can get on base and run, and who has pretty decent range in the OF. Rizzo's other deals, which involved trading 1B Nick Johnson to the Marlins, and infielder Anderson Hernandez to the Mets, were not as significant, yet should help to put the Nats in decent position to re-evaluate things going into the off season.
So what should Rizzo's key priorities be now that he is the permanent GM? Well, there is a lot of work to be done. First, the team needs a permanent manager, whether that is Riggleman, who has done an excellent job with what he has to work with, or a potential outside hire (Willie Randolph? Bobby Valentine?). Secondly, a strategy for what to do with the constantly shuffling pitching staff needs to be accomplished. The addition of Strasburg is a plus, but the Nats will also suffer from the loss of Jordan Zimmermann, who is not likely to return until the 2011 season. Lastly, he needs to figure out whether the current outfield of Willingham, Dukes, and Morgan is going to work for the Nats next season. Oh yeah, and upgrading the infield a little bit would be helpful.