Leave it to the Washington Nationals to rip off a 7 game win streak to end yet another 100+ loss season. The 2009 Washington Nationals have come and gone, and that is probably a good thing for Nationals fans and baseball in general. The Nats finished the 2009 campaign with a record of 59-103, the worst in baseball. Interestingly enough, the 2008 club finished 59-102, due only to the fact that a late season scheduled game against the Marlins was never made-up.
While the win-loss record will dominate the view of the 2009 Nationals in the history of the Expos/Nationals franchises, there were some positive things to note throughout the year. First, the Nats got rid of troubled ex-GM Jim Bowden, who's tenure was marked by personal problems, controversies surrounding prospects from the Dominican Republic, and his desire to make the Nationals the Cincinnati Reds of the NL East. In exchange, the Nationals have new life with Mike Rizzo, who has already shown he is not afraid to make moves, including his mid-season acquisitions of Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett, and his trade of oft-injured first baseman and soon to be free agent Nick Johnson to the Florida Marlins on the cusp of the trading deadline. We also saw the Nats follow through and sign their 1st round draft pick, pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg. For a team that has been much maligned for its problems in the public relations arena, the Nats have already created a Strasburg circus that will no question continue to be developed when he arrives in the big leagues, most likely during the 2010 season. We also saw interim manager Jim Riggleman breathe new life into a club that had nothing to play for from the start of the season. Whether or not he will be back next season remains to be seen, but he certainly should be given strong consideration to have the interim tag removed from his title. And last but not least, Ryan Zimmerman lived up to the hype that has been associated with him since his arrival in Washington in late 2005. Zimmerman had an all-star season at 3rd base for the Nats, and may very well win his first gold glove this offseason. More importantly, he secured a long-term deal with the Nats that will keep him as the face of the franchise for years to come.
In addition to solidifying a manager for 2010, the Nats have several areas to focus on in contemplating offseason moves. While Willingham and Morgan have likely secured two of the three outfield spots, the jury is still out on Elijah Dukes. I expect the Nationals to look into the corner outfielder market to see what upgrades are available. The corner infield positions are sured up with Dunn at first and Zimmerman at third. Dunn should be good trade bait come mid-season, and the Nats should begin the process of scouting prospects from potential 2010 contenders, and in particular AL teams that may need some added pop to their lineup down the stretch. After all, it is highly unlikely that Dunn will resign after his deal finishes up next year, and the last thing this team needs is another wasted opportunity to deal expiring contracts for prospects (yes, I am talking about Alfonso Soriano...and Ronnie Belliard..and Christian Guzman...and Dimitri Young, but enough naming names).
There has been a lot of talk within the organization of moving Guzman from SS to 2B. His has dropped precipitously at short, and there is a sense within the organization that moving him to 2B may prolong his career. Defense aside, Guzman can still hit, and can continue to serve as a solid #2 hitter to advance speedy leadoff man Nyjer Morgan. A move by Guzman means question marks at SS, with Ian Desmond as the likely candidate for the starting job. Although Desmond has shown some erratic defense, he has also proven he can hit, and could be a welcome asset to the lineup. Jesus Flores will come back from shoulder surgery to start 2010, signifying that the Nats will need to look for some alternative options behind the plate. Josh Bard and Will Nieves have done admirable jobs in Flores' absence, but are not long-term solutions. Expect the Nats to make testing the market for catchers a key offseason priority.
Frankly, I don't even know where to begin with the pitching situation. The Nats have only one returning pitcher who has solidified a spot in the rotation, and that is John Lannan. Apart from him, there are two many question marks to even venture guesses as to what happens to the rotation and bullpen. I predict a lot of change, with the Nats likely to pursue mid-level veteran talent (i.e. the Randy Wolf's and Rich Hardens' of the world)to attempt to bring some stability to the mound.
When all is said and done, there is no question that the 2009 Nationals lived up to the low level of expectations set forth for them. The 2010 Nationals won't be contenders either, but here's hoping they make some moves for the long-term betterment of the club.