Monday, February 1, 2010

New and improved: The Nats and me

Oh, hi there! Long time, no speak. What, it's only been one month? Why does it feel like six? If it's true that time flies when you're having fun, let me tell you, it comes to a screeching halt when you're unemployed.

I want to thank everyone who has called/written/blogged over the last month and offered kind words and encouragement in the wake of the elimination of The Washington Times' sports department. Your support truly has been appreciated and has made this experience much more tolerable.

As for my employment status ... well, there's not a whole lot to report. Been rejected for a few things. Been waiting to hear about a handful of other things. Been offered several freelance opportunities. Hopefully, something will come together in the near future. But until then, this seems like an opportune time and place to get into the blogging business and get back to covering the Washington Nationals.

I've decided to launch this site because, frankly, there's a serious dearth of quality Nats coverage out there right now. Between the Times' decision to axe all of us and the Post's ongoing search for a new beat writer, there are only a handful of places left to find comprehensive coverage of this team.

So I'm going to attempt to fill some of the void here. Because this isn't a full-time job, I'm not getting paid and I have an extremely limited travel budget, obviously there's a limit to what I can produce. But between my five years' experience covering this team, nearly a decade's worth of experience covering Major League Baseball and my contacts both inside and outside the Nats' organization, I hope I can add something to the mix and turn this into a site you'll want to visit on a regular basis.

With that, let's get right down to business. This blog isn't about me; it's about the Nationals, who have been quite busy this winter trying to upgrade a roster that lost 103 games in 2009.

A quick review of who's been added and who's been dropped since October...

C Ivan Rodriguez (free agent)
RHP Jason Marquis (free agent)
RHP Matt Capps (free agent)
RHP Tyler Walker (free agent)
RHP Brian Bruney (trade)
RHP Miguel Batista (minor-league free agent)
LHP Eddie Guardado (minor-league free agent)
IF/OF Eric Bruntlett (minor-league free agent)
OF Chris Duncan (minor-league free agent)
LHP Chuck James (minor-league free agent)
1B Josh Whitesell (minor-league free agent)
LHP Doug Slaten (waiver claim)

OF Austin Kearns (option not picked up)
1B Dmitri Young (option not picked up)
RHP Mike MacDougal (non-tendered)
RHP Saul Rivera (released)
RHP Livan Hernandez (free agent)
C Josh Bard (free agent)
LHP Ron Villone (free agent)

And general manager Mike Rizzo doesn't appear to be finished tweaking. We all know he's been making a strong run at free agent Orlando Hudson, and if the two sides can close the gap salary-wise, the two-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove second baseman will find himself in Viera later this month. And he's certainly still interested in adding another veteran starter ... at the right price, of course.

"I don't think they're done yet," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said yesterday at NatsFest. "If they can make a few more [moves], I think this is definitely the best offseason we've had as far as making our team better."

Now that the calendar has turned to February and the reporting date for pitchers and catchers is fast approaching, it's easy to start getting into panic-mode and feel like these last, key roster moves need to be made pronto. But don't get fooled by the calendar and the February 19 reporting date, because it's hardly a deadline to make things happen. If anything, the Nats have shown a penchant for signing veteran players during spring training who wind up making significant contributions over the course of the season.

Remember Joe Beimel, Dmitri Young, Ronnie Belliard, Josh Bard, Odalis Perez, Julian Tavarez, Kip Wells, Tony Batista and Pedro Astacio? All were signed during spring training the last five years. OK, so that roster may contend for the Dumpster Diving Hall of Fame. But Young did win Comeback Player of the Year and was an All-Star, Belliard was a pretty productive player for 2 1/2 seasons and Beimel was a quality reliever who was later moved at the trade deadline.

Point is, a roster can change a lot between February 1 and April 1, and I wouldn't be surprised in the least if the Nats' roster looks much different on Opening Day than it does today.

Which brings me to the real question at hand: How much have the Nats improved since last season? There seems to be a genuine belief both inside the clubhouse and around the sport that this team will be significantly better in 2010.

"It's hard to tell, but it's hard to lose 100 games," Zimmerman said. "Obviously with who we've picked up and what we've done, it's easy to say that we're going to be better than we have been the last two years."

The folks at Baseball Prospectus apparently think major improvement is realistic. Using their elaborate PECOTA formula for predicting player stats, they've got the Nats going 81-81 and finishing in third place in the NL East, behind the Braves (85-77) and Phillies (85-77) and ahead of the Mets (78-84) and Marlins (76-86).

A .500 record?! Really?! I'm not sure even the men in charge of assembling the Nationals' roster believe 81 wins is a realistic goal. In fact, I know they don't. They know the leap from 59 to 81 would be historic and would happily settle for, say, a 13-game improvement to 72-90.

Just don't ask any of these players to settle for 72, or even 81 wins.

"I don't see why we can't shoot for the stars," Marquis said. "Why do you want to limit yourself to 81 wins? Why do I want to limit myself to 15 wins? If I'm taking the ball 34 times, I should win 34 times. If we take the field 162 times, we should win 162 times."

Something tells me the Nats are going to come up just a tad shy of the 162-win mark in 2010, but let's not underestimate the progress Rizzo and Co. have made. If they manage to land Hudson but do nothing else between now and April, they're looking at an Opening Day roster like this...


Nyjer Morgan
Orlando Hudson
Ryan Zimmerman
Adam Dunn
Josh Willingham
Elijah Dukes
Ivan Rodriguez
Cristian Guzman

John Lannan
Jason Marquis
Scott Olsen
Miguel Batista
Ross Detwiler or Craig Stammen

Matt Capps
Brian Bruney
Tyler Clippard
Sean Burnett
Eddie Guardado
Tyler Walker
Jason Bergmann or Doug Slaten

Willie Harris
Jesus Flores or Wil Nieves
Mike Morse or Chris Duncan
Alberto Gonzalez or Eric Bruntlett
Justin Maxwell or Roger Bernadina

On the surface, that's not a 100-loss roster. It's probably not an 81-win roster, either, especially with that starting rotation. But let's remember that Stephen Strasburg will join the group at some point (my preliminary guess: June 1) and there's still a chance Rizzo adds a reliable veteran to the bunch. Those additions make the rotation much more respectable and give this team a chance to be competitive. Not to contend for anything of consequence. But not to contend for baseball's worst record for the third straight year.

We've only scratched the surface, and there's plenty more that needs to be discussed and dissected in the days and weeks ahead. Consider this a re-familiarization of the Nats and a preview of things to come.

I look forward to reading your comments and finding out what you think. And if there are topics you'd like me to address in future posts, please let me know. Email me at And be sure to follow me on Twitter @MarkZuckerman for breaking news, analysis and links to more articles.

Talk to you soon!


MikeHarris said...

Great start. Looking forward to reading more.

Anonymous said...

Welcome back to the grind, Mark. I can't fathom why the Washington Post simply won't hire you and put you on the Nats beat already. Its the most common sense thing they could possibly do in regards to their Beat Writer search.

Anonymous said...

What's the current outlook for a return of 2n Zimmermann to the starting rotation in 2010?

Anonymous said...

Mark! You've been sorely missed. Glad to see you back up and running.

William Yoder said...

Welcome to the Nattosphere


FOTB said...

Welcome back, Mark!
Given the team's penchant for signing players who have worn the pintstripes of the World Champion N.Y. Yankees, any talk about them making a play for Johnny Damon?

NatsGirl said...

What the Nats need is a 2B, FOTB. Perhaps Robinson Cano? Actually, the Yanks, have a penchant for signing former Nats--check out their 40 man roster.

SpringfieldFan said...

Rizzo & Riggleman's talks yesterday at NatsFest made it sound like Mock has a good shot at the rotation. They made it sound like they're more confident in Mock than in Olsen.

As for JZimm, they said maybe July. He's healing and they don't want to rush him.

An Briosca Mor said...

Entering his 10th year as a member of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, Mark will become a Hall of Fame voter in December 2010.

With a career goal like this, it's easy to see why the Post isn't hiring you.

Mark Zuckerman said...

JMW4th: Thanks for the kind words and for being a devoted supporter for several years. Don't get your hopes up, though. I'm not in the Post's plans, though I'm not sure the Post even knows what its plan is at this point.

To those of you asking about Jordan Zimmermann (who had Tommy John surgery last summer): Yes, the earliest we could see him back on the mound is July, but that would be pushing it. Even if he pitches this year, it'll be closely monitored, rehab-mode. Don't count on him making any kind of real impact until 2011.

FOTB: Johnny Damon?? Really?? I think you lost some gray matter from sitting in the rain for four hours at Game 1 of the World Series.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for providing this source of Nats news. Your reporting with the Times was highly valued.

Are the Nats improved? Good question - it has been nice to have them active at the early part of the offseason, and a legit participant in several of the FA chases. It genuinely creates a different atmosphere than past years, and I share that enthusiasm. Kudos to Rizzo and team for so quickly removing the joke stigma that seemed to swirl around them for the last few years.

The players added, though, wouldn't quite get them to .500, I think. They are clear improvements over last year, and progress is progress, for which I am happy. Would love to see them add Hudson, Washburn and a backup OF, but I doubt all three of those happen.

But since it is still hot stove fantasy time, how about this - trade the Hammer to TB for Burrell and the highest rated young pitcher you can get (Hellickson, maybe?). TB gets a better player in the Hammer and saves quite a bit of money, and deals from a strength in pitching prospects without materially affecting its current or even future roster. We get a lesser LF (both offensively and defensively) for 2010, but not horrible, but the 2011 rotation - SS, JZimm (hopefully!), Hellickson, Lannan, Marquis (in whatever order)! I would like to see that.


NatsGirl said...

To WallyBall: you really want to trade the Hammer? Whose going to protect Zimm (the first) and Dunn? You've gotta give the citizens of NatsTown something to cheer for in 2010.

Anonymous said...

wow, ABM. just wow.

Periculum said...

I'm not sure about your starting pitching rotation ... I suspect some of those boys from Syracuse will make their way into it ... perhaps even thrive. I still think my man JD may surprise ... seems like a guy who really hates to lose and brings everyone with him in the winning effort. Its not impossible former 1st rounder Aaron Thompson could make the rotation at some point? And many of the pitchers (other than Strasburg) that Rizzo drafted look pretty hungry given the way they have been pitching in the minors. Perhaps there will be some surprises? Hey, it works for Florida and Tampa Bay?

Trading Hammer makes sense if say a Marrero is ready? And if they get a lot in return. Probably will be left handed pitching ... :) Its possible Desmond could end up in the outfield? Along with Maxwell and Bernadina? Morse is also a pretty damned good hitter who needs a position. He or Desmond, or both could potentially be this year's Hammer? Let's face it everyone was surprised to see the great Ronnie Belliard displace Orlando Hudson at 2b for the Dodgers? Happy but surprised. The Nats can't be snake bit forever.

Anonymous said...

Rizzo has turned over 1/3 of the 40 man roster in under a year. What I find telling is that as they get reomoved from our 40 man this winter, no other MLB team is picking them up and adding them to their 40 man roster.

Is this a fair way to judge a team's MLB talent. Until we see at least one other team interested in players cut from our 40 man, Nats must have the worst roster in baseball right (or at least the worst 30-40 around)?

Question Mark, how do we measure our progress here? Wins at the MLB level says we have made Negative progress from 207 to 2009 and if that is true, what does that say about Stan the Plan and Lerner Ownership?

Anonymous said...

Wally - I'd pass on Washburn. I think he's a product of Safeco Field.

we should have brought in Pineiro at least though.

we had no chance at Garland, he was so deadset on playing on the west coast that he accepted a lesser deal from the Padres than what we offered.

Anonymous said...

Rizzo has turned over 1/3 of the 40 man roster in under a year. What I find telling is that as they get reomoved from our 40 man this winter, no other MLB team is picking them up and adding them to their 40 man roster.


That's a very interesting observation, actually. I wonder exactly how many people that we let go will end up on someone else's 40 or 25 man rosters. I know a lot of the people who were expected to be primary contributors last season are getting Minor league deals w/ spring training invites. and others are just not getting deals at all.

yeah, it's a huge testament to just how horrible our teams were the past two seasons.

Mac said...

Welcome back to reporting! Best of luck to you.

Anonymous said...

NatsGirl - I don't want to trade Hammer unless it is something that we couldn't pass up. My proposal (which I acknowledge is very unlikely to happen) would fall into that category for me - a good young pitcher plus Burrell, who could be ok offensively for a year. maybe Duncan can rebound, too? Or, and this may just be crazy talk, they could sign Dye or Damon?

JMW - mostly agree on Washburn (and Piniero), I just think that he is the best of what is left.


Mark Zuckerman said...

Wow, I step away for a little while and the comments start pouring in! Keep 'em coming...

Periculum: I'm going to delve deeper into the whole potential Opening Day rotation sometime soon, but you're right: There are several other options besides the ones I listed. Really, only Lannan and Marquis are guaranteed of spots at this point. Though I'd say Olsen and Batista have the early leg-up on the younger guys, if they're healthy. But the group of young candidates who will get looked at this spring is deep: Strasburg, Detwiler, Stammen, Mock, Martin, Martis, Chico.

Anonymous/JMW4th: That's a great point, and something I've thought about before. I compiled a list, last year I think, of all the guys who played for the Nats and then never played for another big-league club again. It's an astoundingly long list. I'll have to work on putting that together again and sharing with everyone.

What other topics would everyone like me to address? I'll try to get to them all by the end of the week.

MikeHarris said...

Not going to speak for ABM - but I think he's taking a shot at the Post more than at Mark.

NatsGirl said...

JMW: It's going to take at least another year to undo the wreckage of Jim Bowden and Mike Rizzo is working his tail off to untangle that mess. I don't think we'll be able to really see the effects of "Stan the Plan" and the Lerner ownership until at least 2011, possibly even 2012. Of course, they *did* keep Jimmo the Clown around, so maybe that's all that needs to be said...

An Briosca Mor said...

Exactly. JMW4th is apparently unaware of the Post's policy forbidding its writers who are qualified HoF voters from voting in the annual election. Also they can't vote for MVP, Cy Young, etc. (Maybe they're allowed to vote on where they're going for lunch today, but I'm not sure about that.) One of the all-time dumbest policies ever.

periculum said...

Yes it will take at least a year to see if Thompson, Karns, Holder, Storen, and of course Strasburg will have an effect. So, they aren't relying on Zimmerman. Interesting that as Mark said, another former promising prospect on the left-handed side will attempt his comeback from injury this year, and this is Matt Chico. So, injury returning Scott Olsen will have some competition.

Have to hope that Nyjer can continue where he left off. Dukes could be interesting trade bait if he continues to improve as the focus definitely appears to be on pitching first.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for your interest in Nats that nobody wants....

I would also like to know what Foli's role is in Spring Training. Talking with Rizzo at Fan Fest it was clear that he was not impressed by the teams fundmentals and even said "effort was lacking at times"....Riggleman loves to say Manny did everything right but Rizzo clearly thinks, as I do, that Acta did not work the players in fundementals in Spring Training. What is your reflection on Acta's Spring Training work ethic and if it was fine then why does the team come out in April and lay an egg....recall home openner with 5 unearned runs and two errors by our 2nd basemen on the first two ball hit right at him.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

ABM - are you serious? they don't allow their writers to vote on HoF and postseason awards? Why the hell not?What an absolutely stupid policy.

yeah, I didn't know that. my bad, i thought you had mistaken this blog for FJB and were being your usual condescending self.

my apologies for jumping at you like that.

Anonymous said...

Great to see you back!

Anonymous said...

don't forget to join the blog, by clicking in the "Followers" box and logging in with your Google Profile, Twitter Account, Yahoo Account, OpenID, or AOL account.

makes it easier to log in and post in the comments, keeps you from having to create a new account just for this blog, and helps Mark get a quick view on how popular his blog is. and helps put a name behind otherwise anonymous comments.

Let Teddy Win said...

So great to see your new blog in time for Spring Training. Adding you to the blogroll now!

Sean said...

glad you are back. its rough out there in natstown. anytime bill ladson is made to look like shirley povich, you know we need help...

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Blogrolls:

for those who are fans of RSS feeds, I've aggregated the most proficient Nats-focused "News" RSS feeds(including this one) into a Bundle in Google Reader.

You can view and subscribe to the Bundle here: (its a URL shortener that leads to my Bundle page in Google Reader)

I'll be maintaining the Bundle as best I can, adding and subtracting feeds as necessary.

check it out and give me some feedback.

Mark Zuckerman said...

Boy, where were all you guys when I was at the Times? I didn't get this many comments total my entire time there! (I know, I know. You were all afraid you might get sucked into the Mooney Black Hole and wind up inside a mass wedding. I get it. But for the record, I managed to survive nine years there with my soul intact and never once was asked to pass out flowers at the airport!)

JMW: You are The Man. At this rate, I may have to make you blog moderator.

Anonymous said...

The Technology was so clunky at the times Blog Mark, every day a new signon process or we can converse....I know nobody likes to say anything bad about Acta but he got his new job now and something went wrong with his teams in April. I know talent and pitching but even a AAA team would have looked better than his last two teams...did they prepare effectively in Spring Training in your view?

Anonymous said...

eh. the blog bundle is something I did for the WNFF forum, I figured I may as well share it with as many Nats fans as I can .

Anonymous said...

Jaybeee...would you like to get rid of that "anonymous"?

(not trying to be snarky, I'm guessing you don't know how on Blogger)

Anonymous said...

Have you given any thought to placing a pay wall on your site?

I think many of us would pay for some really good Nationals coverage. Maybe offer some basic free stuff and a second tier, maybe $5-$10/month, with a lot more insider goodies.

If you get 50 of us to pay $10/month, you'd reap $500 a month. My guess is you could get up to 100 or more.

As you said, coverage isn't great right now and this would be the perfect time to at least consider it.

We have truly missed your work.


Bob L. Head said...


Glad to have you back. The Times procedure regarding comments was not conducive to holding a conversation so many of us didn't bother to post there, although we still read your stuff. Good luck with the job search and thanks for keeping us informed here!

Anonymous said...

In the road today, don't like signing on to anything on a public PC... and I agree Mark...your worth paying for...JayB

Unknown said...

Great to have you back reporting on the Nats

Question (forgive me if it's been asked): Why do you think Miguel Batista will be in the Opening Day rotation?

btw, jmad is the man.

Mark Zuckerman said...

Randomdude: Just a hunch that Batista will make the rotation, based on his experience and pretty solid track record as a reliable big-league pitcher. In a perfect world, a couple of the Nats' young guys would step up and show they're ready to be the No. 4 and No. 5 guys. But if they're not, think of Batista as a good insurance policy. Actually, I could see him being in the rotation April-May, then moving to the bullpen once Strasburg arrives. Again, just a hunch.

JayB said...


What is really needed in this market is opionion based on hard data, a critical eye and perspective of the past 5 have them you feel like you can move from beat coverage to a colomist view point of the Nats? Also I really like to see someone write the Jimbo would sell well as long as it told the truth about years 1-3 of the "plan"

Anonymous said...

Let's talk about O-Dog, and our MI conundrum.

suppose Hudson does not sign here.

what's the deal with 2B then?

is Guzman a suitable answer?


Adam Kennedy?

Is there anyone else feasibly out there for us?

is Guzman at 2B preferable to Hudson at 2B defensively first, and offensively second?

Is (2B/SS) Guzman/Desmond, Hudson/Guzman, or Hudson/Desmond the more ideal defense combo?

Is Desmond for real?

looking towards the future, can Espinosa play 2B, for a potential Espinosa/Desmond combo in say, 2011/2012?

what say you guys?

Unknown said...

other side of that is they could acquire another pitcher before/during ST. i just don't feel comfortable with someone like batista in the rotation, it's like 2007 when we had guys like jason simontacchi and jerome williams starting for us.

Mark Zuckerman said...

JMW: One step ahead of you. I'm working on a post on the middle infield situation (both in 2010 and beyond) right now. Will try to have it up later this evening.

JayB said...

I think the only was to improve the defense this year is to sign Hudson and live with Guzman at SS until you can trade and eat his $8 Million and get something in return. Last of the Bad Jimbo contracts and their were a bunch. August 1 it should be Ian D at SS and Hudson at 2B. Two years from now Danny E will be the SS and Desmond moved to 2B or outfield. If Guzman can just keep his head in the game he will make the standard plays. Trouble is most of his 20 error in less than a full season at SS were easy plays hit right to him. If he still is making errors of focus this year I think Rizzo will kick himself for not signing Adam Evertt or some other good glove SS this winter.

Anonymous said...

Hudson/Guzman is *not* an upgrade, imo.

needs to be Hudson/Desmond for it to really work.

the whole reason we are in this MI mess, is because Guzman's bunions don't have adequate range at SS anymore.

any solution that keeps him at SS is a bad one, imo.

The Nationals Enquirer said...

Welcome back, Mark...good stuff...looking forward to having your voice back in the mix.

JayB said...

Problem is that Desmond makes like 35 errors a year given a 120 game season....he needs to prove he can learn to get that under control at AAA before Rizzo is going risk his job on a guy like that. He most likely will work it out but Danny E is the real SS in this Organization and a Rizzo type player.

JayB said...

Oh and Hudson/Guzman is a huge upgrade over A. Hernandez or Belliard/Guzman!

natbiscuit said...

Best of Luck Mark. What a great new playground you have created here. Question: I've heard that Guzman was hurt more than anyone knew at the time last year. What all was impacting his performance. At 32 he seems to be too young to be aging as much as some seem to imply. Do you think we will see a major difference?

Steven said...

I'd almost totally blocked out any memory of Pedro Astacio. Thanks a lot!! :-)

Anonymous said...

levale speigner is pitching for the suns here in jacksonville, they could bring him back, take down johan santana a couple more times

James Bjork said...

Thank you for the current and future coverage, Mark! I hope you land a paid gig soon. With regard to the newfound trove of comments, hopefully you've developed thick, troll-repellent skin!

Mark Zuckerman said...

Natbiscuit: The Guzman foot/bunions issue certainly has been raised several times this offseason as an excuse for his limited range in the field. Why it wasn't brought up more during the season puzzles me, except to say that Cristian is a proud man and probably didn't want to make a big deal out of it. Even if the foot is no longer an issue, though, you'd have to say the chances of him making through all of 2010 unscathed are slim. Certainly his track record the last five seasons suggests he's bound to suffer from some type of injury at some point.

Steven: Sorry to dredge up the bad memory of Pedro "Old Man Winter" Astacio. What's funny to me is that the only reason the Nats brought him in was because Brian Lawrence blew out his shoulder in his FIRST bullpen session of spring training. Another illustrious moment in Nats history.

Anon: Speaking of illustrious moments, Speigner over Santana remains one of my all-time favorites. Proof that you just never know what might happen on any given night at the ballpark.

Positively Half St. said...


I would post comments at the Times mainly to give more of an indication someone was reading. The comment process was a pain there.

Thanks for donating time to continue the conversation. I hope Batista isn't our best opportunity to fill out the rotation. I absolutely do hope we get Hudson, and I want to see Rizzo show us how he pulls off an impressive trade. We do have a number of young #5 starters that teams might want, but it is hard to imagine which would have the most value.

I would like the dumpster diving to be over, as well. The names people have floated from the past are definitely not impressive. Of course, it has gotten a little bit easier because of the economy, or perhaps because Jim Bowden isn't here anymore. Think about it: He gave $10M to Austin Kearns, $8M to Cristian Guzman, $5M to Dmitri Young, $5M to Paul LoDuca, $2-3M to Wily Mo Pena, $2.6M to Daniel Cabrera. It seems that $4M for Orlando Hudson would be a bargain, especially when you consider that most of those bad contracts were on the books only last season.

I will let the Sportspyder folks know that you are up and running so they can give your link as you post.


cadeck13 said...

Mark! we have missed you greatly and need your Nats insight and coverage - I am jonesing for some baseball! Thank you for caring and doing this for us. If the WAPO has any sense of good writers they will hire you to replace Chico!!!!

NattyDelite! said...


You are the man. I just sent an email to the Post telling them that their plans don't match their readership if you aren't in them. Thanks for taking up the mantle of Nats Blogger.

I would also like to second Farid in that I would happily pay a subscription or monthly fee for quality Nats coverage, especially given the Post's epic fail in that regard.

My question/post request: Is Rizzo deliberately locking in on the finesse/groundball pitchers (low SOs as well), or is he justtaking what the market is giving him until our power arm core graduates (Strasburg and a rejuevenated (hopefully) Zimm)).

Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

Mark...keep up the good work.
you maybe the missing piecewe need to get over .600 mark this year! let us know when you can how nyjer's recovery is going !!! we need him at full strength!

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