Okay, so they won’t be celebrating this ranking in the nation’s capital, but this actually does represent a pretty significant improvement from last year, when I considered ranking them behind a few colleges and the East Cobb youth development program out of Georgia. That they were able to climb out of the 30th spot is an accomplishment, considering the hole they were attempting to climb out of. There is still a really long way to go, but progress has been made.
Obviously, drafting and signing Strasburg helped. They now have a pair of franchise players, as he will team with Ryan Zimmerman to give the club two guys to market like crazy. But the improvements in 2009 didn’t end there. The Nyjer Morgan trade was terrific, giving the team a legitimate center fielder who can also hit a bit. They also added Josh Willingham without surrendering much in return, and while he’s getting a little long in the tooth for a rebuilding team, he should be a nice trade chip this summer.
But, that’s going to be the key. Washington did a decent job of adding low cost assets last year, but they have to recognize that they’re still completely rebuilding, and they have to be willing to flip those assets when they have the chance. Forget the extension of Adam Dunn – they should be trading him, not signing him long term. There just isn’t enough talent in the Nationals organization to contend any time soon. They need to be stockpiling assets that they control for multiple years at below market rates, and guys like Dunn and Willingham don’t fit the criteria. The signing of Ivan Rodriguez, Adam Kennedy, and Jason Marquis don’t indicate that it’s a priority for the Nationals either, and that’s too bad.
There are pieces in place that could be the foundation of a good Washington team. The park is nice, the ownership is willing to spend some money, there are some quality young players, and the new front office has done enough encouraging things to give fans some hope, but it’s going to take patience. They can’t veer from the rebuilding path. Rizzo and his staff have to commit themselves to the future, because the present isn’t going to be very pretty.
If they do, better days are ahead. If they get lured into an extension for Dunn and fail to capitalize on the tradeable assets they have, it could really set them back. This is a big year for the Washington front office. They’ve got some big decisions to get right.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.