A couple of weeks ago, when the second manager firing of 2009 took place, I wondered how long Manny Acta would keep his job in Washington. Now, FoxSports is reporting that Acta may be fired and replaced by Jim Riggleman, and Sports Illustrated confirms this rumor.
Here’s what I wrote in their season forecast. I figured 72 – 90 was an optimistic season based on what should be an improved offense (they are better than eight other teams, right in the middle of the pack), but the lack of solid pitching and a thin collection of young talent in the minors would work against them. For their pitching to improve, they needed at least one of three things to happen: 25 starts by Shawn Hill; improvement from Scott Olsen, and a significant return to form of Daniel Cabrera.
Cabrera was awful and was released after starting 0 – 5 with 5.85 ERA, led by 16 strikeouts and 35 walks in 40 innings. Nobody has picked up the one time Baltimore prospect and fireballer – a sign that something is really wrong.
Scott Olsen has been eminently hittable, starting 1 – 4 with an ERA over 7, and is on the DL with shoulder inflammation.
As for Shawn Hill, the Nationals decided to release him right after I did the forecast because he was undependable – management never knew if he’d be healthy enough to pitch. Signed by San Diego, Hill is back on the DL with soreness in his bicep and elbow.
So much for optimism. Suddenly National fans long for the return of Tim Redding and Odalis Perez. At 355 runs allowed, no team is worse at preventing runs than the Nationals.
The starters aren’t the only problem. The bullpen gave up on Chad Cordero, actually had a night where the whole bullpen was overhauled in April, and those that have stayed haven’t been able to maintain the few leads they have actually had. With 16 wins and 44 losses, there haven’t been that many leads.
Offensively, four players have contributed. Ryan Zimmerman is a top flight hitter and defender at third base. When healthy, shortstop Christian Guzman has held his own at the top of the lineup. First baseman Nick Johnson (knock on wood) has been healthy and gets on base. Leftfielder Adam Dunn does what he always does – hit homers and draw walks. Backstop Jesus Flores has been a decent hitter when healthy – he’s just missed half the season. Outfielder Elijah Dukes has hit a little, but not enough. I keep thinking he’s going to get seriously hot, but it hasn’t happened yet.
Then what? Backup catchers aren’t hitting (few do). Austin Kearns needs to be released, Anderson Hernandez isn’t a major league hitter at second base, and the bench players haven’t helped at all, except an occasional hit from Josh Willingham. But, Willingham has nine homers and just twelve RBI (!) – is that possible???
AAA Syracuse offers little hope. Anyone who pitched well there is already on the big league roster or back, including Craig Stammen, Garrett Mock, Tyler Clippard, and Jason Bergmann. Stammen is in the rotation, and Bergmann has been disappointing since looking like he might have potential back in 2007. The best hitter is soon to be 30-year-old Jorge Padilla, a very good AAA hitter, but someone who (for whatever reason) hasn’t ever been given a shot. Padilla no longer has speed to cover center, though, and he wouldn’t have a job on this roster if Roger Bernadina was healthy. The Nationals need a burner in centerfield who can start or continue rallies, and Dukes or Padilla would hurt pitchers in the new stadium with their lack of range. Still, he’s cheaper and better than Kearns and might be happy to be a fourth outfielder on this roster.
AA is empty – Ross Detwiler is on the roster, and nobody else is tearing it up at Harrisburg.
That leaves you with trades, and there are few veterans that are going to fetch anything on the open market. Few contenders are going to need an injury-prone first baseman, or a slugger who can’t realistically cover left field, or an aging shortstop. The most tradable commodity is starter John Lannon or rookie Jordan Zimmermann, and if Ryan Zimmerman leaves (a la Nate McLouth), the Nationals could draw fewer fans than the Marlins the rest of the way.
Stephen Strasburg. I think there are issues with racing guys through the minors – not that there aren’t people who can play in the majors without the benefit of a minor league apprenticeship, but that kids need to experience some success that they can fall back on should they stumble in their first outings in the majors. So, while I believe that the Nationals may have no choice but to race a Stephen Strasburg to the majors, the fact that they have little or no choice but to do so is problematic.
Look, few teams play .267 ball for a whole season. So, once Riggleman (or someone) gets Acta’s job, it’s going to be a step forward just to play .400 ball. Getting Scott Olson back and contributing will do that. Finding four reasonably dependable relievers would certainly help. Accepting their fate with Austin Kearns and letting Jorge Padilla show appreciation for a shot at playing in the majors might help. I’d certainly be willing to give Paul Byrd (still available) or someone a shot at being the fifth starter. But don’t expect miracles. The Nationals need six quality players – a second baseman, an outfielder, two starters, two relievers. Firing Manny Acta doesn’t address that. Of course, neither does stringing Acta along in the press.
Really, the team needs a completely new management structure – GM, Manager, Minor League Director, the whole thing. Riggleman gets them to October. Who is going to get this team to 2012?