It World Series time throughout the baseball nation, or as the District of Columbia crowd better knows it, Capitals season. Once again while the majority of baseball fans are on the edge of their seats, Nationals fans have long lost interest, eliminated long before the Phillies and Braves made their moves to the top of the NL East.The year 2010 has been particularly cruel to the Nationals considering the playoff landscape that did emerge from the regular season. Not one, but two teams from the division qualified for post-season play, neither of which play their games in DC. Furthermore, another embattled franchise made their move towards glory as Washington faithful can only watch from afar. Of course, perhaps the Giants meteoric rise from the cellar not too long ago can serve as some sort of inspiration for the Nationals. Like the Nationals, the Giants were once little more than a mediocrely talented squad centering around a dominant young pitcher. Though the top to bottom talent certainly isn’t in place, the Nats have their league-dominating ace of the future in Strasburg; at least one stone is in place. Not to mention Ryan Zimmerman is arguably a better consummate 3rd baseman than Pablo Sandoval, it’s not much but it’s a start. So what will the Nats need out of the off-season to become next year’s Giants?
- New Manager The Giants and Braves seasons this year should remind the Nats brass that when talent is lacking, coaching can put a team over the top. Bruce Bochey has done wonders in his time by the day and the Atlanta Braves are potentially the least talented lineup of bat swingers to ever win 90 games. Honestly, name 3 players you truly fear pitching to in the Braves batting order the most likely answers are Jason Heyward and Brain McCann, though Heyward is just a rookie and had his slumps while McCann is a catcher (albeit a good catcher) and has never had a season with more than 25 HRs. The surrounding veterans, including those acquired midseason were past their prime (i.e. Troy Glaus, Rick Ankiel, Derek Lee, Erik Hinske) and the younger talent is more solid than super (i.e. Martin Prado and Omar Infante). Yet playing for all-time great Bobby Cox, the Braves managed to squeak out enough wins to find their way back to the post-season and with Fredi Gonzalez on their way you can bet they’ll be back.
- Second Big Arm It’s hard enough to find one premiere pitcher, which you must commend the Nationals for actually figuring out, but most competitive teams have a feared left hand to complement their right. It might not be a pitcher of the same pedigree as Strasburg, few are, but a player capable of making an all-star team or two over the course of his career will suffice. This may require ownership to pony up a little cash on the front end, as unless the Nationals want to wait to develop another pitching prospect (usually a process that takes much longer than half a season for those spoiled by Strasburg) free agency is likely the only option. They will also probably have to overpay in order to attract a big name to a losing franchise, so the optimism here is regrettably tempered.
- Re-sign Key Players Look at the Kansas City Royals. As an organization several great players have come up in Royal blue, but when it comes time for them to sign a deal, most bolt Kansas City as the front office has been notoriously underwhelming in terms of contract offers. Building a young team requires dedication both in terms of patience and spending, but as the Devil Rays have shown it can work. This also extends to keeping veterans. Adam Dunn is a great example. Dunn was a major contributor this season and the Nats would be hard-pressed to replace his production in the middle of the lineup.
- Pray for a Miracle Ok, this isn’t a real suggestion, but God it’s tough to be a Nationals fan sometimes.