The Nationals Need a Roster Overhaul

By Thomas Boswell
Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Blow up the Nats. Or at least spend the rest of this month, before the trading deadline, giving it a try. This misshapen group is no good together, so why not take it apart?

The Nats should keep their eight young starting pitchers, including three at Class AAA. Hang on to Ryan Zimmerman, injured catcher Jesús Flores, perhaps Josh Willingham and probably Adam Dunn. New outfielder Nyjer Morgan looks useful. Beyond that: open for business.

No team could trade all of the rest, nor should it. Even dealing half of the rest for reasonable value wouldn't be feasible. But the Nats should be committed to the concept that their current roster is so lopsided, so dysfunctional that any reasonable change will probably be an improvement. If, next month, the Nats are without Nick Johnson, Joe Beimel, Willie Harris, perhaps Cristian Guzmán and more, too, don't be surprised.

Did you think that Lastings Milledge and Joel Hanrahan would be traded last week, or Elijah Dukes sent to the minors? Acting general manager Mike Rizzo already appears to be far down this road to radical reshaping. Inside Nats Town, the words "start over" have been heard.

One reason Manny Acta seems unable to manage, though he handled games adequately in '07, is that he has no team. He has a monstrosity, a random collection of pieces that don't interconnect and can't, in any normal sense of the word, be "managed." The Nats are like driving a car with two steering wheels, three engines, four sets of brakes and no wheels.

Why doesn't it go anywhere?

Because . . . it . . . is . . . not . . . a . . . car.

It's time for the Nats to trade brakes for wheels and hope for a vehicle that moves -- someday. Right now, the Nats are perfectly constituted -- to lose every way imaginable. On Monday night in Colorado, they wasted yet another fine pitching performance by a rookie, Craig Stammen, in a 1-0 loss. Rizzo says the Nats won't hold "a fire sale." Translation: All decent offers appreciated, just no insulting jokes, please.

All season, everybody has said that they've seldom seen a team that is so much less than the sum of its parts. How can you be middle of the pack in the NL in scoring, have a functional young pitching rotation and yet be on a pace for an utterly awful 113 losses?

How can one of the worst teams in 50 years, at least by its record so far, have four players who could be the team's symbolic all-star next week without causing outright laughter -- Zimmerman (30-game hitting streak), Dunn (22 homers entering last night), Guzmán (a shortstop batting .314) and John Lannan (3.45 ERA)?

Johnson and Willingham are hitting. Jordan Zimmermann, with 75 strikeouts and 21 walks in 75 2/3 innings, is one of the game's most promising rookie pitchers. There are other decent notes, like kid hurlers Stammen, Ross Detwiler and Shairon Martis, 5-3 when he was sent back to Class AAA. Yet the Nats have been outscored by 102 runs, proof that their record, while slightly unlucky, is mostly deserved.

Hindsight's cheap but also necessary. Former GM Jim Bowden, with Stan Kasten looking over his shoulder and the Lerners pinching the purse strings, built an incoherent roster. For three years, the Nats had the first premise of a plan -- "develop young starting pitching" -- but little else. So, they haphazardly made any opportunistic transaction that seemed to "add value," usually at minimal expense. The result was a mess.

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