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Boswell: Riggleman is the man for the plan

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What comparison might be reasonable here? Perhaps [former No. 1 overall-pick] Andy Benes? Or Mark Prior?

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"I've heard Dwight Gooden," Rizzo said.

Since the end of the regular season, the Nats also have made more than a half-dozen additions to their front office. "We've 'paid up' to get quality people in every case," Rizzo said.

Nobody knows if the Nats, with their tiny '10 payroll -- only about $40 million is now locked up -- will be aggressive in free agency this winter. Their clear needs, which they acknowledge, are two starting pitchers, two relievers (through probably not a closer) and a quality middle infielder, most likely acquired in a trade that adds rather significantly to payroll.

"We'll see what happens with free agents," Rizzo said, "but the owners have given me everything I've needed for the front office."

Are the Lerners, despite the skepticism with which many view them these days (including me), headed in a direction similar to Leonsis and the Caps? On such issues, I try to keep one painful object lesson from several years ago in mind. All bad franchises in all sports say they have a grand plan that will take them from the very bottom to somewhere near the top. It's easy to scoff at them. Especially since those rebuilding plans, often inexpensive in their early stages (and thus profitable to the team), usually fail.

But sometimes they turn out to be dead right.

In March '04, I began a column: "If Ted Leonsis can dump all the salaries he doesn't want to pay, then where can his customers dump all the Capitals tickets that they no longer want? On Leonsis's front lawn?"

Three years later, even four years later, that column still looked sensible, if snide. Then, within a few months, those words looked wrong and, eventually, downright dumb. Leonsis, what a hockey genius! Ted has had fun citing that column as an example of shortsighted critics. No problem. He's right.

But hindsight is easy. Seeing the future, several years out, is harder. Make the call now -- this time on the Nats, not the Caps.

With each step, as the Nats add Dunn, Morgan, Willingham, Strasburg, Storen, Rizzo and Riggleman to key positions, as they rebuild their sparse front office, as they prepare to add several free agent pitchers this winter, are they the Caps of '04 or '06? Is Strasburg (or that No. 1 draft pick in '10), akin to Alex Ovechkin?

Or are the Nats a team that has lost 205 games in two years, that still has a tiny payroll, that will be fortunate to improve enough to win 70-some games next season and that deserves all the scrutiny it gets?

If everybody is lucky, the answer will turn out to be: Both.


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