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Ownership, GM are finally on same page
The identity of those players will be vital. That's Rizzo's job. But without taking the first step - deciding to compete now - the Nats can't go anywhere. The Lerners may finally be marching.
"With the talent that's here and the talent that's coming next year . . . there's enough here to make our move to the next level," said Mark Lerner.
The talent that's coming by '12 is, hopefully, a healthy Stephen Strasburg and '10 No. 1 overall draft pick Bryce Harper. The futures of Werth, 31, and Harper, 18, are actually intertwined, and the faster Harper arrives, the better the Werth deal may look. The day Harper takes over right field, expect Werth to move to center field. He's played there before. His lean build and speed both lend themselves to the position until he's perhaps 35.
The Nats hope that Nyjer Morgan can nail down the center field job this season, playing as he did in '09. But if he can't, it's possible that an outfield of Werth, Harper and a left-field platoon that includes Roger Bernadina, would be an even stronger unit. "In left, Bernadina plays almost Barry Bonds defense," said Rizzo.
The Nats' decision to make a major free agent splash this winter, rather than next, is probably connected to Harper's strong showing in the Arizona Fall League. Only the rare Mickey Mantle or Ken Griffey Jr., has proved to be big league ready at age 19. But the Nats have opened the door for the possibility.
"When we introduced Harper here a few months ago, he was only 17. Now, he's 18," said Ted Lerner. "I saw [Hall of Famer] Harmon Killebrew play his first game for the Senators in Griffith Stadium [in '54]. He made his debut when he was 17 years old."
The key man in the Nats' future was probably on display on Wednesday. But it wasn't Werth, even though Rizzo praised him as a combination of "skill-set and an attitude - he has superstar talent and a dirt-bag mentality."
That man is probably Rizzo himself. Ever since the Nationals came to Washington, authority has always been divided at the top. No one person has ever spoken to the team's board (the Lerners) with the full weight of the front office's baseball expertise.
As recently as this July, Rizzo had a deal done to send Adam Dunn to the Chicago White Sox at the trade deadline for pitcher Edwin Jackson, 27, who has only a 48-51 career record but catches Rizzo's scouting eye with his 96 mph heat. Former team president Stan Kasten preferred to keep Dunn and try to sign him - immediately - to the kind of $37.5 million, three-year deal that Paul Konerko just took to stay in Chicago with the White Sox.
Either solution would have constituted sensible baseball judgment. Tell Dunn: Sign by July 31 or we trade you for Jackson. Happens all the time. But the Nats did neither. The board followed Kasten's advice not to trade Dunn but didn't make an ultimatum and settle the issue.
Instead, they dawdled, lost Jackson, lost Dunn at the end of the year and now have two compensatory draft picks in June of '11 that might - with luck - turn into real players in five years.