Wednesday, Sept. 3 at 2 p.m. ET

Washington Nationals

Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 3, 2008; 2:00 PM

Washington Post Nationals beat writer Chico Harlan was online Wednesday, Sept. 3 at 2 p.m. ET to take your questions and comments about the Washington Nationals.

A transcript follows.

Discussion Archive.

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Chico Harlan: Good afternoon, guys. Maybe this week our chat will have a different tone. If nothing else, we cannot entertain questions about whether the Nats can reach 50 wins.

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Strasburg, Va.: Do the Nats have to earn the worst record in Major League baseball to get the chance to pick San Diego State pitcher Stephen Strasburg? And what do the Nats have to do to go 3-20 for September?

Chico Harlan: To get the No. 1 pick, the Nats would indeed have to finish with the worst record. For a while, that seemed almost predetermined -- at least until this latest week. Now, the No. 1 pick (aka Stephen Stasburg) is back up in the air.

Right now, there are three teams -- Seattle, San Diego and the Nats -- fighting it out for last in the league.

As it stands now...

Seattle -- 54-84

San Diego -- 53-85

Washington -- 53-86

If you're curious, the No. 1 pick is especially important in '09 because Strasburg is that much better than everybody else. (Think Lindros, Crosby in hockey... that's the hype Strasburg will be getting.) So, the gap between the No. 1 pick and the No. 2 pick is huge.

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Section 117: Hi, Chico,

The Nats didn't call up any 1B prospects for September. What does that mean for 2009? Are any of them major-league ready for when (not if, but when) Johnson and Young go to the DL?

If there's a glaring hole in the Nats' lineup, 1B and cleanup hitter is it. If Zimmerman, Dukes, Milledge and Willie Harris can keep up what they've been doing so far in the 2nd half, what's the rationale for NOT going after Teixeira? Yes, he'll cost $20 million per year for 10 years, but he's a 2-time Gold Glove winner and a career .914 OPS hitter who almost never spends time on the DL (unlike Johnson and Young). He'd fill both the 1B and cleanup needs.

Yes, they might not be playoff contenders in 2009, but they should be by 2010. And don't forget that Atlanta signed Lonnie Smith for 1989 and Terry Pendleton for 1991, both BEFORE they started their playoff run.

Chico Harlan: Section 117, I would take it as a sign that no first basemen at the Class AAA or Class AA level are seen as legit candidates for a roster spot next year. And certainly not a starting spot. Columbus this year had Larry Broadway at first, and though he had a decent season (.266, 9 HR) he doesn't seem to have a major league future. He's already 27 years old. And he's putting up inferior numbers in the minors than Ronnie Belliard has in the majors. (For perspective.)

At Class AA, the primary first baseman was Bill Rhinehart. He started out hot with the Sens, but cooled off mightily and finished with a .233 average there. Right now, he'd have to play his way into the team's future plans.

So... Teixeira. I certainly agree he'd fill this team's biggest need -- that of a power-hitting first baseman. The only reason not to make a run at him is money. Would the Nats need to drastically over-pay to get him? Would they have the wherewithal to make a bid comparable with, say, a New York team?

But hey, it's worth a try. I think he's a fantastic player, and the biggest catch on the FA market.

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Arlington, VA: What happened last night - - - two on with no one out and then Dukes gets doubled up at 2nd on a good catch in CF. Who gets more of the blame: Dukes for poor baserunning or Belliard for not tagging? Or is it just one of those "bad luck" plays?

Chico Harlan: I give more blame to Dukes, though both were gaffes. With Belliard, would have scored had he tagged only because Victorino had to slide. You couldn't throw out a guy at home when starting from your knees. But in fairness to Belliard, he saw the shallow hit -- that triggered his reaction: Go a third of the way, wait to see if it drops in.

With Dukes, there was no excuse. That's not bad luck, just bad baserunning.

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Wiunnipeg, Manitoba, Canada: Is the trade that the Montreal Expos made for Bartolo Colon one of the worst deals ever. Cleveland got Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips. Montreal also rec'd Tim Drew. When they traded Colon they rec'd (3) has-beens and never-were players.

washingtonpost.com: I believe the Indians also got Lee Stevens, FWIW...

Chico Harlan: That's one of the worst trades ever. Still haunting this franchise. (And yes, Lee Stevens was also part of the deal.

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Rockville, MD: While it has been nice to have a 7 game winning streak, wouldn't it add to the woes of the Nationals if they end up losing their worst record in the league and missing out on #1 overall for the draft?

I understand that the current players on the team need to keep fighting for their jobs and playing hard. But it seems like the Nats just can't catch a break. To have gone through this season as the worst team in baseball and then start winning meaningless games late in the season to miss out on the top pick. It seems almost Bullets-like.

Chico Harlan: Agreed. The encouraging play is undercut by the big picture consequences. That said, the Nats still could finish with the worst record in the majors. And even though any surge here in the final weeks won't make a tangible dent in Washington's season, it still can have an effect. Momentum for 2009 can be earned in the final parts of 2008, for sure. Players can develop. Confidences can grow. Say Elijah Dukes bats .300 in September and Zimmerman hits five or six homers and Collin Balester picks up a few more quality starts... those are all things with carry-over value. There is still reason to care about the final month, and not just root for losses.

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McLean, VA: Is Willie Harris coming back next year? From a fans view, he's really contributed to the team this year.

Chico Harlan: I think the team wants him back. And why not. By my estimation, he's been the team MVP this year. Despite Harris's play this year, it's unlikely any other team in baseball would sign him as a starter. But in Washington, Harris could just about get the ABs of a starter. He could certainly play often enough, jumping around in the outfield, where he could get 400 or so ABs. His energy on this team is important, too; few others in the clubhouse match Harris's enthusiasm. Plus, because he can slide into both the OF and INF, he saves a team a position player roster spot, deepening the bullpen. Just another reason why he makes sense to bring back.

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Free Union, VA: Does the recent winning baseball prove that the Nats are better than the injury-riddled crew we've seen all year and that The Plan is on target, or is it an illusion based on small sample size that will blind the decision makers to the wholesale changes that are still required?

Chico Harlan: Smart question, Free Union. I think the sample size is too small to know. Remember, the Nats won six of seven in early August, looked like a new team, and then lost 12 in a row. (Plan was great! Plan was horrible!... ) In short, reacting immediately to the Ws and Ls, when it comes to evaluating the Plan, makes little sense. It's better to look at the individual players. How does Zimmerman look? How does Lannan look? How does Milledge look? If this team can enter 2009 believing that guys like Milledge, Dukes, Flores et al are long-term pieces, not just starters but playoff-caliber starters, then yeah, the Plan is working well.

But certainly, there are still many pieces missing. We've already talked about the 1B position. The rotation doesn't have enough top-of-the-rotation arms. No matter how you assess the Plan, it still has some serious holes.

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Sec 114, Row E: Strasburg = Lindros?

You mean without the concussions? If we draft Lindros and cannot sign him, can we trade him to the Phillies for 5 players, 2 draft picks and $15M?

Chico Harlan: I'm just talking about pre-draft hype. Some fulfill, some don't. But it's one of those cases where there's the No. 1 pick, then everybody else. That was what I meant.

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Baltimore, MD: Any impression that the Nats front office is considering Manny Ramirez as a free agent? Sure he's a head case but he's also the best right handed hitter in baseball and his quirkiness might be a welcomed change

Chico Harlan: Maybe they go sign Ramirez if Clint from Nats Park turns down a $20 million extension. Seriously, signing Ramirez would make no sense. He turns 37 next year. He causes unnecessary headaches. He'll probably want to sign with an immediate contender. Sounds like a horrendous match.

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Section 304: We're worried about Flores. Any updates?

Chico Harlan: The team said today that Flores has a left ankle sprain, nothing more serious. (An MRI today confirmed that diagnosis.) The team right now believes that Flores can come back before the end of the season... but we'll have to see. Flores is a tough player, for sure. In mid-August he sprained his right calf and only missed a game or two, if I recall correctly. Other than that, despite the banging of his position, he had withstood the whole season.

But in the meantime, the Nats have Nieves and Montz at catcher.

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Buffalo, NY: Anyone know if Willie Harris can catch? With Flores banged up, I'd like to see Willie get starts at as many positions as possible.

Chico Harlan: So long as Kearns is out... and frankly, even when Kearns isn't out, the Nats have room for Harris in the outfield.

And to address your question seriously, I don't believe Harris can catch. For his career, Harris hasn't pitched, hasn't played first base and hasn't caught. But hey, he hasn't run for president, either, and I've heard he'd have some support for a possible bid.

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Falls Church, VA: Do you miss college football or have you been watching it on the side?

Chico Harlan: I won't miss covering it until the leaves darken and the temperature drops a bit. And by then, baseball season will be over and I can spend my Saturdays supine on the sofa. Or somewhere in the frenzied masses of Beaver Stadium.

Or maybe I can just head up to my alma mater and find an upper deck section of the Carrier Dome all to myself.

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McLean: Why are the Nats not treating Utley's home plate collision with Flores as unnecessary roughness?

If I were managing the Nats, I'd have tonight's starting pitcher treat Utley to a little chin music.

Chico Harlan: If the Nats truly believe that Utley did nothing wrong, they will treat it as such today and refuse to let things escalate. If Utley gets a few high and tight pitches, though, we'll know they took umbrage with the collision. It'll make for an interesting subplot in tonight's game. Personally, I have no problem with Utley's play... and every indication I've gotten from the Washington clubhouse echoes that sentiment.

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Anchorage, Alaska: Hey Chico --

In Nationals Journal you posted the comments from both the Nats and Phillies clubhouses about the play at the plate involving Utley and Flores - perhaps the most costly out of the season - and I was curious... The quotes seemed rather tepid... but is there an underlying tension there, especially on the part of the Nats, that would lead you to believe that there's more to it... and that perhaps we haven't seen the end of the spectacular between the two teams?

Chico Harlan: Remember, the first game of this series had a little tension, too. The home plate ump issued warnings to both teams after back-to-back inside pitches at Ryan Zimmerman. The game had five hit batsmen. So hey... maybe we can get some drama tonight.

(By the way, I didn't think the quotes sounded tepid. Especially from Acta and Manuel. Both seemed pretty adamant about their positions.)

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Capitol Hill: Just my two-cents but I'll forever boo Chase Utley. Despite what Acta said publicly, I still think Utley has a chip on his shoulder against us after having broken his hand on a HBP by Lannan. When do you ever see a player leave his feet to score a run? Never. And when an "accident" results in one player being injured, the uninjured player will often walk over to check out the victim--give him a glove hug or something...Well, that didn't happen last night. TV replays even showed him smirking while talking with J Roll as Flores was carted away. Total jerk and I look forward to boo-ing him every time he plays us.

Chico Harlan: The smirk indeed adds another layer to it, if you chose to read anything into it. Maybe that ends up roiling the Nats more than the actual collision does. Listen, it's true that you don't often seen players leave their feet to knock over a catcher. But then again, how often do you see a steal of home on a pickoff play? Where the catcher is firmly planted in front of home plate? In a tight game? With one team involved in a playoff chase?

Not every player would have done what Utley did. But that doesn't make it out of bounds.

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Leesburg, VA: The TV announcers keep citing the need for a left handed power hitter. Does that spell Adam Dunn?

Chico Harlan: Dunn has helped the Dbacks more than I expected. But I still have doubts about his worth as a long-term player. He fills the strikeout quota just as well as he fills the power quota.

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20001: What makes people think that Mark Teixeira would want to sign with a non-contender? Sure, he's from Annapolis, but not all free-agent signings are about the money offered. Guys want to play for healthy, competent clubs. The Nationals epically bad year could really hurt their chances at spending money this winter - even if the Lerners want to do so. Thoughts?

Chico Harlan: I've never suggested he would. But you don't know until you try.

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Western Alexandria: So, if Strasberg is Crosby, does that mean MLB and its sponsors will endlessly market him above more talented players? It seems unlikely since MLB hates Washington.

Chico Harlan: Nobody is more talented than Crosby. You cannot overmarket transcendent greatness.

Yours sincerely,

Pittsburgh Penguins fanboy

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Washington, D.C. Section 312: I submitted this comment after last week's session so I am sending it again just in case. Regarding in stadium replays, I was told by a baseball umpire I met socially in the 1990s, Dale Scott, that the umpire's contract with MLB specifically forbids replaying controversial plays on in stadium video screens. This is even the case when the call goes in favor of the home team.

Chico Harlan: I looked into this and heard the same. I think it is a league-wide policy, not a Nats Park policy. It detracts from the fan experience, but the umps have demanded that close calls aren't replayed. Thanks for the input, Sect. 312.

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Sacramento, Calif.: Looking into the future I see a decent core of players that can be solid contributors: Zimmerman, Dukes, Milledge, Flores, Bonifacio, Lannan, etc. However, what's missing from the offense are two big bats that can hit it out at any moment. There has been talk that the Nats would like a left handed, power hitting first baseman and possibly a power hitting corner outfielder (no, Kearns does not count). I was wondering who may be available either in trades or free agency to accommodate these needs (Holliday? Loney?). Thanks.

Chico Harlan: Perhaps two big power bats are missing, but you need to start with one. Fill the first base hole or one of the corner outfield spots. I believe, personally, that first base is the bigger need. And despite the allure of Teixeira, I don't think the price will be right for Washington. A trade for a first baseman is far more likely. And from what it seems, several legit players at that spot will be available this offseason for trades. When Bowden has talked about filling needs this offseason, he has been more inclined to reference trades than free agent signings. I am indeed reading into that.

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Ayala(burg) and Lopez(ville): Hello way out there! Why are we performing so well now?

Chico Harlan: Who ever thought that Luis Ayala would be pitching better for a contender than Jon Rauch. Ayala got another save last night, I saw.

Rauch was traded to the Dbacks on July 22, and since, he is 0-3 with a 6.35 ERA. He missed a week with forearm stiffness, and upon returning Monday, stumbled through another rocky inning (one run, two hits). Oh, and then he started arguing with the home plate ump while leaving the field, and he drew an ejection.

Ayala, meanwhile, has a 3.00 ERA since joining NY. He's 5-for-6 in save opportunities.

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Round Hill, Va: Since we already know what Nieves can do. Do you think we'll see Montz getting the bulk of they playing time?

Chico Harlan: It'll probably be a 5-to-2 ratio. (Just my guess for now... that's a question I was planning to ask today once clubhouses open for the notebook-toting types.) I'm thinking Nieves is the starter, and Montz plays just enough to get a few ABs.

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Tin Foil Hats Welcome: Yes, Chase Utley has a vendetta against the Nationals and would risk his own health in a playoff race to punish a last place team.

Folks, the X-Files went off the air years ago. Keep your conspiracy theories to yourself.

Chico Harlan: It doesn't really matter, at this point, if Chase Utley has a vendetta against the Nats. The biggest question is whether the Nats now have a vendetta against Chase Utley.

Odalis Perez gets to let us know.

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Chico Harlan: Well, we're out of time. But thanks again for the lively chat today. And no disrespect intended to Ovechkin. If you have a problem with me, send Chase Utley after me!

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