Hopefully by now, you've read parts one and two. Basically those set the groundwork for tonight. What I'm trying to show all of you is 1) The Nationals could (theoretically) be a .500 team next year and 2) They don't have to spend a whole lot of money to do it. Yes, Uncle Stan and whoever the new GM is are going to shell out some green. They can probably do it without raising the payroll a huge bit. All they need to do is spend the money RESPONSIBLY-no stupid Paul Lo Duca, Rob Mackowiak or Johnny Estrada signings.
I'd like to point out before I go any further that I get all contract information from Cot's Baseball Contracts. It's crazy in-depth, accurate and (better yet), incredibly user friendly.
I'm not going to waste a whole lot of space on the Nats' contractual obligations for next year. I will, however, link you to another spreadsheet I made. It profiles all Nats 40-man guys and their contracts for next year. So here it is.
If my calculations are correct (some are bound to be off by a little bit, but I doubt many are off by much...if they are, leave corrections in comments), the Nats have $40.7 mil tied up for 2009 in contracts for 31 players (under the assumption that all guys under team control that haven't hit arbitration yet are auto-renewed and all guys eligible for arbitration are offered, minus Colome, so it's likely to be even less than that).
The Nats' opening day payroll in 2008 is a few dollars (well, $39 thousand dollars is a few dollars to the Lerners) short of $55 mil. Even a $5-10 mil raise in payroll (don't be cheap, Lerners) would give Kasten and Bowden's replacement roughly $19 mil-$24 mil to play with. That's a lot of money, maybe even enough to feed Latrell Sprewell's family. Let's see what we can do with that extra cash. I'll go over the starting lineup tonight, the pitching staff tomorrow night and the bench Saturday night.
Without further ado, your 2009 Washington Nationals' starting lineup!
1) Cristian Guzman, SS (resigned, $7 mil per year over 2 years)
Guzman is the shortstop most likely to give the Nats their most bang for their buck, as he won't cost the 8 digits per year that Furcal will and will (hopefully) take a small hometown discount (because we payed for a whole lot of nothin' from 2005-07).
Realistic 2009 prediction: .305/.335/.425, 8 SB, 8 HR, 90 R, 55 RBI
2) Mark Ellis, 2B (FA signing, $5.5 mil per year over 2 years)
Performance-wise, I'd rather have Orlando Hudson, but we all know the Lerners are too cheap for him. So I'll settle with Ellis, formerly of the Oakland A's. He would fit very well in the #2 hole (career OPS+ of 100, meaning he's exactly league-average hitting-wise, but with more BB than K this year, he obviously can handle the bat well enough for the 2 hole) and is a great fielder. The only knock in this plan is that he and the Athletics are currently talking extension. Let's hope he slips out of Billy Beane's hands.
Realistic 2009 prediction: .275/.340/.420, 10 SB, 12 HR, 90 R, 65 RBI
3) Ryan Zimmerman, 3B (arbitration-eligble, ~$5 mil for 2009)
We all know Zimmerman's abilities. He is the king of the walkoff, has a large ownership in Web Gems and always seems to be the guy to get a key hit when you need one. The question: is he going to be 100% healthy next year? I'm leaning yes. For now. It will be fun to see him have the breakout year everyone thought he would have this year.
Realistic 2009 prediction: .290/.350/.490, 5 SB, 28 HR, 95 R, 105 RBI
4) Adam Dunn, 1B (FA signing, $14 mil for 1 year).
Dunn is a three-true-outcomes hitter (meaning he usually homers, strikes out or walks). I'm perfectly content with him hitting cleanup. You know what you're going to get: 40 HR, 100 RBI, 100 BB, 180 K. He's not a 1B by trade, but has spent significant time there over his career (remember, Dmitri started as an OF also). Speaking of Da Meat Hook, Dunn can't be as bad fielding-wise as him, so it's an improvement across the board. I am suggesting a Dunn signing because he'll come relatively cheap compared to his true production (don't let the .250ish batting average fool you, he's quite a threat in the lineup). His power shouldn't decline a whole lot outside of the Great American Ballpark (look at his Home/Away splits here. His OPS may be 51 points lower on the road in his career, but .866 still ain't bad. And he ain't Garrett Atkins). I am also suggesting signing Dunn because Johnson is inevitably going to be hurt and I've got a gut feeling* Da Meat Hook is gone by the deadline (*as opposed to Ray King's Gut Feeling, my favorite Nationals Journal username).
Realistic 2009 prediction: .250/.380/.525, 5 SB, 40 HR, 105 R, 125 RBI
5) Austin Kearns, RF (under contract, $8 mil)
I don't think it's much of a secret that I'm a big Austin Kearns fan. I can't stand but like the guy who can best pull off overalls and a John Deere trucker hat. I also can't stand but like his defensive abilities or his ability to get on base. One thing to watch out for: if the Nats sign Adam Dunn, they've brought in Kearns' best friend. I don't know if that could work out any better for the morale of the two guys, and I have a feeling it would positively influence the performance of both.
Realistic 2009 prediction: .270/.360/.470, 5 SB, 25 HR, 85 R, 95 RBI
6) Elijah Dukes, LF (under contract, $400k auto-renew likely)
Dukes has surprised me a lot this year in ways I didn't expect. It seems as if he was telling the truth when he talked about being closer to a model citizen now that he got away from some of his bad friends from his hometown (my words). There's no doubt in my mind that Dukes will be a solid performer in 2009. He's proved to me that he's not only worth a spot on the 25-man roster, but a spot in the starting lineup. This is what I least expected: now, when I hear the name Elijah Dukes, "great ballplayer" comes to mind before "bad person." A lot can happen in a year, and it certainly doesn't come close to erasing the turmoil of his past, but he's taken giant steps and instilled confidence in both Nats fans and himself.
Realistic 2009 prediction: .270/.370/.460, 25 SB, 20 HR, 80 R, 80 RBI
7) Jesus Flores, C (under contract, $400k auto-renew likely)
I'm going to be straight-up with you right here: I'm not confident that Flores can handle hitting above 6th over a full season-yet. He's a little too streaky at this point and looks foolish at times. That being said, he's STILL an above-average catcher both behind the plate and at it. I think wedging him between Dukes and L-Millz would be a good situation for him.
Realistic 2009 prediction: .265/.325/.445, 1 SB, 15 HR, 55 R, 75 RBI
8) Lastings Milledge, CF (under contract, $400k auto-renew likely)
As good as Lastings looked this year, he still only hit .245/.312/.368, a far cry from last year's line of .272/.341/.446. I think he's somewhere in the middle, and is also a developing center fielder. I don't see why we shouldn't write "8" beside him on both sides (the lineup and the fielding arrangements) next year and see what he can do. If he gets hurt again, or plays bad, Dukes is probably a better CF at this point anyways. Stick him there and someone else in LF if needed.
Realistic 2009 prediction: .265/.335/.435, 25 SB, 15 HR, 65 R, 65 RBI
These 8 guys under my "realistic 2009 predictions" would score 665 runs (and account for 665 RBI, coincidentally). The 2008 Washington Nationals are on pace for 583 runs as an entire team (which wouldn't include bench players). Now, my predictions all won't come true (and injuries do happen...but we all know that), but that would be a significant improvement, wouldn't you think? And on the whole, the lineup would cost the difference between Guzman's 2008 and 2009 salaries (roughly $3 mil), the difference between Kearns' 2008 and 2009 salaries (roughly $3 mil), the difference between Lopez' 2008 salary and Ellis' 2009 salary (roughly $300k) and the difference between Young's 2008 salary and Dunn's 2009 salary (roughly $9 mil). So a little more than $15 mil could improve the starting lineup to the point that it would score 82 runs more than this year's entire team combined (including the bench and pitchers)...and my runs/RBI predictions were made more on player career averages/highs than the players playing around them (so they may be a little bit low in the cases of Guzman, Ellis, Dukes, Flores and Milledge). Is that $15 mil worth it to you? Account for around 100 more runs between all bench players and pitchers and you're looking at an offense that scores 765 runs. That equates to 4.72 a game, which would 6th out of 16 in the league this year. Combine that with a bullpen that is improved a little bit, and the Nats could break even on runs next year (will go further into depth there tomorrow).
But it's your turn. What do you think about my plans? It's all easier said than done, but these days, money talks louder than most other factors. Time to pull out your checkbooks, Lerner family.