Phew. Turns out that was just an empty velvet sweatsuit left by Jimbo flapping in the breeze. But the point remains the Nats off-season is less about making the team better and more about making the team better for Stephen Strasburg.
The moves the team made; sign a better "back-up" catcher (one hopes), a innings eating veteran starter, bolster the bullpen, will make the team better in general but think about who these moves benefit the most. If you had a young stud pitcher that you hoped would help turn around the team, what would you want for his development? What would you want to maximize his chances of success early? I would want, in no specific order :
- A mentor on the staff
A experienced, well thought of battery partnerCHECK!
- Enough pitchers on the staff that he isn't forced into a top of the rotation role
A quality bullpen backing him upCHECK!
- Enough GOOD pitchers on the staff that the bullpen doesn't get overtaxed
- A solid defense behind him
If the Nats are really doing what I think they are doing then we can guess what they are (and aren't) going to do for the rest of the offseason.
Enough GOOD pitchers...
We've seen them grab one arm in Marquis that can push Strasburg to the back of the rotation and eat up innings, but when you're starting from one solid starter that's not enough. The Nats need another arm. It's not going to be what would have the most potential for helping the team (a gambit on a stud, but injured, arm) instead look for a Marquis-esque signing. Problem is there aren't a lot of middling relatively cheap pitchers out there. If I were to guess I'd say look for the Nats trying to make a cheap deal for Looper, or trying to wait out the market to grab a deal on someone toward the end of the hot stove.
A mentor on staff
Look for Smoltz (pitcher or coach), Glavine (coach), or some other name veteran/coach to be on this team by March. Leo Mazzone? (that's just me tossing out nonsense... unless it's true)
A solid defense behind him
This is where I think we see the biggest impact of this philosophy. If I'm right, we won't see any major moves for Orlando Hudson (of course if you can get a deal for him you move on it but I don't see that happening). If you sign Hudson, you've now filled your 2b and SS roles with aging guys. They are both young enough that they could both be ok next year but 1) why take that chance and 2) do you want just ok?
I think they desperately want to deal Guzman, but they know that's a non-starter. And I don't see where they'll get better defensively on the free agent market. I look for Willingham to be dealt for someone who might better fit either 2B or SS (Welcome back, Macier Izturis?). Or Dunn I guess is always possible, because then you can shift the Hammer to first. Whatever happens I'd be shocked if in March you were looking at a defense that included Guzman, Dunn, and Willingham. (Here's a crazy thought - if he comes up healthy - could they deal Flores? If they are going with Bryce My Name next draft... hmmm?)
The future of this team is going to be in the hands of Strasburg and whoever they sign with the first pick next year. The team knows it and is making the necessary adjustments. It's dangerously close to putting all their eggs in one basket but if Strasburg (and maybe Harper) are truly once in a lifetime talents then it's worth it. If.