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5 Questions for...the Washington Nationals

Ben over at The Curly W suggested an exchange of questions: I answered his about the D'backs [and you can find these here], while here are his answers to my questions about the Nationals. It's a cool way to learn something about other franchises, and it's something I might pick up and roll forward with, as we play other teams

1. Obviously, this won't be the Nationals' year for the playoffs. What do you expect from the final month of the season?

What I expect and what I want are two totally different things. I want them to play hard and end the season on a high note. There are several records at stake if the guys can keep it together. Unfortunately, I expect they will wheeze it and limp to the end with bad pitching and blase' managing from Frank Robinson. Sadly, he has to go.

2. You now have former D'backs farm guru, Mike Rizzo, in the organization, and he's already brought over a couple of pitching prospects from us in the Hernandez deal. But overall, how would you rate the Nationals' prospects? Which ones are you most excited about, and when do you think they'll make an impact?

As I've written before, it's my belief that the Expos / Nationals farm system was plundered and lain fallow while MLB stewarded the team, cutting costs in preparation to terminate or sell the team. So Rizzo has his work cut out for him. Every deal we've done this season (Reds, Dbacks and Dodgers) has involved a pitcher, and I expect that trend to continue.

Other players already in the system to look for: 3B Kory Casto is the Nats top prospect right now. The Nats already have their 3B of the future, Ryan Zimmerman (Wahoowa!), but Casto also plays OF, and could be dealt. IF Melvin Dorta can hit, is already at AAA, and may get a look when rosters expand. RHPs Chris Booker and Beltran Perez might get called up this weekend when rosters expand to 40. Got any other pitchers you want to get rid of?

3. After some initial complaints, Alfonso Soriano has slotted nicely into the outfield, with 43 HR, but is a free agent after this season. Does the fact he wasn't traded by the deadline indicate a serious attempt will be made by the organization to re-sign him? What do you think will happen with the other free agents this year?

There are two answers to this question. The first is simple: yes, the Nats want to keep Soriano, and they will try and re-sign him.

The second answer is more complicated. Sori was arguably the top trademeat in the league, and Bowden priced himself out. He quite simply was demanding more than the market would bear for a player, a star though he may be, that will be a free agent at season's end and is demanding a no-trade clause. To take anything would have been a disappointment for Nats fans and made Bowden look bad/worse. And all that talk about Sori going somewhere in trade for prospects and then returning as a free agent was kooky conspiracy talk.

They will make an effort to re-sign him, though Stan Kasten, at the helm of the Braves for 20 years, has never granted a player a no-trade clause. The market will be competitive for him, but I think he'll be back.

As for the other free agents, I expect they'll try and re-sign Tony Armas, Pedro Astacio and Ramon Ortiz, because pitching is pitching, and pretty well stand pat positionally (that's not really the Nationals problems -- they have a glut of players that are just meh or good but get injured).

4. What issues do the team need to address in the off-season? The team is dead-last in the National League in ERA, at over five, so is pitching the priority it seems?

Yes. The other priorities are pitching, pitching and putting a bourbon bar somewhere in RFK (so tired of warm beer).

5. This is the second season of baseball being back in Washington. Attendance has, unsurprisingly, dropped, but do you feel there's also a fanbase for the team developing? [There are certainly a lot more Nats blogs than D'backs ones!] How would you characterize feelings towards the organization and its owners? And do you think the new stadium being built for the team will affect this when it opens in 2008?

The first season was expectedly a hit for the newness factor, and this season, it's not the newest thing in town. Washington is a notoriously arrogant town when it comes to anything conveying prestige. Washington demands all five major sports teams, but is only loyal through thick and thin to the Redskins. Washington doesn't have to go to games if it doesn't want to, because it's Washington and it's our entitlement to have these teams. See also Bullets/Wizards and Capitals. Caps were in the Stanley Cup 6 years ago and now it's like, who? The Wiz were a laughingstock for 20 years, and now that they made the playoffs two years in a row, it's like downtown is all Wiz all the time.

I don't think anyone but ballwonks register about the new owners, the Lerners. They are safe and bland, but registered quite an uproar when MLB picked them over the ownership team preferred by the DC Council and the Mayor. Charges of racism were flying back and forth between the majority black Council and the whitebread Lerners.

The new stadium will go a long way toward attracting less passionate baseball fans, because it will be shiny, new and another status piece for workaholic Washingtonians to brag about. Oh really dahling? I know a lobbyist with the best seats.

But for those of us that are just happy to have baseball back, and to be able to pick up and go to a game, RFK and Lot 8 are something special that we will miss.