StrategyFebruary 26, 2009

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30 Teams in 30 Days: Washington Nationals

By R.J. White

Welcome back! Next on the schedule is our preview of the Washington Nationals, a team that Cafe-regular Havok1517 is predicting to be the surprise team of 2009. At least we know it can’t get much worse for this club! The 2008 edition of the Washington Nationals finished with 102 losses, the first time the franchise has finished in triple-digits in that category since the 1976 Montreal Expos. Give credit to the Washington front office, as they worked out trades to bring in talent and added a big bat to the middle of the lineup for the 2009 season.

For a closer look at the Washington Nationals and the rest of the NL East, be sure to check out The Can of Corn NL East Preview Podcast.

Offensive Starters

C Jesus Flores.256.296.402238590301 
1B Adam Dunn.236.386.51379401002517w/2T
2B Ronnie Belliard.287.372.4733711463296 
SS Christian Guzman.316.345.440779556579 
3B Ryan Zimmerman.283.333.4425114511428 
LF Josh Willingham.254.364.4705415513351w/Fla
CF Lastings Milledge.268.330.40265146124523 
RF Elijah Dukes.264.386.47848134413276 

Unsettled: Nick Johnson. With Adam Dunn in town, the Nationals have too few spots for all the guys they added this offseason. Johnson is a guy whose top-level OBP guarantees he’ll be a starter when healthy, but staying healthy is something that he needs to prove he can accomplish. There are other teams out there that would love to have Johnson starting for them, so don’t be surprised to see him moved before Opening Day. If Johnson healthy and stays in Washington, Josh Willingham is the most likely player to lose his starting spot.

Target: Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes. Both of these young players have proven they can be good contributors in both home runs and stolen bases, with Milledge being more like Shane Victorino (more speed, less power) and Dukes being more like Nate McLouth (good numbers in both categories). Milledge should come off the board first in the middle rounds; Dukes’ character issues coupled with the OF logjam could lead to him getting less time and should have him being drafted later. However, don’t ignore Dukes’ 20/20 potential.

The Rotation

John Lannan (L)9-153.911.3411772182 
Scott Olsen (L)8-114.201.3111369201.2w/Fla
Daniel Cabrera (R)8-105.251.619590180w/Bal
Colin Balester (R)3-75.511.50502880 
Jordan Zimmerman (R)7-23.211.2010339106.2in AA

Unsettled: Shawn Hill. Hill is currently recovering from shoulder surgery and could possibly be ready for Spring Training. You definitely want to make him prove he’s healthy before taking a chance on him in your rotation, and the Nationals should do so as well. However, keep an eye on Hill through the first month or two of the season. His 2.6 K/BB and 1.14 WHIP in 2007 show that he could be a very good SP for your team if he’s healthy.

Target: Scott Olsen. I wouldn’t break the bank to get Olsen, but remember he was a high-strikeout guy when he was first called up by the Marlins. His strikeout numbers have declined each year since then, which is definitely not a good sign, but he has shown the potential to be a league-average starter or better. If the “or better” happens in 2009, this will be the last year you can add him cheaply. Colin Balester is the guy to target for those of you that like to speculate on young, unproven arms.

The 8th and 9th Innings

Joel Hanrahan (R)93.951.36934284.1
Steven Shell (R)22.161.08412050

Chasing Saves: Joel Hanrahan is one of the lowest-ranked closers in fantasy baseball, but he showed a capacity for closing last year. His strikeout rate is among the elite, and if he can cut down on the walks he’ll be a very nice closer for the price. This makes him a great hidden gem once 25 relief pitchers have come off the board. Steven Shell would be the next in line for saves, and his 2008 peripherals show that he can be trusted with the job. Those looking for an end-game MR for holds and/or ratio help should consider Shell.

Final Thoughts

Adam Dunn is a huge signing for the franchise, and his 40-homer power should stay with him in Washington, making him a solid fourth to sixth round pick. Keep a close watch at how the outfield situation shakes out, as there’s quite a bit of talent to be had. Those in two-catcher leagues would do well to remember Jesus Flores, as he makes a great hidden gem as anyone’s second catcher. Starting pitching can largely be avoided for now, but if any of the young arms look good in the spring, consider adding them. Hanrahan is a great value to fill out your bullpen as well.

Yesterday, we previewed the Philadelphia Phillies. That’s it for the NL East, but check back here tomorrow for analysis of the Chicago Cubs in the next installment of “30 Teams in 30 Days!”

R.J. White (or daullaz) has been actively involved in fantasy sports for over 14 years. He is addicted to fantasy sports and loves writing, the Atlanta Braves, music, the Buffalo Bills, theatre, the Philadelphia Eagles, his family, and the number 42, though not in that order.
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