The Nationals finished the 2007 season in fourth place, with a 73-89 record, and fans want to know what the team can do to get better next season. Here are some answers to your questions.
With first baseman Nick Johnson expected to come back next year, where will Dmitri Young play?
-- Dalin A., New Holland, Pa.
It's too early to answer this question. I have to see if Johnson is going to fully recover from his hip surgery. I think that Spring Training will be the biggest test. As of right now, I have to say that Young is still the man at first base.
Why don't the Nats think highly of outfielder Ryan Church? He played a good center field when needed. Is general manager Jim Bowden too in love with his former Reds players and not seeing the value of others on the team?
-- Bill K., Annapolis, Md.
I've had players in and out of the organization tell me that Bowden is indeed enamored with former Reds, but I've also seen Bowden gush over Justin Maxwell, Ronnie Belliard, Shawn Hill, Jon Rauch and Ryan Zimmerman, so it's false to say that Bowden doesn't see the value of non-Reds.
As far as Church is concerned, I think the expectations were too high. Members of the "think tank" believe that he is a 30-homer, 120-RBI guy. I see Church as a Paul O'Neill-type of hitter in the future. I don't think he needs to hit a lot of home runs to be a quality player. As did O'Neill in 1992 (when Bowden traded him from the Reds to the Yankees), I think Church needs a change of scenery. He would thrive in new surroundings.
How good is the Nationals' farm system? You hear all this talk about the rebuilding process, however, it seems as though every time the Nationals have a good player, they send him to the Majors far too early.
-- Alex L., New York
I spoke to assistant general manager Bob Boone about the farm system a few weeks ago, and on a scale of 100, he gave it between a 58 and 68. The Nationals have a plethora of pitching in the system, but we will not see most of those players for another year or two. Everyone in the organization acknowledged that the team needs to get the bats, especially in Double-A and Triple-A.
In terms of sending players to the Majors too early, I think you are wrong. I thought Kory Casto and John Lannan deserved a shot at the big league level. Lannan took advantage of the situation and is expected to be part of the rotation next year. I didn't have a problem with Ross Detwiler and Maxwell being in the big leagues in September. Detwiler was there to watch and learn only, and Maxwell looked impressive in a platoon role.
Did Mike O'Connor recover from elbow surgery, and does he have a shot at making the starting roster next year?
-- Art S., Bethesda, Md.
O'Connor recovered from his elbow surgery and went 3-7 with a 7.07 ERA for Double-A Harrisburg this past season. I think he is a longshot to make the rotation. The Nationals have a lot of better pitchers ahead of O'Connor in the Majors and Minors right now. Washington considers him no more than a fifth starter.
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Do you think the relationship between Young and Torii Hunter gives the Nats an edge in acquiring the latter?
-- Pat Groves, Quebec
I think it would put the Nationals in the running, but I think money will be the determining factor. Will the Nationals come up with the money to get Hunter? We have to wait and see.
Do you think the Nationals will try to bring back Livan Hernandez? He was pretty solid for them, and his style is best suited to a big ballpark.
-- John B., Anchorage, Alaska
I would not be surprised if the Nationals went after Hernandez. He is an innings eater, and he would give the bullpen a rest -- big time. Hernandez also is one of the smartest pitchers I've ever met. I think he would be a good leader for the pitching staff.
In my opinion, the poll on nationals.com (asking for the season MVP) is invalid. I would choose Austin Kearns for his all-around contributions, but he's not even listed.
-- Mike H., Silver Spring, Md.
There is no question that Kearns is a fundamentally sound player, but he had a bad first half. The poll choices -- Belliard, Rauch, Zimmerman and Chad Cordero -- were the most consistent all season long.
I remember reading, when the new stadium was announced, that the Nationals planned on selling the naming rights. Since then I have only heard it referred to as either Nationals Park or New Nationals Park. Are there still plans to sell the naming rights, and if so, what is the status?
-- Doug C. Alexandria, Va.
During his luncheon with reporters last month, team president Stan Kasten said that he hopes to have the naming rights in place by Opening Day.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.