Opening Day is less than two weeks away, and fans want to know if the Nationals will be better in 2008. Here are some answers to their questions.
Based on what you've seen and heard during Spring Training, who do you think will be in the Nats' starting rotation? -- John A., Fredericksburg, Va.
Here is my prediction on who will make the rotation: Jason Bergmann, John Patterson, Odalis Perez and Tim Redding. The Nationals don't need a fifth starter during the first week of the season. By mid-April, I see Shawn Hill recovering from his right forearm injury and returning as the fifth starter. I hope part of my prediction is wrong, because young lefty John Lannan deserves to be in the rotation. I believe he is the real deal.
Do you see the Nationals trading Nick Johnson or Dmitri Young? -- Alex C., Montreal
I've always said I would never put anything past general manager Jim Bowden. I thought he didn't have a good chance to trade Jose Vidro, but Bowden was able to get rid of Vidro and his salary. However, I believe both Johnson and Young will stay in Washington, with Johnson as the everyday first baseman and Young as a backup.
What is Rob Mackowiak's status? I've heard nothing about him, and he doesn't appear to be playing in the spring games. -- Gerry T., Pittsburgh
Mackowiak hasn't played a Major League exhibition game because of an abdominal injury. He has been playing in Minor League games for the last week or so. I'll find out what's going on with Mackowiak on Wednesday or Thursday.
What are the Nationals' plans with catcher Jesus Flores? Instead of spending big money on two catchers -- Paul Lo Duca and Johnny Estrada -- they could have used that money on pitching and keep Flores on the 25-man roster. -- Juan H., Wellington, Fla.
For now, it looks like Flores will go back to the Minor Leagues to play every day for Double-A Harrisburg. There's a good chance Estrada will go on the disabled list. If that's the case, Wil Nieves will most likely be the backup.
Do you think we'll ever see Mike O'Connor in the Nationals' rotation again? -- Jason S., Washington
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It will depend on how well he does in the Minor Leagues. After pitching well in his first two games this spring, reality set in when he was hit hard by the Mets this past Monday.
Do you think it's wise to give a rotation spot to Perez instead of taking a chance on a younger arm? -- Myrod N., Yarmouth, Nova Scotia
I'm the type of guy who would rather see the Nationals give a person like Lannan or Matt Chico a chance, but they don't want to rush their prospects. However, Perez is in the best shape of his life, and the Nats feel he will win a lot of games for them.
How about addressing why teams like the Nats will never really have a chance to win the World Series unless revenue sharing and salary caps are established? -- Bobby B., Washington
First of all, there is revenue sharing, and you are wrong when you say the Nationals will never have a chance to win the World Series. Yes, it's nice to spend some money, but you win championships these days by having a great farm system. The 2003 Marlins, '05 White Sox and '07 Red Sox and Rockies are examples of how far you can go if you have a Minor League system.
In two or three years, I expect the Nationals will be World Series contenders primarily because of their farm system.
Since Bowden has taken over as general manager of the Nationals, why does he keep pursuing former Reds players? He didn't have any luck with them there, so why does he think he's going to have luck now? I was wondering if this is something a lot of general managers do. -- Jarod L., Bellefontaine, Ohio
I disagree that Bowden didn't have much luck with those players. Young and Hector Carrasco turned out pretty well. In fact, Young has done well in Cincinnati and Washington. Austin Kearns never played a full season until he became a member of the Nationals, and Felipe Lopez is an OK player who hasn't reached his potential. I don't have a problem with Bowden bringing in former Reds players.
It's not out of the ordinary for GMs or managers to bring in players from other organizations they have previously worked with. In the late 1990s, for example, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa brought in Mark McGwire and Dennis Eckersley from the Athletics.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.