Nationals see reason for optimism in '09

Nationals see reason for optimism

WASHINGTON -- After watching the Rays go from the worst team in 2007 to the American League East champions this season, the Nationals have hope they can turn things around in 2009.

Nationals team president Stan Kasten pointed out that the Rays had a well-executed plan and stuck to it. The plan was building their farm system and trading for quality veterans.

The Nationals have the same plan and expect to do much better in '09 than their 59-102 showing this past season.

"I think we know how to do it," Kasten said. "We had the setbacks this year, but we are on course -- big picture.

"I really like our roster. We have added youth and athleticism. We can already see for next year that we will have a young, athletic, speedy team to go along with an above-average defensive team. I think one or both of our cleanup hitters (Nick Johnson or Dmitri Young) will be back. We are a greatly improved team before we even make any moves, which I know we are going to try to do."

The Nationals need help on offense, which was one of the least productive in baseball. Manager Manny Acta said the team needs a left-handed power threat to complement Ryan Zimmerman and Elijah Dukes. It remains to be seen if the Nationals will spend a lot of money to get that power threat. If not, they will have to make a trade to get that bat.

"We need one hitter to help our kids -- a guaranteed 30 home run and 100 RBIs," Acta said. "We need a guy who strikes fear. That guy will go in the middle of the order regardless of who is there now."

CONTRACT ISSUES
Free agents: Aaron Boone, 1B; Odalis Perez, LHP

Eligible for arbitration: Jesus Colome, RHP; Chad Cordero, RHP; Willie Harris, OF; Ryan Langerhans, OF Tim Redding, RHP; Zimmerman, 3B.

Player options: Wily Mo Pena, OF, $2 million.

Club options: Pena, OF, $5 million

Non-tender possibilities: Cordero, RHP; Redding, RHP

CATCHERS
Jesus Flores, 256, eight home runs and 59 RBIs
Wil Nieves, .261, one home run and 20 RBIs

Flores showed that he didn't need any more seasoning in the Minor Leagues. He did a good job of handling the pitching staff and would have likely had better offensive numbers if he didn't hurt his left ankle in early September.

FIRST BASE
Nick Johnson, .220, five home runs, 20 RBIs and a .415 OBP
Dmitri Young, .280, four home runs, 10 RBIs and a .394 OBP
Kory Casto, .215, two home run and 16 RBIs

Johnson and Young missed a lot of time because of injuries. If they remain on the roster, Johnson will be the first baseman because of his superior defense.

SECOND BASE
Emilio Bonifacio, .243, 14 RBIs and a .296 OBP
Anderson Hernandez, .333, 17 RBIs and a .407 OBP
Ronnie Belliard, .287, 11 home runs and 46 RBIs

Bonifacio and Hernandez will battle for the second-base job, while Belliard will be the backup.

SHORTSTOP
Cristian Guzman, .316, nine home runs and 55 RBIs
Alberto Gonzalez, .347, one home run nine RBIs

Guzman was rewarded with a two-year extension, but if he gets hurt again, the Nationals will have a good replacement in Gonzalez.

THIRD BASE
Ryan Zimmerman, .283, 14 home runs and 51 RBIs
Pete Orr, .253, seven RBIs

Zimmerman missed more than 50 games because of shoulder and hand injuries. He is expected to be healthy next season and be the player who drove in over 90 runs in his first two years in the big leagues.

OUTFIELD
Elijah Dukes, .264, 13 home runs, 44 RBIs and a .393 OBP
Austin Kearns, .217, nine home runs 32 RBIs.
Lastings Milledge, .268, 14 home runs, 61 RBIs, 24 SB
Willie Harris, .251, 13 home runs, 43 RBIs and a .344 OBP
Ryan Langerhans, .234, three home runs and 12 RBIs.
Wily Mo Pena, .205, two home runs and 10 RBIs.

The outfield of Dukes, Milledge and Kearns may change, according to general manager Jim Bowden, who wants better defense out there.

ROTATION
Redding, 10-11, 4.95
Collin Balester, 3-7, 5.51
Jason Bergmann, 2-11, 5.18
John Lannan, 9-15, 3.91
Shairon Martis, 1-3, 5.66
Jordan Zimmerman, 10-3, 2.89 (Class A/Double A)

The starters overachieved, but don't be surprised if the Nationals go out and get a veteran to teach the young pitchers how to win.

BULLPEN
Joel Hanrahan, 6-3, 3.95 and nine saves
Marco Estrada, 0-0, 7.82
Michael Hinckley, no runs in 13 2/3 innings pitched.
Charlie Manning, 1-3, 5.14
Garrett Mock, 1-3, 4.17
Saul Rivera, 5-6, 3.96
Steven Shell, 2-2, 2.16
Ryan Wagner, 0-0, 0.00

Everyone except for Hanrahan and Rivera has to audition for jobs next year.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.