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Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on June 25, 2010
This won't be the year of the Nationals, but it might well be the start of something good. Long suffering Washingtonians have dealt with naught but losing baseball since 1934 when a plucky Senators team made it, but lost in the World Series to the New York Giants.
The decade spawned a phrase summing up the city's baseball plight: "First in War, First in Peace and last in the American League."
But ownership from day one has had other plans. It's just taken a while for them to turn a decimated farm system around to find a nucleus they could build around. And with Stephen Strasburg seemingly ready to be the cornerstone pitcher and with the bat of Bryce Harper not far away the Nationals seem ready to turn things around and start a winning tradition.
And they have quite a few homegrown pieces who'll center the effort besides the dynamic duo mentioned above. They include a couple of guys already on the current roster including future closer Drew Storen (who'll almost certainly taste that role by season's end) and young Ian Desmond who looks to be the answer at shortstop. By early September we should see a couple more of their farmhands including slugging first baseman Chris Marrero who isn't too far away from being Major League ready.
But it's not just the rookies who'll propel Washington forward. The impetus for change will come from an ownership group who has been willing to spend money but has failed to attract top free agents to a team that essentially looked hopeless with no end in sight. That's no longer the case and while the Nationals are likely to finish well under .500 again, players and their agents are taking notice not just of the talent that Washington has, but of the fact that unlike so many rebuilding teams, the Nationals seem to have a plan for the future.
The team will still have to overpay to land top flight free agents, but the coming offseason could be a very good one for them -- especially if they decide that Chris Marrero isn't ready to play first base next year. That's because most of the highest payroll teams (Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, Angels, Dodgers) are all set at first base, and Carlos Pena, Adrian Gonzalez and Prince Fielder all seem poised to explore the free agent market.
But even if they don't land one of those players, they have time to complete their building. Strasburg, Harper, Desmond and Storen will be around for a while, and if Marrero isn't ready for 2011, he'll almost certainly be for 2012 as will several of the young power arms toiling at the low and middle levels of the minors for them.
In the meanwhile they have the option to trade away some of their veteran players like closer Matt Capps and outfielder Josh Willingham before the deadline to add even more depth to their farm system. And that let's not rush to win now system has paid dividends in places like Tampa, Minnesota and even Philadelphia.
Now it seems the Nationals are planning for their turn, and those big headline grabbing rookies will be a part of it for years to come.