Five Questions Facing The Nationals

The All-Star Break is a time for teams to reflect on what's happened over the first-half of the season and plan for what they hope will happen over the second-half. It's also a great time to ask some pertinent questions.

1. Who's going to be healthy?

We know that Chad Cordero and Nick Johnson are out for the season, Wily Mo Pena is lost for a while, but nobody is quite sure exactly how long he'll be lost after shoulder surgery, Ryan Zimmerman is on a minor league rehab assignment and should return to the lineup soon, Dmitri Young's achy back is acting up again and Elijah Dukes is out until late August after knee surgery. There are other injuries, but too many to list them all.

The biggest impact of the injuries could be on the Nationals' approach to the July 31 trade deadline. Pena would have certainly been on the market and Cordero and Young could have also been dealt. The injuries have also brought opportunities for some young players and some have responded and some have not. You have to figure that the Nationals will get over the injury bug at some point, but will there be other impact players that will fall victim to the injury bug bites before the season is over.

2. Will the feds and/or MLB find any wrongdoing in the Nationals?

Right now, it's all just accusations and suspicions. The investigation will have to run its course and Nats president Stan Kasten has said that he welcomes any and all investigations and everybody in the organization is saying all the right things. If the accusations are true, besides the legal issues involved and any sanctions that could come from the commissioner's office, the Nationals reputation in the Dominican could be dealt a near fatal blow. Prospects will be kept away from the Nationals, leaving their scouting efforts there in a shambles.

3. Will the Nationals fire Jim Bowden?

In a strange twist, the investigations into Bowden and the Nationals could help Bowden's job security. If the Nats were to fire Bowden now, it could be construed as a pre-emptive move because of how they honestly felt the investigations could turn out, even though the firing would be done and be justified for on-the-field only reasons. In other words, the PR fallout of firing Bowden could be worse than letting him stick around and seeing how the investigations turn out. If the Nationals would find any wrongdoing on the part of Bowden though, they would be smart to cut all ties with him immediately and tell all they know to the investigators. They may face some sanctions, but they could be off the legal hook if the organization wasn't aware of what was going on and their reputation in the Dominican could be somewhat salvaged.

Without the investigation, it's very possible that Bowden would be fired. Signing of draft picks has been very slow, the team isn't playing well and the minor league system is still pretty empty and Bowden has had time to turn things around in the minors. If they are going to fire him, during the All-Star Break would be the time to do it, since it would give them a month to redouble their efforts to sign draft picks and a new GM - even if it's someone on an interim basis - would have at least a little time to make a move or two before the trade deadline. An easy pick would be assistant Mike Rizzo, who is often mentioned as a soon-to-be Major League GM. Switching from Bowden to Rizzo would give an almost seamless transition and give the Nationals more of a "new school" type GM.

4. How good can Colin Balester be?

Unless Balester is really dreadful, there is no reason to ship him back to Columbus. The early returns are a little rough - 1-2, 5.87 in three starts - but Balester is a good, young pitcher and is just facing a lot of the learning curve that young pitchers generally face when they first hit the majors. Rather he gets the nerves out of his system now and then comes into camp next Spring knowing what to expect. The Nationals will have to keep a close eye on his psyche and be sure that he doesn't turn into mentally damaged goods, but as long as he can take a beating, there's no reason to send him back down. Look for Balester to get his legs under him and right himself before things get too horrible. Once he settles in, he's got the talent to get Major League hitters out and should become a fixture in the Nationals rotation.

5. Who will be traded and who will become a National?

Tough call. Right now, Tim Redding, Jon Rauch and Felipe Lopez would appear to be the best bait that the Nats have to dangle. Dare they trade Rauch and possibly deal a horrific blow to a bullpen that has already suffered the loss of its closer? If the return is right, Rauch could go elsewhere, but somebody would likely have to overpay to get him. Not quite so for Tim Redding. He's a good pitcher, but it could be that the Nationals are getting all they're going to get out of him and they might do well to sell now, since his trade value isn't likely to climb much, if any higher. Lopez is a nice fit for a number of teams and could certainly be had for a decent price. Right now, Lopez is the most likely bait to be successfully dangled.

Look for the Nationals to get young players who are either in the majors now or are ready to step up to the majors. A young stud middle infielder would be a nice addition and you can certainly plan on the Nationals asking for pitching in almost any deal, just like 29 other clubs are likely to do as the trade deadline approaches.



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