This from the DC Examiner
Labor Day has come and gone and the Nationals remain in the playoff hunt. Who predicted that back in March?
Before we get caught up in that, it's worth spending a few minutes thinking about the off-season and free-agent comings and goings.
It appears to me the Nats have four players on the verge of free agency: pitchers Esteban Loaiza and Tony Armas, infielder Deivi Cruz and outfielder Preston Wilson.
Loaiza would seem the quartet's likeliest returnee. He's not been as consistent as fellow starters Livan Hernandez and John Patterson, but he's actually pitched better than his won-lost record indicates and on occasion is brilliant. He came here on a one-year deal, and is likely to get a pretty substantial offer on the open market.
The premier free-agent starters -- Florida's A.J. Burnett, Houston's Roger Clemens and St. Louis' Matt Morris -- will command more dough than the Nats are willing to pay or already have an '06 destination in mind.
That means keeping Loaiza in D.C. may be the way to go.
Other free-agent starting pitchers worth a look include Philadelphia's Kevin Millwood, the Angels' Paul Byrd and St. Louis' Jeff Suppan. The next tier has San Francisco's Brett Tomko and Minnesota's Joe Mays. The Angels' Jarrod Washburn is a left-hander, which makes him more attractive to Washington than he might be otherwise.
Wilson has been less than what the Nats hoped for when they acquired him from the Rockies for Zach Day. But he's worth considering for 2006 -- at a deeply discounted price. He's far from the eight-figure player he once was, but can still contribute.
However, the Nats have to take a close look at San Diego's Brian Giles, a power hitter who can draw a walk. Other free agent outfield candidates include the four J's: Minnesota's Jacque Jones, Oakland's Jay Payton, the Cubs' Jeromy Burnitz and Florida's Juan Encarnacion.
It's safe to say Cruz's time in a Nats' uniform will be short. The club is fairly certain shortstop Cristian Guzman's dreadful offensive performance -- I'm not being redundant -- is an aberration and he'll get back to that .250-plus range next year. Just a year into his four-year contract, they certainly hope so.
If recent call-up and top prospect Ryan Zimmerman is realistically the everyday third baseman, then Vinny Castilla, with a year left on his deal, likely joins Carlos Baerga as a bat -- or glove -- off the bench.
There are a ton of utility/bench-type players who will be free agents, including St. Louis's Abraham Nunez, the White Sox's Tony Graffanino, Boston's Kevin Millar and the Yankees' Mark Bellhorn.
Nunez is the most intriguing of the lot, given his performance in relief this season of the injured Scott Rolen.
To even have an off-season to contemplate in Washington still takes some getting used to. The degree of contemplation will ratchet up dramatically once we know who the new owners are. In mid-July, MLB said we'd know by September, or at least by Labor Day.
How slow is the process?
It now seems certain that if the Nats make the playoffs and win the World Series, Bud Selig will present the trophy to himself