December 3, 2010 8:42 pm
By Miss Chatter
If you have children, then you're probably familiar with the following conversation:
"Mommy, what are we doing today?"
"Um, well, we're going to the Farmer's Market."
"And then, hmm, well, we need to go to the store...."
"No, grocery store."
"Oh. And then?"
"Then we'll probably just go home and do chores."
"(Groan) And then?"
And then I don't know, we'll see how it goes. The child was looking for the shiny exciting portion of the day to look forward to and not finding it in the answers. "And then we'll go to the ice cream store?" or "And then we'll go on a toy shopping spree?" Sound familiar, Nats fans? Winter meetings begin Monday and the pilot light on the Nats hot stove has already sent flames shooting to the burner (how's that for a lame analogy?), with the notable departure of widely liked (by both teammates and fans) slugger Adam Dunn after he took a four year deal with the Chicago White Sox. Oof, the finality and reality that Dunn is truly not a Nat anymore packed more punch than expected, even though the outcome was somewhat, well, expected. So the question, of course, is now, "And then?"
Next week at the Winter Meetings in Orlando, GM Mike Rizzo will have to be on the hunt for a replacement bat and body at first base, likely following through on his "improved defense" mantra. Because "Who's at first?" is certainly not going to be Mike Morse, right? No one person fits that slugger and defensive wonder mold needed, as Mark Zuckerman points out. So with the first Nats acquisition via signing or trade, there will be plenty more "And then?"s floated out. As long as there was hope Dunn would return in the new Curly W uni in the spring, the "are we there yet?" whines were barely audible. Now that he's definitely absolutely for sure not coming back, the questions are becoming louder and more demanding from an increasingly restless fanbase.
I've been stuck on Big 100.3 lately in my "oh my gawd, I'm getting old and listening to music from my childhood like MY parents did!" phase of my life. A couple songs made me laugh as I heard them and related them to the Nationals, since the Nats have been on my mind so much (I realize this is probably not mentally healthy, but it's a state I've grown accustomed to).
Song 1: "I Can't Get No Satisfaction"
Fans as a group like to gripe and groan. It's par for the course of being a fan, and I believe, a right of being a fan as long as it isn't constant Eeyore-ing and team bashing. Yet, does it seem like each season is greeted with the same optimism, only to feel let down at the end? Last season improved by ten wins over the previous. Dunn had his second season as a National and fans embraced the top slugger with the quick smile, quirky humor, tall reach and potent bat. Rumors of signing Dunn to a few more years swirled before last season began and then resurfaced a few times as the season wore on. He wasn't traded by the July deadline, meaning he'd be staying longer for sure, right? Certainly they wouldn't let him walk for a couple draft picks when they could have had a known quantity, right? Then the lingering hope after the season ended began to wane until the finality of his agreement with the White Sox richocheted around the internet during this afternoon's press conference in Chicago (where Dunn still displayed the humor fans have grown to love - except he's not 'ours' anymore).
Song 2: "You Keep Me Hanging On"
I can't quit you. No matter what happens, it seems I just can't. Maybe you don't care what I suffer through as I stand by with full (but occasionally questioning) support, yet you still keep me hanging on waiting to see what happens next. And then?
Ryan Zimmerman is quoted as saying, "I hope that this plan they have is intact - I guess this is one of the years we were supposed to take that next step and become one of the teams that gets those free agent guys. They've told us and the fans to be patient. Hopefully this is one of the years we start acquiring impact guys and taking the team to that next level." Zimm, you spoke my mind. I sure hope Rizzo has an ace up his sleeve heading into the Winter Meetings because fans want to "Expect It" now. We don't want to believe with Strasburg out next season rehabbing his elbow after Tommy John and Harper still years away that even the higher ups consider next year a "lost year" so to speak, when we've been preached patience, have summoned that patience, and been told that the team is on the brink. And by "Expect It" (to borrow the team's new marketing phrase), I merely mean improvement. Exciting clean baseball with maybe a slightly improved record year over year.
Nats GM Mike Rizzo made a statement after Dunn's move to the White Sox became official, saying, The Washington Nationals wish Adam Dunn and his family the best of luck and good will in Chicago. Adam contributed much to the Nationals and to the Washington, D.C. community. He will be missed, but will remain an important figure in the early history of this franchise and will always be a part of the Nationals baseball family.
I'd like to stress the "early history of this franchise" portion of that statement (and really that was my point when I started writing this post this morning before Rizzo's statement came out, but it ties in nicely!) In relative terms, the Nationals are still an infant of a franchise. No (rest his soul) Ron Santo bemoans defensive mistakes in a Nationals Park broadcast booth like he did for the Cubs. One will someday, but time and fruition of The Plan is the only remedy for that. Ryan Zimmerman is probably the first (and only?) franchise player to this point. Is it too much to imagine him playing out his entire career in DC and maybe someday remaining attached to the team in another capacity? That's more or less what he says now, provided the team is built to be a winner at some point (presumably before 2013). Dunn's time on this team was incredibly short in relative terms, even if it was exciting.
The Nats have a prime opportunity to grow a lasting fanbase, and maybe this off-season isn't the make or break point yet, but the tide seems to be rising. The key is, they have to want to. The other key is adding more Zimmermans as players come through the ranks and stop being a revolving door of fill-ins. So continue those "And then?" questions. I can't profess to know if the Dunn negotiations went right or wrong at some point during the season. Maybe Dunn was adamant about testing free agency if he couldn't get four years while the Nats were adamant about not going beyond three years (and I can understand why). Or maybe they weren't earnest enough earlier. Who knows?
But that's-a behind us now. So who's at first? That's the question on everyone's mind now. And no, not that "Who", as catcher Wil Nieves was not tendered a contract or arbitration offer at the deadline. Another end to an era - or Dave Jageler and Charlie Slowes need to find another player's walk-up music to dance to in the radio booth.
So we wait for our "And Then?" to become the trip to the ice cream store and look to a future of continuity and history we can hang on to and look back on fondly as we listen to a cherished player broadcast our local team's games at a point in the future. And then... I will be even (gasp) older and likely have moved on to an even older fogey station on the radio. If radio as we know it is even around still then...