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Thursday, November 8, 2007
Nats desperately need to score more runs

By Bob Klapisch
Special to ESPN.com

The Nationals are in a similar bind as the Marlins, trying to compete with bigger-payroll, bigger-market franchises like the Mets, Phillies and Braves. The difference is they'll be opening the 2008 season in a new stadium, which will guarantee a boost in attendance (meaning, cash) and buzz.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Nationals GM: Jim Bowden
Manager: Manny Acta
'07 record: 73-89, 4th NL East
'07 payroll: $37.3M, 28th MLB
Runs scored: 673, 16th NL
Runs allowed: 783, 10th NL
OPS: .715, 15th NL
ERA: 4.58, 10th NL
Fielding percentage: .982, 12th NL
The fact that the Nats climbed out of last place for the first time since migrating to D.C. in 2005 is a selling point of the team's overall progress.

Primary needs

Starting pitching: The 4.58 ERA, 10th in the NL, wasn't all that bad for a team that was 16 games under .500. In fact, another front-line starter could turn the Nats into a credible pitching entity.

Leadoff hitter: Felipe Lopez, who led off in 104 games, had a .308 on-base percentage.

Run production: The 673 runs were the fewest in the majors, as were the 123 home runs. Obviously, the need for offense is real, if not critical. Nick Johnson's projected return in '08 might help, although Dmitri Young is coming off a productive season.

Free agents

3B Tony Batista, 1B Robert Fick, 1B Travis Lee, INF Tony Womack, RHP Dan Kolb

Torii Hunter is friends with Dmitri Young, but he's still a long shot to sign with the Nationals. Livan Hernandez might make sense, and Tom Glavine has been mentioned as a possibility if he doesn't end up back in Atlanta.

Chad Cordero

Cordero

Trade bait

Chad Cordero is the established closer, but given the market's need for help in the ninth inning, the Nats would consider moving Cordero and promoting Jon Rauch into the closer's role.

Ryan Church will also be on the blocks if the front office decides Wily Mo Pena can play every day.

Farm aid

Ross Detwiler, a 21-year-old left-hander, was the No. 6 pick in last year's amateur draft. He could make a cameo appearance in 2008.

Outlook

The Nationals could impact the market if they decide to trade Cordero. It might bring them enough in return to think about climbing to .500 status in a year or two.

Bob Klapisch is a sports columnist for The Record (N.J.) and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.