Former Nationals general manager Jim Bowden was well-known for his ability to buy really cheap talent and sell it as gold. Not sell it to opposing franchises in transactions, mind you, but to the fan base. Year after year, fans were convinced that Bowden had found a good group of diamonds in the rough, and that given the right opportunity in Washington, we could help tap into their true talent. It wasn’t until Bowden was gone that we realized he had us looking through rose-colored glasses.
To his credit, every now and then he’d take a chance on a player that everyone had given up on and would occasionally strike gold. Dimitri Young was one example of this. The first baseman hit .320 in his first year in Washington and earned a spot on the All-Star team. Alfonso Soriano was another. The only year he was able to go 40-40 was the one he spent in a Nats uniform.
Unfortunately, though, for every goldmine Bowden found, he had a dozen other flops. It’s not that the players he brought in weren’t talented; quite the contrary, in fact. They were all massively talented, but had one or two flaws that for other teams came up as red flags, but for the feeble Nationals, the risk seemed worth the gamble. Sadly, in 2008, these gambles combined into a perfect storm implosion which led the Nats to only win 59 games.
Here are some of the players who made that season, for lack of a better word, memorable, and a look at where they are now.
Wily Mo Pena: Pena has not been in the majors since an abysmal 2008 performance found him hitting just .205/.243/.267. Pena played Independent League ball in 2010 and has since found his swing. In 31 games for Arizona’s Triple-A affiliate, Pena has hit .383/.444/.800 with 14 home runs in 135 plate appearances. We very well could see Pena up for Arizona this season, especially if he continues to mash like Hank Aaron.
Lastings Milledge: Milledge was a super prospect that never fully launched. The Nationals traded him along with Joel Hanrahan for Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett after just 26 at-bats in 2009. Milledge was non-tendered by the Pirates this winter, making him the youngest free agent in baseball. He eventually signed with the White sox, but was quickly sent down to the minors. In 112 Triple-A plate appearances this season, Milledge is hitting .212/.288/.265 with one home run.
Elijah Dukes: Entering 2010, the Nationals cut Dukes just before camp broke. The club had apparently tried to trade the one-time prospect, but there were no takers. To many fans’ surprise, not one franchise would take a chance on Dukes after he was cut, mostly due to his erratic personal behavior. The maligned slugger took a job with the Newark Bears of the independent Atlantic League, where he hit a healthy .366/.422/.584 with five home runs in 28 games. In 201,1 he quit baseball to pursue a music career. Dukes was arrested in late April for driving with a suspended license.
Cristian Guzman: Guzman was brought in to be a franchise player for the Washington Nationals in 2005. Unfortunately he only managed to have one truly great season with Washington, while the rest were forgettable. Currently, Guzman is out of the major leagues due to family issues, but he was last seen riding the pine for the Texas Rangers during their World Series run. Assuming he is healthy, it would be no surprise to see him in a big league uniform again before the end of the season.
Will Yoder blogs about the Nationals for The Nats Blog, and offers his viewpoints this week as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.