As we look ahead to the second half of the season, here are the things I'd like to see the Nationals do, in no particular order.
1. Vote of confidence for Manny: as far as I can tell, we have two pieces definitely in place for The First Great Nationals Team: Manny and Zimmerman. Manny's a very good in-game strategist and an excellent motivator. Last year he should have been manager of the year, and this year he's been saddled with an awful roster and consistently short-handed. I doubt that the vote of confidence will come from JimBo. He has always tended to be more focused on shifting blame away from himself, and he's thrown more than one manager under the bus (see: Tony Perez). Stan has to stand up for his manager and say unequivocally that we want him here long-term. I would go one better and give him a raise/extension and the authority to hire his own coaching staff (which he doesn't have now, and most managers do).
2. Make as many trades as possible flipping basically anyone and everyone who's over 26 for prospects. Our 40-man roster is loaded with guys who will never be part of The First Great Nationals team. We need to turn them into guys who could be. My list in roughly declining order of trade value would include Rauch, Guzman, Kearns, Redding, Rivera, Perez, Young, Belliard, Lopez, Ayala, Cordero, and Hill.
3. Re-Sign Zimmerman: one of the keys to building a successful franchise in MLB is to lock up your very best young players for their prime years at a reasonable price. The player's incentive to do a long-term deal is all about security--our best shot at locking him up long-term has come and gone. But the closer Zimmerman gets to free agency the less incentive he has to sign a long-term deal at any kind of discounted rate. He is still three years away from free agency, and in a season so far lost to injury and his slow start his negotiating leverage is at a momentary low ebb. The Nationals should lock him up through at least his age 29 or 30 season now. I would think 6-7 years at ~$8m per year would do the trick, but whatever, the greater risk at this point is to leave him unsigned and watch him win the MVP in his contract year at age 26 and play out his days for Boston or LA.
4. Sign each and every draft pick. OK maybe you can't sign them all for reasons outside your control, like Destin Hood just decides to play football and that's that. But there should be no draft picks left unsigned because of budget reasons.
5. Resist the urge to rush pitchers who aren't ready: As the season winds down, the temptation will be there to bring up Zimmermanns and Detwilers of the world and throw them into the fire. Lannan last season rocketed through the system and faced down Barry Bonds on national TV and was better for the experience. That's rare. Lannan has poise to spare. More common is that when a kid comes up too fast he gets rocked and his confidence starts to wane. The next thing you know you have Edwin Jackson on your hands. I'm not saying that we shouldn't bring up any kids at all, but we need to protect them: give them some low leverage bullpen innings, set low expectations, if they get some success, maybe give them one 4 inning start in a pitcher's park with our best defense behind them. Which brings us to...
6. Go find a defensive replacement for 1B. I'm not saying we need to trade for a gold glover, but we should be able to scare up somebody who can at least do what Robert Fick did for us last year--provide an average defense late in games when Meat needs to sit (this of course assumes that Meat isn't on the DL for the rest of the year). I dunno, what's our old buddy Travis Lee doing these days? Then, we need to play our best defense every time behind Balester and any other kids you bring up. I don't care if 1B gives you no offense. Every Balester start is about the future, and we should be setting him up for success on the mound, not forcing him to get 32 outs every time out.
7. Resist the urge to flip pieces of The First Great Nationals Team for a player who will be in decline by two years down the road. (Read: back slowly away from Matt Holliday, JimBo.)
8. Do something to curry favor with the fans. Add a half dozen more promotions. Do some kind of big fan appreciation day where everyone gets to come on the field and meet the players. Half price Tuesdays. Let the $5 section sit in the President's seats. All of the above. Just do something that you don't really have to do that people will notice and appreciate.
9. Do something about Clint. I know, this isn't really important, but people really hate that guy. Certainly just replacing him with someone less completely obnoxious would work. Or I actually think that if you paired him with a little female co-host, someone more toned down and actually likeable who could tease him playfully a little, I think that could be a fun little rapport. A doofus is just a doofus. But a doofus with a straight man (or woman) to roll her eyes and deliver punch lines at his expense? That might be tolerable.
10. Oh, and of course... Fire Jim Bowden.