Cockcroft: Washington Nationals preview

No one said the Washington Nationals would be rebuilt overnight. The franchise is finally under new management, with Tom Lerner's group taking over ownership from Major League Baseball in July of '06, but what he inherited was a team in need of a complete overhaul, a project that begins in 2007. During the time MLB had the reins, the franchise was mostly on cruise control, leaving the Nationals thin in talent, not only at the big-league level, but also in the minor-league ranks. The bottom line: Anything goes in D.C. this year.

Your best sign of how much work needs to be done to get the Nationals back on track: Only John Patterson, who made just eight starts in '06 due to forearm problems, is guaranteed a rotation spot on Opening Day. The other four spots, meanwhile, will be an open competition which will include many as a dozen combatants this spring. Washington will need to find a way to get enough spring innings for Jason Bergmann, Matt Chico, Joel Hanrahan, Shawn Hill, Colby Lewis, Chris Michalak, Beltran Perez, Tim Redding, Jason Simontacchi, Billy Traber and Jerome Williams not only to compete for rotation spots, but also get in enough work to be at full strength for the regular season. That'll prove quite the challenge, and based on their lack of experience and past results, the winners are hardly going to be considered attractive fantasy choices.

Beyond Patterson, who comes loaded with health questions, the only other National pitcher who should attract much attention is closer Chad Cordero, and even he has been the subject of trade rumors for the past several months. If he's moved, this staff might not be much talented than some Triple-A squads. And that's accounting for the fact that the team plays in a pitching-friendly ballpark.