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MEET JUSTIN JONES

[ December 8th] -- Jesus Flores was big news on Thursday. Levale Speigner fairly big news. But Justin Jones? His acquisition in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft went almost unnoticed.

Jones is a 22 year-old from Virginia Beach. The 6'4" lefty was a 2nd round draft pick of the Chicago Cubs in 2002, and was part of the blockbuster trade that sent Nomar Garciaparra to Chicago and Doug Mientkiewicz to the Red Sox. Jones ended up in the Twins' organization.

Jones has had a solid if unspectacular career thus far, though injuries have plagued him over the past few seasons. He's had to deal with a "tired arm" which has led some within the Twins organization to question his makeup -- that is, the problem was in his head, and not his arm. Jones has a 20-21, 3.39 career record, and has given up only 8.6 hits per 9 innings, a very good number. That said, his walk rate of nearly 4 per 9 innings is going to keep getting him in trouble if he can't find his control. Mike O'Connor confounded us all summer because he gave up very few hits when he pitched, but always seemed to be walking the bases loaded. Jones has a similar history. Unlike O'Connor, however, Jones is a strikeout pitcher, fanning 8.4 batters per 9 innings, so he can get himself out of a jam with a fastball.

Jones has a fastball that tops out at 92 mph, which really means that he seldom hits 90 in game situations. His curveball, however, is very good, which adds speed to his fastball. His third pitch is his change, which is above average.

He's got the potential to make an impact with the Nationals. Let's see if Bowden can find a way to give him that chance.

Planners vs. anti-planners: There is a growing rift between Nationals' fans that is shaking out as the "planners" (those who support Stan Kasten's conservative plan currently in place) and the "anti-planners" (angry fans who believe the Nationals should be signing free agents and restocking the farm system). Read the comments on the many message boards and you'd think it was "Republican vs. Democrat." For some, being a fan comes with a sense of entitlement. They believe that they are owed a team who signs free agents regardless of whether those signings would really help the team. To others, 2007 has already been written off, and they really don't care if the Nationals lose 100 or 120 games. These fans can live with a $35 million dollar payroll as long as the savings are then reinvested into the farm system.

Thus far, the Nationals have been true to their word. Last month, they signed more than twenty minor league free agents. Two or three of them will likely make the major league roster in 2007. Though they didn't make a trade during the winter meetings, they did draft three Rule 5 players. Jesus Flores was the talk of the post draft pressers as several reporters were impressed with Jim Bowden's choice. Most teams couldn't afford to hide a player like Flores on the roster for an entire year. Because the Nationals didn't spend money on arbitrary free agents for next year, they can afford to hold on to someone like Flores without harming the team's hopes.

You can't take a chance on someone like Flores and sign a Gil Meche as well, and Bowden knows it. No reason to spend $11 million on an average player if you're building for the long term.

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