Two weeks ago, it seemed imperative that the Washington Nationals resign Adam Dunn and make him a long-term part of the team’s future.

However, the team continues to prove that while they are on the cusp on contention, they aren’t close enough to begin signing 30-year-old players to long-term deals.

To win at this level, a team must have quality pitching and solid defense to go along with timely hitting.

Right now, the Nationals have a strong bullpen, and is deep enough to support a contending team. Once the injured starters begin to return, their starting rotation could be as good as anyone in the division.

Let’s look at who the Nationals should have available come September 1st:

1. Stephen Strasburg

A once-in-a-generation talent, Strasburg is 4-2, 2.03, 6.7/2.6/12.6 in his first eight starts in the major leagues. He’s only going to get better and will likely be the best pitcher in the National League next season, if he’s not already.

2. Jordan Zimmermann

A second-round pick in the 2007 draft, Zimmermann played parts of three seasons in the minors and put up Strasburg-like numbers, going 15-6, 2.68, 7.2/2.9/10.0 in 204 innings. He went 3-5, 4.63 with the Nationals in 2009 before Tommy John surgery ended his season.

While his overall numbers with Washington don’t look too impressive, he improved as the season progressed, and in his last nine starts went 1-3, 3.18 while allowing opponents a .243 batting average, .305 on-base percentage and .355 slugging mark.

He has been near perfect in his rehab starts this month, keeping his fastball around 94 mph while not walking a batter.

3. Yunesky Maya

Maya, a Cuban defector, was being chased by the Red Sox and Yankees this spring, but was signed by the Nationals yesterday.

At 28, Maya is a veteran of the World Baseball Classic and has won the Cuban equivalent of the Cy Young Award. In six seasons in Cuba, Maya went 48-29, 2.51.

Nationals’ general manager Mike Rizzo said he is “battle tested” and should be in the rotation “this year.”

4. Jason Marquis

Bone chips in his elbow landed Marquis on the disabled list earlier this year, but he has begun his rehab stint and should be ready to rejoin the team sometime in August.

Since 2004, Marquis has averaged 14 wins, .9.3/3.4/5.0. With the Rockies last season, he went 15-13, 4.04.

The Nationals could fill their fifth and final spot in the rotation with any of the following players:

John Lannan: The Opening Day starter the past two seasons, Lannan is in the minors right now trying to regain his form. But he is one of just a handful of major league starters with an ERA below 4.00 in both 2008 and 2009, so there is no reason to believe he won’t be back in Washington any day.

Chien-Ming Wang: His return from shoulder surgery has taken longer than anticipated, but he is expected to return sometime this season. Wang, 29, averaged 19-7, 3.74 in 2006-2007 and was 8-2, 4.04 in 2008 before the injury began to take its toll.

Scott Olsen: Olsen averaged 11 wins for the Marlins from 2006-2008 and is still just 26. He had surgery last season and began this year 2-2, 3.77 before soreness forced him to the disabled list. He too is rehabbing and will be back in the next few weeks.

Ross Detwiler: The former 2007 first-round draft pick went 15-17, 3.94 in the minors before getting called up in 2009. Though he pitched poorly in May and June, he returned in September from a July demotion and was brilliant, going 1-1, 1.90 while allowing opponents a .220 batting average, .319 on-base percent and a .268 slugging mark.

He required surgery this past spring but returned to the Nationals’ rotation on Sunday.

Also in the mix is J.D. Martin (1-5, 4.14), Craig Stammen (2-4, 5.50) and Luis Atilano (6-7, 5.15).

The Nationals have put together a pitching staff capable of contending.  Not right now with the rotation full of place-holders, but once the disabled list empties in favor of the rotation, all will be well.

The Nationals need defense and they need more hitting. They can do this by trading Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham, Livan Hernandez and Matt Capps for prospects, and then find a player or two in the upcoming free agent market.

The Nationals have taken care of the pitching. Now it’s time to fix the defense. If they do, the offense will follow and 2011 will be a special year.

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