Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Thumb Twiddling Roster Decisions

The roster seems to be the focus today. Who's on? Who's making the bench? Who's going to New Orleans for the summer?

We know the answers to most of these questions and as the Times points out, that's awfully strange for a team that almost lost 100 games last year. The starting lineup is set, with the possible exception of Inning-Endy Chavez in center.

Everyone knows the problem with Endy.
Last year, he couldn't hold onto the leadoff spot -- one he acquiesced to Wilkerson -- because he walked just 30 times in 547 plate appearances, a horrific rate. He hit .277 and stole 32 bases, but it hardly mattered, because his on-base percentage was just .318, including an unforgivable .291 when batting first. The result: He scored just 65 runs

There've been rumblings that he's at risk of losing his spot. I would suspect that they're just that, rumblings that are more of a motivation tactic than anything. I suspect we'll see his balsa bat leading off the first game unless he totally craps the bed this spring.

There's debate about whether they'll head north with 11 or 12 pitchers. Early in the season, because of the high number of off-days, it's usually easier to carry fewer pitchers. You won't need to use your fifth starter until the end of the month at the earliest. If they take 11, that leaves six spots on the bench.

Backup catcher Gary Bennett is one. Outfielder Terrmel Sledge and Infielders Jamey Caroll and Wil Cordero make four.

This is where it gets interesting. The contenders:

  • George Arias, 3B, the American-turned Asian import.
    "I did a lot of growing up over there in Japan, knowing what I can and can't do on the diamond," Arias said. "Hopefully, I can use that experience over here."

  • Carlos Baerga, IF. A Former All-Star (But then so was Robby Alomar) the over-the-hill Baerga fell off the cliff offensively last year and rarely got into the field, only appearing a few times at first base. In his prime, he was a pretty poor defensive player and age certainly hasn't helped that.

  • Alex Escobar, OF. He's the injury-prone former uber-prospect who I think is the darkhorse to unseat the incumbent centerfielder. He's also out of options, meaning he makes the major league roster, or the Nationals probably lose him.

  • JJ Davis, OF. The former Pirate hasn't been able to put it together in the very few major league opportunities he's had. He supposedly has problems with breaking balls, and worked over the winter to improve. Projection systems seem to love him, primarily because he did torch the Pacific Coast and Eastern Leagues. He's out of options too.

  • Tyrell Godwin, OF. He's Chavez-lite. Godwin, who came over in the Rule 5 draft from the Jays is likely headed back to Toronto as he's got next to no chance to make the team, barring a miraculous spring and the right players getting injured. The Nationals can always work out a deal to keep Godwin, but there's not much of a point.

  • Henry Mateo, IF. He's played parts of four seasons with Rey Ordonez-like efficiency and Joe McEwing-like versatility. Add it up, and you've got a pretty crappy player.

    Mateo is coming off shoulder surgery and isn't going to be healthy in time to start the season, which is no great loss.

  • Tony Blanco, DH. Yeah, Blanco's played 1B, 3B, and OF at various points, but that's just outta necessity rather than any sort of skill. He's a slugger, and not much more. He'll hit some homeruns, but he's not to be confused with THIS guy.

    Blanco also came to the Nats via the Rule 5, so unless a trade is made, he's probably headed back to Cincinnatti. I hope he likes chili!

  • Ryan Church, OF. Church, who Baseball America says is our best defensive outfielder is destined to have his career frittered away by this team. Church is definitely ready to tackle the majors this year, having demonstrated that he can handle the upper minors.

    The catch is, that the team wants to ensure that he has regular playing time. And with the glut of outfielders in DC, he's probably headed to New Orleans, where he'll be the team's best player, easily. If Chavez gets hit by a bus, Church's number is probably on speed dial.

  • Jeffrey Hammonds, OF. Hammonds was the hope and salvation of the Orioles back when they were clinging to any prospect that showed an ability to stand on two feet. Unfortunately, Hammonds couldn't even stay upright, spending more time in a hospital ward than even Nick Johnson. When he was healthy he hit decently, but the promise he showed never developed, presumably, in part, because of all the injuries. About the only way I can envision him making the team is if he hits .800 for the spring. He's about 5th on the backup outfielder depth chart.

There are others who could surprise, such as Brendan Harris, but those are the main contenders. If it was up to me, I guess I'd go with Escobar and Davis. Ideally, I'd want another middle infielder, but Baerga barely qualifies and Arias only plays the corners. In an emergency situation, Wil Cordero used to be a middle infielder and Brendan Harris is just a short flight away for the next game.

I'd see if they could work that out and see what happens on the injury front. Injuries always have a way of answering a lot of these roster crunch questions. It's just that when they happen you hope it's to the ones on the bench, not the ones in the starting lineup. (Excluding Vinny Castilla!)

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