Thursday, July 20, 2006

Introducing Our New Left Fielder...

Jose Guillen finally (and mercifully) went on the DL for the elbow/wrist/rib/forearm/goiter/kidney problem that's been affecting him all season. Unfortunately for the Nats, he's done it about 4.5 months too late. He hasn't been healthy one game this season, and any continued playing of him to increase his 'trade value' has been folly. He'll be on the DL til after the 7/31 deadline, but an August trade wouldn't be out of the question were he 1) hitting or 2) not persona non grata in Pittsburgh, Tampa, Arizona, Cincinatti, Colorado, Oakland and Anaheim.

By my unscientific calculations, the only teams he hasn't played for are the Baltimore Orioles and the Cleveland Infants.

Mevlin Dorta gets the call, if only because he's the only infielder left in the entire organization who hasn't been suspended for steriod abuse. Dorta's not much of a hitter, batting .277/ .329/ .381 at double-A Harrisburg. He can play all over the diamond and he's got a little bit of speed. Maybe he'll turn into Joe McEwing. (and no, I'm not sure if that's a compliment)

At any rate, he gets the call not because he's good or because he's ready, but because he carries a tiny glove. And with Jose Vidro hobbling like that out-of-shape cripple he really is and Damian Jackson still suffering from whooping cough, we're one twisted knee from seeing Robert Fick at third base.

Dorta should stick around for a few days til Bodes brings out the vacu-pump and sucks out the blockage in the outfield, and giving this roster some sort of non-dartboardish construction.

But as he plans it, and as the Soriano rumors keep (as your limey friend would say) hotting up, there's going to be a deficit of outfielders pretty soon. Kearns in right, sure. Escobar in center, yep. But Matos? Pass!

So is there anyone on the farm who could help out? Marlon Byrd? Nah. He had his chance. Again. And again. But, hmm... there's one name that sort of looks familiar. I vaguely remember this Church kid. Didn't he do something last year? I can hardly remember.

The Ryan Church saga has been a tiring one. He had a lot of promise last year (and probably played over his head.) He made a game saving catch in Pittsburgh, but hurt himself when he crashed into the wall. He wasn't right for a time after that. He did the unthinkable. Instead of playing through the pain and sinking the team like Manly Man Jose Guillen, he went on the Disabled List. Later in the year, the guy asked out with a broken toe, the wus! It was only his pinky toe!

Anyway, the guy got a rep as soft, and because of the wall-crashing injury (and perhaps regression to the mean) he stunk in the second half. You know what happened this year. He came out flat in Spring Training, then the team started throwing out words like 'complacent' 'fire' 'drive'. He got sent down at the beginning of the year, despite there being ZERO evidence that his replacement, Brandon Watson, would have any chance of success. Watson, as almost anyone with a pulse could've told you, flamed out, and Church got his chance.

And he made the most of it, completely destroying the ball in a way that no non-Soriano National was. His April was tremendous, hitting .244/ .380/ .659. To put those numbers in context, that OPS total is roughly what MVP candidate Carlos Beltran is doing this season. The man was hitting.

But then, uhoh. Cough, cough, sneeze, sneeze. He came down with the flu. But, having learned his lesson last year that, short of dismemberment above the elbow, you must play through pain, he shouldered on. Bill Ladson reported:

Outfielder Ryan Church left Friday's game against the Cardinals in the sixth inning because of flu-like symptoms.

"There's a bug that has been around for a while," Robinson said. "He went as long as he could. He couldn't go anymore. He didn't ask out. I took him out."

Church didn't show up to the park the next few nights as he was trying to get healthy. He didn't appear in a game til May 2, pinch-hitting in two games before coming on as a pinch-runner in the third. He got his first start on May 6, going 0-3, but with two walks.

He would start each of the next four games, getting just three hits in fourteen ABs while striking out six times. He did look out of synch. I'm not going to defend him for that, but he was far from the only Nat whose head wasn't on straight as they dropped 3/4. He pinch-hit on the 18th, then got another start on the 19th, going 0-4 with a K. And that was it. He was gone.

His May was brutal. Coming off the flu, and with a few games missed, he hit .167/ .286/ .167 in 24 ABs. You can't defend that performance.

But, I can point to the randomness of numbers. Here are the Nats batting totals since 7/8 (chosen randomly to get totals roughly equal to the 24 AB sample Church has). Is Soriano really a .387 hitter? Is Jose Vidro really a .182? Is Lopez going to hit .080 the entire year? The point is that you can't make a judgement based solely on the numbers, especially when there are 40 ABS preceeding that showing that he can beat the snot out of the ball.

It's clear, from reading between the lines, that there's something deeper going on there. Some of the writers have hinted around it, but no one's actually talked about it. It'll turn into one of those "now it can be told" sorts of stories when he retires. But for now, it's a nebulous mystery.

Now, when I started out writing 7,500 words ago, I didn't intend to write a defense of Church. I just wanted to see how his minor league stint was going, and see if there was any chance that he'd fight his way back on to the team. Short answer: Nope.

Church has stunk up the park in New Orleans, and he's been very unpopular with the fans. It seems like he's a headcase, completely unsure of himself, but with the way he's been jerked around the last 18 months, it's probably understandable.

For the season, Church is hitting .235/ .337/ .373. Brutal. Just brutal.

When I looked at the boxscore the other day, I saw that he had a homer. Then another. Hmmm.... I guess he's starting to get his act together. So it was time to take a closer look.

He has been on fire in July.

Through the games of July 17th, he's had 40 ABs, almost double that horrid May sample that earned his demotion. And what's he done? .325/ .404/ .550. Scorching.

He's getting hot at the right time. It's probably too late to work him into the trading plans, but if there's a hole at the major league roster, how can the team overlook that performance? He's finally doing what they asked him to do: go to New Orleans and hit like he's a major leaguer. If he keeps it up, can they keep him down?

Yeah, I'm pulling for the kid. And he's probably not as good as I think he is. But they've dicked him around for two years for not being tough enough, all while letting Jose Guillen kill the team while being injured. When other struggle, they play through it. When Church struggles, he gets yanked. Or demoted. He really needs to be left alone, given consistent playing time, the way Marlon Byrd got it so that he can prove that he can cut it or, like Marlon Byrd, that he deserves a one-way ticket to New Orleans.

I'll be keeping a close eye on him, pulling for him to get his chance. If he keeps playing like his July, no one can say that he hasn't earned it.

13 Comments:

  • I can't agree you any more.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7/21/2006 1:18 AM  

  • Great recap of Church's history. Looking at his July numbers, there is no (logical) reason not to bring him up once Soriano is traded. It will be an interesting situation to watch.

    Doesn't Bowden's treatment of Church look inept? Weren't there 20 better ways to handle the situation without destroying a promising prospect? Bowden has not shown a deft touch.

    By Anonymous nosniv, at 7/21/2006 7:20 AM  

  • I hope that Church gets another chance here. My God, the guy was on a strong Rookie of the Year track last year until Pittsburgh. I felt badly for the guy.

    Perhaps we haven't seen the last of Church, but if they brought him up now, wouldn't they have to send someone else down? And if so, who? Fick? Matos? It's a juggling act at this point, isn't it?

    By Blogger CrashRiley, at 7/21/2006 7:53 AM  

  • CHurch has been a victim of Robinson's "manage by gut feeling" BS. As you say Guillen and Vidro are allowed to play when they're so banged up they're worthless at the plate and in the field.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7/21/2006 8:30 AM  

  • nosniv,

    I'm not sure how much is Bowden and how much is Frank. Frank, at least from body language, doesn't seem to like Church's approach at the plate, which went to hell in May. He truly was clueless up there.

    Bowden, at least, at first talked positively about Church, but in one of the latest Ladson mailbags, he indicated that his time was running short -- of course that was before he started hitting like a major leaguer.

    Crash,
    If they wait until after the Soriano trade, there'll be a spot open! An outfield with Escobar/Matos, Kearns, and Church is a VERY good defensive outfield, which can only help the pitchers.

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 7/21/2006 8:30 AM  

  • The problem with this rosy scenario is the recent quotes from Bowden saying that, "Church has had his chance." I don't think it's just Frank who's consigned Church to the nether regions. It might be the contrast between Guillen (who's one of Bowden's favorite people, remember) and Church that has soured Bowden of Church.

    My prediction: Church is traded to the Phillies for 100 gallons of red paint after the Phils dispose of Burrell and/or Abreu; Ryan then proceeds to go 14 for 31 in the 9 remaining Phils/Nats games this season.

    As far as Guillen is concerned, is he really persona non grata in Oakland? He was only there for a couple of months and everyone knew he was there only as a temp. He'd team up so well with Milton Bradley there.

    By Anonymous Simon Oliver Lockwood, at 7/21/2006 8:36 AM  

  • It's hard to ignore the Bowden statements, for sure, but are those based on performance or attitude? At the time those were made, he wasn't hitting. Well, he's started to hit. And if there's one thing Bowden loves, it's a hitter. Sure, he's not the speedy, lithe guy that Bowden usually likes, but he's got a lot of Kearns in him, even if he doesn't have the ceiling.

    As far as the A's, I don't recall anything specific, but I find it hard to believe that Guillen could spend more than a week anywhere without burnging a Bridge.

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 7/21/2006 8:42 AM  

  • What do you figure this injury means we get Guillen for another couple years? Can't trade him means we might sign him after his contract runs out, and if it were for cheap enough it wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing. Of course, Guzman's 4 mill a year runs out in only two years, so its time for Bowden to find another millstone to hang around our necks...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7/21/2006 9:58 AM  

  • I wouldn't offer him a multi-year deal, but a few days ago in one of the comments, I threw out the idea of offering him a one-year deal.

    Give him a chance for a do-over and let him play for a contract next season. But in the meantime, disable him this year, and make sure he's fully healthy, something he hasn't been since the first day of spring training.

    Guillen's played plenty of left, and I don't think he'd have a problem sliding over. This year has taken the bloom off the rose, but when he was healthy last year, he was a legit borderline all-star -- that's the kind of guy that Bowden LOVES to take chances on.

    If he plays well next year, you can trade him then. Or maybe, we'll get crazy lucky and be sniffing the playoffs. Who knows?

    The other alternative is to not sign him at the end of the year, but to offer him arbitration. Does the team risk him accepting and coming back for 5-6 million? If they offer it and he declines, when he signs elsewhere, the Nats would net at least a first-round pick from the other team. If he accepts, you've got Crazy Jose on a one-year deal, which isn't the worst thing in the world, I suppose. If he acts up, cutting him wouldn't be a huge pain.

    Lots of decisions, to be sure!

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 7/21/2006 10:04 AM  

  • I have always been a huge Ryan Church fan. Ryan has that beautful Will Clark swing. The team has messed with his head for over a year now. In late June, I was in New Orleans on business and attended a Zephyrs game against Oklahoma City. Being a Nats Season Ticket Holder, I was able to arrange for my small group to meet Ryan Church before the game. We had a good 10 minute talk. And, without Church naming names, Ryan did tell me that there are those in the organization that just DO NOT LIKE HIM. Frank Robinson, on the other hand, feels he can contribute and wants him back. But, Frank is not allowed to make the final decisions. That too bad. Church is wasting away and when you look at how awful the Nats defensive outfield has been most of this year, how can anyone ingnore his defensive skills and potent bat. It continues to amaze me how Bowden wastes what limited talent the Nats had when Jimbo inherited the Nats GM job. The problem is the front office, not Church on this one.

    By Blogger Screech's Best Friend, at 7/21/2006 10:30 AM  

  • Hi; slightly off topic, but I just wanted you to know that I'm featuring your blog as one of our Editor's Picks this week, and we'll also be linking it from the AOL Journals main page.

    It's a special edition, since this week's picks are being made in honor of a former boss who'd died recently -- he was one of the creators of AOL's Sports Bloggers Live, and a Nats fan to boot. I'm not sure if he knew about your blog specifically, though. Thanks -- Joe

    By Anonymous Joe, AOL Journals Editor, at 7/21/2006 7:20 PM  

  • It is obvious that there are people with decision-making authority and ego problems in Washington who do not like Ryan Church. After labeling him "soft" in 2005, they tried to toughen him up by teaching him a lesson in 2006. Losing his job at the end of spring training to Brandon Watson was a clear slap in his face. Sending him down after a bad few days in May was another.

    To a high ceiling, high-strung thoroughbred, these types of disappointments can result in career-threatening disillusionment or depression. I am not condoning his going in the tank in the minors, but the organization should treat him like an asset, not an adversary. If the goal is to prove that management's impression of him was right in the second half of 2005, leave him in New Orleans and let him drown like the rest of the city. If they want to help a young player with tremendous potential develop that potential, put him in the lineup and let him get the big league at bats he needs to become a star.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7/27/2006 1:45 AM  

  • By Blogger Sneakers hobbies, at 10/29/2009 9:33 PM  

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