Friday, March 18, 2005

Center-ipital Force

I know, I know. Blah Blah Blah Endy Chavez Stinks Blah Blah. You've read it before. Too many times. But, there are some new developments.

First, Alex Escobar, the Great Hope, is broken again. (Second Item)
Outfielder Alex Escobar is nursing an injured quadriceps, an ailment that jeopardizes his chances of making the club. . . .

Escobar said he has felt sore since his quad flared up four days ago.

Robinson said he would keep Escobar, once one of baseball's top prospects, the duration of spring training but that his chances of making the club are not good because of the injury. Escobar is batting .083 in 12 plate appearances this spring.

"If this was the last week coming up, it wouldn't do him any good if he did get healthy in time because he's not going to make the club in a week," Robinson said. "But there are a few days to play with right now, and I think he has time to try and win a spot on this ballclub."

"It's always bad not to be playing, especially in the situation that I'm in right now. ... You're not going to make the team being hurt," Escobar said. "It's something that is bothering me and I didn't want it to get to the point where it was going to be more painful or cost me more time off the field."

I guess that's to be expected. He hasn't really stayed consistently healthy throughout his career. And now, he's getting caught in a numbers crunch. If he doesn't make the team, which with JJ Davis' hot hitting (.444 average with an .889 slugging percentage), is increasingly unlikely, I hope Jim Bowden can get something for him from another club. (Although that's unlikely too.)

There's a chance that he could pass through waivers unclaimed, but given the potential the guy has, that would surprise me. So, unless something dramatic happens in the next two weeks, it's “thanks for playing, Alex!”

The other possibility that keeps coming up is one of Trader Jim's old friends, Wily Mo Pena. Pena, who's just 23(?!) was originally signed by the Yankees and had a clause in the contract that forced him to the majors before he was ready. Pena put up a solid .259/ .316/ .527 line in 336 AtBats last year. He also plays a sensational centerfield (He'll finally start to get some notice this year, I bet.)

That's the bright side. Wily has a dark side. In those 336 at-bats, he struck out 108 times and walked just 22 times -- an atrocious ratio. I'm a firm believer that strikeouts are not innately bad and that players shouldn't be criticized for striking out as much, because it's not really worse than any other out. But, Wily is an extreme case. And, when you combine it with his walk total, it shows that he has pretty piss-poor plate discipline.

Youth is certainly on his side. But, because he's had so much major league experience at a young age, and because he has that wonky contract, I'm not sure how much more service time he needs before becoming a free agent. I'd assume that the Reds control him for at least two more years, but that's also when arbitration kicks in -- and no matter his stats, he'll get a hefty raise.

Another knock against him is how the Nationals would acquire him. One rumor I read involved Mike Hinckley. At least that's what I think it was, because my eyes started to bleed. Short of acquiring Johan Santana, there are not many players we should be giving up Hinckley for. John Sickles recently had him as the third-best LHP prospect in the game. And, although I don't think he'll be a superstar, he looks like he can have a solid major league career.

Trading him would only make sense if we were in a win now mode. We're clearly not. Instead, Hinckley should be able to enjoy his time in beautiful downtown Harrisburg.

What's clear, as I said the other day, is that the team is at the end of the line with Endy Chavez. They're doing everything they can to find an alternative.

I'd be willing to put up with Brad Wilkerson's defense in center, if it meant more playing time for Terrmel "Toxic Bat" Sledge. Just making that one change gives the lineup some much-needed depth and would propel the Nationals closer towards the league-average offense they're going to need to be in the hunt for a playoff spot.

They've got some time to come up with an answer. And they're clearly looking. It's just will they find an optimal one; one that doesn't cost this team any more of its 'prospects?'


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