I was supposed to post this awhile ago, but I'm incredibly lazy these days and am just getting around to it. Regardless, doesn't look like we're going to get all of the teams posted by Opening Day, does it?
Manny Acta could mean the difference between a decent season or being the laughing stock of Major League Baseball. Manny is a stathead, a new school moneyball guy who has been tasked with using a few spare parts to run a potentially good machine. Does he have enough parts? The Nationals did not add one frontline player this off season. Not one. They lost Soriano, their only true power hitter. They have ONE starter in their rotation, a guy whose arm usually falls off every year. They have a projected centerfielder who runs faster than a politician to money but has problems hitting a watermelon off a tee. Yet, last place is not inevitable - there are some really good aspects of this team. The question remains are the spare parts the right ones? Can Manny plug the numbers to make it all work?
Ryan Zimmerman (3B). This guy is so good that people forgot he was a rookie last year (apparently, so did the baseball writers, who neglected to give him ROY honors). He's so good that he is the face of the Nationals at age 22. Assuming the Earth is spinning correctly on its axis, Zimmerman should at least repeat - if not improve - his 2006 numbers. (.287/.351/.471/20 HR/110 RBI) The best fielding third basemen in the best crop of third sackers in eons, look for him to compete for his first of many Gold Gloves this year.
Felipe Lopez (2B). He can hit. His combined 2006 numbers (.274/.358/.365/11 HR/52 RBI) were not as good as his 2005 numbers (.291/.352/.496/23 HR/85 RBI) when he was an All-Star, but the shock of being traded could have had something to do with that. A high on base percentage gives ample opportunity to take advantage of his speed - he stole 44 bases in 2006. Lopez has a problem fielding, however, committing 28 errors at shortstop last year for the two worst defensive teams in baseball. The move to second base should help a bit in that regard.
Austin Kearns (RF). One of my favorite Reds players for years, at age 27 Kearns is just hitting his prime. He had some adjustment issues after The Trade but still posted good combined numbers (.264/.363/.467/24 HR/86 RBI). The biggest downside to Kearns is his history of bizarre injuries, but he managed to play 150 games in 2006. As his previous high was 112, perhaps the injuries are behind him. Austin has one sweet swing, a thing of beauty worthy of a painting, and his arm in right is enough to make runners think twice about advancing. Great all around player, can do everything.
The Bullpen. Chad Cordero saved 47 games for the Nationals in 2005, a team that finished at .500. Last year he saved 29 in 33 tries for a team that just didn't give him as many opportunities. Filling in the pen will be set up guy Luis Ayala, who is coming off a lost season due to an injury he sustained in the World Baseball Classic; Ryan Wagner, a promising pitcher who came over in The Trade with Kearns and Lopez; Jon Rauch, who announcers never fail to remind us is the tallest player in the history of baseball; and lefties Ray King and Micah Bowie. Rule 5 pick Levile Speigner has not given up a run all spring and will go north with the team.
What Could Be Good
John Patterson (P). This guy could be one of the best pitchers in baseball if his arm would stop failing him. If Patterson can stay healthy this year, he could easily win 15 games. Problem is he's made 30 starts once in his career - in 2005, when he threw 198 innings, struck out 185, and registered a 3.13 ERA. Last year he threw 40 innings before he had to get his arm sown back on.
Nick Johnson (1B). Johnson, the heart and soul of the team, will most likely miss the first half of the season while recovering from a broken femur he suffered in a collision with Austin Kearns in a meaningless game at the end of last season. Until the collision, Nick was having his first healthy season of his career. Just looking at his 2006 numbers (.290/.428/.520/23 HR/77 RBI) makes me emit one of those weird sounds from my mouth that expresses shame and regret, because these numbers are tough to replace. While he's out, Larry Broadway, an aging prospect (26 years), will get a shot at starting for the Nats. In five seasons in the minors, Broadway hit .284/.366/.477/74 HR/282 RBI. There's no guarantee for Broadway, however, as the Nats have both Dmitri Young and Travis Lee competing for the spot.
Speed. If Felipe Lopez, Nook Logan (CF), and Cristian Guzman (SS) can get on base, they are going to make a lot of things happen on the basepaths, but that's a big if after Lopez. Guzman averaged 18 stolen bases a year in Minnesota but managed only 7 during his miserable 2005 season with the Nats, thanks to a .260 on base percentage. In Nook Logan's six seasons in the minors, he simply did not get on base (.325 OBP).
Spare Parts and Question Marks
The Rotation. Never in a lifetime of watching baseball have I seen a team with one starting pitcher going into Spring Training. But you know, the Nats could surprise in this area. The rotation stunk so badly last year that pretty much anything will be an improvement. Patterson is the team's ace. At the beginning of camp, contenders for the four open spots included Tim Redding, Jerome Williams, Shawn Hill, Jason Bergman, Matt Chico, Beltran Perez, Billy Traber, and Chris Mickalak, among others, with Mike O'Connor recovering from surgery during the start of the season. O'Connor is expected to return to the rotation when healed, and newly acquired pitcher Brandon "Pickle" Claussen may join him in the middle of the season after he recovers from his own surgery. Surely there is a diamond in this rough, rough situation.
Defense. The Nats had the worst defense in baseball last year. With 131 errors and a .978 fielding percentage, Nook Logan is not going to miraculously make the entire defense good, but moving Lopez to second can help out, and so can having someone other than Soriano in left. Zimmerman should also cut down on his 15 rookie errors as he is more seasoned.
Ryan Church is competing with Alex Escobar and Chris Snelling for the leftfield spot. One of those players will not make the roster. Church, who has immense potential but has not been given the chance to play every day, is the leading contender for the starter's position.
Dmitri Young, Ronnie Belliard, D'Angelo Jimenez, Tony Womack, and a host of hasbeens and neverweres will be competing for reserve spots. Bernie Castro is a good late inning defensive replacement. The Nats have 72 players in camp, so there are plenty to choose from. Some combination of these players could get the machine running - or they could destroy it.
Catchers behind reliable starter Brian Schneider could be Jesus Flores, Robert Fick, or Brandon Harper.
There are no Bill Hall All-Stars on this team, as they all played with the Reds instead of against them.
Projected Opening Day Roster
Starters: C Brian Schneider, 1B Dmitri Young, 2B Felipe Lopez, SS Cristian Guzman, 3B Ryan Zimmerman, LF Ryan Church, CF Nook Logan, RF Austin Kearns
Rotation: John Patterson, Shawn Hill, Matt Chico, Jerome Williams, Ronald McDonald
Bullpen: Chad Cordero, Luis Ayala, Ryan Wagner, Jon Rauch, Ray King, Micah Bowie, Levile Speigner
Bench: Gangsta Belliard IF, Bernie Castro IF, Chris Snelling OF, Jesus Flores C, Captain America