Here we are finally. The beginning of the new season, full of more trite rebirth pieces than we'll read if Obama gets elected later this year. Baseball-wise it looks like everything is settled for the Nats so we can go on and discuss what people are really interested in: How sad was it to see Donkey Lips in that Amp commercial during the Super Bowl. Oh ok, I'll save that for the "Ugs and Kisses" Blog.
The Nationals are actually only set in a few places. Wide open in my mind are first base, middle infield, and the back of the rotation. Catcher may be an issue given LoDuca's injury status. Those OF slots are open in name (though I have trouble seeing Dukes, Escobar or some surprise guest moving into a starting role). There's always those last bench and bullpen slots. It should be an interesting spring. Should be. I'm hesitant only because this team does have a nasty habit of not making decisions, even for a season or three.
Let's start with what I think will be a fairly open and shut discussion. The OF will be Austin, Wily Mo, and Milledge, right? They aren't going to turn this into another "Everybody gets 2 weeks" situation like it's been forever, will they?
I'd think so, or at least for now. The one issue I could see arising is a Wily Mo versus Elijah one. I've seen it said that WMP is not a bench type -- you have to play him every day for him to get in a groove and have the opportunity to blast a homer per week or so. I can see that reasoning. But I have a feeling he might find himself exposed in real, honest-to-goodness full-time play, and I have a feeling that Dukes is too good to be a fourth outfielder. Of course, there's also a chance WMP blossoms into a big-time power source and Dukes flops or . . . well, continues down a destructive path.
I think Basil makes some good points.
As distasteful as I find Dukes personally, the guy's got a world of baseball talent and by all rights could be starting on 3/4 of the teams in the league. The question, as we've seen, is whether his temperament will allow him to live up to that potential.
There are about 1,200 ABs to be divided amongst left and center. Give Milledge and Pena 400 at each and Dukes 200 per position, and the problem's solved. Certain managers are good about riding the 'hot hand' and maximizing the production. The problem Acta had last year is that his hot hand was more like a fist full of horse poop. I'm not sure there's any conceivable way of molding Langerhans, Logan and Casto into something acceptable.
In some places a fist full of horse poop might be a delicacy, but in baseball terms we're talking about more like the Sally League. What the Nats had out in CF definitely wasn't major league-quality -- which was entirely foreseeable, since we're talking about several years of waiver wire and dump deal guys. That's why (assuming he is competent in CF) the Milledge deal is so important in this context: it breaks the cycle of assorted "flavors" in CF, which is just a kinder way of saying the management stopped tossing out substandard options and forcing the manager's hand to change as a result.
That's the impressive thing right there. Even Milledge as a 4th outfielder represents a substantial improvement over last year. This team wasted 150 LF ABs on Snelling, Casto, Langerhans, Fick, Restovich, and Watson. Of those, only Snelling had some sort of upside. And they wasted almost 450 combined ABs in CF on Logan and Langerhans.
That's 600 ABs that's going to be taken by competent major-league hitters with potential!
We can all agree the Nats have better parts. When someone asks me where I think the OF will be in 2010 now I can say "In the majors" as opposed to "fighting for Indy league playing time" or "pouring cement foundations".
But just because the 3 little pigs finally are using bricks, doesn't mean they know how to build a house. I still will harbor my concerns about the proper distribution of playing time until I see one of these new guys allowed to ride out a 3-week long slump. For all the (completely fair) talk about how the Nats had nothing to work with the last few years they still were sitting out Ryan Church in favor of Nook Logan in early September last year. A bad April for Wily Mo and a good one for Justin Maxwell and I fear the cycle could start again.
The good news though, like you guys said, is that the talent is so much better that you have to think the right guy will have a hot stretch at the right time by chance if not by design.
One more quick OF point before we move on...Dukes on the major league squad; is this a given for the sake of being "mentored" or is there a real chance that he'll be in AAA because they want him to play everyday? (of course I ask because I've been thinking the latter...)
There's definitely a crunch for roster spots and Mackowiak and Harris are capable outfielders on guaranteed contracts, so sending Dukes down wouldn't be a complete shocker.
But isn't that the rationale for half of Dmitri's salary? Dukes doesn't exactly have a great reputation with the International League. It seems like the Nats are trying to get him to change the environment he's in to help make lifestyle changes, and throwing him back into the scene of so many of his crimes, while sensible on one level, is completely crazy on another.
I agree with Chris. I imagine the Nats are planning to take an almost quasi-military approach with Dukes: "Here's Dmitri. He's your sergeant. Stick with your sergeant, watch what he does -- you'll live. Go off on your own and do something stupid -- you'll die." So to speak. That kind of arrangement, which the Nats have given every impression of intending, makes no sense if they don't execute it from the beginning of the regular season.
Don't forget the Nepotista on your list!
Need I ask: Which one?!
That's where looking at the contract status makes sense. They've already given guaranteed deals to a bunch of these players -- more than they have roster spots for, really -- so there's no chance of a Bret(t) making it at the expense of an Aaron. (Unless George -- Brett, not Boone -- comes out of retirement)
But if we keep both, we can say we've got a "Boones Farm"! Ha! ha?
Bowden can't help but tinker with players that have options, and I know Dukes must have options. Plus, Jimbo loves going with the AAA "hot hand". If Dukes starts up here and isn't immediately successful then the next slap hitting OF that is smacking singles all over Columbus will take his place. If he's going to OH eventually why not at season's start?