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2004 was a great honeymoon year for the National’s and their new city. Fans came out in droves to RFK stadium, with attendance averaging close to 35,000 a game. The team was not expected to do much at all, but got off to a good start and then rode a hot streak of one-run wins to first place in June. They weren’t good enough to stay there long, and when the one-run voodoo turned on them in July they gradually slipped back to finish at 81-81. Still much better than had been expected going into the season.

The off season has been dominated by news of the legal shenanigans going on between MLB and the Washington D.C. Council. Things have generally progressed as negotiations involving MLB always seem to, slowly and always a short step from calamity. The two sides have been arguing back and forth about money for a new stadium, until finally ,just yesterday, MLB officials signed a lease for a new ballpark for the team. This should clear the way for Bud Selig and friends to start the, no doubt prolonged, process of choosing an owner for the team.
National’s fans might not have an owner yet but, hey, at least they have a team to watch. Unless, of course, they want to watch them on TV. Washington’s fans will get a meager 42 games this year on over the air TV, down from 81 last year. Peter Angelos’ MASN controls the rights to Nationals games and will broadcast 154 of them, but MASN won’t release any more to over the air TV channels, and has failed to reach a deal with any major cable companies. Only a few small local cable companies in Maryland and Virginia, and DirecTV, will carry the full slate of games.
Just to make things a little sillier, the Nationals can’t even be sure of their name. Bygone Sports was recently granted a request to register the Washington Nationals as a trademark by the Patent Office. MLB, in typical fashion, are trying to strong-arm Bygone claiming an agreement for all rights to the name for $130,000 was reached. Bygone are denying this and holding out for a more equitable $1 million and a few other goodies. If MLB loses, the team will not be able to sell any merchandise bearing the Nationals name.

The main story in camp is Alfonso Soriano. Brought in from Texas for Brad Wilkinson and Terrmel Sledge in an awful trade in December, Soriano has held firm to his position that he’s not willing to move from second-base, while the club is expecting him to be in leftfield. There is an uneasy truce in progress at the moment, as both sides have agreed to put things on hold until after Soriano returns from the WBC. In the first sets of training drills of Camp Jose Vidro worked at Second with the rest of the starters, while Soriano was with the minor league infielders, and Washington reporters have been quick to note that there is no outfielder’s mitt in Soriano's locker. Frank Robinson, by the by, seems to have taken something of a shine to Soriano, a surprise given his close relationship with Vidro and his old-school management approach. Robinson empathises with Soriano, having had position changes forced on him during his own playing career. The funny thing is that there is a good chance Soriano has misunderstood the free agent market. He believes he will be most valuable as a second baseman, not realizing it seems how poor his defensive reputation is. If he were to play well in the outfield this year, particularly if he showed he could handle center, his value as a good defensive outfielder could easily be higher than as a poor defensive infielder. The approach of delaying any decision about Soriano is, at least in part, a realisation that Vidro's health is no sure thing. Should Vidro makes it through the spring in good shape it appears that the idea is to hope Soriano caves in and moves to the outfield. If he doesn’t then Bowden will have to try and trade one of Soriano and Vidro, no easy thing to do given that neither of them is exactly earning chump change. If Soriano is stubborn this could easily get ugly quickly, especially as the lawyers and suchlike from MLB and the MLBPA seem to be staking out their turf.

Question of the Day - Can anyone remember a player refusing to change positions when asked?

Meanwhile, there are players other than Soriano in camp, lots of them. If you've vaguely heard of them or half-forgotten them and wondered if they're still in baseball somewhere, chances are they're in National’s camp. As the excellent Dave Sheinin notes in the Washington Post "Jim Bowden spent much of the winter signing every once-famous castoff, journeyman and retread he could get his hands on." Michael Tucker, Daryle Ward, Ruben Mateo, Damian Jackson, Royce Clayton, Marlon Anderson, Pedro Astacio, Joey Eischen, the list goes on and on. Only Sammy Sosa felt he was too good for the National’s call to arms.


Player			Age	Bats	Avg	Obp	Slg
Brian Schneider	        29	L	.268	.330	.409
Robert Fick		31	L	.265	.340	.365
Matt LeCroy		30	R	.260	.354	.444

Brian Schneider doesn’t do a whole lot with the bat, where his consistency is his main strength. His defensive reputation has been growing with every season though, and he seems to be regarded now as one of the top defensive catchers in the league. Fick will be a serviceable backup, but the real interest here is how good Matt LeCroy will be with more regular work behind the plate. The idea is for LeCroy to do a share of the backup work, to get his bat into the lineup, he’s likely to spend more time at catcher than at first of things go well. The good news is that LeCroy has never forgotten to run like a catcher, so if he can get the glove-work down he’s all set.


Player			Age	Bats	Avg	Obp	Slg
Nick Johnson		27	L	.289	.408	.479
Jose Vidro		31	S	.275	.339	.424
Christian Guzman	28	S	.219	.260	.314
Ryan Zimmerman	        21	R	.397	.419	.569

Nick the Stick should be entering his prime now, and the good news from last year is that he avoided serious injury and racked up well over 500 plate appearances. He is always good for a juicy OBP, a ton of line drives and good, if not great, power. The question with Johnson is always his health, if he can stay on the park the Nat’s are well set at first. Vidro has struggled with injuries the last couple of years, and his numbers have slipped accordingly. Even if he is healthy this year, given that he’s 31 it’s unlikely he’ll return to the offensive height’s he was reaching in Montreal in his peak years. A high OBP and some decent power should be well within his reach though, given a healthy year a .290/.360/.440 output should be on the cards.
The left side of the infield is likely to be more about slick glove work than impressive offense. The first player from the draft class of ’05 to reach the bigs, Ryan Zimmerman looks, on the evidence of last year, to be good enough to be a perennial gold glover at third. Indeed a number of scouting reports before last years draft were talking about him having Shortstop potential defensively. Offensively he obviously won’t repeat last years crazy numbers, and the National’s will surely be happy with a .270/.320/.420 type of year from him, the guy is just 21 after all. Christian Guzman will likely be at shortstop again. As this is a nice polite Canadian environment we’ll not mention Guzman’s OPS+ last year (*cough* 55 *cough*), he’s been below replacement level with the bat for the last few years. He does a decent enough job with the glove, while he doesn’t have the greatest range he makes up for it with a very strong arm. Royce Clayton has been brought in to give him some competition for the job, which kind of says all you need to know about Guzman, his signing being another entry in the Bowden Hall of Shame.


Player			Age	Bats	Avg	Obp	Slg
Alfonso Soriano	        30	R	.268	.309	.512
Ryan Church		27	L	.287	.353	.466
Jose Guillen		30	R	.283	.338	.479
Marlon Byrd		28	R	.266	.323	.376

Some good news for a change here, Jose Guillen does not need surgery and will be back later this week. The initial diagnosis had called for a three month recovery. Guillen will provide some of the power this lineup is short of, the 25 dingers and .480 SLG he should dish up are very important to this team. Alfonso Soriano (assuming he sees sense) should be manning left, and what to expect both offensively and defensively is up in the air. He had extreme home/away splits last year, like quite a few Rangers hitters:

Home		311	.315	.355	.656
Away		326	.224	.265	.374

In center Ryan Church will hope he can reproduce the sort of numbers he was putting up early last year before injuries de-railed his season.


Player			Age	Arm	ERA	ERA+	K/9	BB/9	HR/9
Livan Hernandez	        31	R	3.98	100	5.38	3.07	0.91
John Patterson		28	R	3.13	127	8.40	2.95	0.86
Ramon Ortiz		33	R	5.36	83	5.05	2.68	1.79
Tony Armas		28	R	4.97	80	5.25	4.81	1.42
Pedro Astacio		36	R	4.69	89	5.56	2.64	1.21

Livan Hernandez has only once failed to throw 200 innings in a season since Joe Carter was in a Jays uniform (he threw ‘just’ 199 2/3 in 1999). His peripheral numbers have slipped little by little the last couple of years as his ERA has drifted higher, but, there is nothing in his history to suggest that you are not going to get another ton of high quality innings this year, although he did have arm surgery in the off-season. Predicting Hernandez’s arm will fall off is like predicting the demise of the Braves; it always seems to be a year too early to make the call. John Patterson makes for a very nice number two, he had an elite season last year and is just entering his prime years. He faded a little in September last year, but there’s no reason to think that was anything more than an unusual number of innings catching up with him. Brian Lawrence was set to be the third starter, but he’s likely to be out of the year now with a torn labrum. The rest of the rotation will be filled out by three of Tony Armas, Ramon Ortiz, Pedro Astacio, Ryan Drese and Jon Rauch. None of these guys are likely to get Nat’s fans particularly excited, Rauch is probably the best of the bunch, his flyball ways are well suited to RFK, but, he seems more likely to end up as the long man in the ‘pen.


Player			Age	Arm	ERA	ERA+	K/9	BB/9	HR/9
Chad Cordero		24	R	1.82	219	7.41	2.06	1.09
Luis Ayala		28	R	2.66	149	5.07	1.77	0.89
Joey Eischen		36	L	3.22	123	7.48	4.74	0.25
Gary Majewski	        26	R	2.93	136	5.23	3.87	0.21
Ryan Drese		29	R	5.78	74	3.21	3.21	0.56
Jon Rauch		27	R	3.60	110	6.90	3.30	0.90

Last year’s bullpen were a surprisingly successful bunch, and most of them will return this year, aided by a couple of ex-Yankees. Chad Cordero made the step up to join the league’s elite closers last year as he cut his walk rates in half. He had an incredible first half and then dropped off a little after the break, he should be good for another dominant year at the head of the National’s ‘pen. The rest are a competent bunch, Luis Ayala, Gary Majewski and Felix Rodriguez from the right-side and Joey Eischen and Mike Stanton from the left will do a good job with whatever leads they are given to protect.

There is enough talent here to keep the National’s close to the .500 level and fourth place in the division, a pro-longed injury to Hernandez or Patterson though could see them finishing closer to the Marlins than they’d like.

2006 Washington Nationals preview | 6 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Pistol - Monday, March 06 2006 @ 04:28 PM EST (#141923) #
"Question of the Day - Can anyone remember a player refusing to change positions when asked?"

I seem to remember George Bell resisting a move from LF to full time DH.

I'm not nearly as optimistic about the Nats. The Hardball Times had Washington 10-12 games worse based on their performance last year, and I don't think they're as good as they were a year ago. I see a 70-74 win team.
eeleye - Monday, March 06 2006 @ 05:18 PM EST (#141928) #
If they are forced to trade, I say trade Soriano. They have Vidro signed through 2008 for almost 8 million a year. He's not the best 2b, but he's pretty good. However, they have Soriano for only 1 year, owing 10 million, and he has made it clear he will sign elsewhere after this year, in part because he likes the AL better. So if they trade Vidro, 1 year hence they will be missing both 2b. If opening day has the nats put vidro at 2b, then the answer to the question is up to Soriano: either he'll sit on the bench, or go to the OF. Who could be that stubborn? I see him giong to OF then traded midseason...Nats finish 73 wins.
Glevin - Monday, March 06 2006 @ 10:24 PM EST (#141949) #
"Question of the Day - Can anyone remember a player refusing to change positions when asked?"

There have been a number of guys who didn't want to DH in my memory, I just can't remember who. Piazza was resistant to moving from behind the plate as is Javy Lopez. Normally, I'd blame this on the player, but Soriano made it very clear BEFORE he was traded that he was not going to move off of 2B which was OK IMO for him to say. The Nats traded for him anyway and then expected him to move to the OF. Stupid management.
d_moro2002 - Monday, March 06 2006 @ 11:50 PM EST (#141955) #
I disagree. The best move would be to trade Vidro to a contender hot for the last piece of the puzzle and willing to gamble on his knees.

Of course, the difficulty being he makes good money and has a long term contract and the durability of a knat (although he managed to play in more games last season).

You're right, he is "pretty good". In fact, when healthy, he's an all-star (although father time is just down the street from his house about now).

Unfortunately, he's rarely in tip-top shape. He's getting older now, and really doesn't have the ability to be a game changer as much as he once did (but he might be able to make one last push for a top team).

If I could make a comparison, this is kind of like the Vince Carter situation--in that selling the injury-prone young talent is never a good move. It would be better to hold on to the guy than be forced into taking anything.

True, Soriano isn't a stellar second baseman by any stretch.
It would be difficult to prove however, exactly how much of a disadvantage that would put the Nats at, defensive stats being what they are.

And he does have 40 home run power--terrible splits or not.
He's a less disciplined Vladimir Guerrero (without the defence), and who wouldn't want that on their team?

Worst comes to worst, they do force him to play the outfield and he improves his stock in a later trade.

In terms of evaluating them as a team, it's difficult. The flow of talent from the National to American League these days has diluted the offense and pitching abilty in the Senior Circuit these days to the point where anybody could win.

Which might also explain why Atlanta's demise continues to be averted.

But yeah, .500 seems a safe bet barring injuries to key players.
eeleye - Tuesday, March 07 2006 @ 12:08 AM EST (#141956) #
But in general, is it normal to ask a guy to move to the outfield? Is it a reasonable demand? Is it just me or is it rare to ask a career OF to move to an infield position. In baseball, is that usually how it goes: IF is more specialised, and OF more generic, with more IFers being able to play OF then vice versa?????
3RunHomer - Tuesday, March 07 2006 @ 06:39 PM EST (#141996) #
I have two thoughts about the Nats:

Ryan Zimmerman -- George Brett ?!? Got to root for the kid ... go HOOS!

And my momma could pitch well in RFK. Look for career years from "Ramon and the Question Marks".
2006 Washington Nationals preview | 6 comments | Create New Account
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