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[September 12th] -- In a few short weeks, the pain caused by the Nationals' 2006 season will finally, gratefully, subside. Soon thereafter, we'll all begin to predict who will and won't return to the Nationals come next spring.

Here's my early predictions (with the chance of them returning) for the position players:

1b - Nick Johnson: 75%
Finally, Johnson played a full, injury free season in the major leagues, and he's making the most of it. Nick is on pace for a .295-24-80 season with a .431 on-base-percentage. Combine all of that with a long term contract that pays Johnson less than he's worth, and you have to believe that there will be several teams looking to make a deal with Jim Bowden this off-season. If Bowden really wants to get young, he could trade Johnson for a starting pitcher and a minor league prospect (though he might have to add a low level prospect to sweeten the deal). If he does this, then Larry Broadway, who has nothing left to prove in the minors, would have the opportunity to step in and show what he can do. What could he do? I'd say somewhere around .270-15-80 or so. If Broadway fails, the Nationals could move Jose Vidro to first, or perhaps play Robert Fick there (Fick had a good season playing first for the Braves a few years ago). My vote: trade Johnson for pitching and a prospect; his value will never be higher.

2B - Jose Vidro: 35%
For the Washington Nationals to have any hope of improving next year, the defense has to get better, and for the defense to get better, Vidro has to move on. Now, for another team to take him, the Nationals will have to cover a sizeable portion of his remaining contract (two more years) and will have to move him to an American League team (can you say DH?) or to a National League team in need of a first baseman. Nomar Garciaparra and Jeff Kent and Ernie Banks have proved that middle infielders can transition over to first with ease. To my chagrin, Bernie Castro has proven that he isn't good enough to turn double plays in the major leagues, so he's out (I thought he could). My vote: move Felipe Lopez to second base. His erratic arm is less of a concern there, and his offense can easily produce a .280-17-60 (40 steals) type season, superior to anything Vidro could have done. That said, Lopez would be a marked improvement defensively too.

SS-Felipe Lopez: 50%
He's a terrible shortstop -- Cincinnati knew it and now Washington knows it. But he's a talented athlete and a solid offensive player. Move him to second and let him thrive as a major leaguer. I know you're going to laugh, but I'd put Cristian Guzman back at short. Remember, he only made 15 errors in 2005 compared to Lopez, who is on pace to commit 30+ miscues this year. The Nationals could bat Guzman 8th, and, considering the team is far more powerful than in 2005, all Guzman would be asked to do is play defense. He would probably bat .250, great for a number 8 hitter. My vote: move Lopez and bring back Cristian Guzman.

3B - Ryan Zimmerman: 100%
That's all I have to say about that!

LF - Alfonso Soriano: 25%
It's going to take a minimum of $15 million dollars to re-sign Soriano, and it's only going to go up from there. As much as I want Soriano to return, those dollars would be better spent rebuilding the pitching staff. Also -- and this is important -- the only hope of seeing Ryan Church as a starter in the Nationals' outfield would be for him to take over left field. Church is a good defender, but he isn't a center fielder. Put him in left, leave him alone, and he'll produce a solid season -- something like .285-23-80 with 15 stolen bases. Those certainly aren't Soriano like numbers, but it's good enough for a team trying to get better. My vote: let Soriano go and make Church the team's left fielder.

CF - Nook Logan: 0%
I refuse to believe that things are so bad that the Washington Nationals would start Nook Logan next year. There is no natural center fielder in the minor league system, so unless the Nationals make a trade, the team is going to go open the season with a substandard center fielder unless (unless) -- unless -- Alex Escobar is healthy and can remain healthy. He's shown that a .290-20-80 type of season is easily obtainable if he remains healthy. My vote: beggars can't be choosers. Move Church to left and give Escobar one more chance.

RF - Austin Kearns: 75%
Kearns is never going to be the player that Jim Bowden thought he was. He's going to be a low average, high strikeout, above average defender who will hit enough home runs and drive in enough runs to make a very good team great, but he doesn't have enough bullets in the revolver to make a bad team average. One option would be to trade Kearns and/or Johnson for pitching, giving his spot to rookie Cory Kasto, who was recently named the Eastern League rookie of the year. My vote: Either Kearns or Johnson, perhaps both, should be traded for pitching. I think the team can afford to give Casto a chance in 2007.

C - Brian Schneider: 100%
Brian Ladson wrote in his "mailbag" column on Monday that he used to believe that Schneider was as good defensively as Thurmon Munson, but that he didn't anymore. We can only hope that Schneider is having an off year defensively and will rebound in 2007. We really don't have any choice. My vote: give Schneider another year (like we have a choice with that four year deal he signed this spring)

There you have it. If I had my way, the team would return only a couple of the team's starters at their current positions. Without improving their defense, and without getting more athletic, it's going to be another long year at RFK.

NATIONALS 7, DIAMONDBACKS 6: It's sad when the game becomes a sidebar report in a nightly blog, but then the Nationals have done that to themselves, haven't they? I was watching the Redskins lose to the Vikings on the TV while I was keeping an eye on the Nationals via MLB.com. It looked a lot like all those games in Denver over the weekend. Get behind early, then tie the game in the later innings. Sure enough, after tying, then going ahead 6-4, Jon Rauch gave up a two-run homer to Damian Easley, tying the game at six. Yep, just like the Rockies Series.

Not this time. A run in the 9th and a Chad Cordero save stopped the slide at four games.

It was interesting to listen to the Diamondbacks' TV announcers sound a lot like the Nats' broadcasters during the Rockies' four game "whupping." It seems that the Nationals have done to the Diamondbacks this year what the Rockies have done to the Nationals. when Arizona plays Washington, they seem to get really stupid, really fast. Their announcers moaned about that all game.

It was kind of nice to have that shoe on the other foot, at least for one game.

I really think that Soriano will come back and that the team will be willing to give him that $15 million a year. The question will be: How many years are they willing to commit to?

We'll see ...
I agree, the Nats will make the offer -- I'm just not sure I want them to
If you trade Johnson (something you know I don't approve of) you'd have to get a #2/#3 that was signed for the forseeable future as well. Taking Nick out of the equation for a guy who's only going to be in DC for a year or two would be silly (unless that's one hell of a prospet attached)

Guzman is death. The .250 average would come along with a .280 OBP and a .320 SLG. He'd make 2006 Schneider look like 2006 Soriano. I like moving Lopez but hate Guzman playing. Of course looking at the freeagents there is nothing out there to replace Guzman. Julio Lugo has potential but will likely be overpaid. Craig Counsell is a step better than the rest, but is that worth the trouble?
I understand that you don't like the idea of moving Nick, but the great majority of winning baseball teams (I'm talking about champions)have a strong, slugging first baseman to lead the way. If we had a slugger in a non-traditional position, then you could carry Nick -- but the Nats don't of course.

Nick has played the entire year and will end up with about 25 homers and 80 RBI's; this has to be one of the lowest production numbers of all the cleanup hitters in the "bigs." He's a better #3 hitter, but Zimmerman isn't ready to assume the the duties of a cleanup hitter.

Nick is like fellow "niche" first baseman Sean Casey and Lyle Overbay. Team's like to have them until they get serious about winning. The Brewers thought they could make a run at the title and traded Overbay this year, and the Reds, thinking the same thing, sent Sean Casey packing.

Nick is 28 years old. If, as we all believe, the Nationals are three or four years away from contending, Johnson would be 31/32 years old then, and coming to the end of his contract. I doubt the team would re-sign him to a big contract considering his age and production limitations. So, why not trade him now and find someone else to play the position while the team beefs up the rotation?

Could work, couldn't it?
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