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WHICH IS THE "RIGHT" FIELD FOR WASHINGTON?

[November 10th] -- In 2005, right-field seemed one of the few strong positions for the Washington Nationals. Jose Guillen had done such a quality job that Jim Bowden offered him a four year contract that would have kept him in Washington through the 2009 season. A snub by Guillen -- and a couple of injuries -- , however, seems to have ended Guillen's tenure in D.C.

Bowden was able to replace Guillen with Austin Kearns, obtained in a mid-season trade with the Cincinnati Reds. Kearns did a solid if unspectacular job (Kearns his a homer every 20 at-bats in Cincinnati but only one every 27 at-bats in D.C.) , and ended the season with numbers similar to what Guillen produced the previous year (Guillen: .283-24-76, Kearns: .267-24-86). Kearns is a solid defender and could become a 30 home run a year guy if he stays healthy. So with those kind of credentials, why am I suggesting that he may not be the long term answer for the Nationals in right-field?

Because he can't hit right-handers very well, and because once outside of the "friendly confines" of Cincinnati's bandbox, he really can't be considered a slugger.

More than 71% of Kearns' at-bats come against right-handed pitchers. In 2006, he batted only .236 with 15 home runs and had a .747 OPS against righties. He averaged a home run very 26 at-bats, all very mediocre numbers. Against lefties, however, he hit 100 points higher (.336), hit a homer every 16 at-bats, and had a 1.039 OPS. He struck out 25% of the time against right handers.

Kory Casto, on the other hand, kills right handers but can't hit lefties at all (he about .189 aganst lefties in 2006). The newly signed Mike Restovich hits right-handers well enough but does a solid job against left-handers. At this stage in his career, Austin Kearns wouldn't go for being part of a platoon, but Casto and Restovich would be thrilled to platoon in the Nationals' outfield next season. I wouldn't be surprised if the two could combine for a .270-25-75 type season for the cost of just two league-minimum contracts, numbers that are similar to what Kearns provided the Nationals.

What of Kearns then?

There are a lot of teams who would jump at the chance to trade for Austin Kearns. Kearns could bring a mid-level starting pitcher -- perhaps better -- in a trade. That would leave the team's outfield looking something like this (with anticipated production):

That's certainly not an all-star outfield, and it's certainly not an outfield that would lead the Nationals into the playoffs. It is, however, an outfield that is 1) inexpensive and 2) gives several young players a chance to show what they can do at the major league level.

Austin Kearns is a good outfielder, but he's worth more to the Nationals in a trade.

The Beltway Boy has spoken. He may not be right, but he's spoken.

What's the deal with J.D. Drew? The Dodgers have announced that outfielder J.D. Drew has opted out of the final three years of his contract and is now a free agent. Dodger's GM Ned Coletti is both upset and surprised, telling reporters that he had Drew's word that he wasn't going anywhere next year. I can't believe that Drew, who was injured for most of his first year with the Dodgers, and hit "only" .283-20-100 this year, thinks that he's going to be able to make any more than the 3 years/$33 million that he was guaranteed in Los Angeles. You would think that his Nick Johnson-like injury problems would scare away the big spenders.


Comments:
that may be true about kearns having difficulty in RFK, but the new stadium will be more "neutral" in terms of helping pitchers. I think if he stays, he could be a 30+ homer guy.

That said, I agree with you 100% about Escobar. If he remains healthy, the guys can be a stud.
 
Escobar has been injured his whole career. He doesn't have just one injury a season, he has one a week. He will never, never hold up if the plays full time. With his history, there is no way we should be counting on him. When you think Escobar, think Kerry Wood. Wood is a great pitcher and hitter when he is healthy, but he is never healthy.
 
You're right about Escobar's past, Phil, but don't you think that -- sooner or later -- Escobar will remain healthy for an entire season? If he does, I think he'll hit extremely well, say .285-30-90 or so.

I think that you and I would have said this time last year that there was no way that Nick Johnson would have gotten through the '06 season healthy (we can't blame the broken leg on him in any way).

Up until this season, Escobar's injuries were related to his hamstrings and other specific body parts. Just like Johnson's injury, I don't think we can blame his season-ending injury on anything other than just plain bad luck.

I would of course reverse the Jerry Owens for Escobar trade if I could, but that said, I think when all is said and done, the trade won't be as one-sided as it appears now.
 
Farid--Just thought I would let you know that Manny Acta will be named the Nats New Manager--early next week. Its going to happen. He's a good choice.
 
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