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NEW YEAR PREDICTIONS

[January 1st] -- It's the new year, which means that it's time for resolutions and predictions. At my age, I've come to understand that I've never kept a resolution in my life, and I'm not going to start now.

So lets stick with the predictions.

1] Alfonso Soriano finds out that Wrigley Field's "friendly confines" aren't so friendly after all. The former National signed one of "those" contracts that insures that no matter how well he does, it won't be good enough. To "earn his salary," Cubs' fans are likely going to demand a carbon copy of what he did in Washington last year, perhaps even a little better. And I just don't think that's going to happen. Take a look at his career averages:

Those are very good numbers, but they aren't great numbers, and a guy who earns $18 million dollars a year needs better-than-great numbers. Guys like Albert Pujols and Ryan Howard, players who can carry the team for months, deserve those kind of dollars. But not Soriano. I predict that the pressure of the contract as well as the law of averages will takes their toll and he will not have one of his best seasons in 2007:

I'd say he'll "earn" about $8 million next year while making $18 million. It's not going to be a fun year for Alfonso Soriano.

2] Brian Lawrence will make us wish he was still in the Nationals' rotation (not that he really ever was). Lawrence is currently holding private workouts and has attracted several teams, particularly the Colorado Rockies, who believe that his hard sinker would be perfect for Coors Field (note to management: do you remember Mike Hampton?). He's throwing smoothly and without pain.

He had a terrible 2005 season -- why else would he have been traded straight up for Vinny Castilla. But don't judge his ability on his 7-15, 4.83 record from two years ago. It isn't a stretch to believe his down year might have been the result of a bad shoulder that was diagnosed only after Lawrence joined the Nationals. Prior to 2005, Lawrence had a career record of 42-46, 3.86, having averaged 207 innings pitched per season over that period.

I realize that it would have cost nearly $5 million to have honored Lawrence's option year, and that would have been a risky move considering his shoulder. But considering how much money the team has saved in its payroll costs, it may have been a risk worth taking. There certainly weren't any free agent pitchers on the market who could have provided 200 innings and a .500 record for $5 million dollars. Here's my prediction for Lawrence assuming he signs with the Rockies:

He would have looked very nice in the #3 slot in the Nationals rotation, and retaining him would have been acceptable under "the plan."

Coming to a city near you: "Ryan Church is GRADY SIZEMORE II!" Although Ryan Church is still a National, I don't expect him to be in D.C. come opening day. You just don't have so many people within your organization saying so many bad things about you and then remain part of the team like nothing has happened. I still don't know the real reasons behind Church's problems with the team. He is a laid-back California type, which to some indicates a lack of passion for the game. He is a deeply religious man who had the audacity to speak publicly about his private views. That said, he is an extremely talented player. Yes yes, he has a problem with outside breaking balls and doesn't have the range to play center, but he does many other wonderful things. Take a look at his career stats based on a 580 at-bat season:

His 2006 season (again, based on 580 at-bats) was even better:

That he hasn't played a full season doesn't mean that he can't. One of the biggest problems for part-time left-handed players is batting against lefties. Church hits lefties better than righties. He's 28 and he's ready to become a full-time player somewhere.

My guess is it'll be somewhere else, which is just too bad. I sincerely believe that in the end, Ryan Church will be a better major league hitter than Austin Kearns. Kearns, then, could have brought a pretty decent starting pitcher in a trade, opening up right-field for Church.

But it'll never happen. Makes just too much sense.

Ryan Zimmerman and the sophomore slump: When I was a young kid, the "sophomore slump" was something that most second year players had to deal with. A solid first season was usually followed by a disappointing second year. Then, the player would rebound in his third year and went on to have a solid career.

Don't expect Zimmerman to go the way of his elders.

Zimmerman showed maturity beyond his years in 2005, and will likely make tremendous gains in the next couple of years.

Ryan started off slowlyin 2006, and saw his batting average dip below .240 in late April. The reason? Pitchers found a hole in his swing. Zimmerman was swinging at every off-speed pitch thrown down and away. The strikeouts were piling up and his average was in a nosedive.

Then he did something that he would do many times during the course of the year. He adjusted. He began to hit that outside pitch to right field for singles and doubles. When pitchers stopped throwing down and away, he began to hit homeruns. Time and again, the opposition would find a chink in his armor, and he'd compensate and correct. A young player who can do that, especially at 22, isn't going to backslide in his second year.

Many hope that Zimmmerman's career will continue along a path set by fellow 3rd baseman and close friend David Wright. I think Ryan will do better. Wright hit 42 doubles in his first full season and 40 doubles last year, though his home runs didn't show any remarkable improvement. Zimmerman hit 47 doubles (and 10 doubles in just 58 at-bats in 2005). Those high double numbers (and his 20 homers last year) are classic signs of a young power hitter whose body is still developing. Very soon, his doubles will decrease as his power increases. Balls that used to bounce off the outfield fence will fly over it. The change may come next year, perhaps the year after. My prediction for Zimmerman next season:

He's going to be a very special player for many years to come.

It's going to be a tough 2007 season -- no one doubts that -- but we have to be like the fans of the 1962 Mets, that is, to look beyond the losses and see the promise the future holds.

And the future will very bright, indeed.

I hope that your new year will be full of hope and happiness. Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to read "The Beltway Boys."

Nationals.com speaks: Bill Ladson gave his first glipse of his version of the 2007 Nationals. Here is their lineup as he sees it.

2B - Felipe Lopez
1B - Nick Johnson
3B - Ryan Zimmerman
RF - Austin Kearns
C - Brian Schneider
LF - Kory Casto
SS - Cristian Guzman
CF - Nook Logan
SP - John Patterson
SP - Beltran Perez
SP - Matt Chico
SP - Joel Hanrahan
SP - Mike O'Connor/Shawn Hill
CL - Chad Cordero

Though the batting order doesn't make a lot of sense, I'm not going to complain about the players themselves, with the exception of Nook Logan. Logan has never shown at any time, at any level, that he has the talent and ability to play everyday at this level. And if Logan is the best the team can do, then yes, the team is in for a long season.

Ryan Church and Alex Escobar both play center field adequately enough. Their offense would more than make up for the occasional balls that fall in because they aren't quick enough to cover center field's vast area.

Ladsen seems to favor Joel Hanrahan over Tim Redding, which is a little surprising. I imagine that either of them are capable enough to put up numbers like 10-14, 4.60 or so, maybe a little better if the offense produces again in 2007.

Pitchers begin to repoort to Vierra in 45 days. How cool is that?

Red Sox still Cordero'ing: The Boston Herald is reporting that the Red Sox are still interested in Nationals' closer Chad Cordero, but not at Jim Bowden's price - their top two pitching prospects, Clay Buchholz, Michael Bowden and closer Craig Hansen.

Bucholz, a 22 year old who pitched for Wilmington in the Carolina league last season, has a career record of 11-5, 2.47 in 39 starts. He allows only ten baserunners per 9 innings pitched and strikes out almost 11 per 9 innings. He seems to be the real deal.

Bowden, 19, played mostly at class 'A' Greenville, going 9-6, 3.51 with 10 baserunners and 10 strikeouts per 9 innings. Like Buchholz, Bowden shows remarkable control for a young pitcher.

Craig Hansen has already made it to the major leagues. After compiling a 3-2. 1.82 minor league record, Hansen has spent parts of two seasons in Boston, going 2-2, 6.59.

I don't think that the Nationals would need Craig Hansen unless the Red Sox are willing to part with him as a "throw in." The Nationals have several relievers who have both the talent and demeanor to close for them. That said, I don't see Theo Epstein giving up both his top young starters for a reliever who is very very good but not dominant.

If Boston offers either Bucholz or Bowden plus another lower level prospect (A Matt Chico type), I'd do the deal. The Nationals currently have too many pitchers similar to Hansen to warrant including him (again, unless he's a freebie).

Jon Rauch would be a great closer. His 6'11" frame makes his ball difficult to pick up. His fast ball is fast enough, and he does a very good job at keeping runners off base.

I really think that the Nationals could trade Chad Cordero and never miss a beat.

Do the deal, Jimbo. That is, if you can.


Comments:
Happy New Year, Farid! I agree with you about Zimmerman, and I hope you're wrong about Church. I still think that the team might keep him.
 
Happy new year Farid! It is much easier to read than it is to write. Thanks for writing.
 
kI hope I am wrong about Church, Mike. He has been one of my favorite Nationals since the team moved south.

Manny Acta's words aside, the team has made if very clear that they are not happy with him.

I love him because he hits lefties and righties equally, whereas Austin Kearns can look meek and lost when facing some right-handers. He batted .336 against lefties in 2006 but batted 100 points less - .236 - against righties. Someone needs to explain to me how we can afford to have an outfielder hit .236 in 385 at-bats.

Of course, I think Kearns - because of his Reds pedigree - is a sacred cow.
 
Farid: Its nice to see that we are on the same page when it comes to Nook Logan. Exciting at times, but no way he can provide anything decent for an extended period of time. A 4th outfielder, yes, not as an everday starter.

I too, would love to see Church stay and given an honest chance. And, although I can't see Jimbo trading one of his own, Kearns would return a far greater value than Ryan. And, we may well still come out of the deal winning on both ends.

We have nothing to lose it seems.

But, I do love THE CHIEF. I would hate to see him go. He is the most heart thumping scary closer of the past few seasons. He makes the game exciting, just by being himself. The RED SOX better give up some goodies, mulitple, quality pitching talent for Number 32.

Hope you had a safe New Year.
 
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