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ANOTHER PART, ANOTHER QUESTION

[December 10th] -- Just when we think we know what's going to happen, Jimbo surprises us.

Over and over again.

After Barry Svurluga suggested that the Nationals were close to signing Paul Lo Duca last week in Nashville, he (and the team) backed off when it appeared that the Toronto Blue Jays were willing to give him a 2-year deal. Suddenly, the Nationals seemed ready to ride the E-train (as in Johnny Estrada) into the new park.


A few days later, it's Lo Duca.

Really.

Lo Duca, 35, is a Arizona State University grad who jumped onto the scene as a rookie with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2001 when he batted .320-25-90 with a .917 OPS. It goes without saying that he never again came close to producing those type of numbers. No one expected him to succeed like he did; he was a 29 year old rookie who spent his first 8 years as a professional in the minor leagues.

Why did he choose the Nationals? As Sally Field might say, "he liked us. He really really liked us."

While there has been no specifics from the Nationals, most seem to believe that Jesus Flores will remain with the team, catching 30 or so games next year. That doesn't make a bit of sense to me. Either play the kid 130 games and let him learn on the job, or send him to Columbus and let him play there every day. Flores isn't some 19 year old who has years to learn his craft. He's 23 and he doesn't want to end up being as old as Lo Duca was before he becomes a starter at the major league level.

Having Paul Lo Duca as the team's starter for a year neither hurts, nor helps, the Nationals. He's a stop-gap, nothing more. What worries me is this: What's better -- a losing team full of nice, decent guys, or a winning team full of schmucks?

I have very strong memories of 2005, that Jeckyl-and-Hyde season, where Jose Guillen's antics were often the lead story in the local papers. If you listened closely, you could hear the hail of hosannas that were shouted throughout the Beltway community after Guillen became a Seattle Mariner.

No, Paul Lo Duca isn't a bad guy, but he's certainly not a family man either (to the consternation of his wife). Lastings Milledge isn't a bad guy, but it's going to be a few years before he matures into an adult. Elijah Dukes? He could be a bad guy -- he could be like Sloth on The Goonies, chained to a chair in the basement in the new park, allowed out of his dungeon only to hit long homers for the Nationals. And Tyler Clippard? His photo in a Yankee uniform makes him look like an All-American boy, but his nude MySpace pic (cropped just so to hide his dangling participle) tells a different story.

Lastings Milledge + Elijah Dukes + Tyler Clippard + Aaron Boone - Brian Schnedier - Glen Gibson - Jonathon Abeldegado (or whatever) - Ryan Church = what? Good? Bad?

There is no doubt in my mind that the Nationals are a better team today. If everyone does what they are capable of, and if Nick Johnson returns at 100% as he swears he now will, then this is a particularly potent lineup:

1B: Nick Johnson - .285-25-90 or Dmitri Young: .285-15-80

2B: Ronnie Belliard - .275-14-60

SS: Cristian Guzman - .250-5-40

3B: Ryan Zimmerman - .295-28-110

C: Paul Lo Duca - .275-8-50

And these four outfielders - if given the chance to start - could produce as well:

LF - Wily Mo Pena - .270-35-90

CF - Lastings Milledge - .285-25-90

RF - Austin Kearns - .270-24-85

?F - Elijah Dukes - .250-35-90

That's a good lineup if - IF - there are no surprises in terms of injuries and continuity. There is a decent chance that this lineup could help lead the Nationals to a near .500 record in 2008, assuming of course the starting rotation continues to grow and mature.

But will the team be loved? Will 2008 become StarSearch or Star Wars? Will there be a Dr. Smith in the clubhouse sabotaging our Jupiter II? Will every headline include words like "Fight" or "Clubhouse Cancer" or "Arrested?"

While I doubt this will be the case, I still worry that Nationals' might be reminiscing about the "good old days," the days of Jose Guillen.

TRIVIA: Lastings Milledge got his name because his parents decided he was to be the last child they would have, hence "Lastings."

That's cute, right?


Comments:
I don't think Lastings Milledge will cause any problems. He seems to me like a good, young kid -- as immature as one would expect of a kid his age -- whose flaws were magnified by the New York media hothouse. (Granted, the rap song lyrics were offensive).

The other two are a bit more worrisome, especially Dukes. That guy's got some toxic baggage. I just hope Manny, Dmitri and the boys can help him get rid of it.

And of course, when you wrote this blog entry, we didn't even know yet about Lo Duca's pharmaceutical help.
 
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