MEETINGS ALMOST OVER, ARE NATS ALMOST DONE?
[December 6th] -- I dislike uncertainty with a passion. Take the Nationals' outfield as currently constructed, for example. Four starters for three positions. It is almost inconceivable that any of these four players won't start come April, yet someone is going to sit on the bench - or even more possible - spend part of the season at the 'AAA' level.
Austin Kearns isn't going anywhere anytime soon. He is considered one of the nicest and most decent players on the team. It wouldn't look good for the Nationals for Kearns to be playing in Kansas City or St. Louis when his replacement, Elijah Dukes, gets locked up for yet another indiscretion. Prediction for 2008: .270-25-85
And Wily Mo Pena isn't going anywhere either. He just signed a contract extension (2 years / $7 million) and is considered by most (me included) to be the only real slugger among this group. Besides, Jimbo loves him just like he loves Austin Kearns. Nope. Barring some reverse-epiphany next spring on his part, Pena is the Nationals' anointed slugger. Prediction for 2008: .267-32-100
So who's going to play center field?
Elijah Dukes is a center fielder. He's a 6'2", 235 center fielder. He's a center fielder built like a fullback. Now, sure, he only hit .190 in 184 at-bats last year, but to be fair, he had a few things on his mind. Playing a full year, he would have hit 30 homers and 65 RBI's. Interestingly, he was also on pace to walk 100 times, giving him a .190 batting average along with a .318 OBP; a very strange combination. Defensively, he didn't make an error in 52 games. What could he do if given the opportunity to play every day? Well, if he does what he did last year but raises his batting average to .250 or so, he'd likely hit 35 homers, drive in 100 RBI's and walk 100 times.
Isn't that enough to earn him a starting position?
Lastings Milledge is a more compact 6'0", 190 lbs. His 2007 numbers were better than Dukes. Interestingly, both Milledge and Dukes had 184 at-bats last year.
Dukes: .190-10-21 / Milledge: .272-7-29. He made four errors last year. Milledge will likely hit for a higher average with fewer homers but about the same number of RBI's assuming they bat in the same place in the lineup. Playing a full year, Milledge would have hit 21 homers and drove in 99 runs. Pretty impressive.
So which one starts? One (Milledge) is ready to play everyday. Dukes might be ready, might hit 40 homers but also might end up in jail.
I believe Jimbo when he says all four will compete for a starting job next year, but really, the only players doing the fighting will be Dukes and Milledge.
And I just can't say at this point as to which one I want to win.
I'm very happy with the Tyler Clippard trade; in fact, I think the Nationals received far more in value than they gave up. Jonathan Albaladejo did a fine job at every level for the Nationals last year, but remember, he was released by the Pirates earlier in the summer. Maybe he's figured "it" out, but maybe he hasn't.
Clippard has given up 10.5 baserunners per 9 innings during his minor league career, a very very good number. Even better, he fans 9.5 batters per 9 and crafted a very impressive .236 batting average-against.
Certainly, his 3-1, 6.33 record with the Yankees isn't stunning, but it is deceiving. Heading into his final two starts, he was 3-1, 3.60. His undoing was all the walks that came in his final three starts.
He's just as likely as anyone else on the team to earn a spot in the starting rotation.
And we got him for a reliever that cost us nothing. Impressive.
Now, we just have to see what happens at catcher.
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