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[November 4th] -- So, Stan Kasten is finally starting to lift the "cone of silence" from his plans for this off season. And really, there are no surprises. No expensive free agents. No inexpensive free agents. Maybe -- maybe -- a few cheap free agents. Oh, and lots and lots of six-year minor league free agents, players who haven't been given a real chance to make in the major leagues but might -- just might -- have the talent to play there.

I'm not sure I understand why this plan was considered "top secret" by Kasten and general manager Jim Bowden; it's exactly what the team did last year, before the so-called "plan" was put in place. Anyone remember Ramon Ortiz and Matt LeCroy and Robert Fick and Damian Jackson and Daryle Ward and ..... well you get the idea. And the "six year free agent" thing isn't particularly new either, lest we forget the likes of Andrew Good and Steve Watkins and Mike Vento and Wiki Gonzalez and Alberto Castillo and Bernie Castro and ..... well .... you get the idea again (I'm not sure why Watkins wasn't given an opportunity to play in D.C. this summer -- he went 7-7, 3.85 for the Zephyrs).

Now, don't get me wrong; I like the idea. The Nationals have to -- for the moment at least -- fill the gaping holes in the team's roster with warm bodies, players who really don't have any real chance to succeed, but who just might anyway. From last year's crop of "scratch and dent" players, a few, like Marlon Anderson and Daryle Ward, made a difference. But for every one of them there were two Damian Jackson's. And of the bevy of minor league free agents, not one had a successful season in D.C. Oh, Billy Traber pitched a few good games, and Brandon Harper played well once he was recalled, but all-in-all, last season's sighing frenzy was a bust.

And yet the team is about to begin round two.

The Nationals announced on Saturday that they signed minor league free agent Mike Restovich to a contract and told him he'll have the opportunity to compete for playing time in D.C. next year.

Restovich, 27, is a 6'4", 250 pound outfielder who has spent time in the Cubs, Twins, Pirates and Rockies' organizations. He is a slugger. Playing for Iowa last season, Restovich batted .293-27-85 in 443 at bats with a .934 OPS. Like most big bats, he strikes out a lot: 121 times in 2006. He's a competent as you can get: .311 vs. lefties, .288 against right handers ... .316 at home, .272 on the road, .330 during the day, .280 under the lights ... .299 before the all-star game, .287 after. During his minor league career, he's driven in more than 70 runs five times. He's even done fairly well during his limited opportunities at the major league level, hitting .250-6-20 in 240 at bats. Defensively, he seems capable enough, which is surprising considering his size. During his last two minor league campaigns, he averaged 16 assists and 5 double plays, making a combined 9 errors. You'd have to think, however, that his size significantly reduces the number of balls he can get to. You would think his size and power would make him an ideal first baseman, but that's not the case. When the Pirates acquired Restovich from the Colorado Rockies two years ago, they tried to move him to first base to back up Daryle Ward, but the idea was quickly forgotten when it became obvious that first just wasn't a natural position for him.

Restovich had been considered a top prospect for several years before being released by the Twins' organization. In 2002, Minnesota almost traded him to the Mariners for all-star catcher Dan Wilson, and turned down several other offers that season as well. In 2005, he never got the chance to unpack his suitcases. After being recalled and sent down several times, he was waived by the Twins, picked up by the Devil Rays, then designated for assignment four days later. Restovich was claimed by the Colorado Rockies only to be traded to the Pirates without ever playing a game in Denver. The Pirates released him during the off season, allowing him to sign with the Cubs. You can look at all those moves in one of two ways. Either there are/were a lot of major league teams who worshipped Restovich from afar but soured on him once they saw him play for them, or perhaps there is a "situation" with Restovich the person. I just don't know.

Was he signed to help fill out the Columbus roster or is he going to be given a real opportunity to play for the Nationals next year? Assuming that Alfonso Soriano won't return next year, the Nationals will have Ryan Church, Alex Escobar, Austin Kearns and Nook Logan to fill four of the five outfield roster spots. I can't see Restovich starting (unless Church is traded and Escobar gets hurt again) and I certainly don't see him as a late inning defensive replacement.

This is what I think Kasten and Bowden are thinking: They realize that Ryan Church is well regarded around the league and could bring (especially if sandwiched with another player) a fairly solid starting pitcher. That would allow the team to go into spring training with Kearns in right, either Logan or Escobar in center, and Restovich in left.

Another possibility -- and this just dawned on me -- would be that the signing of Restovich is a move designed to give the Nationals some flexibility if Kory Casto ends up starting in left next season. Kasto is well regarded, but is also well known to be a very poor hitter against lefties. A Kasto - Restovich platoon, then, just might be the answer if Soriano doesn't resign and Church gets traded for pitching.

I think that Restovich, given the opportunity to play every day, could certainly put up some fairly significant offensive numbers. How significant? Oh, perhaps something like .265 - 25 - 80, maybe a little more, maybe a little less. He has a career .367 OBP percentage, so that's good, but he also strikes out too much(maybe 170 times at the MLB level), and that's bad.

I think it's a good strategy by Jim Bowden. Although I love Ryan Church (I still say he'll be a Grady Sizemore clone if ever given the chance), he could bring a fairly significant starting pitcher in a trade, and Restovich might provide capable enough to be a "plus" in left field, at least until scouts find his weakness (and you can bet it's there).

He could be a find, or he could be a bust. But Mike Vento would likely have some words of warning for Mr. Restovich regarding his chances. Vento, who signed a similar minor league contract last fall, had a tremendous 2006 season for New Orleans, batting .341 with a .898 OPS during an injury plagued season. In nine games with the Nationals, Vento batted .278 with a .409 on base percentage. Doesn't that fall into the "what else do I have to do to get a shot" category? Vento is testing the free agent market and may -- or may not -- return. When he signed with the Nationals last February, I wrote: "CNN.si calls Mike Vento "at best" a 5th outfielder on a very thin team. Not exactly a ringing endorsement. Rotoworld.com says that, although he isn't going to make the team's 25 man roster now, he might be able to help the team down the road. He has shown a little power the past two years at 'AAA' Columbus, banging out 27 homers, one every 35 at bats. He has a career .280 minor league average. He got two at-bats with the Yankees last year. I doubt we'll see him at the major league level, but he'll probably start with the Zephyrs, compiling a .280-16-80 type season. He's 27, so it's becoming "now or never" time for Vento."

But the question has to be asked .... If Vento didn't do enough to stay in D.C., what will Restovich have to accomplish?

So, if there is a trade in the offing, I like the deal. If Church et. al. remain, then it's another "what the heck is he thinking" move by our illustrious GM.

Stay tuned.

NATS NOTES: As expected, Ryan Zimmerman didn't win the gold glove, losing out to perennial winner Scott Rolen, even though his stats were either as good or better than Rolen's. Rolen averaged an error every 9.46 games, Zimmerman 10.46. Rolen had 3.01 chances per game, Zimmmerman 2.71. Ryan turned a twin-killing every 5.23 games, Rolen 4.43. The one stat that stood out was put-outs. Zimmerman had 152, Rolen only 93.

Like I said, it's not surprising. Once Rolen retires, Zimmerman will take over as the heir-apparent yearly winner. And that's as it should be.

Hey, I really like this guy. I saw him play in Iowa this summer. The ball has a different sound when it comes off his bat. I think he could have Pete Incaviglia type numbers if he ever gets a chance to play everyday.
Forget how well he plays, the guy looks like a baseball player. I can't explain it, but I have a feeling this guy is going to make a difference.

I also agree that he's going to get the opportunity to play left if Church can be traded for pitching.
I believe the only reason for Stan Kasten saying ANYTHING, and yesterday's late afternoon briefing was put together at the last moment--was to ward off any more of the bad press that has been circulating all over Washington and ESPN that The Nationals DO NOT KNOW what they are doing. It was obvious, that Mr. Kasten and Jimbo were peeved at what WAS being said. Of course, I don't believe anything Jimbo says, but I do respect Mr. Kasten--for his straightforwardness. It was necessary and interesting to hear, for the first time--officially--that Our Washington Nationals are REBUILDING--WILL NOT be players in the free agent market. Now, at least we know what to expect from next years team--maybe not much--but hopeful improvement. Mr Kasten is pushing for 2008 and beyond--and the managerial search is looking for someone, some up and coming talent--to lead the development stage. It was also interesting that Mr. Kasten also said the Nats are looking for a manager to work with the team at "this time" of development. Meaning, that manager, may not be around when winning does. I actually thought it was a very revealing presser. Officially, Our Nats have stated their ground--for the first time.

Finally, you really never know--but with Alfonso, at this point, pretty much out the door, I see NO WAY that Church is traded. Can Restovich help?--sure--but you don't bounce around so many, fairly bad teams, for nothing. He's a player good teams need, as a bench player--not a mediocre team looking to get better. Restovich is injury replacement material--most likely nothing more. Just my thoughts on this guy. I would rather take a chance with Jose Guillen.
Anyone else get the feeling that 2007 will be 2006 minus Alfonso??? Ok, I know their doing the "rebuilding thing" and I really trying not the get my pitch fork.....but they still sound really cheap. I'm not asking for Zito or Alfonso, or to make the playoffs, but is a decent team to much to ask for in one of the richest, most populated areas in the country? I knew 2007 was already in the can and that they wouldn't be signing any "A" or "B" FA, but go, it sounds like they don't even want to spring for "c" or "d" pitchers. Early next year Bowden will be searching through the scrap heap, and find Ortiz with a different name; 100 loses season is on the way.
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