As a fan of the Washington Nationals, I welcome you to the home of my birth. I live elsewhere now, but I have re-adopted the Nationals as the team closest to my heart, even after suffering as a youngster with the lousy Senators teams of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Believe me, I know what sucking as a baseball team is all about, because the Senators taught me that in spades. After that, the Cubs taught me that hard lesson yet again after I moved to Chicago.
I have to admit that until I learned of your appointment as Nats manager, I had never heard of you. But maybe that’s okay, because after looking over the Nats’ 40-man roster, I have to admit that I have never heard of any of your pitchers, either. What a dismal group you’ve been saddled with. I love how John Patterson has been dubbed the “ace” of your staff. After all, what does it say when your leading starter is a guy with a career record of 17-20—who is already 29 years old, an age at which he would’ve already established himself as a solid big-leaguer, if indeed that’s what he was to become? Anyway, I wish you luck in finding pitchers.
Maybe you could do something revolutionary: Use three pitchers each game, giving each three innings to work, no matter how well or poorly they acquit themselves. You could just continue to use this method, and every guy gets three innings of work every third or fourth day. It would be like a glorified middle relief corps, and why not, since all you seem to have on the roster are untested nobodies? Of course, you could then bring legit closer Chad Cordero in to save the games as necessary. I think this is an amazing plan, and under the circumstances you face, it could vault the Nats into the pennant race, which otherwise they can’t even dream about.
Let’s look at your other positions.
C—I guess you’ll be going with Brian Schneider. Brian’s not a bad ballplayer. He’s only 30 and still has some game in him. Of course, a career .256 average with 41 home runs in six seasons isn’t exactly tearing it up. I’ve heard that the front office is high on Jesus Flores as the catcher of the future. Of course, he’s never faced major league pitching even once in his life. So he’d have to be the second coming of Johnny Bench to really make an impact. So if Flores proves a cipher, I’m thinking that you should think about giving Robert Fick the job. Sure, he’ll be 33 by the time the season is under way, but have you ever looked at Fick’s career stats? In a three-year period (2001-2003) with the Tigers and Braves, he hit 47 homers and drove in 204 runs. He’s got some power and hits for a decent average, and given the Nats’ pitching woes, you’d best maximize your opportunities to get some runs across.
1B—Nick Johnson won’t be back for a while. That’s a bummer, but there ya go. Broken legs can do that to a guy. Which brings us to Larry Broadway, a guy whose name screams success but who is still unproven. Why am I skeptical about guys who are already 26 and haven’t yet had a first at-bat in the majors? You know, if he was going to be Albert Pujols, he’d have already shown us that. Plus, he’s a little injury-prone. Yeah, Broadway is built like a first-baseman; he’s even left-handed. But I dunno. Maybe non-roster invitee Travis Lee is the answer, then. His stats have kinda sunk the past three-four years, and he’s almost 32, so it’s not like his star is in the ascent. So what I’m thinking you should do is utilize another non-roster invitee to the max: turn Tony Batista into a first-baseman. He’s got 219 career homers and 702 career RBIs. The guy has hit more than 25 homers in five different seasons, and has batted in more than 100 runs twice. He’s 33, but putting him at first will save wear and tear. He’s already played every other infield position in his career, so he can learn first, I’m sure. Again, he provides the best chance to generate an offense. And you’re gonna need that at every position given the state of your pitching.
2B—Don’t fool around trying to find a young player. Give this job to another non-roster invitee: Ronnie Belliard. He’s got a .272 lifetime average, and he hits with occasional power. He’s played second base everywhere he’s been, including 2005, when he had 17 homers and 78 RBIs while batting .284 for the Indians. Ronnie’ll be 32 on April 7. Plenty of life left in him. In a pinch, you’ve got another oldster in Tony Womack trying to make the team. Even at 37, ol’ Tony might be better than your youngsters.
SS—Felipe Lopez is your man. If Cristian Guzman comes back from his arm injury, fine. Then you’ll have a decent backup. But even if Guzman comes back strong of arm, let’s not forget his amazingly lame 2005 season, when he hit .219. Lopez is your guy, for sure, and what a blessing to have a 26-year-old at shortstop who's already got parts of seven MLB seasons under his belt. Did you check his stats closely? In 2005 for the Reds, he hit .291 with 23 homers and 85 RBIs. It’s worth playing him every day to see if he can get close to those numbers.
3B—Two words: Ryan Zimmerman. Only 22 and already a fixture. Heaven be thanked. You can spell him with Batista if you have to, ‘cause you have depth at first base anyway.
OF—From what I’ve read, this looks pretty set, with Austin Kearns, Nook Logan and Ryan Church, from left to right. They’re all young enough to still have something to show, and maybe they’ll come together as a unit. But I also think it’s great that you’ve got non-roster invitee Dmitri Young looking to get into your lineup. With a career batting average of .289 and 154 homers, Young is a real hitter, and a plus so long as he keeps his nose clean. If Church continues to disappoint, Young, still only 33, could produce some numbers in his place.
Platoon Thoughts—Young has also played 1B and 3B during his career. So if your outfield pans out as planned, maybe put Dmitri at first and let Lee and Broadway fight it out for second-string, leaving Batista as your general infield fill-in. Even better, you could platoon Young and Batista at first, thus guaranteeing a power bat at that position every day.
Here’s your Opening Day lineup, Manny. And don’t worry, I don’t have a copyright on this. Feel free to avail yourself of its brilliance.
1. Nook Logan, CF
2. Felipe Lopez, SS
3. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B
4. Austin Kearns, LF
5. Dmitri Young, 1B
6. Ronnie Belliard, 2B
7. Ryan Church, RF
8. Robert Fick, C
9. John Patterson, P
If you insist on playing Schneider at catcher, okay. If you face a lefty Opening Day, you might want to put Batista at first, but don’t forget that Young is a switch-hitter. Batista will still be good off the bench.
I hope I’ve put your mind at ease, Manny. Just remember: You have no pitching—NO PITCHING—and the youngsters trying to fill everyday positions are often utter nobodies. (If Flores works out, great; that’s a bonus.) Go with the geezers and the decent youngish players you’ve got, and maybe you’ll surprise some people.
And please give that pitching platoon idea strong consideration. You’d be making history for one thing, but you’d also give yourself a chance at a decent season while you try to figure out where legit starters are coming from for the future.
Have a great season, Manny. Go Nats!