If I had a steady stream of questions coming in, I’d have my own mailbox edition. As it stands though, I’ll just provide my own answers to the questions that MLB.com’s Nationals beat writer Bill Ladson selects for his semi-weekly mailbag.
Q: What’s the long-term plan for the leadoff spot? Danny Espinosa has a lot of power and deserves to be in the middle of the lineup.
A: I guess that depends on what the definition of “long term” is. If long-term means the rest of the season, then I agree with Ladson’s assertion that Danny Espinosa is the best player we have for the lead-off spot. He’s a switch hitter, is making good contact and can get on base better than any of the other candidates (.364 for the season thus far). In a limited sample size last year he didn’t show this kind of patience; how quickly he’s made the adjustment to major league pitching. Theoretically we do have a prospect in Corey Brown in AAA acquired just for this purpose, and in prior AA seasons he’s shown 20-20 capabilities and good defense in center. However he’s struggling in AAA this year (as he did last year) and he may not be an option this season.
I advocated the replacement of Nyjer Morgan in the off season, but quality leadoff-center field candidates don’t grow on trees in the Majors. I did a quick review of all the starting CFs in the league for analysis purposes in this post about Harper and came up wanting. I was hoping that Roger Bernadina would blossom into the role but he faltered at every step this spring training.
In the real “long-term” (i.e. 3-4 years from now) we seem to be grooming Bryce Harper to play center, so we don’t necessarily have to worry about finding a prototypical fast, defense-first, high OBP center fielder to fit into the lead off spot. Not all lead-off hitters have to be no-power, run-first guys; Richie Weeks is doing just fine leading off for Milwaukee right now.
Personally, I agree that Espinosa could fit into this team better as a middle of the order guy, but our 3-4-5 long term is mostly set (Zimmerman-Harper-Werth). Espinosa makes a ton of sense as a table setter, as does Desmond, so putting those guys 1-2 makes the most sense.
Q: Given his persistent shoulder problems so far this year, if Adam LaRoche has to spend time on the disabled list this season, what do you think the corresponding move by the Nats will be? Will we see Michael Morse at first base, with Roger Bernadina being called up?
A: Ladson’s answer was to bring Bernadina up and put Morse at first. I doubt that would happen; more likely we’d see Laynce Nix getting starts in LF with Morse at first. Unless of course Morse continues to forget how to hit, at which point we may have to get creative. We only have FOUR non-pitchers on the 40-man roster right now who aren’t either on the DL or in the majors; Chris Marrero, Bernadina, Harper, and Chris Brown. Thats it; we have so little non-pitcher flexibility that continued injuries may really kill us this year.
That being said, I’ve personally played with a fully blown SLAP lesion and, while it is incredibly painful to throw, LaRoche is a first baseman who has to make a high-leverage throw perhaps once or twice a week. Unless he manages to fully blow his rotator cuff, he should be able to gut out the season and have surgery in October.
Q: I asked Rizzo at the NatsFest why Bernadina and Matt Chico weren’t on the Major League roster and he didn’t give a solid answer. I can’t see any reason why these guys aren’t here. Do you agree?
A: The Nats were lucky (in my opinion) to retain Matt Chico after he was DFA’d in December 2010. I was surprised by the move honestly; usually mid-20s lefties with any track record in the majors are coveted. He now seems to be remaking himself as a lefty specialist and should compete or replace Doug Slaten in case of injury or poor performance.
Bernadina (as has been said elsewhere) lost out on the LF job, then CF job, then 4th outfielder job in spring training. One may argue that the Nats chose to keep Nix over Bernadina more for options purposes and perhaps to leverage Nix into trade bait (since he fared so well in the Spring), but perhaps Nix just flat out impresses Riggleman more. They’re both lefties, both play left field, but Nix is a bopper and can get the big hit. Bernadina had 460 at bats in 2010 to state his case and he didn’t.
Q: Any news on left-hander Oliver Perez?
A: Baseball America reported that Perez was placed on the minor league DL, but I (as does Sue Dinem over at www.nationalsprospects.com I suspect) think this is one of those “soft tissue” injuries that is meant to stash a player in Viera. that being said, I’d agree with Ladson’s answer that he’s probably working with our pitching staff and trying to get back the form that earned him his big contract in the first place. This is a complete low-risk signing for the Nats; its found money if they ever get anything from him.
Q: When is Wilson Ramos going to be the everyday catcher? Ivan Rodriguez’s offensive numbers are not good.
A: Boy, its going to be awful tough for Riggleman to bench a future Hall of Famer. But Ramos seems like he’s stating his case with the bat every time he plays. It is nice to have suddenly found a power hitter in a spot (catcher) that we’ve been batting 8th for years. I’m guessing that Pudge the pro will recognize that he’s hurting the team and bite his tongue.
Q: I don’t want to get rid of Ian Desmond, but it’s clear to me and most people watching feel that he is not the answer at shortstop. When will management move him to second or Triple-A Syracuse and put Espinosa in the place he was supposed to be all along — shortstop?
A: Hear, hear! I completely agree. Desmond may in fact have a better arm but he is making mistakes left and right, and not just errors. I would guess that another 35 error season will see these two switch places in spring training 2012.
Q: I am so incredibly confused why Riggleman falls in love with veterans that quite frankly look like they are past their prime.
A: If this questioner thinks Riggleman falls in love with veterans, then he must have been going psychotic watching Frank Robinson play Cristian Guzman every day for 5 months with a sub .200 batting average in 2006. I agree with Ladson; having vets on the bench who understand their roles and serve as assistant coaches is far better than having Alberto Gonzalez whining about his playing time when clearly he wasn’t better than our options on the field.