(I swear I had this post written over the weekend; i’m not copying my fellow bloggers’ ideas
The Nats have an OF problem coming. Rick Ankiel (season slash line: .221/.302/.288 mostly out of the #2 hole) has been ably replaced in the lineup and in center field by Roger Bernadina, who is now trying to live up to the billing that the team had hoped for him all off-season (when most pundits and bloggers had annointed him the starting left fielder despite a relatively mediocre 2010 slash line of .246/.307/.384. In his first 10 games and 38 at bats he had a .344/.447/.406 slash line hitting leadoff, to go with 4 SBs without being caught. And he’s clearly playing lights out defense in center, with some highlight reel catches and adequate enough defense from an UZR/150 perspective.
Is Bernadina’s performance sustainable? Probably not; his BABIP was an unnaturally high .407 (though frequent bunters will have an maintain higher BABIPs than the MLB average in the .290-.300 range). An OBP of .450 was also not sustainable. Sure enough, as of 5/19’s game he’s returned to a more typical .273/.360/.318 line (though I like the .360 obp from the leadoff spot).
So, if Bernadina is staying up and continuing to play, who makes way on the 25-man? Ankiel’s return would give the team 5 outfielders on a team that can only really carry 4. Here’s some relevant contract and options details of our 5 OFers:
- Jayson Werth: Clearly he’s not going anywhere.
- Laynce Nix: He’s got 5 years of service time and would refuse an assignment to AAA, not to mention being exposed to waivers when we did so. He’s our current clean up hitter and has wrested the starting job away from Morse.
- Michael Morse: No options left; if we ask him to go to Syracuse he has to clear waivers, and there’s teams out there sniffing around for right handed OF help (ahem, Philadelphia).
- Rick Ankiel: 5 years of service time, so he can refuse an assignment. Plus we’re not paying him $1.5M to just let him go.
- Roger Bernadina: currently burning his 3rd and last option, but performing decently from the top of the order.
In other words, the only guy who we CAN option to the minors is Bernadina. But can the team purposely send down a guy who has been giving them their best leadoff production all season? I don’t think they can.
How about the rest of the bench right now? Assuming for the time being that Hairston is the starting 3rd baseman and Ramos is the starting catcher, here’s our current bench:
- Ivan Rodriguez: Plenty of service time, plus on a $2M contract, plus he’s the backup catcher. He’s staying (unless the Red Sox panic and trade something for him).
- Matt Stairs: Tons of service time; would refuse any outright to AAA and look for another PH job.
- Alex Cora: 11+ years of service time so could refuse outrighting.
- Brian Bixler: Very little service time, was on a minor league contract to begin with, and has options (2011 would be his 3rd option, though he’s been outrighted in the past).
I’ll editorialize about the 25-man spot that Stairs currently occupies for a moment; he is 2 for 21 on the season right now, cannot play the field, and effectively shortens the bench by one player. If you want his veteran presence around, then DFA him and hire him as a bench coach!
Now, that being said for reasons inexplicable Stairs probably stays on the roster. So, when Ankiel is ready to come back I’m going to guess that the team options Bixler, keeps 5 outfielders, Ankiel serves as a 4th outfielder, and Morse participates in some sort of lefty-righty platoon with Nix.
We’ll revisit this entire situation once Ryan Zimmerman is ready to play, because that’s when something has to give.