Here’s the latest in a recurring theme. Bill Ladson posted his own answers to the following reader questions.
Q: What’s the long-term plan for the leadoff spot?
A: I think the team had hoped that Corey Brown (obtained in the Josh Willingham deal) would be further along in his AAA development than he has shown thus far. As of today he’s hitting .202/.322/.323 and only has two stolen bases on the season. That’s really not going to cut it.
I thought center field/lead-off hitter was a major area of concern going into the off-season, and thought (rightly) that Nyger Morgan’s tenure was close to being done with the team after his erratic behavior and precipitous offensive decline last season. But, center field is a really tough position to find and fill (see this older post that looked at the makeup of each of the 30 CF starters at the time … there’s not a ton of major names on that list), and the team entered spring training with Morgan penciled in as the starter.
Short Term (as in the next two years): I think we’ll continue to use Roger Bernadina in the role, unless Brown somehow remember how to hit. 2012 we’ll see more of the same. Unless we can work a trade for someone that makes sense (see the BJ Upton question below).
Long Term (2013 and beyond): we’ll hope that one of our middle infield hitters owns the role. I’d love to see Danny Espinosa or Ian Desmond blossom in that spot, but they both are struggling this year and both strike out, a lot.
(Ladson honestly didn’t have an answer … citing the lack of anyone in the minors to provide help. Yeah, that’s true too).
Q: (paraphrased) Is the team going to trade Pudge Rodriguez?
A: I don’t believe they will. I think its bad to assume that you can just magically trade a veteran. Remember, Pudge is hitting .202 on the season right now with very little pop. He looks every one of his 39 years. Yes he’s still a great defensive catcher and he still has a great arm, but who would want him? We keep hearing rumors (Boston, now San Francisco with Buster Posey’s injury), but I think any trade we’d make would have to include nearly all his remaining salary, and we’d be looking at a low-level prospect in return. For that kind of payment, why not just keep him through the rest of his contract so that Flores can stay in AAA and play every day. (Ladson thinks that Pudge will be dealt, but he thinks the team is trading most every veteran no matter how poorly they’re hitting).
Q: (paraphrased) Is Wilson Ramos the everyday catcher?
A: Not yet, but he should be. So far this year he’s gotten 127 plate appearances to Pudge’s 79, giving him about 60% of the at bats. In a normal catcher platoon you’d have the backup going once-a-week or so (by way of comparison, Atlanta’s Brian McCann has 82% of his team’s catcher at-bats right now, and Matt Weiters has about 77%). Part of that is out of respect to Pudge as the future hall of famer, and part of that is natural breaking in of a rookie. But on a team that didn’t have Pudge as the backup, Ramos would be in the 80% range of playing for sure. (Ladson says he’ll be the full time catcher in the 2nd half for sure).
Q: (paraphrased) Is the team really interested in BJ Upton?
A: I would be, if I was Rizzo. He’s the exact prototypical leadoff/center fielder that this team desperately needs right now. He’s not the best hitter (career 103 ops+) but he gets on base a lot (.345 career obp) and steals a ton of bases and has a career 4.9 uzr/150 in center field. He’ll be a FA after next season, so odds are the Rays aren’t going to trade him unless they get good prospects in return. Perhaps we look at him as a FA signing for the 2013 season, with the idea of putting Harper in Left field. (Ladson says we did scout him earlier, but it was just normal scouting. He doesn’t think Upton is any better than what we currently have offensively, which I rather disagree with).
Q: How is Chien-Ming Wang’s rehab going? Can we expect him in the Majors soon?
A: Short answer: poorly and never. We have heard very little about Wang other than reports at the end of spring training that he was still months away from pitching. Personally, I took that as a very bad omen. It seems to be the same place he was in at this time last year. He’s made no rehabilitation progress in nearly two years despite several million dollars of salary expended. Not only do I not think he’s going to be in the majors soon, I’ll be shocked if he even goes out on a rehab assignment. Reason? Rehab assignments have time limits, Wang has no options remaining, meaning he’d have to be cut loose if he wasn’t ready to join the majors. Frankly, I think he’s done. (Ladson states the obvious; Wang will not pitch in a major or minor league game in the first half of the season).
Q: Have you heard any updates as to whether first baseman Chris Marrero’s defense is improving?
A: Marrero has definitely cut down on his errors in AAA, and is hitting decently enough. I was of the opinion that he should have been called up to replace LaRoche on the MLB roster, but the timing worked out to re-call Rick Ankiel from his rehab assignment (where he was busy striking out repeatedly in AA-games). The team line was that Marrero needs to play a whole season in AAA for some reason. I say, with LaRoche’s injury and Zimmerman’s extended absense, this season is nearly lost already and to give the kid some playing time. (Ladson says his defense is vastly improved).
Q: Who do the Nats envision playing first base in the future — Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, some lesser free agent, Marrero, a future draftee? What’s the long-term strategy there?
A: Pujols will never leave St. Louis. Fielder probably signs with the Chicago Cubs, one of the only major-payroll teams that don’t have a first baseman locked up for $100M long term (Yankees = Teixeira, Red Sox = Gonzalez, Phillies = Howard, and the Mets & Dodgers are not going to be buying anyone until ownership situations are resolved). Fielder to the Cubs makes perfect sense and they’ll pay him enough to make it worth his while. Rizzo would never buy Fielder. He’s not “defensive minded” and doesn’t fit the mold of what Rizzo wants to put on the field. LaRoche was exactly what he wanted (well, except for the shredded shoulder that is).
Long Term strategy: i’ll bet they continue to sign one or two year contracts with decent hitters who happen to be good fielders (LaRoche, Derrick Lee, even Carlos Pena to a certain extent) until the team produces someone that fits the bill.
(Ladson thinks the team will trade for a 1B or sign another FA in the off season. I seriously doubt that. LaRoche is signed through 2012 and will be back. It isn’t a career ending injury, just season-ending. He’ll play in 2012).