September 17, 2006

40/40 Vision

Congratulations to Alfonso Soriano for becoming the fourth member of baseball's 40 homerun, 40 steal club, courtesy of his theft of second base during Saturday night's win over the Milwaukee Brewers. Statistically Alf joins elite company, though these multi-category numerical landmarks are by nature fairly arbitrary. Had Mickey Mantle known that the 40/40 Club was going to be such a big deal, he might have stolen a few more bases during his four 40+ homer seasons.

I'll leave it to the sensibilities of the individual to determine whether a club whose membership consists of Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez is a group one should aspire to join, but none of that makes Soriano's achievement any less remarkable. What is depressing is that the most notable season in ExpoNats franchise history was put together by a player who looks for all the world like a one year rental. I doubt that Soriano's milestone makes it more likely that the Nats will go above and beyond to resign him. I don't know if the warm fuzzy he got from the achievement will make him more likely to resign. What seems almost certain is that the public pressure to bring him back will intensify tremendously.

Like it or not Soriano's dazzling season has made him the face of an otherwise moribund franchise. Devoted baseball fans can catalog Fonzie's shortcomings: his hack-happiness, his inability to hit in the middle of the lineup, his misadventures in the field. But casual fans see moonshots to RFK's distant upper decks and quick-as-a-wink moves from first to second. Ryan Zimmerman may be the future of the team, but Alfonso, for better or worse, is its present. It would be a serious mistake to mortgage the future to bring him back. But letting him go without making a genuine good-faith effort to resign him could be just as crippling. I don't envy Jim Bowden, Stan Kasten and Mark Lerner the difficult decisions that lie ahead.

Spare Parts

Speaking of offseason decisions, we are now more than two weeks into the September call-ups, the time when bad teams (like the Nationals) evaluate rookies and role players to determine who might compete for a spot with the club in 2007. The Nats have no heralded rookies above the A-ball level. (Apologies to Kory Casto, but see Federal Baseball's excellent analysis of his 2006 campaign in Harrisburg.) So this September is more about evaluating young veterans like Bernie Castro and Nook Logan, and scavenging for cheap bullpen arms.

On the position player front, the results are uninspiring at best. Bernie Castro has put up a frightening .239/.280/.310 line as the latest contestant in the "Please God, Anyone But Vidro At 2B" Sweepstakes, and his fielding around the bag has been equally "Meh." The one thing Bernie can undeniably do is run, swiping 5 of 6 bases on the season, 11 of 14 for his brief big league career. His speed and range make him an adequate backup second baseman, but his deficiencies as an everyday player and his inability to play any other positions make him a fringe bench player at best.

Exavier Prente Logan (which, if you ask me, is even better than Nook) is a slightly different story. All the usual small sample size disclaimers apply, but the guy has done alright. Compare Nook's 2006 line (16 games, 51 ABs) to Brandon Watson's career (35 games, 68 ABs)numbers:
  • Logan: .294/.339/.412
  • Watson: .176/.233/.265
Alright, so being a better hitter than B-Dub is a distinction on par with having the shortest rap sheet in the Cincinnati Bengals locker room. For a more interesting comparison, let's put Exavier's career stats up against ex-Nat Endy Chavez:
  • Logan: .267/.318/.346
  • Chavez: .270/.310/.376

Endy is having a much publicized breakout season as the Mets 4th OF, but his career line is decidedly Loganesque. There's no question that Nook's speed and range make him an asset patrolling the vast outfield expanses at RFK, and he has a few highlight reel catches to his credit already. If the Nats can resist the urge to try and turn Logan into Juan Pierre, Jr., Nook could be a serviceable youngish, cheap, slap-and-run #8 hitter.

And if the Nats are going to be the team to give Fonzie the 12-year, $436M contract he so obviously deserves, young and cheap are going to be key words for the next few years.

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