December 18, 2006

The Vidro Vacuum: Winners & Losers

Now that the trade is official, it's time to hastily and arbitrarily declare winners and losers. Aside from the obvious, Natspos win/Gran Marniers lose, the sudden (and sizeable) absence of Vidro from the infield creates more opportunity for some remaining Nationals and less for others.

Big Winners:

Cristian Guzman - GUZMANIA '07: The Comeback Tour, is off to an auspicious start. Vidro's departure means FLopez moves to 2B, clearing a spot at SS for you-know-who. Some people might not consider this a good thing, but all true adherents to the cult of 15 know that a rested, surgically-enhanced Guzman is a GOOOOZ primed for a mid-career breakout.

Bernie Castro - With a wave of Trader Jim's magical vodka bottle, "Lil' Fidel" just became the most experienced 2B on the Nats roster; which is somewhat akin to noting that Kory Casto is our sturdiest potential LFer. Still, in the race for that one utility infielder slot, a weekend with Bernie is infinitely preferable to the Jose Macias doing his best impression of Henry Mateo starring in the Damian Jackson story.

Larry Broadway - In addition to being a loveable immobile lump at second, Vidro was our nominal backup 1B too. Throw in the inevitable recovery period for Nick "The Limping Stick" Johnson, and Larry's chances of seeing big league at-bats are significantly improved. Of course, it would be just like the Nats to re-sign Robert Fick to vulture Broadway's "reserve 1B/LF" slot. Youth movement my eye.

Big Losers:

Ryan Church - Poor Ryan. Since mid-2005 he's been labelled too callow and gimpy to be an everyday player. Now the Nats have gone and added a younger, gimpier, corner OF. What's a guy to do? If only he could play 1B, maybe he could vulture Larry Broadway's roster spot. Best case scenario: Church forms an offense/defense and lefty/righty platoon with Nook Logan in CF. Most likely scenario: Adios, Ryan; Hola, fungible 4th SP.

Kory Casto - The Nats outfield just got a little more crowded, and Kory just got a little more likely to be left standing when the music stops. Unlike Church, Snelling and (I'm pretty sure) Escobar, Casto's got minor league options left. Which means he could start the year in AAA and shuttle back and forth replacing the injured Escobar/Snelling/Church. On the plus side, he's the only legitimate backup 3B on the roster. But hey, Zimm can play 320 games in his first two full seasons, right?

Jason "Harvey" Bergmann - Or any of the other replaceable, back of the bullpen righty relievers. The addition of Fruto, and the inexplicable selection of LeVale Speigner in the Rule 5 draft, means there's two more right-handers competing for a spot in what's fast becoming a crowded bullpen. Add Ray King to the mix, and slots for the Bookers, Schroeders, Riveras and Bergmanns of the world will be hard to come by.

The Big Question: Rauch to the Rotation?

big right-hander has been a starter for most of his career, and while he thrived in the set-up man role last season, the Nats have a number of candidates (Ryan Wagner, Beltran Perez, Luis Ayala v. 2.0) to fill that slot. Lest we forget, Rauch battled John Patterson tooth-and-nail for the 5th starter spot in Spring Training '05, (behind such luminaries as Zach Day and Tomo Ohka.) If JimBo were willing to lay out a little cash we could reassemble 3/5 of our 2005 Opening Day rotation in '07. Somebody find Antonio Osuna and T.J. Tucker, STAT. But I digress...

Of course, if Rauch had ever excelled as a starter he probably wouldn't have bounced between the minors and the bullpen for the last few seasons. But hey, a solid third or fourth SP looks pretty good right now, no?

December 14, 2006

Jim Bowden: Sooper Friggin' Geenious

Holy Crap, he did it again! Pending physicals (Big Money, Big Money, No Whammies, STOP!) Trader Jim fleeced another GM. We now have documentary proof that KaBowden is no more than the 3rd-worst General Manager in Major League Baseball. This is big news, people! Even if the whole Vidro deal falls apart tomorrow, and it may, (though I have to believe the Nats would take Snelling & Fruto if they were missing three limbs between the two of them,) just finding another human being to agree to this deal is a masterstroke? And the Mariners are picking up 3/4 of Jose's salary? That's rum raisin icing on the cake, baby.

Elsewhere is the Nat(m)osphere you'll find detailed analysis of the trade, profiles of the two soon-to-be-newest Nats, paens to the glory days of Jose Vidro, speculation about whether this frees up cash to pursue actual, honest-to-god pitchers (Short answer: NO), and lots of non-specific giddiness. All of it is worth reading. But what matters to me is that this is the first tangible evidence I've seen that the Nats are adhering to a plan.

Not necessarily "The Plan" (copyright, trademark, patent-pending), mind you. But a clearly understood objective supported by identifiable steps along the way. Clearing Vidro's contract off the books was an absolute prerequisite to accomplishing anything in the next two years. Jose was a great guy, but he was an albatross on and off the field. Trading him was good. Getting something in return was brilliant.

December 7, 2006

Jesus is Coming, Everybody Look Busy

Whew! Well, that was exciting! And you thought the Nationals weren't going to make any moves during the Winter Meetings. Silly fans. Free agents may be for other teams, but Bowden is all over toolsy minor leaguers like some kind of animal all over some kind of spoiled meat product.

In one fell swoop the Nats managed to land power-hitting catcher Jesus Flores and a righty reliever already gunning for the All-Name Team. Granted, Jesus topped out at hi-A ball last season and the pitcher looks suspiciously like every other right-handed middle reliever on the roster, but hey, it's action. Something had to be done, the Nat(m)osphere was beginning to turn on our thrifty overlords.

The official press release also notes the selection of Triple-A LHP Justin Jones from the Minnesota system. Jones is a neighbor of Ryan Zimmerman from down Tidewater way. As always, the Farm Authority's definitive coverage is required reading for all things developmental.

Incidentally, we lost about a half dozen utility infielder/middle reliever types in the later phases of the Rule 5 Draft, but again per Farm Authority, no one we're going to miss.

Net result? We're either going to carry 3 catchers all season or turn over backup duties to a 22-year old rookie with no experience above A-ball. And if Speigner makes the roster, that's one less slot for Beltran Perez, Jason "Harvey" Bergmann, "King" Saul Rivera or some other fungible righty middle reliever. On the other hand, maybe we swing a deal with Minnesota to ship Levale to Triple-A where he belongs in exchange for Bernie Castro, killing two birds with one stone.

Do You Smell Smoke?

Which brings us to today's edition of "Hot Stove or Fire Sale?" The Nats have issued their first vague, tentative statement of interest, indicating a possible intent to sign veteran Jose Macias to a minor league deal. Macias would likely fill the utilityman role for the Nats in 'o7, with production hovering somewhere between Marlon Anderson and Damian Jackson levels. Now that's some Hot Stove action!

Rumors continue to swirl around The Chief and Ryan Church, with the latter most likely to be moved. The Nat(m)osphere has pretty thoroughly canvassed every approach to this offseason, from Capitol Punishment's "Buy some halfway decent pitching so I don't gain 500 lbs gorging on Hard Times Chili Nachos to smother my sorrow," to Banks of the Anacostia's "Dynamite the fecker. Let's lose 100!" and Farm Authority's impassioned, "Won't someone please think of the Type-B free agents and sandwich round draft picks?" Mmmm.. sandwich picks... ::drool::

Myself, I tend to look at 2007 as open audition time in Natsville. We've got Church (for the moment,) Casto, Logan, Escobar, Restovich and (maybe) Larry Broadway fighting for two outfield spots; "Irish Mike" O'Connor, Beltran Perez, Shawn Hill, Tim Redding, Colby Lewis and Joel Hanrahan are auditioning for the rotation; and more RHRPs than you can shake a stick at are clogging up the 'pen. Play 'em all, see who sticks, who might have trade value and who can restock Columbus for the next few years until Colton Willems becomes the Quad-A pitcher we all fear.

Will it be ugly as Katherine Harris first thing in the morning? Probably. But at least the brisket will be smoking!