August 29, 2007

Middle Management

In the wake of FLop's consecutive meltdowns Barry Svrluga turns his position-by-position breakdown to look at the middle infield. Ronnie Belliard has been beyond solid at 2B, but that also happens to be Felipe Lopez's best position, leaving the less-than-Gold Glove caliber Cristian Guzman to play shortstop, assuming he returns healthy for next season. Earlier this week I advocated a Belliard-Guzman middle infield for 2008, with FLop as the primary backup. But that was only considering the in-house options, such as they are. A quick review of big league ready infielders currently in the system:

INF D'Angelo Jiminez
- No, no, a thousand times no. It's possible he makes Lopez look like Ozzie Smith. And he's slugging .175. .175!

2B Bernie Castro - Punchless, can't play SS and his defense around the bag leaves much to be desired.

SS Manny Alexander - OK, that's not even funny, knock it off. The guy was Cal Ripken, Jr's heir apparent for goodness sake.

And that's just about it. I actually still like Ian Desmond, who's finally starting to turn it around in Potomac after being promoted through the system way too quickly, but he's still at least two years away, at a minimum. The other farm "options" won't be able to drink before 2009. So Belliard, Guzman and Lopez are pretty much it for the on-hand solutions.

What about free agents? There are some "name" players who will be on the market this offseason, but nobody who looks like a rock solid improvement over the current options. Here's the list, courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts:

Second Basemen
Marlon Anderson LAD
Craig Biggio HOU
Luis Castillo NYM
Damion Easley NYM
Mark Ellis * OAK
Marcus Giles * SD
Tony Graffanino MIL
Tadahito Iguchi PHI (if not signed to extension)
Jeff Kent * LAD
Mark Loretta HOU
Kaz Matsui COL (if not signed to extension)
Luis Rivas CLE
Jose Valentin NYM

David Eckstein STL
Cesar Izturis * PIT
Ramon E Martinez* LAD
John McDonald TOR
Neifi Perez DET
Juan Uribe * CHW
Omar Vizquel SF

* indicates a club and/or player option for 2008.

Second base, though hardly a position of strength, is not a glaring weakness. I think we can agree that the team's more pressing need is for a starting shortstop, what with Guzman's injury and history of mediocrity, and Lopez's self-evident suckitude. Unfortunately, the pickings are mighty slim.

Eckstein is the shortstop most Nats fans would have preferred over Guzman in '05, but he's coming off a series of injuries over the past two seasons, and will be 33 before next season. Still, he's inarguably the best of the bunch, and will likely command a sizeable contract from whichever team needs a SS worst.

Cesar Izturis is terrible and overpaid, Juan Uribe is terrible with some pop in his bat. John McDonald and Ramon Martinez are just terrible. Neifi Perez is serving an 80-game suspension for a 3rd failed drug test and Omar Vizquel is a better than 50/50 bet to retire and begin working on his Cooperstown induction speech. Rockies 2B Kaz Matsui could play SS, but like FLop, it's clearly not his best position.

You know who I miss? Brendan Harris, the 27-year old starting shortstop for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays with a .287/.344/.416 line on the season. But I digress...

Aside from Eckstein, who's an age and injury risk, I don't see any dramatic free agent upgrades available, as sad as that sounds. There will no doubt be some people who will castigate the Nationals for not diving into the free agent pool headfirst, but sometimes, as in this case, that pool's a lot shallower than it looks.

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