February 24, 2008

News You Can Lose

We've got two starting first baseman?! Wily Mo can hit BP fastballs into Low Earth Orbit!! Bret Boone somehow hopped the fence into big league camp!?! Ryan Zimmerman remains unsigned?!?! Dogs and Cats living together!?!! Mass hysteria!!!!

Welcome to a Very Special Sunday Edition of Stories That Have Been Done to Death. In honor of the presidential campaign season we're going to do this John McLaughlin-style. I'm going to tell you what the issues are, then I'm going to tell you the answers. I may pretend to listen to your input, but I'm actually mentally doing the grocery list. Away we go!

Issue #1: Covering your bases. Yes, Nick Johnson and Dmitri Young both play first base, and only first base. Yes, only one of them can "start." Yes, they're both making roughly $5M a year for the next 2-3 years. So what? NJ is the younger, better all-around player, and it ain't close. But he's as durable as a Faberge Egg. If JimBo trades Meat Hook and Nicky's leg falls off, he looks like an idiot.

DaMeat is the reigning NL Comeback Player, a certified PCI (Positive Clubhouse Influence) and the Designated Tutor for troubled phenom Elijah Dukes. But if JimBo trades Nick and Dmitri dips from his 2007 line (320/378/491, 129 OPS+) to something closer to his career averages (292/349/477, 114 OPS+) while NJ puts up an average Johnsonite season (125 OPS+) JimBo looks like an idiot. Answer: Both stay, Nick starts if healthy and Dmitri has extra time to teach Elijah the finer points of Baseball Sudoku.

Issue #2: New Model Outfield. Is Pena-Milledge-Dukes the wave of the future? Whither Kearns? See issue one above. Four quality players for three spots is a goal, not a concern. Like Nicky, Austin's defense gives him the edge, at least at the outset. Elijah gets time to acclimated to a new team and a new league, without the weight of expectations. Who would you rather see coming off the bench as a PH/defensive sub, Dukes or Langerhans? Answer: 'Nuff said. Wily Mo Power, the 'Edge and Kearns get the start.

Issue #3: Methuselah on the infield. Bret Boone made a surprise leap to the big league camp. Why? Because he didn't totally suck and if you're honestly evaluating a 38 year-old for a roster spot it makes more sense to do it against major league caliber competition. The big loser here is not Felipe Lopez (aka the only SS in camp not named Guzman.) The big loser is Ronnie Belliard. If Boone performs well, Belly is trade bait. Second biggest loser is Willie Harris, but he wasn't making the cut anyway. Answer: FLop at second, Guzie at short, Belliard off the bench, B. Boone off the roster.

Issue #4: 3, 2, 1... Contract.
No 6-year deal forthcoming for the Fielding Dutchman? Cap. Pun. runs the numbers. Here's the dirty little secret: Zimm ain't that good yet. His stats declined noticeably in his second full season, and say what you want about park factors, lineup protection and the value of his glove, but Ryan is no David Wright. Not yet anyway. Do you really want to be handing out 4 or 5 year extensions to a slugger rehabbing a wrist injury? Down that road lies Scott Rolen. Answer: Calm down. Before Zimm hits arbitration next spring he'll have a deal that buys out a least one year of free agency.


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