March 23, 2008

You Can Keep a Guzman Down

Photos like this are why
I don't smile on command.

You can never have too much GUZMANIA! Today the Nats made a deal with the Minnesota Twins to acquire the rights to lefty OF Garrett Guzman. G2 was the team's second round pick in last December's Rule 5 draft, and like fellow draftee Cleveland 1B Matt Whitney, he would have been offered back to his home club, since he wasn't making Opening Day roster over Rob Mackowiak, Willie Harris or Ryan Langerhans.

The trade, for a PTBNL or cash, allows the Nats to option Guzman to Triple-A. In Columbus he'll team with with Alex Escobar to give the team legitimate minor league outfield depth for the first time in franchise history. With Wily Mo Pena starting the season on the DL chances are good that two of the three remaining lefthanders will make the Opening Day roster as backups to Austin Kearns, Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes.

Thin Is In

Just days ago the team had so much starting pitching that they could afford the outright release of John Patterson. Even without Patterson the rotation was set with Odalis Perez, Tim Redding, Jason Bergmann and Matt Chico. Shawn Hill was penciled in as the fifth starter and John Lannan would be the first call-up from Columbus. Today Tim Redding demonstrated the risks of that strategy. Redding left in the fourth inning against the Marlins, with an initial diagnosis of muscle spasms.

Whether Redding misses any significant time, it's clear that a serious injury to any one of the Nats presumptive starters, including the chronically fragile Hill, will expose the most serious weakness in the organization: starting pitching depth. The team has always had a very good bullpen and has made strides to shore up the talent among position players. But the starting pitching has never been much better than mediocre, an injury or two away from abysmal.

That's where the decision to release Patterson outright factors in. It's not a question of whether he would have been a better option than Chico or Lannan on Opening Day. He wouldn't. But he might have been a better option than Mock or Balester in mid-June when Chico is the 5th starter and Lannan has already replaced an injured Hill or an ineffective Bergmann and another starter goes down. Maybe it wasn't possible to keep Patterson around just for that eventuality. But if the opportunity arises to sign John to a minor league deal and allow him to rehab in Columbus, I hope the front office is open to it.

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