April 11, 2010

The Great Roster Panic of '10

Zimm out, Mock down, Bernadina up, Morse to DL. So much for lazy Sundays. On the heels of an exciting 4-3 win over the Mets, one (hopefully) minor run of injuries has exposed everything that is wrong with the way Rizzo and Riggleman constructed the season opening roster. Much ink has already been spilled on the "versatility" of the 2010 Nats, but the dark side of versatility is having a bunch of guys playing out of position. Let's look at the two most glaring omissions:

1. No backup corner infielders.
After Zimm, guess who has the most experience at 3rd base? Adam Kennedy. All of Adam's experience actually came last season with Oakland, so at least he's fresh. After him it's Willie Harris, Mike Morse and the couple of innings Guzie played at 3B during the All Star game. First base? Don't ask. Past polished veteran 1B Adam Dunn, you've got Morse's 85 innings and 23 from unsuspected utility guy Kennedy. Oh, and The Hammer has 4 innings on the infield. So we've got that going for us, which is nice.

2. No right fielder.
Willie Harris? 10 innings in right before this season. Mike Morse? 87 innings from 2005-2009. "Natural" right fielder Willy Taveras? 1 inning in right (in 2004!) before this season. That's without even bringing Guzman into the conversation. FWIW, Rog Bernadina has also primarily been a CF in his five seasons in the minors. That's not to say that any or all of these guys can't play an acceptable right field, just that they'll all be learning on the job.

On the surface neither of these is really a big deal. After all, if Zimm or Dunn miss any significant amount of time the Nats are pretty well screwed regardless of who's covering for them off the bench. And you can live with one outfielder learning a new position on the fly, though only Morse really has the bat to play in RF.

The problems arise when, as happened yesterday, you get a spate of minor injuries. Mike Morse tweaks a hammy, no big deal, you've got a little more playing time for Taveras, Guzman and Alberto Gonzales. Ryan Zimmerman tweaks a hammy the same week as Morse? All of a sudden you're shuffling either your starting right fielder (Harris) or starting second baseman (Kennedy) to third, starting a career shortstop (Guzman) at second or in right, or counting on a guy who was supposed to be your 5th outfielder/defensive replacement/pinch runner (Taveras) for significant innings.

Of course, some of these problems could be avoided in the Nats carried an extra bench player, but to do that they'd need to jettison a reliever. Seeing as how the team is currently carrying an 8-man bullpen, you'd think that shouldn't be a huge issue. It certainly wouldn't be if the starters could be counted on for more than 4 innings. Which brings us Garrett Mock's well-deserved, one week overdue demotion.

Getting Mock out of the starting rotation was the right thing to do, but it's unlikely to solve the problem. After all, if there were somebody (not named Strasburg) who was head and shoulders better than Mock, they'd have been with the team to start the season while Garrett savored spring time in Syracuse. So you see, all the Nats' problems, from Zimmerman's hamstring to Willy Taveras' continued employment, flow from a lack of quality starting pitching.

If only there was something to be done about that...

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