October 7, 2006

Ain't Gotta Go Home, But You Can't Stay Here

Sure the playoffs are still going on (except for the Twins, and possibly the Yanquis,) but the Nats season is well and truly over. And if you don't believe me, ask Pedro Astacio. Pedro, along with five other members of the Nats "pitching" staff got their walking papers earlier this week. Right now Astacio, along with Brian Lawrence, Zach Day, Ryan Drese, Joey Eischen and Felix Rodriguez are free agents, which is a nice way of saying unemployed. And rightfully so.

Of the six, Lawrence and Day are the only two I'm remotely interested in seeing in a curly W next season. The Nats are going to need pitching, and a lot of it, again next year. Lawrence will be turning 31, Day just 28. If either or both of them can return to health, an iffy proposition at best, they'll be useful additions to what figures to be another cobbled-together Nats pitching staff. Even with a bad 2005, Lawrence has a career ERA of 4.10. Zach Day is only two years removed from pitching 19 games with a 3.93 ERA. Granted, neither of these guys would have any place on a good team, but then again we're talking about your 2007 Washington Nationals.

The team cleared a little more roster space by outrighting four more players to Triple-A. OF George Lombard and INF Henry Mateo might soon be joining the ranks of the unemployed. Neither man is more than organizational filler at this point, and if they can be replaced by younger players, they should be. Reliever Roy Corcoran and utilityman Melvin Dorta are also headed back to the minors, but they're young enough to be worth keeping around.

And The Award Goes To...

Speaking of the minor leagues, the Nats have named their
organizational player and pitcher of the year. The Player of the Year is a familiar name, 2005 Minor League POY Kory Casto. On the opposite end of the spectrum the Minor League Pitcher of the Year is reliever Zechry Zinincola, taken by the Nats in the June draft.

Kory had a nice year in AA Harrisburg, hitting .272/.379/.468 with 20 homers and 80 RBI. But he still can't hit left-handers (.189/.311/.273 in 132 AB.) And the fact that, with apologies to Larry Broadway, Casto is the only power prospect in the upper levels of the system is less a compliment to Kory than it is an indictment of the lack of depth down on the farm.

Zinicola is a testament to both the strengths and the weaknesses of the Nats farm system. The 6th round draft pick rocketed through the system, from Vermont to Potomac to Harrisburg, racking up a 1.65 ERA in 32.2 IP. But he's only a reliever, and he was pitching for Arizona State last year. This is really an acknowledgement that there are no starting pitchers in the minors ready to contribute anything at the big league level. On the other hand, if this is an indication of the Nats drafting accumen, then the future at least looks bright.

Requiem For a Hall of Famer

Buck O'Neil, the great Negro League first baseman and baseball ambassador passed away yesterday at the age of 94. That O'Neil never gained entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame is one of the great travesties in baseball, and a discredit to the Hall itself. Baseball should be ashamed that it failed to honor such a great player, coach and scout during his lifetime. In a season when so much has been made of Frank Robinson's contributions to baseball, we should all pause to remember the passing of a giant.

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