Postgame Spread
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Saturday, July 23, 2005

Nats Nicked    

Looks like the All-Star Break took the wind out of the Nats' sails.  My first instinct was to think that the return of Jose Vidro and the addition of Preston Wilson in exchange for spare parts had altered the lineup's chemistry... and then I realized that Nick Johson had been on the DL all month.  I think once he returns, we'll see the much-improved Nats lineup that we've been waiting for.

Then again, his return also means diminished playing time for all-around ass-kicking rookie Ryan Church, which is a real shame.  Church has earned a spot in the everyday lineup, and it's not everyday that you take a guy with a 900 OPS out of the lineup.  His numbers, with the exception of HR, are clearly superior to Wilson's.  There are only a handful of reasons I can think of for leaving Wilson in the lineup... either a) Frank Robinson prefers Wilson's HR power in the lineup over Church's contact bat, b) Wilson's performance against lefties is superior to Church's, or c) the Nats want to spin Wilson elsewhere for pitching or a situational backup bat.  The first reason is misguided, and the second is foolish given how few lefty starters one faces, but the third is legit.

And yet the strange thing about the Nats is that they haven't got a lot of holes to fill:
  1. They have four starting OFs (Church, Guillen, Wilkerson and Wilson) and a super-talented 5th guy in Marlon Byrd
  2. The infield is solid (except, of course, Guzman)
  3. Jamey Carroll, Carlos Baerga and Tony Blanco are ideal utility guys (Blanco plays OF as well)
  4. Brian Schneider is emerging as a classic defense-only catcher, and Gary Bennett is a solid backup
  5. The rotation (Hernandez/Loaiza/Patterson/Drese/Armas) is perfectly fine, though Drese and Armas are a little shaky
  6. The bullpen is stacked at the short end with Chad Cordero, Luis Ayala, Gary Majewski, Hector Carrasco and Joey Eischen
  7. Sunny Kim has been far better than I would have imagined as the 11th man in the pen (until last night, anyway)
Pretty much everyone on this list could be improved upon, but noone with the exception of Guzman is killing the team, exactly.  And honestly, even the underperforming pair of Guzman and Vinny Castilla are playing stellar defense.  So it would appear that the Nats haven't got anywhere to put new talent unless they give someone up.  It's actually kind of disappointing that Junior Spivey got hurt when he did, because he and Wilson could have been packaged together to improve the package they get in return.  Now it appears the 2005 Nats will have traded Tomo Ohka for a few weeks' decent play at 2B from Spivey.  Too bad.

What would I do with this roster?  I'd try to spin Armas and Wilson to the Yankees for Carl Pavano.  If Pavano's struggles continue after his return (this weekend?) I'd take advantage of the Yanks' trademark inability to suffer their free agent busts.  Maybe they'd look at Armas, a former Yankee prospect himself, as a nice consolation prize after Pavano's pinstriped implosion.  And they get the center fielder they've bene missing since 2003.  Furthermore, Armas' injury history would be irrelevant, since the Yankees traditionally think in the short-term (he's healthy now) instead of the long-term (he's only thrown 100 innings twice in his career).

Would that be smart for the Nats?  Who knows, but you'd have to think the fly-ball cemetery that is RFK will help Pavano's confidence tremendously.  If they were able to add 2003/2004 Pavano to that rotation, they'd be sitting pretty for the rest of the year.  They'd have a legit playoff ace in Livan, with two #2s in Loaiza and Pavano, and the emergent Patterson (2.69 ERA) as their fourth starter.  Plus Drese as the #5 guy... he only won 16 games last year.  That would be the best rotation in the division (Atlanta can suck it).

The problem with that, apart from underestimating the intelligence of the Yankees' front office, is that they'd be back to square one with the lineup.  Wilson, the bargaining chip, would ultimately be better used to improve the offense.  But even if they added a bat, it would require moving someone else out besides Wilson, which isn't going to happen.  The two guys who need to be improved upon the most are Guzman and Castilla, but nobody's taking that Guzman contract and acquiring a better 3B than Castilla would be a waste given that they want Ryan Zimmerman ('05 #4 overall) to be the 2006 starter.  I'm extremely interested to see what Jim Bowden actually does, because I'm stumped.

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