Ah, I bet you thought I wouldn't come through with this one today, eh? Time to take a look at those lovable Washington Nationals.
Jim Bowden's contract obligations:
C - Brian Schneider - $3.5MM
C - Jesus Flores - $0.38MM
C/1B - Robert Fick - $0.38MM
1B - Larry Broadway - $0.38MM
2B - Felipe Lopez - $3.9MM
SS - Cristian Guzman - $4.2MM
3B - Ryan Zimmerman - $0.38MM
IF - Ron Belliard - $0.75MM
IF - Travis Lee - $0.38MM
LF - Ryan Church - $0.38MM
CF - Nook Logan - $0.38MM
RF - Austin Kearns - $3.5MM
OF - Chris Snelling - $0.45MM
SP - John Patterson - $0.85MM
SP - Jerome Williams - $0.5MM
SP - Tim Redding - $0.38MM
SP - Shawn Hill - $0.38MM
SP - Matt Chico - $0.38MM
SP - Beltran Perez - $0.38MM
RP - Chad Cordero - $4.15MM
RP - Luis Ayala - $1.3MM
RP - Jon Rauch - $0.38MM
RP - Ryan Wagner - $0.38MM
RP - Ray King - $0.38MM
RP - Levale Speigner - $0.38MM
1B - Nick Johnson - $5.5MM (June return expected for broken femur)
OF - Alex Escobar - $0.53MM (May start year on DL following Sept.labrum surgery)
SP - Brandon Claussen - $0.38MM (Hopes for a May return from rotator cuff surgery)
SP - Mike O'Connor - $0.38MM (November elbow surgery)
That's my exhausting take on the 25-man roster. I'm no roster construction expert, but I read up on some popular Nats blogs and took my best shot. (By the way - Nationals Power is the new kid on the block. Check it out.) The players listed here amount to $35-36MM.
The Nats are committed to keeping Rule 5 pick Jesus Flores and want to use him as a backup catcher. Baseball America thinks a year on Washington's bench would hurt the slugging catcher's development, given that he's jumping up from A ball. My version of the roster has Fick so that Flores won't get overexposed.
Washington will be without perhaps their best hitter in Johnson until June or so. Broadway appears to be the favorite to start at first, with Travis Lee and Dmitri Young also in the mix. I'll go with Lee for his oft-cited glovework. It's still an open competition at this point.
Lopez has played twelve games at 2B in his Major League career, but the Nationals will try it in hopes of getting some value out of Guzman. Should Guzzie bomb again, Lopez moves to short and Belliard takes over at second.
It seems Church will get a crack at starting in left under a fresh manager, so he needs to make the most of it. Snelling will provide ample competition.
Overall, only Lopez, Zimmerman, and maybe Kearns can be expected to provide above average offense for their positions. This team will struggle to score runs, but expectations are low anyway. On the bright side, the defense looks respectable.
You can see my guess at the rotation; the first four seem fairly likely. Chico, a 23 year-old southpaw who came over in the Livan Hernandez deal, hasn't pitched above Double A yet. He's got a four-pitch mix and sits in the low 90s. An ERA below 5 would be a success if he makes the team. He's got Jarrod Washburn among his comps.
The point has been made that this motley crew of starters can't be worse than last year's, and I agree. Redding, Williams, and Claussen are the right kind of gambles for the Nationals. I think they'd be satisfied if one solid guy emerged behind Patterson for '08.
The pen is an intriguing mix, the purported strength of the club. Should Ayala bounce back from elbow surgery, he'll form an underrated trio with Cordero and Rauch. King adds character, while Speigner is a Rule 5 attempt who closed in Double A last year.
Sure, the Nats will be bad. Still, they've got an impressive rookie manager and the ability to play the spoiler on certain nights. You gotta start somewhere.
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