Monday, July 31, 2006

Welcome Back, Soriano --I was prepared to write a post titled "Sayonara Soriano" (he did play in Japan once). I'm relatively pleased, but definitely surprised that the Nats did not deal him. Obviously, there were a lot of reasons: The Nats were asking too much, other teams just didn't come up with the right package, probably waiting for Nationals GM Jim Bowden to blink...and the loud chorus of Nats' fans urging the team to keep Soriano (this blog was just one small voice in a very big chorus).

So, where does that leave the Nationals? They are desperate for pitching -- they need live arms for the rotation and the bullpen. With a little luck, John Patterson will be healthy and strong next year. Perhaps, O'Connor will be, too. They're pretty thin down on the farm, with Shawn Hill and Jason Bergmann, who've both struck out in prior call-ups. They can probably piece together a full rotation for the rest of the year...and next year, too. Decisions will have to made, though, on whether the team will want any of the current starters to return. No one is a sure thing, though Armas and Ortiz have pitched well enough to deserve another tour of duty. If the Nationals want to put a competitive team on the field next year, they will have to bring in at least one front-line starter. Of course, two starters would be better...and they will have to bring in two good relievers (Cordero, Bowie and Rauch are keepers, and Ayala should be back, but they will need help).

The good news is that the Nationals could field one of the best lineups in the National League. Re-sign Soriano and the Nats will have as good an outfield as any (Soriano, Ryan Church, a healthy Alex Escobar, and Austin Kearns). The infield is not set in stone, as second base is a question mark going into next year. Jose Vidro is too fragile to rely on, and there is a whispering campaign critical of his hitting, too -- I can't join in this whispering. Vidro can still hit. Although he doesn't have the slugging percentage he's had in the past, no manager should have any qualms about penciling in Vidro's name on the lineup card. Still, he can't stay healthy, and that leaves second base as a serious concern.

One other pressing question will be whether the Nats want to give Christian Guzman a third chance to claim the shortstop job? If so, they would shift Lopez to second, and everything would be copasetic -- assuming Guzman hits better than he did in his first go-around. The Nats also need more production out of catcher Brian Schneider, but his job is secure for next year.

What do the Nats have to deal? Minor league first baseman Larry Broadway. He might be someone to keep down on the farm as insurance against an injury to Nick Johnson, but the Nats need too many other things to hang on to Broadway.

Does it seem to early to post this stuff? This is the kind of chatter that usually comes at the end of the season. For the Nats, all the suspense has gone out of this season...and it really is time to start thinking about next year. They've held on to Soriano, so the Nats can take the field with a team that can win any day -- they won't win so many, but at least they'll be worth a look.

And that's the last word -- maybe my last word on the Nats for quite a while. During the remainder of the baseball season, I'll try to confine my baseball-related observations to teams that still have something to play for. Readers can look forward to chatter on the Mets and Red Sox, the pennant races, and the playoffs.

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