A Busy Bee: Bowden Signs SIX
[December 13th] - I guess being spurned for the Boston general manager's job wasn't too disheartening for the Nationals' Jim Bowden. A day after losing out on his "dream job" [his words], Bowden was back to business, adding six players to the Nationals' family.
Catchers Wiki Hernandez, Brandon Harper, Mike DiFelice and Alberto Castillo, infielder Robert Fick and old friend Joey Eischen will be heading to spring training with the Nationals. Fick and Eischen are guaranteed to be part of the 25 man roster that heads north while one of the four catchers will likely become Brian Schneider's backup. Here's a rundown of the newest members of the Nats Nation.
Robert Fick [1B-OF-C] Age:31 - Contract: 1 year, $800,000 Fick, along with the Nationals' Marlon Anderson and Damian Jackson, is one of the best "role" players in the majors today. One of those players with more desire than talent, he nonetheless has been a starting player for more than half his career, the last coming in 2003 with the Braves [.269-11-80]. Last season, with San Diego he hit .265-3-30 in 230 at bats.
Fick has excellent gap power and is a clutch hitter. He was one of the better pinch hitters in the National League last season. He's prone to streakiness and his glove is adequate at best. He'll be a great spot-starter for Nick Johnson, Brian Schneider and the corner outfielders.
Joey Eischen [P] Age: 35 - Contract: 1 year, $1.3 million I'm very surprised that with the shortage of free-agent pitching and ridiculous contracts being offered this year that Eischen returned to the Nationals. He pitched well for D.C. in 2005 despite breaking his arm while diving for a ball against the Mets. He went 2-1, 3.22 in 36 innings, striking out 30 while walking 19. He had a good .252 "batting average against."
Eischen will again the top lefty out of the bullpen for the Nationals in 2006.
Wiki Gonzalez [C] Age: 31 - Contract: Minor League Gonzalez split time between the Mariners [.267-0-2 in 45 at-bats] and 'AAA' Tacoma [.313-5-28] in 2005. He has a career .240 batting average and has never gotten more than 300 at-bats in a season. He's fast for a catcher and his short, squatty nature helps him block the plate effectively. He can't hit right handed pitching worth a darn.
Gonzalez, along with Fick could be co-backups for Brian Schneider. Without Fick on the roster, however, there isn't much of a chance of his making the team
Mike DiFelice [C] Age:36 - Contract: Minor League I'm afraid DiFelice doesn't have much of a chance to stick with the Nationals. His age  and years behind the plate will work against him. He hasn't hit well in recent years either. In his last three major league campaigns, he's hit .118, .136, and .120. DiFelice is a pull hitter who has an excellent history of driving home runners from third. He's got a strong arm and blocks the plate well. DiFelice is slow, even for a catcher.
Alberto Castillo [C] Age:35 - Contract: Minor League Castillo spent most of 2005 with the Royals as their backup catcher. He hit .210, only a little below his lifetime batting average. He's a good handler of pitchers and has as strong an arm as you'll find in the major leagues. He's even slower than DiFelice, however, and has averaged a homerun every 98 at-bats during his career.
Brandon Harper [C] Age:29 - Contract: Minor League Harper played in 2005 with the 'AAA' Toledo Mud Hens, batting .246-6-34. He is a 29 year old career minor leaguer whose only chance with the Nationals organization is if he somehow sticks with New Orleans because they are in need of a body behind the plate.
Robert Fick and Joey Eischen were great pickups [and re-ups] and will help the team by adding to its already solid depth. Until the Nats came to be, I was an avid Braves fan, and thoroughly enjoyed watching Fick play first base for Atlanta. If Johnson was injured on opening day and done for the year [not a unlikely scenario given his history], I would not have a problem with Fick replacing him for the remainder of the season. Eischen will be the team's top lefty, and if he stays healthy, could approach 65-70 innings in 2006.
There will probably be round-robin tryouts for backup catcher in spring training, with the winner coming from the four catchers signed by Bowden on Tuesday. My guess [and it's only a guess] is that Wiki Gonzalez will emerge as the team's number two catcher. DeFelice and Castillo are just too old to be counted on during the hot and humid Washington summer.
If quantity counts, it was a good day for the Nationals. If we're considering quality, well .... at least we'll have enough bodies to fill out all of the team's spring training uniforms.