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Ryan Church: Always On The Bubble

[December 22nd] -- Ryan Church must turn his eyes upward, as if to search out the great arbiter in the sky and ask, "Why me?"

For the third time in twelve months, his employer has tried to get rid of him. In a mid-season summer trade, he was to be the player sent to the Colorado Rockies in exchange for throw-away outfielder Preston Wilson. It was Zach Day that eventually received that honor. At the baseball winter meetings earlier this month, general manager Jim Bowden believed he had an agreement-in-principle to acquire the Diamondbacks' Javier Vasquez in exchange for a carload of Washington players ledby Ryan Church. When team officials returned to the meeting to finalize the deal, the Arizona folks were suddenly "frosty." No trade. Now, Bill Ladson, the beat writer for the team's "official" website, projected a 2006 starting lineup that was sans Church. Ladson believes he will be the team's 4th outfielder, with speedster Brandon Watson getting the nod in left field.

Excuse me, but didn't Church do a credible job last year for the Nationals?

Although playing hurt for most of the second half of the season, Church nonetheless hit .287-9-42, with a good .353 on-base-percent and a solid .466 slugging average. Had he stayed healthy and played every day, his numbers would have looked something like this: .287-20-85 with 30 doubles. Church's projected 140 strikeouts doesn't look particularly great, but remember, this was his first real season in the big leagues. Church deserves to play everyday. He his .277 against right-handers in 2005 and .367 against lefties, .301 on the road and .277 at home, .282 during day games and .291 when playing at night. Church is steady and contributes regardless of when or where he plays, and who he plays against.

Church is considered by many scouts to be another Grady Sizemore, a former Expo traded to Cleveland during the terror reign of Omar Miniya. In 2005, Sizemore batted .292-22-81 for the Indians. Sizemore's splits are comparable to Church's. The Indians love Sizemore, and are attempting to sign him to a multi-year contract. Church is trade bait.

It's not Ryan Church's fault that the team hasn't had a real leadoff hitter for several seasons. If Bill Ladson truly has the ear of the Nationals management, as many assert, the team is wanting to play an unproven player in left field in the hopes he'll produce over a player who has already proven his ability so that the Nats don't have to trade for a leadoff hitter. Did you get that? Well, Jimbo, what happens if you finally succeed in trading Church and open the 2006 season with Watson in left, and he gets off to a 3 for 33 start? Then what? There are no other options for the outfield.

The Nationals would love nothing more than to have Grady Sizemore back in the team's outfield next season. But they have his clone begging to remain with the team right now. If both players get 500 at bats in 2006, their offensive numbers would be almost identical. No, trading Church isn't the answer. Look somewhere else Jim. He's not the answer.

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