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He's Not Your Father's Sammy Sosa

[January 13th] -- The Nationals' blog-o-sphere is going apoplectic with the news that Sammy Sosa and his agent are talking to team GM Jim Bowden about joining the Nationals.

The Nats' blogging nation is probably right. That is, unless they're wrong. And I can assure you, they are one or the other.

The big guy over at Banks Of The Anacostia reported yesterday that Jimmy B. added an addendum to the ESPN article that first broke this story. It's being repeated in this morning's Baltimore Sun as well: "We would have interest in bringing a healthy Sammy Sosa into camp on a non-guaranteed minor league deal and giving him an opportunity to make the team," he told the Web site in an e-mail."

First thing, don't believe the cards being dealt when negotiations are just beginning. You demand several things that aren't important so that they can be "given up" in the name of "good faith." I don't doubt for a moment that Bowden worried that his fan base might head to the Home Depot to buy some good lynching rope, and so he shot that e-mail off to ESPN as a means of self preservation. See, he's negotiating with Sosa, and with us.

The words of assurance, words like "healthy," "non-guaranteed," "minor league" and "opportunity to make the team" placate the fan base ( I feel placated, don't you?). I've already noticed a change of heart on several of the Nats' bulletin board sites. This one sums it up pretty well: "I don't know what the big deal is. I was worried at first too, but it's not guaranteed money and Sosa has to make the club. What do we have to lose?'

Bowden has those very same "cards" at the table right now with Sammy. Sosa is probably demanding $5,000,000, a private jet, and all the clean underwear he can use. Sammy will say, "Hey, I been berry berry gude to besboll, I no have to make team." Bowden will counter, "Gee, I don't know Sammy -- maybe I'll consider it if you lose the private jet." On and on they'll go until they both get what they wanted in the first place: a one-year deal calling a for a guaranteed contract that is heavily laden with incentives. Isn't that really just as good as a minor league deal? If Sosa doesn't produce, he's released and the team has a relatively minor financial obligation to eat. If he does return to form, Bowden will gladly pay him for his production. This way, Sosa is faced the embarassment of having to make the team or sign a minor-league contract.

No, don't believe all of this whoo-ha that you're reading right now.

What Sammy Sosa can do for the Nationals:

The same thing he could have done last year had the team traded Terrmel Sledge and Brendan Harris to the Cubs for the all-star as almost happened - he would have brought a high-profile face to Washington. The newness of baseball in D.C. will have worn off and will have an effect when the Nationals take the field at RFK next April. Some casual fans surely won't be back. Compound that with the animosity that true fans like us feel for both Major League Baseball and the D.C. City council, and attendance, radio listenership and TV viewership may take a fairly significant dip. Having Sosa on the team might create some excitement, even if just for a short while. Babe Ruth did it for the Boston Braves for part of the 1935 season before finally retiring. Sosa could to.

But I think he can do even more. Last year's poor showing should be weighted when looking at Sosa's decline the last few seasons. He had a staph infection in his foot and problems with an infection under a toe nail in 2004. No way a professional baseball player can plant his foot properly if it's a breeding ground for bacteria. In 2003, Sosa hit .253-35-80 in 126 games before his troubles began. Playing the entire year, he should have hit somewhere around .253-44-102. If you figure that he's lost 12% of his game, and will lose another 10% because of park differential, he might hit .260-35-80 (a bit higher average because outfielders would play deeper at RFK, giving him a few more "drop in" singles).

What if he doesn't hit that well? How about .260-20-80? That's almost a certainty (unless the foot 'thing' wasn't the culprit last season and his lack of skills and lack of juice was). Ryan Church could then move over to center, and would likely produce somewhere around .280-20-75. Add Guillen's .300-27-100 potential (assuming he's healthy) and the Nats have a much better outfield than they did in 2005.

Alfonso Soriano could then be traded for pitching, and having Sosa in the outfield for a season would buy the team some time until a new owner is in place. And there's no question that the owner would open up his pocketbook in 2007, making the team able to plug some holes caused by Bowden's many boo-boo's.

If the Nationals can't sign Sosa, the alternative will be Brandon Watson. Does anyone really think that there is a scenario where Watson would be more productive for the Nationals than Sammy Sosa?

Give him a chance. If nothing else, it'll make spring training more interesting.

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