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Michael Tucker Signs With Nats -- But As Backup Or Platoon Starter?

[January 9th] -- The Washington Nationals signed veteran Michael Tucker to a non-guaranteed one year, $800,000 contract. If he makes the club, he'll join the completely revamped, very veteran Nationals' bench. But I gotta tell ya, I don't think Tucker's going to be on the bench next season; I think Bowden is about to pull the trigger on his "Man what do I do with the outfield?" deal.

Michael Tucker was once considered a budding star in the Royals' organization. In his first two seasons with Kansas City, he played the equivalent of a full season, batting .260-16-70. He was traded following the 1996 to the Atlanta Braves for Jermaine Dye (wow, that worked out well for Atlanta, now didn't it??). Since leaving the Braves in 1998, he's played for the Reds, Royals, Giants and Phillies, always in right field, and always as a platoon player from the left side of the plate.

Tucker is the prototypical platoon player. He hit .251 against right-handers last year, .152 against lefties. He has good speed even though he'll be 35 next season. He can play all three outfield positions and has a strong arm that makes him ideal for right field. He's a good baserunner.

Now, here's where it gets interesting. The Nationals don't need Michael Tucker. The outfield is set with Ryan Church, Marlon Byrd, Alfonso Soriano (don't laugh!) Jose Guillen and (maybe) Brandon Watson. Guillen is set in right; center and left are up in the air. Several things could happen:

1] Ryan Church is about to be traded for pitching, opening up left field for a platoon of Michael Tucker and Marlon Byrd. Combined, I'd guess they'd hit .265-16-70 or so, certainly acceptable as long as the team isn't expected to contend for any type of upper division finish. Soriano finally gives in and plays center field.

2] Alfonso Soriano gets traded and Church takes over center with the Byrd/Tucker platoon in left.

3] Brandon Watson wins the centerfield position, Alfonso Soriano plays left, Byrd remains the primary backup and Church gets traded. Tucker's non-guaranteed contract is left in Vierra.

It's my guess that either Ryan Church or Alfonso Soriano is about to be magically turned into pitching. Bowden likes Marlon Byrd a lot (remember, he said last September, "Byrd has come back to Washington able to win a starting job and hit 20-25 homers per year.") Byrd would thrive as a platoon player. In 2005, he hit .380-1-15, .380 OBP, .479 SLG against lefties while hitting only .214-1-11, .273 OBP, .310 SLG against right-handers.

Church on the other hand would be hurt by platooning. He hits lefties far better than he does right-handers, an oddity for a left-handed batter. I think Church either plays every day here or plays every day somewhere else.

The Tucker signing is likely laying the groundwork for another move. As the team stands tonight, Michael Tucker is a spare part that just isn't needed. Further, why would Tucker sign with the Nationals if he wasn't sure he'd go north with the team next season? I don't think he would. There had to have been another team seeking his services. No, he probably knows that there are other deals in the works, and that he would then have an excellent chance to platoon in 2006.

Of course, with Jim Bowden, no one knows for sure. The morning after the Soriano trade, I was listening to XM's MLB Homeplate. Buck Martinez said that the Soriano deal made no sense unless there was "more to follow." You just don't know. And when Bowden is involved, you never know.

I think this is the beginning of a big change for the Nats. There might be other changes at other positions before all is said and done.
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