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Scraping The Bottom Of The Barrel Or Shrewed Personnel Management?

[January 24th] - I thought when the Washington Nationals signed Robert Fick two months ago, they filled their need for all things first-base, and that Mike Stanton pretty much filled out the team's bullpen.

Perhaps not.

The Nationals' website ran a story late Monday night indicating that team GM Jim Bowden has offered minor league deals to first-baseman Daryle Ward and relief pitcher Felix Rodriguez.

I'm surprised that no one has picked up the 30 year old Ward, who played for the Pirates the past two seasons. In 2005, Ward batted .260-12-63 in just over 400 at bats. He has tremendous power and hits well in clutch situations, but tends to be too aggressive when behind in the count. Defensively, he's 'average' at best. He can play the outfield as well as first, and can do a credible job as a platoon player.

Ward's "internals" indicate just why he remains unsigned this close to spring training. He hit only .200 against left-handers vs. .281 when facing righties. His .318 on-base percentage for 2005, and .309 for his carrer, are numbers reserved for slick-fielding shortstops and not slugging first baseman. Strangely, he went only 5-60 (.083) at three of the most hitter-friendly parks in the National League, Wrigley Field, Busch Stadium and SBC Park in San Francisco.

OK. So why would the Nationals want a third left-handed first baseman? Is it possible that Bowden is considering moving Johnson for pitching and looking to Fick and/or Daryle Ward to take the majority of at-bats at first? Hmmmm??

In 2001, Felix Rodriguez ruled the National League. Pitching for the San Francisco Giants, Rodriguez went 9-1, 1.68 with 91 strikeouts in just 80 innings. He continued to pitch well for the Giants and the Phillies between 2002 - 2004, going 24-21, 3.44, striking out 163 in 190 innings. 2005 didn't go well for Rodriguez. Pitching for the Yankees, he had a 5.01 ERA in 32 innings while striking out only 19.

Rodriguez has a fastball that tops out at 98 mph. He has a good slider but most often just dares the hitter to catch up with the heat. Lefties do pretty well against Rodriguez but right-handers might just as well stay on the bench.

Even when including his dismal 2005 season, Rodriguez' last three years look very good. The right-hander has gone 13-10, 3.57 during that span, striking out 123 in 159 innings. From 2003 - 2005, Rodriguez gave up a .254 batting average, .345 on-base percent and .395 slugging average. He is especially hard on lefties, allowing a .229 batting average against (.270 vs righties).

Bowden is hoping that Rodriguez will become the 2006 version of Hector Carrasco, and he just may.

Initial reaction: Rodriguez would be a welcome addition to the Nationals' bullpen. RFK's expansiveness will help deflect some of his fastballs that go right down the heart of the plate. He would be a great situational pitcher, against lefties when the team needs a strikeout badly for example. Ward, however, is another story. He's servicible, but only in a platoon setting, and there is no way the team would start April with Ward at 'AAA' New Orleans; that's where heir apparent Larry Broadway will reside next season. No, I have this feeling that something may be happening at first base involving Nick Johnson. Bill Ladson reported early Monday that he expected Larry Broadway to be given every opportunity to win the starting job at first for the Nats in 2007, and that might as well have come from the mouth of Bowden himself. If Johnson is on the trading block, then a potential signing of Ward makes sense. Perhaps Johnson will be an "throw in" in a deal that gets Alfonso Soriano out of Washington.

So much for the "slow news days" that we've been dealing with the past couple of days.


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