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Brian Lawrence Injured, Out Until All-Star Break

[February 25th] -- The Nationals Farm Authority website, who has a man in Viera, reported Saturday that the Nationals have announced that Brian Lawrence is injured and is not expected to return until August.

Lawrence, obtained in a trade last fall for Vinny Castilla, began feeling pain in his shoulder shortly after reporting to spring training. Initial reports indicated that he would have surgery to repair the tear, but team officials indicated later that he would rehab the shoulder instead. However, the team announced late Saturday that he would have the surgery in Washington on Sunday.

My first reaction is to wonder how this will effect the Nationals chances in the NL East this season. The answer is that it won't. The only obtainable goal is to finish out of last place in 2006. Considering that the Florida Marlins imploded over the winter, the Nats would have to lose much more than Brian Lawrence to risk finishing in the basement for the second year in a row.

There is an upside to this. Going in to camp, the Nationals had seven pitchers, Livan Hernandez, John Patterson, Ryan Drese, Tony Armas Jr., Ramon Ortiz, Jon Rauch and Lawrence battling for five positions.

Another possibility would be to sign a free-agent to replace him. Just yesterday, Bowden indicated that signing Pedro Astacio would be a long-shot as the sides were just too far apart on the dollars. That may have now changed. There isn't any other pitchers of consequence remaining in the market, other than Kevin Brown.

The more likely possibility, however, is that Lawrence's torn labrum might spell the end of Alfonso Soriano's career in D.C. even before it started. There are many quality starting pitchers on the market, and Bowden, should he choose to, could easily package Soriano and a prospect for a number-two reliever.

With Lawrence out of the picture for several months, someone will be given the opportunity to "step up" and earn their place in the rotation. Right now, only Livan and Patterson are locks. Ramon Ortiz and Tony Armas Jr. are likely "near-locks." That leaves Rauch and Drese to battle for the final spot. If the team is looking to the future, they should give Rauch every chance to succeed. If, however, Bowden wants the team to do just "well enough" to allow him to keep his job, Drese might be the guy.

The loss of Brian Lawrence isn't catastrophic. It is, however, proof that just because the team suffered through an inordinate amount of injuries last year that we won't be spared in 2006. Rather than trade Soriano for pitching, I'd prefer to let Rauch get his chance and package Soriano away for a hitter.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. At least when the Nationals are involved, that is.

Hey, the last time I looked, Soriano was signed because he was a hitter; not for his defensive prowess. He's proven to be such a "team player" that he's going to be difficult to move. He probably would be a good DH for an AL team. It'd be fun to see him stroking doubles and triples, stealing bases and scoring lots of runs on sac flies. I don't understand why the stadium/team management can't get behind moving the fences in about five or ten feet and lowering them some. Come to think about it, the park's dimensions may have had something to do with the expansion Senators' lack of homers (in addition to the Harry Bright's, Coot Veal's and Jimmy Piersall's the team had passed to them like so many trash cards in a game of spades). You didn't hear the pitchers complaining last year. I agree with those who have advocated using the dimensions to our advantage and rounding up some speed and defense guys. Dana Gunnison
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