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Musical Chairs About To Begin In Viera

[February 16th] - Well, it's over. Thankfully, mercifully, the past five weeks of uncertainty ended yesterday with Sammy Sosa's realization that his gas tank was indeed empty. But I still feel a bit numb, somewhat c0nfused and altogether unsure of the direction my beloved Nationals are heading.

And spring training has arrived.

The Sosa conundrum was but one of several scenarios that were waiting to play out. At virtually every position, there is some intrigue, some question mark just waiting to be asked.

FIRST BASE:The big question here is will Nick Johnson stay healthy? If the past six years is any indicator, the answer is no. And what if he does stay healthy? He is a free agent after the 2006 season and there is no way any right-minded general manager will offer him a long-term deal with his baggage. The Nationals have a bucket-load of serviceable first baseman and a likely replacement in the form of Larry Broadway, just a few hundred at-bats and a plane ticket away.

SECOND BASE: Where do I begin? Jose Vidro, who has joined Nick Johnson on the disabled list the past three seasons, says he's healthy and ready to play 160 games. Well, maybe. Then there's Alfonso Soriano, who says he'll play for the Nationals in 2006, but he's going to do it at second base. Vidro can only play second base. Behind the two former all-stars are Damian Jackson and Marlon Anderson, both capable replacements. Kinda gives "depth" a new meaning, doesn't it?

SHORT STOP: The Nationals have a returning starter with three years and $12 million dollars remaining on his contract that may lose his job to a guy with funny-hair and a minor league contract. The big money guy batted .219 last year and the funny-hair guy batted .270. The team's general manager is going to give the funny-hair guy every opportunity to beat the big money guy. Go figure.

THIRD BASE: If history is any barometer, Ryan Zimmerman has just as much of a chance to win the rookie-of-the-year award as he does batting .188 through May and finding himself a Zephyr. If he doesn't make it, Jim Bowden has said that Brendan Harris would be given an opportunity, as would Damian Jackson.

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LEFT & CENTER FIELD: Alfonso Soriano. Ryan Church. Marlon Byrd. Brandon Watson. Michael Tucker. And two starting positions. If Brandon Watson wins the centerfield job, and Alfonso Soriano relents and plays in the outfield, Ryan Church is out of luck. If Church starts, Watson's out. If Soriano gets traded, but Watson plays poorly in spring ... well, you get the idea.

RIGHT FIELD & CATCHER: Jose Guillen is entrenched in right field, but exactly when will that "entrenching" begin? Will Guillen's shoulder allow him to play in April? May? Brian Schneider is healthy, happy, and one of the best catchers in the National League.

So, even without Sammy Sosa, the Nationals have a grand total of ONE position that is set and locked in for opening day. Brian Schneider is a given. But the rest of the team is facing more intrigue than a 40's spy movie. If Alfonso Soriano is traded, who will that bring in return and where will he play, and who might the team have to trade to make room for that player? Makes the brain cramp just thinking about it.

Last season, Endy Chavez was the only question mark facing the team as spring training began. My, how simple life was in the old days.


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