WHAT ELSE CAN FRANK DO?
[March 26th] -- Frank Robinson peered up at the scoreboard late this afternoon and saw that his Nationals were one strike away from losing to the Detroit Tigers 4-0. It wasn't that his team was about to lose for the 18th time this spring. No, that wasn't the problem. It was the number displayed next to the "0" in his team's linescore. Four. As in four hits.
The Nationals now have a .249 team batting average, and although there are many new faces in the lineup, the production remains the same as last season. Bad. It was hoped that somehow Alfonso Soriano's presence in the outfield would make a team of barely average hitters better. But since Soriano himself will hurt the team offensively, things just look worse.
Let's be honest. Under the best of conditions, with everyone healthy, the Nationals will be a middle-of-the-pack offense in the National League: Here is what I see as the team's best case scenario in 2006:
- Brandon Watson----------.272 - 00 - 33
- Jose Vidro----------------.289 - 12 - 50
- Nick Johnson-------------.291 - 18 - 90
- Jose Guillen--------------.288 - 25 - 90
- Alfonso Soriano-----------.265 - 23 - 85
- Ryan Zimmerman--------.273 - 14 - 60
- Brian Schneider----------.270 - 12 - 55
- Royce Clayton------------.252 - 08 - 40
This would be an 81-win offense if the team had more than two starting pitchers who have had any real success the past two to three years. With the exception of Soriano (and only because he played in a band-box that upped his stats) and Zimmerman (because he's still young and untested), the entire lineup is made up of complimentary players, players that are used to surround a team's star. The Yankees had guys like Bernie Williams and Paul O'Neil that supported Derek Jeter; the Giants' Jeff Kent protected Barry Bonds. The Nationals' players are being asked to do something that they can't, to be leaders instead of followers.
There might come a day when Ryan Zimmerman becomes that guy who can carryhis team for days at a time, but that day hasn't arrived. The team's support players get on base often enough, but there isn't that "it" guy to double into the gap, or hit that clutch, two-out home run that everyone else in the NL East seems to have. What can be done? Well, we have to hope the team does poorly this year.
The new owner will certainly open his pocketbook and buy the team a few players next fall. But it the Nationals finish with a record that is better than half of the teams, they'll give up draft picks when they sign those free agents. If they finish in the bottom half (like they did this year), then there is no "cost" in signing those players. My guess is that the new owner will sign two pitchers and a position player. If the team can do that and not give up any draft picks, then things will finally start to look up for this once moribund franchise. Hopefully, Soriano will be dealt at mid-season for a few more prospects, further laying the groundwork for a solid team come 2008, when the new stadium opens.
As things sit today, I'm guessing the Nationals are a 73 win team, which should guarantee them getting the "best of both worlds" next fall.
I'm not trying to be grim, just realistic.
And trust me, it isn't much fun.
Anyone have anything nice to say about me today? :)
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