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In search of 25 good men

So after last night's round of cuts (and I'll get to them in a bit), the roster has a lot more clarity, though most of these moves were telegraphed long ago. (How were they telegraphed? Well, when they signed Ronnie Belliard as a non-roster player, Manny Acta, who happens to serve as the manager of the team, said, "He's on the team." So read between the lines there, will ya?)

A week from today, the team will be in Columbus, Ohio, for an exhibition game against the Orioles at the site of their Class AAA team. The following day, the Nats and O's will play in Norfolk, Va., and the next day (Sat., March 31) the two teams will face each other at RFK Stadium, the final exhibition game of the season. GM Jim Bowden said earlier this week: "I don't think all the decisions will be made in Florida," meaning the final cuts will occur on those final three days before the season. But realistically, we're talking about only a couple of jobs.

Here's what happened last night: LHP Billy Traber optioned to Class AAA Columbus; RHP Josh Hall reassigned to minor league camp; OF Michael Restovich and INF Bernie Castro outrighted to Columbus; contracts of INF Ronnie Belliard and C-1B-OF Robert Fick purchased.

In plain English, this means that Fick and Belliard are on the team. They were placed on the 40-man roster, and space was created on the 40-man by jettisoning Restovich and Castro. Those two now have a few days to decide whether they'll accept an assignment to Columbus (Acta indicated Restovich was leaning toward it, not sure on Castro) or become free agents.

The most interesting aspect of that whole thing, I think, was Traber, who had pitched fairly well this spring (1 ER in 5 IP). But the club is more interested in him as a reliever than as a starter. Acta said late last night that he thought Traber could best help the team in the future as a left-handed specialist. Traber's reaction: "I think if you've pitched in the big leagues, you'll do whatever it takes to get back there." He took it like a pro, and I'd bet money we'll see him soon (not that I would ever bet money).

The other part of that fallout: Acta said they're "locked in" on Micah Bowie and Ray King as the lefties. Again, read between the lines: King will have to be placed on the 40-man, and Bowie -- who pitched well in a brief stint with the Nationals last spring -- appears healthy. But lefty Mike Bacsik, who threw two shutout innings last night and went 11-0 for the Diamondbacks' Class AAA team last year, will be sent down soon.

And then there's this whole Jason Simontacchi issue. His slightly strained groin (and it's actually an adductor muscle down his inner thigh) could screw up the whole rotation. Tim Redding's performance last night normally would have been enough to put him way way way way out of the competition. But now, only Patterson, Hill and Chico are safely in, and it's pretty much Jerome Williams, Joel Hanrahan, Redding and perhaps Levale Speigner and Jason Bergmann (who I still think might be considered "swingmen," able to pitch out of the pen) for two spots as starters.

Complicating matters is the Nationals' schedule. They have no off day in the first week of the season. Normally, teams play on Opening Day, then have an off day the following day. The Nationals' first two seasons opened in such a manner. That has an impact on the pitching staff. Essentially, the fifth starter can be skipped because of the off day, and he wouldn't be needed until, say, April 10th or 12th or something.

No such luck for the Nationals this year. GM Jim Bowden said in an email late last night that he's hoping Simontacchi could be ready by the fifth game of the year, April 7 against Arizona. But if not, there's two spots open. Someone's going to have to pitch those games.

With that, we get to the makeup of the 25-man roster. Here's how I see it playing out, starting with the secure spots:

Starters (8):
C Brian Schneider
1B Dmitri Young (who I believe will beat out Travis Lee, because Acta said the team needs offense from the position)
2B Felipe Lopez
SS Cristian Guzman
3B Ryan Zimmerman
LF Ryan Church (or Chris Snelling, but unless Church is traded, which isn't likely to happen until he gets more positive results, I still think he'll start here, unless they decide to put Church in center and move Logan to the bench, but the important point for this discussion is that all three are likely to be on the team)
CF Nook Logan
RF Austin Kearns

Starting pitchers (3):
RHP John Patterson
RHP Shawn Hill
LHP Matt Chico

Relievers (5):
RHP Chad Cordero
RHP Jon Rauch
RHP Ryan Wagner
LHP Ray King
LHP Micah Bowie
(Luis Ayala already predicted to start year on DL.)

Bench players (4):
C-1B-OF Robert Fick
INF Ronnie Belliard
C Jesus Flores
OF Chris Snelling (or Church or Logan, depending on how the starting lineup falls out)

That's 20 all-but certain players, with five spots left -- two (2) in the rotation, two (2) in the bullpen and one (1) on the bench.

The rotation, obviously, is the biggest mess. I'm still betting on Jerome Williams, who pitches tonight in Kissimmee against the Astros, to secure one of the spots. And who knows on that last one? I'm going to leave that open until the final days.

The bullpen: I have to say I am all but certain Levale Speigner will make it. He's a Rule 5 guy, and if you thought enough of him to take him in that draft, then he certainly hasn't done anything to dissuade you now. He's pitched 8-2/3 innings without giving up a run, seems like a competitor, and is willing to either start or relieve. My guess is he's the "long guy" in the bullpen. (Rule 5, for anyone who doesn't know, means he couldn't be sent down to the minors without being offered to his old team, the Twins, first, and he has to stay on the major league roster all season long).

The last bullpen spot: Saul Rivera? Chris Booker? They like Booker's live arm, and his forkball is intriguing. Rivera pitched fairly well last year in the majors (3.43 ERA in 60-1/3 innings), but he's had a shaky spring at times. I'm leaving Bergmann out of this discussion, because I think -- because he has options left -- he'll be sent to Columbus and groomed as a starter who could, if needed, serve a a long/swing man in the majors.

I'm going to waffle here and not make a choice.

I will not, however, waffle on the final spot on the bench. I think it will be Josh Wilson.

Earlier in the week, I asked Bowden, who is good at giving hints about these things in advance, what his most pleasant surprises of the spring had been. After talking about Felipe Lopez's transition to second base (which he has done without squawking), he brought up Wilson, who was really shaky the first few games, looking like a Class AAA shortstop, but has been stellar since. He's hitting .400 in 30 at-bats, a good sample, and has improved on defense (range isn't great, but hands are nice). It's to the point where two members of the organization -- including one prominent player -- have asked me in the last 24 hours, "What are they going to do with Wilson? He can play."

My guess: They keep him, which means D'Angelo Jimenez (who has also hit this spring but has been had a very poor start defensively) wouldn't make the team. If Wilson makes the cut, he would be used to spell Guzman at shortstop and as a right-handed bat/pinch-runner type. That would allow Belliard, who I don't think would be as effective at shortstop, to be the backup at second and third. Fick would serve as the fifth outfielder, which isn't ideal, but if you're going to carry a 12-man pitching staff, which this team must do, you're going to have to give back something offensively. Fick also is important because the team will almost certainly carry Flores, the Rule 5 catcher who's only 22 and has impressed everybody in the spring, and Fick would be a valuable asset because he can catch, too. (There is the matter of how playing only once every two weeks could stunt Flores's development, and the Nationals are aware of the risk, but they're willing to take it.)

So there you have it, my attempt at being the GM -- while avoiding the really tough decisions at the end there.

I've now wasted 30 minutes of your time (not to mention maybe an hour of my own). Please return to work. I'll likely get you lineups, etc., when I get to Kissimmee.

By Barry Svrluga  |  March 22, 2007; 10:16 AM ET
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Next: Left-over bits and pieces


Great analysis. But the one thing you didn't address is a backup 1B. Based on what you have Lee will be sent down (after clearing waivers) to AAA leaving the Nats with Young (shaky glove) on first with a backup combo of Fick and Belliard? Just curious how you see this playing out.

thanks and keep it up

Posted by: Steve | March 22, 2007 11:51 AM | Report abuse

Great post. Lots of new, updated info. This is why we need the blog during the season.

You didn't mention Kory Casto who has also hit this season but I see why. Wilson is out of options, Casto isn't so he'll go down, maybe later in the year or next year for him. All he has done is hit like crazy everywhere he's been, I think he'll be a big leaguer for a long time once he gets up there.

Posted by: mlwagnercpa | March 22, 2007 11:59 AM | Report abuse

Barry - could you work up a story on Speigner? I have not looked to closely at the box scores this Spring, so I'm wondering if his numbers are mostly against AAA guys at the end of the game. Otherwise, a WHIP around .7, a K/BB ratio of 2:1, 2:1 Ground out/ fly out, look good. Yes, it's spring, but is this in line with his minor league numbers? Not many Ks, though. He could be a steal. The Twins are stacked with young pitchers, so I could see them running out of roster spots.

Posted by: Federal Triangle | March 22, 2007 12:02 PM | Report abuse

When he gets better(...)where does Escobar fit in to all of this?

Posted by: Anonymous | March 22, 2007 12:07 PM | Report abuse

Hey Barry, I was watching MASN last night and Carpenter and Sutton were talking about how there was a lot of interest from other teams in Josh Wilson. Is this true? If so, what teams and what are they offering? Does he have the talent to be a starting MI? If not, I say we try and get what we can for him.

Posted by: DE | March 22, 2007 12:39 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the story on Johnson today. I've been waiting to hear how he's been doing. Wasn't sure if he was even with the team. Keep us posted!

Posted by: RFK Section 426 | March 22, 2007 12:42 PM | Report abuse

Excellent analysis, Barry! Great insight into those final roster spot battles. Here's hoping Jerome Williams nails down a rotation spot with a strong outing tonight.

Posted by: E. Capitol St. 9 | March 22, 2007 12:43 PM | Report abuse

You left Simontacchi off the roster. If they are planning on starting him April 7 if his adductor is ok, it sounds to me like he is on the team, and not the DL.

Posted by: Willie Gandabol | March 22, 2007 1:02 PM | Report abuse

and all this presumes Bowden doesn't pull off some page one deal, of course.

Posted by: Willie Gandebol | March 22, 2007 1:06 PM | Report abuse

After reading about Peter Angelos nixing a deal of Brian Roberts and Hayden Penn for Adam LaRoche - I thought could the Nats put up a similar offer and consider shipping one of their second basemen (Belliard?) and maybe Ryan Church or a potentially attractive pitcher to the Braves for LaRoche and sure up the 1B situation?

Posted by: PhilW | March 22, 2007 1:10 PM | Report abuse

Too late PhilW, we already traded for him

Posted by: Pittsburgh Pirates | March 22, 2007 1:29 PM | Report abuse

That, and they are not trying to shore up 1st base, they are trying to store up minor league pitching prospects.

Posted by: Willie Gandebol | March 22, 2007 1:32 PM | Report abuse

Re: 1st base:

Steve posts:

"Based on what you have Lee will be sent down (after clearing waivers) to AAA leaving the Nats with Young (shaky glove) on first with a backup combo of Fick and Belliard? Just curious how you see this playing out."

If Young's bat doesn't outweigh his glove & Johnson is not ready, they can bring back Broadway, if he's hitting. Might as well find out if he can hit in the majors. I don't see them signing Lee for Columbus if Broadway is there.

Posted by: Section 418 | March 22, 2007 1:53 PM | Report abuse

Dear Jim Bowden,
We released SP Paul Wilson today, he should fit in well with all of your ex red Nats.
Cincy Reds

Are the Nats looking to maybe pick up a Pitcher who is going to get cut and is out of options? (like Restovich and Castro)

Posted by: Cincy Reds | March 22, 2007 1:58 PM | Report abuse

Yes, Fick would serve as backup at first for now. Casto goes to Class AAA for now. Remember, he hasn't played above AA before. I'll try to do something on Speigner soon.

Wilson: I know Bowden said that. I do not know how much genuine interest there is.

Posted by: Barry Svrluga | March 22, 2007 2:00 PM | Report abuse

BTW, any word on MASN and Dish Network? They seem to be the last holdout. We're getting awfully close to Opening Day ...

Posted by: E. Capitol St. 9 | March 22, 2007 2:08 PM | Report abuse

Great column Barry.

Posted by: Riain | March 22, 2007 2:59 PM | Report abuse

Good point on the released pitchers. I have inquired about Paul Wilson, and it appears the Nationals do not have interest. But if there's a Mark Hendrickson or a Brett Tomko or someone else like that, they could make a change very late.

I will certainly be keeping an eye on all that.

Posted by: Barry Svrluga | March 22, 2007 3:33 PM | Report abuse

Barry, great breakdown. Have ther ebeen any actual inquiries into Church, or is this the same old "he might be on the block"?

Posted by: Nationals Pride Mike | March 22, 2007 4:18 PM | Report abuse

Barry, or fellow Nats Enthusiasts,

Has anyone heard anything more on a new stadium for DC United?

Posted by: Pele | March 22, 2007 4:23 PM | Report abuse

First, do not take a football God's name in vain. Second:zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Posted by: A Hardwick | March 22, 2007 5:08 PM | Report abuse

i would love to get mark hendrickson. but the dodgers would have to release him or the nats would have to make a trade for him.


Posted by: bethesda | March 22, 2007 5:37 PM | Report abuse

Jesus Flores seems like a talented prospect -- good athleticism and power for a catcher -- but I can't help but think this Rule 5 business might derail his development. Unless the Nats are truly committed to him, he's not going to get the minimum 300 or so plate appearances he'll need to continue to refine his approach at the plate. Essentially, he's looking at a lost season, and then a return to the minors in 2008 (High A ball?) to re-start his development. This scenario hasn't worked out so well for Henry Blanco the past two seasons.

Posted by: Natty Fan | March 22, 2007 6:18 PM | Report abuse

Did you mean me?

Posted by: Tony Blanco | March 22, 2007 7:55 PM | Report abuse

I suspect there are many Nats fans in the same boat as me. I live to the West of the District, in a rural area of Virginia and can't get cable or satellite or broadand. Yup, broadcast tv and dialup only for me.

What the heck is going on in this Nats game? 9/zip?????

Posted by: Eric | March 22, 2007 8:21 PM | Report abuse

I can't see the Dodgers giving either Hendrickson or Tomko away, especially with Penny's shoulder situation. LA's looking to fortify its pen in front of Broxton and Saito, and I bet they'd ask for Wagner or Rauch in return for one of the starters. Tomko's age makes a trade for him something that wouldn't make sense, but would a Hendrickson for Wagner deal work for the Nats?

Posted by: Hondo Lives | March 22, 2007 9:15 PM | Report abuse

I don't have cable, but now the MLB boxscore has Nats 16, Houston 2 in the top of the 8th -- oh my!


I suspect there are many Nats fans in the same boat as me. I live to the West of the District, in a rural area of Virginia and can't get cable or satellite or broadand. Yup, broadcast tv and dialup only for me.

What the heck is going on in this Nats game? 9/zip?????

Posted by: natsfan1a | March 22, 2007 9:43 PM | Report abuse

Houston, we have a problem

Posted by: natsfan1a | March 22, 2007 9:49 PM | Report abuse

Great analysis of the opening day 25, Barry, thank you. The journal must stay for the regular season. Really appreciate the extra effort that you put into it. Story idea for an off day maybe - with the money saved on say, one mediocre pitcher's salary, maybe $3 million a year - what does that buy for the building up of the farm system? It's easy for us to say "What's 3 million bucks to a professional baseball team?" ... but I would think that it's a pretty significant amount in terms of the difference it can make ... extra scouts, facility upgrades, etc. Maybe a little too inside baseball, but it's a very important part of Stan's plan. Just a thought. Thanks again for the great work this spring.

Posted by: Dave | March 22, 2007 11:47 PM | Report abuse

Nats 16 Houston 2 - Final. Jerome williams was lights out, I hope that answers any of the questions involving his name posed above. J. Flores homered and so did Church (out the deep right center gap). There's more but I'll leave it to the real sportswriters. Oh wait, one more thing: Jerome Williams got three hits. wow. I Didn't see any of the Astros fans waving the rally towels they gave out as promos tonight.

Posted by: I hate walks | March 23, 2007 12:40 AM | Report abuse


Why isn't Logan playing more? Isn't spring training when you try to work out the kinks on a player you are committed to?

Posted by: Missing Florida | March 23, 2007 1:03 AM | Report abuse

A Hardwick: In America the game is called Soccer. Football is played by men.

Posted by: Pele | March 23, 2007 8:10 AM | Report abuse

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