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The Middle Infield: The Future

With all the changes in the outfield before and during last week's winter meetings, I didn't get to something that seems to keep coming up, and that would be the future of Felipe Lopez, Cristian Guzman and Ronnie Belliard - the middle infield.

Of the three, who's under contract through 2009? That would be only Belliard, signed to that economical two-year, $3.5-million extension in July of last year. Of all the divergent opinions in the Journal's comment section, it seems to me that most people believe Belliard is a valuable asset for this team, whether he's a starter or a reserve.

The other two are tougher to figure out. I'm not going to get into a deep statistical discussion here (in part because I'm at the airport heading out of town and need to not miss my flight, and in part because then I would have to bring up Guzman's career OBP of .302, which kinda makes my stomach turn).

I'll let you look over the numbers here:

Cristian Guzman
Felipe Lopez
Ronnie Belliard

Mull those over. What got me to thinking about this was the fact that, when I was filling out a projected 2008 lineup for Sunday's paper (that ran with this story on the overhauled Nats), I couldn't figure out anybody to put at the top of the order other than Lopez. (OK, for a minute I thought about Guzman, because he briefly supplanted Lopez there when he was torrid last year, but I then kept coming back to the aforementioned OBP, and my stomach turned, and I went back to Lopez.)

And that got me to thinking about some left-over stuff from last week's meetings. The Nationals are going to offer Lopez a contract; that much seems clear. (They could have "non-tendered" him and made him a free agent, but I was told that even though he's arbitration-eligible and will get a bump from his $3.9-million salary from 2007, they can't just give him away.)

But it's also clear Lopez's name came up in trade discussions. At the risk of burying the lead here, I heard from two people last week that the Nationals had spoken to the Padres about the possibility of trading for shortstop Khalil Greene. One person told me Chad Cordero would have been the centerpiece headed to San Diego, but another said it would have been Jon Rauch. With conflicting information, I never put it in the paper, and both people said the talks had fizzled.

But the other thing that came up: Lopez might have gone to San Diego as the shortstop (as well as Nook Logan, perhaps) to replace Greene.

The point of this is not to suggest that the Nats are about to pull off a big blockbuster with the Padres. They could, but again, I was told the possibility had died.

Rather, the point of this is to point out that - as the Nationals make moves that they believe will help them contend in 2009 and 2010 and beyond - that they'll need a shortstop at that point.

Guzman is in the last year of his four-year, $16.8-million contract (which, even as Guzman has missed almost two full seasons in the three years under that contract, doesn't seem as wildly overpriced as it once did). This is Lopez's last arbitration season, and he'll be a free agent at the end of 2008 as well. Belliard isn't going to be the starting shortstop. Second base, maybe, but not shortstop. Esmailyn Gonzalez won't be ready for the majors in 2009.

So ... on a Monday morning, I ask two questions:

1. What do you think of the current middle infield personnel?
2. What would you do for 2009 and beyond?

I may be out of circulation for a while, so have at it.

By Barry Svrluga  |  December 10, 2007; 9:27 AM ET
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