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Kevin Mench back in the bigs

As the summer went on, Kevin Mench could not avoid the notion hanging over him. "Maybe," he started thinking, "I won't get another opportunity." Mench had not played in the major leagues since August 2008. He figured, after a year in Japan and nearly a full season in the minors, he may never again.

On Saturday night, Mench found himself back in the majors, before a roaring crowd of more than 40,000. He had been surprised to even wear the uniform again, and now he surprised himself again.

"Second nature," Mench said. "You get up there, and sometimes you might feel intimated or nervous. I felt like I belonged."

Days earlier, Mench was hitting .246 at Class AAA Syracuse with three home runs. He wasn't even playing every day. ("I phyiscally just can't," Mench said.) It didn't seem like the Nationals, their outifled healthy all season, would need him.

He went to dinner with his wife Thursday night, and they had just returned home. He got a call from Syracuse Manager Trent Jewett. "You're going up," he heard.

"You never know," Mench said. "You keep waiting, waiting, and you get an opportunity at the end."

Mench had been waiting longer than one summer. At one point in his career, Mench had been a vital part of the Rangers' lineup, hitting in the middle of the order, swatting 25 and 26 home runs in 2004 and 2005. But by 2008, stints with the Brewers and Blue Jays had flamed out.

Mench went to Japan last year to resurrect his career. The experience never worked for him. His wife was pregnant with twins when he left, and bringing her along was complicated. The style of baseball threw him off. He remembers watching one teammate practice fouling balls off -- just fouling them off -- in the cage for two straight hours. "Never seen that before," he said.

So Mench, at 32, caught on with the Nationals. One more try, he figured. He tore the cover off the ball in April. The Nationals wanted to find him an opportunity, but one never arose. Not until Nyjer Morgan went on the disabled list. Mench had his chance.

And so Saturday, his second day back in the majors, Mench stepped into the box against Hong-Chih Kuo. He took one strike, fought back to a 3-1 count and rolled a single up the middle. He's 1 for 1.

After the game, Mench realized the his, his first game back in the majors, had come one year to the day his kids, Kain and Krissa, were born. "A nice present for them," he said.

By Adam Kilgore  |  August 8, 2010; 3:21 AM ET
 
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Comments

I'm not familiar with Kevin, but nice article. Too bad the editors didn't do their jobs again. Maybe there are too many blogs and bogs and other articles for them to keep up.

Posted by: Supporter51 | August 8, 2010 6:35 AM | Report abuse

"outifled" might be the exact right word for that thing Nyjer does when he throws to the wrong guy or misses the cutoff man. ;-)

Posted by: burnedonce | August 8, 2010 7:31 AM | Report abuse

As we segue to Nyjer, an excerpt from a blog by the wonderful Joe Posnanski yesterday - (joeposnanski.com/JoeBlog/):

To me, the worst everyday player in MLB in 2010 discussion really comes to 10 players — I won’t pick a Least Valuable Player until after the season ends, but right now the nominees look to be these:

– Seattle’s Jose Lopez.
– Toronto’s Adam Lind.
– Houston’s Carlos Lee.
– Chicago’s Derrek Lee.
– Kansas City’s Jason Kendall.
– Kansas City’s Yuniesky Betancourt
– New York’s Jeff Francoeur.
– St. Louis’ Skip Schumacher
– Washington’s Nyjer Morgan
– San Diego’s Miguel Tejada

His discussion of Nyjer is brief, but it's hard to argue that he belongs on the list. I have to think that his DL stint was at least partly designed as a way to get him off the field for a couple of weeks without actualy benching him and see the results.

Posted by: utec | August 8, 2010 8:30 AM | Report abuse

utec,

Careful with that LVP talk. Some on your list could be affordable signings for the Nats during the off-season. Then they will be our Nats, our heroes. We love the bargain basement guys. Many could still have something left in them, like Pudge, who looked great in the first half of the season. Pudge would have been a 2009 LVP, but he is rebounding nicely, in many ways.

A player on your LVP list could even become an affordable replacement for Adam Dunn, who could be too good (that is, too expensive) for this club. It would be really funny to see some old guy at 36 or 37 come in to play 1B for our Nats, after all the advice from Nats' posters against signing Dunn for his requested 4th year, when Dunn will be 34 in 2014.

Posted by: EdDC | August 8, 2010 10:10 AM | Report abuse

Maybe it's just me, but I think that's kinda cool. I'd rather see them do that or practice hitting it all over the field rather than seeing who can hit one the farthest. Could prove useful when the bell rings and the game starts, eh?

---

The style of baseball threw him off. He remembers watching one teammate practice fouling balls off -- just fouling them off -- in the cage for two straight hours. "Never seen that before," he said.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | August 8, 2010 10:37 AM | Report abuse

Also, I like to use "rather" at least twice per sentence. :-)

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | August 8, 2010 10:38 AM | Report abuse

After the July 4 game in Syracuse, many of the Chiefs gathered in front of the dugout with wives and kids to enjoy the fireworks display, and I recall Mench holding a baby.

It was a quiet reminder of the real lives behind what can be a tough business. Thanks for filling in some details on Mench.

Posted by: KenNat | August 8, 2010 10:45 AM | Report abuse

I'm sure Mench, like Nieves, is a good guy and solid locker presence but do we need guys like this on the MLB roster?

Posted by: SCNatsFan | August 8, 2010 10:50 AM | Report abuse

The Nats need to move past "former LVP" reclamation projects and into a "quality players that might cost more money" phase. I certainly admit that I'm not a scout, and perhaps some guys on Joe's or anyone's LVP list can be predicted to rebound a la Pudge (although Pudge offensively is back to his meidocre performance of recent history). And I think Pudge brings a lot defensively, which is what you need in a catcher.

Having that kind of player as a bench guy is fine, but not to count on day to day. I think Nyjer has been exposed by his heavy workload this season, as much as I want him to succeed.

The Nats don't have a Robinson Cano level position player in their system, so high quality young guys who are cheap are going to be hard to come by. To improve in the next couple years, as they must to keep Zim long term, they're going to have to aim higher in bringing in players from outside the system. And keeping guys already here - Dunn!

Posted by: utec | August 8, 2010 11:25 AM | Report abuse

utec,

Those are good comments.

I agree with you that it is better to build from what you have with quality new additions, rather than starting over with bargain basement leftovers, even though the former strategy does add to payroll. I would not mind seeing a MLB-average payroll for the Nats, even though that is far above where they are now in their financial commitment to winning baseball.

If you don't sign Dunn, that means you don't protect Zim in the batting order, and it means you probably lose Zim when his contract runs out. The Nats should maximize the talents of players like Zim and SS while they still have them, rather than rebuilding constantly for a post-Zim era that may never be fully successful if that era is built on a shoestring budget.

Perhaps the time is upon us for the Nats to start thinking about quality for now and for the future? I think you are quite right. You do make a lot of sense here.

Posted by: EdDC | August 8, 2010 11:39 AM | Report abuse

I'm sure Mench, like Nieves, is a good guy and solid locker presence but do we need guys like this on the MLB roster?
-------------
Don't get me wrong -- I only want the best on the Nats roster. The under-performers have to go, and that's why some of their stories are worth a paragraph or two.

Posted by: KenNat | August 8, 2010 12:35 PM | Report abuse

EdDC,

The extra millions that you are willing to spend should be targetted to younger players, or those whose skill sets will not be negatively affected by age. In my opinion, Dunn is on the borderline of the target list. If he gets signed for 3 or 4 years I am happy with it, and if he does not I will not be in LAC crowd moaning over it. I trust Rizzo in this matter to make a decision that will benefit the club not only next season but also 3 years from now. The scouting staff has put together lineups for this year and projections for the next 3 years. Is Dunn's name on the lineup for 2012? I would not be surprised if another name is not pencilled in.

The signing/non signing of Dunn will be a symbol of how close Rizzo thinks that this team can be to the playoffs in 2011. This team has had a flawed history of keeping players who have been financially rewarded beyond their worth in the declining years of their career. Guzman and Dimitri Young are prime examples. Keeping Dunn at 15 million per year will consume a full 25% of the current club's salary and even 20% if the salary expense increases to $75 million next year.

Posted by: driley | August 8, 2010 12:59 PM | Report abuse

>Keeping Dunn at 15 million per year will consume a full 25% of the current club's salary and even 20% if the salary expense increases to $75 million next year.

Posted by: driley

Oh dear, the 3 billionaire will go broke *fretting weeping uncontrollably*. What a dweeb.

Posted by: Brue | August 8, 2010 1:26 PM | Report abuse

@driley:
Adam Dunn at $10M/yr has been a stone-cold bargain for the Nationals over the last two years; Is he worth $15-17M for the next 3-4 years to the Nationals? IMHO, yes, he is.

In the last eight years, he has been one of the most consistant 'power hitters' in either league, matched by only Pujols, imo. Howard, Fielder, Gonzalez, Teixeira, all fall short of his marks, and only Gonzalez is earning less.

What confounds me most is that this team has one of the best power hitters in the game today sitting in their laps, yet they seem to be hesitent to sign him to a 4-year contract? It's hardly the 8-10 year 'Albatross' deals that teams agreed to like Soriano (w/Cubs), A-Rod (w/Yankees-Rangers), Howard (w/Phillies), or even Teixeira (w/Yankees).

If ownership is nervious about a 'big' contract (and after the 'DaMeat' fiasco, I could understand that), structure the deal so that if his performance fades, the contract is less onerous (Front-load the contract, with a possible buyout).

Just sign the big guy - He fits the needs of the team, both now & in the immediate future.

Posted by: BinM | August 8, 2010 1:59 PM | Report abuse

EdDC, The extra millions that you are willing to spend should be targetted to younger players, or those whose skill sets will not be negatively affected by age. ...This team has had a flawed history of keeping players who have been financially rewarded beyond their worth in the declining years of their career. Guzman and Dimitri Young are prime examples. Keeping Dunn at 15 million per year will consume a full 25% of the current club's salary and even 20% if the salary expense increases to $75 million next year. Posted by: driley | August 8, 2010 12:59 PM |

Why are you focused on saving Lerner money? Why is that so important to you? I would like to understand!

I agree the primary focus should be on youth. Sign Harper and all the top picks. Trade for youth, even if they make good salary. The Nats only trade for guys who make below MLB's average salary, but that's far too limiting.

Are the Nats allowed to add a vet in his prime? Make no mistake, the Nats do constantly add vets, but they are the bargain basement vets. What is really wrong with a major league leading kind of guy, except the addition to payroll?

Dunn is the Nats' only $20 million free agent so far under Lerner. He supposedly wants $60/4 according to Sheinin. Dunn can help keep the fan base and help add to it, as the club gets more interesting. He preserves and adds revenue. He can help young pitchers get some wins and build their confidence. Dunn helps keep Zim interested in being a Nat after his contract expires.

It is not one or the other--youth vs. your slugger. Put your primary emphasis on youth, but add a guy who will not be old during the next four years. It shows everyone the team wants to win. It is not building vs. the present. It is building into the future through payroll expansion. Signing Dunn costs you no prospects, no lost opportunities for youth. You mostly focus on youth but also add an in-their-prime vet who is "one of us."

If the Nats simply save money and let Dunn go, they will probably just get some old guy at a cheap price to play 1st anyway. So you will end up with someone older and cheaper than Dunn, even though you do save money. Yes, somebody like Dmitri, who was 34 in the first year of his $10 million, 2 year extension. Dunn is many notches above Dmitri as a player--have you noticed that?

Posted by: EdDC | August 8, 2010 2:25 PM | Report abuse

If ownership is nervious about a 'big' contract (and after the 'DaMeat' fiasco, I could understand that), structure the deal so that if his performance fades, the contract is less onerous (Front-load the contract, with a possible buyout). Posted by: BinM | August 8, 2010 1:59 PM

Great comment. Just one small dissent: Because some of the fan base is nervous over that sure-to-be-disastrous 2014 season, does not mean ownership must be equally nervous. Sometimes you just have to think big league, and do the deal, even if it means you take a risk for 2014. And it is really not much of a risk, given Dunn's consistency. He will probably keep bashing the ball long after age 33 or 34.

Posted by: EdDC | August 8, 2010 2:36 PM | Report abuse

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