Nationals Inquirer takes a look at the latest mailbag column at Nationals.com. Basil slays it like it's a Bulgar (not really; he's actually quite complimentary), and I'll restrict myself to this bit:
The Nationals appear to be a much-improved team on paper. What do you think? -- Taft W., Bedford, Ohio
Offensively, I think the Nationals are much improved with the acquisitions of outfielder Jose Guillen and shortstop Cristian Guzman. I also think the relief pitching will be much better if they keep Patterson and Rauch in the bullpen.
The key to success, however, is the starting pitching. Outside of Livan Hernandez, no other starter pitched more than 116 2/3 innings last season. It caused the relievers to be overworked.
Nice pseudonym, "Taft W." Anyway, are we much improved? The bullpen should be a little better, and the starting rotation will be much better with a little luck in the health department. What about the offense? I'm going to ignore the bench for the most part, since we still don't know who'll be riding it.
- Catcher: Brian Schneider isn't a good hitter, but he's a good enough hitter for a catcher. He's 27, so last year's 257/325/399 line is right around as good as he's likely to get.
- First base: I'm pretty sure Nick Johnson is better than his 2004 would indicate. I and many others have talked a lot about Johnson over the last few months; he's just an intriguing player. He could be the best hitter on the team, or he could be a waste of space. We should get improvement at this position.
- Second base: Jose Vidro played only played 110 games last year. Is his knee better? I certainly don't know. I'm guessing we'll get more games and a similar level of production. Improvement.
- Shortstop: The issue is not whether Cristian Guzman is a better player than Orlando Cabrera (or even if he's a good player); he'll almost certainly be better than Cabrera was last year, when he posted a negative VORP for Montreal. Better, but not good.
- Third base: I've compared Vinny Castilla and Tony Batista before, and they're very similar players if you ignore Vinny's output in Colorado. Vinny's older and not far removed from a Lovecraftian 232/268/348 line in 2002. I call it a wash.
- Left field: Brad Wilkerson and Terrmel Sledge are right at their peaks, and both had their best seasons last year. I don't think we can predict a big jump or decline from either one.
- Center field: Chris today talks a bit about the Endy problem. There's a lot of talk about trying to teach him to be a better lead-off hitter, but "1,100 major league and 2,100 minor league at-bats give us a pretty solid track record to go on. It’s safe to say the kind of player he is: a slap-hitting, non-patient enigma." Dude's about to be 27, and I'd say he's a little more likely to get better than to get worse. Slight improvement at best.
- Right field: Once again, it doesn't matter if Juan Rivera is better this year than Jose Guillen. Jose Guillen will be better than Rivera, Carl Everett, et al. were last year.
DCist talks about the Clark Griffith memorial at RFK. Griffith is a fascinating guy. He went from player to manager to owner/institution, from hardscrabble outsider to the embodiment of the establishment. You know, the kind of guy who'd hire the Three Stooges to fix his plumbing and whose monocle would pop out when hijinks ensued. Unfortunately, if he's mentioned at all these days it's as the guy who kept black players off his team. Griffith features prominently in Beyond the Shadow of the Senators (which you need to read), constantly rationalizing his and others' racism. Anyway, the piece is worth checking out, and an understanding of Griffith and his era is necessary for an understanding of DC baseball. The Senators were one of the last teams to be run in the old style: one owner whose only business was baseball and who did everything himself. Had DC found itself a Branch Rickey, we might not have lost those 34 years.