So much for a quiet off-day in spring training.

By now, you've all read the reports.  Rick Ankiel has won the centerfielder job.  Matt Stairs has a place on the bench.  Jayson Nix could very well be a backup outfielder. 

And now, for the coup de grace, the Washington Nationals have signed LHP Oliver Perez to a minor league deal.

It's enough to make one wonder about the decision-making process in NatsTown.

To be polite, Ankiel's best days (not that they were all that great to begin with) are in the past.  In 2008, the then 28 year old Ankiel completed a remarkable transition from left-handed fireball pitcher to Major League outfielder, hitting .262/.337/.506 with 25 home runs and 71 RBIs for the St. Louis Cardinals. 

The tragic story of a pitcher that lost the ability to throw strikes had its happy ending.

Since then though, Ankiel, 32 in July, hasn't come close to replicating those numbers.  He hasn't hit 25 homers combined in the last two seasons and his career .248/.312/.441 over eight seasons describes a journeyman struggling to hang on.

Nix, 30, is the very definition of journeyman, working on his fourth organization.  His slash line (.243/.286/.425) is even worse than Ankiel's in his eight big league seasons.

At least both Ankiel and Nix play a decent outfield and are capable of manning center, though both are more suited for left field.

Matt Stairs, however, is a pinch-hitter.  Only.  He's 43 years old and can no longer play the field with any acumen.  He is the Major League record holder for career pinch-hit home runs, and is seems like extending that record is the only thing that keeps him hanging on. 

In the last two seasons, his 240 plate appearances have netted 11 home runs, but with a slash line of .213/.333/.426, suggesting his approach is homer or bust in every appearance.  21 of his 43 hits the last two years resulted in doubles or home runs.

Oh, and all three are left-handed hitters.  It would make sense for the Nats to carry one older, more experienced part-time outfielder bench player on their roster.  But three?

If all three make the roster, it spells doom for others in the system, namely Nyjer Morgan and especially Roger Bernadina -- two younger, more athletic left-handed hitters.

Nyjer Morgan, 30, has his fans -- and detractors -- in the organization.  There are those that feel he really is the player that was showcased for ten weeks in 2009 after the trade that brought him over from the Pirates, when he hit .312/.373/.401 with 34 steals.  There are an equal number that have grown tired of him misplay balls in the outfield, get thrown out on the bases and generally sulk his way to a .253/.319/.314 slash line last season.

His maturity issues add a whole another level of complexity to his rosterability.

But the real victim in all of this rush to add big league experience to a roster that should be in a full-blown youth movement is Roger Bernadina.

The Shark may never be anything more than a fourth outfielder.  But he has an intriguing combination of pop and speed -- 11 HR, 16 SB/2 CS in 461 plate appearances in 2010, his first full season in the majors.  And he is entering the prime of his career, turning 27 in July. 

He's a guy that virtually screams "breakout player", yet it seems like the Nats are going to allow him to languish in Triple-A instead of finding out if they actually have a big leaguer on their hands.

Ankiel, Nix and Stairs almost certainly will not be on this team next season, and definitely not in 2013, when the bulk of the Nats talent should be mature enough to actually compete in the National League East.  Bernadina, on the other hand, could be a contributing member of that squad in the prime of his career.

But the Nats, in their desperation to win as many games as they can in 2011 to justify Jayson Werth's horrible contract, won't know what they have with Bernadina, if they retain his services at all. 

This Nationals team is EXACTLY the type of team that should be playing its youngsters.  They threw Ian Desmond to the wolves last year and he responded, and Danny Espinosa will be given the same treatment this year.

Bernadina showed some promise last season before running out of gas in the longest season of his professional career.  He apparently lost a share of the left field position due to Michael Morse's hot spring, and since he has an option remaining on his contract, will in all likelihood be sent down to make room for a couple of re-treads trying to hang on in the name on "professionalism" and "Major League experience".

As for the signing of Perez?  Heaven help the Nationals if he actually steps foot in Nats Park.  Too many things have to go abysmally wrong for Perez to be an option.  The organization is already touting his relationship with Spin Williams, their minor league pitching coordinator, with whom Perez worked in Pittsburgh. 

But there's no covering up the fact that Perez has walked six batters per nine innings the last two season, nor the fact that his very public complaining about being relegated to the bullpen with the Mets led to his release.

But Perez is a Scott Boras client, and Mike Rizzo has yet to meet a Boras client he wasn't willing to sign, as the Nats now have 11 on the roster.

Seems like the more things change around NatsTown, the more they stay the same.

7 comments

  1. Anonymous // March 23, 2011 at 5:06 PM  

    Entirely agree with this entire post. Completely.

    The problem, from my perception is Jim Riggleman, his penchant for always trying to start past-their-prime veterans who seemingly are also his crony's?

    First its Guzman and Harris which was ridiculous and tragic for fans. Now Ankiel, Hairston and Cora?

    Riggleman absolutely has to go ... the sooner the better.

  2. Anonymous // March 23, 2011 at 5:16 PM  

    I agree with the general sentiment here, but you have to remember that Bernadina/Morgan both have options left, so it makes sense to start them in the minors. If/when there are spots open due to either ineffectiveness or injury, they will come up. It's also not like they won't be playing ball in AAA - if either of them perfoms well and is not called up, then we have a bigger problem.

    I'm not excited about Ankiel either, but both Bernadina and Morgan were given a fair shot to win the job in spring training, and neither did much with it.

  3. bdrube // March 23, 2011 at 6:25 PM  

    Ankiel starting is a bit annoying, but sending Bernadina down in favor of Stairs makes no sense whatsoever. The Shark does look like he will top out as a fourth outfielder type. So let him play that role already.

    You didn't mention the infield, but choosing Cora over Gonzo would be a similar FAIL.

  4. Anonymous // March 23, 2011 at 7:57 PM  

    I largely disagree with this simply because the Opening Day roster is ephemeral. Let Morgan and Bernadina go to Syracuse, play everyday, and prove they deserve a roster spot in the majors. If neither is starting, Bernadina won't get the ABs he needs, and Nyjer's inevitable sulk will be a distraction. I'd guarantee that come May 1st, and perhaps mid-April, the OF lineup will look different. And neither Stairs nor Nix is likely to be around by the time Strasburg starts his rehab assignment.

    Perez? Who cares? It's a minor league deal. So Ollie is gainfully employed and might pitch some innings in AAA. The Nats could sign you to a minor league deal and I wouldn't bat an eye. But I think the Nats actually signed Perez to throw batting practice -- it's a brilliant way to build team confidence at the plate.

  5. Sharkadina // March 23, 2011 at 10:38 PM  

    Perez was good long ago, so maybe he can rekindle that flame. As for the confusion about Ankiel/Stairs/Nix, I completely agree. Let the younger players play instead of wasting a month (or a year, if they decide to keep stairs on the roster to pinch hit all year......). Shark is going to be great. Let him prove it

  6. Anonymous // March 24, 2011 at 12:03 PM  

    I was a huge fan of Morgan's. But from what I saw at spring training I agree with not having him start. He was horible, missing catchable balls, not getting to balls he did two years ago. He needs a wake-up call. If this does not wrok then you cut him loose. I totaly agree with you on Bernadine I do not understand why they do not give him a shot over theswe older players. As fro Perez he is a freebe. We are paying nothing and like someone else said we got a batting practice pitcher.

  7. BeltwayBoy // March 25, 2011 at 8:11 PM  

    I'm not sure what to say about keeping Matt Stairs and sending Bernadina to the minors? It makes no sense to me whatsoever and I'm hoping they finally cut ties to Nyjer Morgan. His negatives far outweigh what he brings to the table. I'd try and trade him or give him his walking papers.