The Washington Nationals today made a series of moves to trim the roster in preparation for coming north for Opening Day.
The Nats optioned Roger Bernadina, Collin Balester and Ross Detwiler to Triple-A Syracuse and re-assigned Brian Bixler to minor league camp.
In addition, they placed reliever Henry Rodriguez on the 15-day disabled list and starter Chien-Ming Wang and reliever Elvin Ramirez on the 60-day D.L.
The moves reduce the spring training roster to 26.
These moves signify a dramatic shift in the team's roster construction, as it's now evident that Rick Ankiel will platoon with Jerry Hairston, Jr. in center field, Laynce Nix and Matt Stairs are the backup outfielders, and Brian Broderick and Chad Gaudin are the long men in the Nats bullpen.
The only position left to be settled is utility infielder, between Alex Cora and incumbent Alberto Gonzalez. But as with every position up for battle this spring, the incumbent is expected to lose the battle, with Gonzalez being heavily shopped and with several teams interested according to sources, he could be traded any minute.
All this means is that four non-roster invitees and a Rule 5 pick have made the Nats Major League roster, and another Rule 5 guy is hidden on the disabled list.
Bernadina is the particularly surprising cut.
Here's a player entering his prime (27 in June), who hit 11 homers and stole 16 bases in 18 attempts in 2010. He hit .290/.356/.451 through May before tiring as the season went along, finishing at .246/.307/.364.
Not only did Bernadina lose out on half of a platoon with Michael Morse in left field and the center field starting job to Rick Ankiel (lifetime .248/.312/.441), but also to journeyman Laynce Nix (lifetime .243/.286/.425) for the backup outfielder spot, with 43-year old Matt Stairs claiming a reserve role as pinch-hitter.
Bernadina will have to go to Syracuse and wait for Ankiel to inevitably get hurt as he's the only option in the Nats system to fill that spot once it's available.
Balester was perhaps the Nats best reliever during spring training, but because he has an option was sent out in favor of Broderick, a Rule 5 draftee that would have to have been offered back to the St. Louis Cardinals if he didn't stay on the roster, and Gaudin, a journeyman that had a decent spring outing in his own right.
With the incumbent losing every position battle this spring, GM Mike Rizzo has taken complete ownership of the roster construction. He no longer has any crutch to lean on with respect to prior management's ideas of putting the team together.
Rizzo gave Jayson Werth one of the richest contracts in baseball. He traded three prospects for Tom Gorzelanny and inserted him into the rotation, a pitcher both the Pirates and the Cubs relegated to the bullpen. He signed Rick Ankiel and his lifetime .312 OBP and gave him the center field job and given journeyman Laynce Nix the backup spot . He's dedicated a roster spot to Matt Stairs, a 43-year old pinch-hitter. He traded Nyjer Morgan, once heralded as the present and future center fielder. And he failed in his quest in the off-season to land a legitimate arm for the rotation.
This is Rizzo's team, and to a certain extent, Riggleman's. They deserve the praise or criticism when it's time to dole it out. Let the games begin.