First off, sorry for the lack of postings yesterday. Our website was down most of the day, so none of us could access it to publish what was going on with the Nats.
By now, you’re aware the club optioned Lastings Milledge to Class AAA Syracuse on the off-day. A corresponding move (or moves) will be made later today (more on that in a moment).
So, was the Milledge move a necessary one, or did it happen too soon? Let’s examine both sides…
WHY IT MADE SENSE TO DO IT NOW
Milledge clearly was struggling, both at the plate and in the field. He had four hits in 24 at-bats, with 10 strikeouts and one walk. Not what you need out of your leadoff man. He didn’t have the right approach for a leadoff guy and wasn’t working the count enough. In center field, he looked lost. I still can’t stop laughing at the scene during Monday’s home opener when Milledge did about three figure 8’s and then slammed into the wall to make a play, prompting the scoreboard guy to flash a big graphic screaming “Great catch!” Um, no. That was, as my father likes to call them, a spectacular catch of a routine fly ball.
There was, however, more than baseball involved in this decision, I believe. Milledge’s “too cool for school” approach to things didn’t sit well with many in the organization, and his late arrival to the pre-Opening Day meeting in Miami was just one example of that. For a 24-year-old with only 260 games of big-league experience, Milledge acted like a guy who’s been an established star for years. Perhaps this demotion to the minors will remind him he still has a long way to go before he can carry himself that way.
Finally, this move made sense because the Nats already had a way-overcrowded outfield, with not nearly enough at-bats for everyone. By sending Milledge down, Elijah Dukes now gets to play every day in center field, Austin Kearns gets to play every day in right field and Josh Willingham gets more opportunities for at-bats and starts as the fourth outfielder.
WHY THE MOVE MIGHT HAVE BEEN MADE TOO SOON
The counter-argument to all this is that we’re only one week into a six-month season. Manny Acta and Co. have been preaching patience all along and scoff at anyone who wants to panic about the Nats’ 0-7 start. Well, how does sending down your starting center fielder and leadoff man after seven games not constitute a panic move?
John Lannan and Scott Olsen looked awful in their first two starts of the season? Shouldn’t they have been sent down? Obviously, the answer is no. It’s a long season and those pitchers deserve more than two starts to show what they’re capable of.
What might this demotion do to Milledge’s confidence? I suppose one of two things could happen: 1) He suddenly realizes he needs to re-commit himself, works hard on his game and earns his way back up again, or 2) His morale is completely crushed, he shows up at Syracuse grumbling about how this wasn’t fair and he was singled out and then never recovers.
It’s a chance the Nats felt they had to take. We’ll see how it works out.
OK, so the corresponding move(s)… Obviously, they need to promote one position player from the minors. You normally would replace one outfielder with another. But the Nats’ middle infield is currently in shambles, with Willie Harris on the DL and Ronnie Belliard and Cristian Guzman on the roster but unavailable for an indeterminate time. The only healthy guys left are Anderson Hernandez and Alberto Gonzalez. Those two will start, but the Nats need a backup. So an infielder absolutely will be called up, most likely Alex Cintron (though he’s not on the 40-man roster, so someone will have to be removed from that first).
But back to the outfield… The Nats now have Adam Dunn, Elijah Dukes, Austin Kearns and Josh Willingham. What’s wrong with that picture? There’s no backup center fielder. Kearns can do it in a pinch, but do you really want to mess around like that? And Willingham and Dunn really can only play left field. So realistically, the Nats need to call up another outfielder who can play center and right. The logical choice is Roger Bernadina, who earned rave reviews upon his demotion at the end of spring training.
How do the Nats find room for Bernadina on the 25-man roster? They have two choices: 1) Place either Guzman or Belliard on the DL, or 2) Dump one of their three catchers, either Josh Bard or Wil Nieves.
Got all that? Whew, there was plenty to cover. Check back here later today. I suspect we’ll know the answers to a lot of those questions before long.