VIERA, Fla. — When Nationals general manger Mike Rizzo’s phone rang last Wednesday the man on the other end of the line was throwing a small wrench into his outfield plans. Mike Cameron was planning to retire, he told Rizzo, and the GM tried to talk him out of it. Think on it for a few days, he said. Cameron did. It was time to hang it up.
“He just didn’t feel good about preparing for a rigorous seven-month season,” Rizzo said Monday. “He felt good hanging around, seeing his son play high school baseball, and just wasn’t, physically or mentally motivated to get prepared for the season… He was, to the end, a true professional. There’s a reason we tried to sign him — because of his clubhouse personality and leadership.”
Cameron signed a minor league deal with the Nationals in December and the 39-year-old was expected to be the right-handed bat in a possible platoon in center field with left-handers Rick Ankiel and Roger Bernadina. Now the Nationals are left with a vacancy when it comes to a right-handed bench bat but Rizzo said the team has no plans to make a trade or signing to fill that spot.
“I think the move will come from in this room,” Rizzo said, standing in the Nationals clubhouse. “We’ve allowed ourselves enough depth when we signed enough guys for depth at that position, right-handed and left-handed, to give (manager Davey Johnson) the flexibility to do what he has to do during the season. We’ve got several right-handed hitting center fielders coming into camp and they’re going to get an opportunity to play out there. Davey’s got Plan B and C in place.”
Chances are this makes the path that much clearer for Rick Ankiel to earn the (mostly) everyday job in center field, at least from the outset. The truth is anything in center field is a short-term answer that’ll be blown to pieces when Bryce Harper joins the Nationals and Jayson Werth shifts into center to accommodate him in right field.
But for now, the Nationals do have a number of right-handed options out there and they’ll give almost all of them a chance this spring. They could opt to use utility man Mark DeRosa in right field against left-handed pitching with Jayson Werth moving to center field, as one example, but they’ll also give veteran Jason Michaels and Brett Carroll a chance to prove they can be that right-handed bat off the bench.
The Nationals bench, quite frankly, provides some of the most intrigue of the spring. With the majority of roster spots mostly solidified, the Nationals bench will depend on a number of factors — namely whether Johnson feels he has the personnel to go with four outfielders and seven infielders, or five outfielders and six infielders. Versatility will be key.