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Breaking down the bench

Mar 15, 2010, 2:04 PM EST

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Chris Duncan is hoping to make the roster as first baseman/corner outfielder.

VIERA, Fla. — I've been meaning to post a breakdown of the competition for spots on the Nationals bench for a week now but kept getting sidetracked by other news. Thanks to the spring's first night game — 7:05 p.m. tonight against the Braves — I've finally got a moment to catch my breath and delve into this subject.

There are, plain and simple, some really tough decisions facing the Nats at the end of the month. There are a lot of different ways Mike Rizzo and Co. could go with this thing.

Really, there are only two guarantees on what figures to be a five-man bench: Willie Harris as a super-utilityman and Wil Nieves as the backup catcher. After that, things get complicated.

The best way to break this down, I believe, is by position. The way I see it, there are three other bench positions the Nats need to fill: backup outfielder, backup middle infielder and backup corner guy. SoRead more »

  1. Andrew - Mar 15, 2010 at 2:19 PM

    Mark Zuckerman said…BACKUP MIDDLE INFIELDERThis one's pretty simple: It comes down to Alberto Gonzalez or Eric Bruntlett.Honestly, I didn't see this coming although I like your analysis.

  2. Anonymous - Mar 15, 2010 at 2:29 PM

    i'd prefer adam kennedy or guzman for backup middle infielder.longterm

  3. jcville - Mar 15, 2010 at 2:34 PM

    OK, but what if Desmond forces his way onto the roster as starting SS? Then Guzman's on the bench — I guess replacing Bruntlett/AG? No big loss there, I suppose.In fact, I like Desmond as a Zobrist-type who's in the lineup every day for his bat, but at different positions. His bat *and* glove would seem to play at both middle infield positions better than either of the other 2 backup options. Plus he can play outfield.

  4. markfd - Mar 15, 2010 at 2:38 PM

    Mark, thanks for the update, you read my mind great insight as you are seeing the guys everyday. For 3 spots I think two of your picks are dead on Bruntlett and Morse, but I think the outfield spot is too close to call but I would like to see Rog get the spot. My question is WHY are we going to carry 12 pitchers north? I think we should carry 11 pitchers and 6 bench slots which gives Riggs more versatility.

  5. Rich - Mar 15, 2010 at 2:46 PM

    Markfd,I think it's because our pitching is stinking it up and can't be relied on…

  6. Positively Half St. - Mar 15, 2010 at 2:49 PM

    Excellent post. I personally don't need to see any more Alberto Gonzalez. I would take Bernadina over Maxwell, and it is hard to pass on Morse. I really wanted Duncan to show he is back offensively, and he certainly has not done that yet.

  7. Section 222 - Mar 15, 2010 at 2:59 PM

    I'm definitely in the "Desmond should play every day in Syracuse, if he doesn't make the team as the starting shortstop" camp. But he's hitting better than either Bernadina or Maxwell, and since Harris can play both second and third, he could take MI infielder slot, while also filling in in the outfield. That would allow them to keep both Morse and Duncan.That's a pretty decent hitting bench if Duncan can find his batting eye. Super Willie and Morse can be the late inning defensive replacements in LF and 1B. It sure would be nice to send up pinch hitters late in the game who have some pop and batting averages above the Mendoza line.

  8. Anonymous - Mar 15, 2010 at 3:18 PM

    What are the chances of a trade involving Guzman? Probably slim but if you package him with Maxwell or Bernardina?

  9. Doc - Mar 15, 2010 at 3:20 PM

    Mark your experience with the team says that Duncan and Morse are equals on defense. Wouldn't Morse have the edge on defense, over Duncan, with all his past work in the middle infield? He's got to better than Duncan, doesn't he?

  10. Anonymous - Mar 15, 2010 at 3:44 PM

    They should trade Guzman now for whatever they can get. He's not part of the long-term solution. Desmond could be, and it's worth a season-long tryout to determine whether he is the shortstop of the future. Guzman would likely make a sullen bench player, subtracting more than he adds. The Nats would doubtless have to swallow part of his salary to move him, but that's the sort of financial sacrifice the club has to be willing to make if it is to become a winner.

  11. Steve M. - Mar 15, 2010 at 4:00 PM

    The mistake this team and others make is not putting the best 8 in the field because of high salaried player trumps guy at the league minimum. If Desmond is better than Guzy, then Desmond has to be the SS and Guzy can be the able backup at $8 mill a year.Otherwise, I echo the thoughts here:Positively Half St. said… Excellent post. I personally don't need to see any more Alberto Gonzalez. I would take Bernadina over Maxwell, and it is hard to pass on Morse. I really wanted Duncan to show he is back offensively, and he certainly has not done that yet.

  12. BaseballinDC - Mar 15, 2010 at 4:08 PM

    Anon 10:29,Guzman and Kennedy are starting – don't know who else you'd have in mind for those roles. My question is who they're going to start in right field? Dukes? Really?

  13. SpringfieldFan - Mar 15, 2010 at 4:11 PM

    After seeing Saturday's game in person, I would want to see a LOT of improvement in Duncan's fielding at 1st before I could get excited about having him on the 25-man. As much as I like Desmond offensively, I quake at the thought of a lot of Desmond-Duncan 6-3 attempts.How much playing time has Taveras gotten this spring?

  14. Sunderland - Mar 15, 2010 at 4:29 PM

    1 – Duncan has to go to Syracuse and play everyday and see if he can hit again circa 2006 – 2007. We're not going to find out in ST and we're not going to find out on the bench in DC. Syracuse for at least a couple months.2 – Harris, Nieves and Morse and locks.3 – I'd prefer Bernadina, he's just more useful, and let Maxwell play everyday in SYR.3 – The Guzman / Desmond decision affects the rest. I'm betting the Nat's leave Guzman at SS everyday and send Desmond to SYR and keep Bruntlett in DC.I'd prefer Desmond becomes our everyday shortstop, Guzman goes on the 15 days DL until we agree with the Mets how much of his salary we have to eat.Either way, Bruntlett comes north.And, I'd say:Nieves, Harris, Morse, Bernadina, Bruntlett – one of the worst benches in the NL.

  15. Anonymous - Mar 15, 2010 at 5:04 PM

    Why is everyone saying Willie Harris is a lock? Really? A career .246 hitter is a lock to make the team…please! I would rather see the following happen:Nieves as backup catcherMaxwell and Bernadinha as reserve OF (this gives all of our OFers a chance to rest occassionally).Morse and Bruntlett as reserve IF (they both also can play OF).

  16. Anonymous - Mar 15, 2010 at 5:13 PM

    I think Willie Harris is a lock. He can play IF and OF and is a good pitch hitter. I'll take Willie Harris on my team, any day of the week.

  17. jcville - Mar 15, 2010 at 5:17 PM

    Yeah, roughly .350 OBP the last 3 years while playing all over the diamond. I'd say Willie Harris is extremely valuable as a bench player.That said, if I was Rizzo, I'd be gauging Willie's trade value. The Orioles come to mind as a team that needs a stopgap 2B and has lots of prospects…

  18. Anonymous - Mar 15, 2010 at 5:48 PM

    Mark, I like your analysis. I just think if they go with 3 righties in Nieves, Bruntlett and Morse they'll probably take Bernadina (who seems to be playing better than Maxwell anyway) to Washington. Just my .02.

  19. peric - Mar 15, 2010 at 6:28 PM

    As jcville said, you have to factor potential trades in. And this week is when GM's start looking around to fill the obvious holes. The Nats are 0-10 what do they have to offer? Unfortunately, its probably pitching … Detwiler seems a good candidate right now perhaps? Be nice to hear Mark's guestimations on trades, where and for what positions they would like be made.

  20. Section 222 - Mar 15, 2010 at 6:33 PM

    No one is going to take Detwiler while he is injured. And no one is going to give up anything of value for Guzman, or for any of our bench contenders. Sorry to say this, but if Rizzo wants to trade for another established starter, he's going to have to give up Willingham, Dunn, or Dukes, or a few of our young starters. That seems highly unlikely at this point.

  21. Mark Zuckerman - Mar 15, 2010 at 6:41 PM

    Willie Harris is making a guaranteed $1.5 million this year. Unless he's traded, he's on the roster.Maxwell-Bernadina-Taveras really is a toss-up at this point; any of the three could still win the job. If I had to guess someone today, I'd take Maxwell, but he's far from a lock.As for the Morse-Duncan fielding debate … Morse is indeed a better defensive player at first base (and probably in the outfield), plus he can play third base in a pinch. But he's not going to make this team because of defense. He's going to make it because of his bat.

  22. Anonymous - Mar 15, 2010 at 7:36 PM

    Mark, If the Lerners were to eat say $6 or $7 mil of Guzman's contract(I know its a pipe dream but still), do you believe they would be able to trade him even if it was just for a bag of balls to clear room for Desmond?

  23. Doc - Mar 15, 2010 at 8:04 PM

    The Nats could do with Guzman, what Toronto did with Alex Rios–all $80 million of him. Give him away!

  24. Anonymous - Mar 16, 2010 at 12:46 AM

    Guzman on the bench would be poison. Unfortunately he's guaranteed big money and is just not a very good shortstop anymore. Between him and Willingham, they make a fragile pitching staff look even worse then they are.Maxwell is running out of time to show that he belongs in the majors. He plays better then average "D" at all three OF positions, but you need more consistency at the plate then he's shown, plus his whole career, beginning at Univ. of MD has been one injury after another. Harris would be my general back- up utility guy. Bernadina would get my nod over Max. As to Tavares, it doesn't take his speed to go back to the dugout from the batter's box. The guy just doesn't hit, but I love his glove. Morse and Duncan? Based on this spring Morse gets the nod.Love your blog, Mark

  25. JCA - Mar 16, 2010 at 3:32 PM

    Apologies, Mark. I posted something like this over at WNFF today and will pull most of it.How much of a given is it that they go 13 position players and 12 pitchers through most of April? They need a 5th starter once before 4/17 – 18. If they go with a 6 man bench, they can pencil in Stammen for the start on 4/10 or 11, and if they have to use him as a long guy on the 7th, 8th, or 9th, can either send him down and call up another of the "Fungible Fourth / Fifth" (FFF) brigade of starters who has options for that start and either send Stammen down or the extra OF (JMax/Bernardina).Once they hit the stretch of 15 games in 15 days, 4/14 on, they may need to give a 5th starter the ball 2 -3 times, depending on rain. They could continue juggling the 12th pitcher / extra OF among guys with options and keep both Duncan and Morse. Duncan gives them lefty pop off the bench, which is nice when your corner OFs are right handed. After 4/28, they have 2 off days surrounding the Marlins series to reshuffle the rotation if they want. Then there is a long series of days in a row. My main point is with that they could operate most of the time with a 6 man bench if they swing in and out the FFF Brigade members when one gets gassed in relief and the 5th starter slot is up.





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