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Who’s the new right fielder?

Mar 18, 2010, 2:29 PM EDT


Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Willie Harris could wind up with considerable playing time in right field now.

VIERA, Fla. — The Nationals have their lone off-day of the spring today, a welcome respite for those who have been reporting to Space Coast Stadium at the crack of dawn every morning for the last month. There's no rest for the club's front office or coaching staffs, though, not with so much still to sort out before the team breaks camp in two weeks and heads north.

And in the wake of yesterday's stunning release of Elijah Dukes, there's a new dilemma on the club's hands: Figuring out who's going to take over in right field.

It would be one thing if the Dukes move was made because the organization had a sure-fire replacement ready to go. But that's not the case, one reason yesterday's announcement confounded so many. Plain and simple, the Nationals don't have a bonafide, everyday right fielder on their roster at the moment.

And that could be a serious problem. Right field is a premium position in the big leagues, one generally occupied by premier players like Ichiro Suzuki, Andre Ethier, Magglio Ordonez, J.D. Drew, Justin Upton and Jayson Werth. Try to find a good team that doesn't have a top-notch right fielder; there aren't many. (The best example may be the Rays, who last year went with a combo of Gabe Gross, Gabe Kapler and Ben Zobrist. But at least the rest of the Tampa Bay's lineupRead more ยป

  1. peric - Mar 18, 2010 at 2:56 PM

    Harris has never played right field. Morse played there in the minors. Harris wants the 2nd base job. Thinks he can handle it. Morse just wants to play … any position just put me in coach. Morse's offensive performance in AAA last year appears to supersede that of both Maxwell and even Dukes when they were there. Its hard to gauge his major league at bats as most were pinch hitting appearances or last inning replacement. He appears to have regained his power stroke from back before he was Seattle's starting shortstop. He also has some athleticism and may have that higher ceiling offensively.Its in the field that there is a problem. Of all the outfielders under consideration I suspect that Morse probably has the best arm given that he used to be a major league starting shortstop. It may not be as good as Dukes but it is probably better than all the other outfielders' that are left. But there is more to fielding the position than arm strength. If Morse shows he can field the position well enough and continues to improve have to think he gets the job over time. Dukes is still better. I don't think there is any doubt. On other blogs I wondered about Rizzo's patience with players that may have psychological challenges that may get in the way of "just getting along" which unfortunately can lead to issue with performance. There are others in the Nats system with similar issues who will likely not be there for very long in my opinion. Steven on FJB wonders if this is "the right process". In the long run, I have to agree with him, I firmly believe that it is not. Dukes was not a Daniel Cabrera who almost was developmentally disabled when it came to taking and using coaching advice properly. His case is severe. I remember Rizzo's comments, "I was tired of watching him pitch". Dukes case is not in the same category by a long shot. To sum it up: clearly Mike Rizzo and Riggleman still need remedial training on how to deal with people under them, how to handle talented athletes.

  2. Anonymous - Mar 18, 2010 at 2:58 PM

    This is an interesting decision by the Nats. However who thought Dukes was an elite RF? Second if he was a cancer in the locker room good for the Nats to release him. I wonder if they spoke with Zim, Dunn, Lannon o rothers about Dukes to get their opinion? If you are not an elite team with a winning atmosphere you must rid yourself of players like Dukes if what we hear is true. I applaud the Nats for making this move knowing that there would be many, many questions as to why? Now we have a true battle among Willie, Mike and Justin for a starting spot on this team. Game on for these players.Ryan

  3. Section 222 - Mar 18, 2010 at 3:12 PM

    It's great to hear your honest take Mark, and I agree completely. Unless one of them makes incredible strides, the likely production of the mix and match option in RF is not even as good as the mediocre play of Dukes these past few years. It's funny to hear Maxwell say how he's still finding his swing and needs to work on some things until April 5 when apparently Dukes wasn't given that opportunity. Dukes is younger than all of three his potential replacements. I'm not sure why their upside is bigger this year than his would have been, especially when two of them haven't even played right field much.

  4. John - Mar 18, 2010 at 3:13 PM

    It comes down to Maxwell and Morse. I like Maxwell but I think Morse will win out. And I think we'll feel comfortable with him.

  5. nattaboy - Mar 18, 2010 at 3:20 PM

    Maxwell has a noodle arm, which is especially bad for a right fielder. We're all rooting for the terp, but he's got his work cut out for him. I wonder what Eckstein would say about his progress…

  6. JayB - Mar 18, 2010 at 3:21 PM

    Mark,Has Maxwell ever had a great minor league season? Honestly, he is not the solution here at all based on this whole body of work minus a handful of Spet 2009 games.

  7. peric - Mar 18, 2010 at 3:34 PM

    Recommending the addition of the blog: nationalsprospects.com to your right-handed gutter. Some scouting reports on right field potentials are there. *** Here is one on the 1st round sandwich pick Michael Burgess: (If he can develop he looks the closest to having Dukes-like talent with the added advantage of a left-handed bat and arm)Michael BurgessHitting: Most likely wont ever hit for much average. .270 is tops for him.Power: Outstanding raw power, plus, plus tool.Running Speed: Below-average.Bat Speed: Excellent bat-speed which along with his big build, gives him that plus power.Arm Strength: Plus tool.Fielding: Solid defender in RF but his speed holds him back a bit.Range: His speed does not allow him to have amazing range, but it is sufficient enough for RF.Strengths: Plus power, excellent arm strength and solid defense.Weaknesses: Does not hit for average, not a lot of speed, needs to be more patient hitter.*** Here is Destiin Hood another highly touted prospect:Destin HoodHitting: Does not hit for average right now but will as he matures offensively.Power: Has a lot of raw power.Running Speed: Plus speed.Bat Speed: Very good bat speed, which gives him that raw power.Arm Strength: Needs to improve his arm strength and arm motion when throwing.Fielding: Originally a SS in highschool, the Nats moved him to LF. Still has a long way to go defensively. Needs to improve his reads, routes and jumps.Range: Still needs improvement. If he can get a better jump his range will be a lot better.Strengths: Speed is a plus tool, excellent raw power. Could develop into a middle of the order bat.Weaknesses: Still needs a lot of work defensively. Needs to work on approach at the plate to use his tools effectively.

  8. Steve M. - Mar 18, 2010 at 3:40 PM

    JayB said… Mark,Has Maxwell ever had a great minor league season? Honestly, he is not the solution here at all based on this whole body of work minus a handful of Spet 2009 games.I agree with you.

  9. Avar - Mar 18, 2010 at 3:46 PM

    Why are we talking about Willie? I love the guy, and he's a great fielder but his career OBP is .331. How does that qualify as being "good at getting on base"? It's a full 50 points behind what an average starter does. It's actually lousy at getting on base.It has to be Morse or a trade. Morse hasn't played regularly in the bigs since '06 and has improved his numbers in the minors dramatically over that time. He deserves a shot, a nice long one.He is also far ahead of Maxwell in my book.Longer term, giving up on Dukes means they are very thin at RF. They will need to trade some pitching for someone or sign a real FA in the off-season. The latter makes much more sense to me.

  10. Mark Zuckerman - Mar 18, 2010 at 3:56 PM

    Avar: Harris' OBP as a National the last two seasons was .351. The major-league average in 2009 was .333.Willie obviously has his flaws as a player. Getting on base is not one of them.

  11. Sunderland - Mar 18, 2010 at 3:56 PM

    @pericTo sum it up: clearly Mike Rizzo and Riggleman still need remedial training on how to deal with people under them, how to handle talented athletes.*************That's an incredibly arrogant statement. Are you privy to conversations Rizzo and Riggleman have had with Dukes and his agent? Are you prviy to conversations Rizzo and Riggleman have had with other's wihtin the Nat's organization? Have you been able to watch Dukes up close in person day in day out for years?Keep in mind also, according to a very good source (Mark Z), Acta also had issue with Dukes.You believe that you, from a distance, have a better understanding about Dukes, his performance, his attitude and his contributions, positive and otherwise, to this club, than Rizzo and Riggleman?

  12. Sunderland - Mar 18, 2010 at 3:58 PM

    And by the way, Guzman, career .307 OBP.Why people give him credit for being good offensively is beyond me. He's terrible offensively.

  13. alexva - Mar 18, 2010 at 3:59 PM

    I'd go with a Maxwell/Bernadina platoon (sorry Willie). Harris is too valuable coming off the bench and you know what he can do. At the very least, you'll find out what you have in Maxwell and Bernadina.

  14. Deacon Drake - Mar 18, 2010 at 4:17 PM

    Ummm, for the record, Ben Zobrist was one of the best hitters in baseball last season.

  15. Anonymous - Mar 18, 2010 at 4:29 PM

    I have to believe/hope that there's a trade coming soon. Without that, the Nats have not done much to improve over last year (even if Dukes had not been released). Marquis hopefully will pitch better, Pudge is an upgrade, and Kennedy has better hands than anyone that played 2B last season, but where's the real improvement so far? I'm thinking — as much as I hate to say this — trade Dunn for a pitcher and/or a RF, move Willingham/Morse to 1B, and put Maxwell/Harris in LF. Is that possible? I have no idea, but so far I don't see much hope for a .500 season. I welcome all thoughts….

  16. Anonymous - Mar 18, 2010 at 4:39 PM

    If they were looking for a reason to justify Desmonds promotion to the show, they found it. I'd second the opinion that perhaps he should play in right until Guzmans run at shortstop is done. In the meantime it would allow sufficient time for a permanent rightfielder to continue developing….i.e. Bernadina, Maxwell or others yet to be determined. JT in SC

  17. Anonymous - Mar 18, 2010 at 4:43 PM

    If they were looking for a reason to justify Desmonds promotion to the big club, they found it. By playing Desmond in right until Guzmans run at shortstop is completely over, it will give them time to either trade for or groom the future rightfielder, whoever that turns out to be. JT in SC

  18. Avar - Mar 18, 2010 at 4:43 PM

    This is why Todd Snider says that 64% of all stats are made up on the spot and that 85% of all statisticians hate their [f...] jobs.Even .351 is not a great OBP in my book. I haven't looked at last season yet but when I ran the numbers for '08, I looked at OBP for those w/ I think 400 PAs, that's where I got my .385. I was doing it in Excel as I don't have a good stats site subscription so maybe my math was off. I'm not arguing w/ the usefulness of comparing against the .333 figure (although I swear I got .351 for that but think I excluded pitchers) but I like to compare against starter quality players.

  19. Philip - Mar 18, 2010 at 4:45 PM

    I'd be very surprised if the Nats spend any money to fill the RF hole, so you can probably forget Jermaine Dye. Ted Lerner's net worth dropped from $3.2 billion to $3.0 billion over the past year, according to Forbes Magazine.

  20. Anonymous - Mar 18, 2010 at 4:45 PM

    Can Guzman throw the ball across the diamond right now? I would not be surprised to see Guzman start the year on the DL, and Desmond gets at least 15 days to show he should be in DC.Along the same line of thinking, how can Rizzo, etc., say they want to improve the defense and then start Guzman at short? I wonder if the Nats have considered a trade that would require the Nats to continue to pay part of his $8m salary.

  21. Anonymous - Mar 18, 2010 at 4:48 PM

    Love any Todd Snider reference

  22. Mark Zuckerman - Mar 18, 2010 at 4:49 PM

    Deacon Drake: I know Zobrist had a huge season. I was just referring to the Rays' revolving door in right field. Zobrist started only 37 games out there; most of his ABs came at second base. Gross and Kapler had the bulk of the playing time in right field.

  23. greg - Mar 18, 2010 at 4:52 PM

    what markz said, avar. 330 isn't horrible, just isn't great. 350 is decent. 50 points over 330 is 380 and all of 36 players in MLB (who had enough ABs to qualify for the batting title) last year had a 380 OBP. http://espn.go.com/mlb/stats/batting/_/sort/onBasePcton the flipside, sunderland's right that guzman is a mediocre hitter at best at this point in his career. people get caught up in batting average and ignore all of the rest of his offensive stats, which aren't very good. guz was 17th out of 19 qualified SS last year in OBP. 12th of 19 in slugging, 17th of 19 in OPS. simply awful. oh, and was caught stealing more than he stole (4 of 9).

  24. Avar - Mar 18, 2010 at 5:03 PM

    yeah, I think my .380 was crap. Irritating, all that work and got the wrong number.I just looked at RFers w/ 400 PA last year and there were 26. #13 was Hermida at .348. Which for the record, I concede is LOWER than Harris' two year number.So, I rescind my categorization of Harris as not being a starter quality hitter. If I ever meet him, I'll apologize first then ask for his autograph.Thanks Mark.

  25. greg - Mar 18, 2010 at 5:08 PM

    i don't think he's all that great of a hitter, to be honest. and he certainly doesn't have a typical RF bat. let's face it, we're talking OBP here for a RF, when the basic offensive numbers most people in baseball look at for that position are SLG and OPS. he doesn't fare as well when you start adding in SLG. i think he's a *great* utility guy, but really not the guy you want to get 400+ ABs in RF.

  26. Avar - Mar 18, 2010 at 5:15 PM

    Agree Greg. And Mark didn't argue that Harris wasn't flawed just that he gets on base. Now, I'm on board with that. But, we need RBIs out of that spot not just a respectable OBP.Speaking of OBP, am I the only one who forgot that Nick Johnson's was .426 last year??!! Wow. Behind only Joe Mauer and some guy named Albert. Nice work Nick.

  27. peric - Mar 18, 2010 at 5:34 PM

    @Sunderland,"You believe that you, from a distance, have a better understanding about Dukes, his performance, his attitude and his contributions, positive and otherwise, to this club, than Rizzo and Riggleman?"NO, but when I hear a GM AND a manager talk about "better club house cohesiveness" and Dukes "getting ready to his 'own' standards. My dander gets up. That's H-O-R-S-E H-O-C-K-E-Y!!!! As Colonel Potter on M*A*S*H* would say. THEY ARE TALKING POLITICS!!! POKLITICS!? I don't know about you Mr. Sunderland BUT I WANT TP\O KNOW ABOUT WINNING GAMES! And where that is concerned Dukes did pretty for Syracuse and the NATS relative to Mr. batting .107 in spring training Maxwell, Bernadina cannot hit like Dukes. Morse probably can't field like Dukes.Let's put it this way. With their attitude do you think that Ted Williams could play for this club? How about Steve Carlton? Then are guys like Ty Cobb and even Cy Young. ITS about WINNING the game and Coach Hermans put it. Winning I could give a horse's patoot about your damned politics and I don't care if Zimmerman AND Riggleman plus Acta don't like the guy. ARE YOU winning with your "philosophy"? So far … NOT!

  28. Anonymous - Mar 18, 2010 at 5:41 PM

    I really like the idea of Desmond on the roster. It would give Riggleman a lot of options. Desmond could play OF & INF. It worked out extremely well for the Marlins – Chris Coghlan. He was moved, "temporarily" from 2B to outfield and was able to win the NL Rookie of the year award.

  29. Anonymous - Mar 18, 2010 at 5:46 PM

    peric said…ITS about WINNING the game and Coach Hermans put it. Winning I could give a horse's patoot about your damned politics and I don't care if Zimmerman AND Riggleman plus Acta don't like the guy. ARE YOU winning with your "philosophy"? So far … NOT!I don't know what Rizzo was thinking. How in the world do you cut your Rightfielder when you don't have a suitable replacement for him.Clubhouse cohesion is not about making 25 clones of Josh Willingham like Manny Acta would have liked to have. It is taking the egos and diversities and working with it.Someone once said that Joe Torre was horrible at getting mediocre teams to succeed which was proven by his pre-Yankee managerial record, but give him all the star players and their egos and attitudes and Joe was a master at keeping all that in check (of course until ARod arrived in NYC).I think Riggleman also has a knack for keeping the egos and diversities in check as he surely handled Sammy Sosa in the late '90s who most on the team didn't like (ask Mark Grace). I think it is Rizzo who wants more of what he had in Arizona.Now Peric is talking M*A*S*H. Piece together an outfield.

  30. TBC - Mar 18, 2010 at 5:46 PM

    "I wonder if the Nats have considered a trade that would require the Nats to continue to pay part of his $8m salary."Guzman is a 10 and 5 guy, can't be traded without his consent, so it's him that would be calling the shots on any trade, not Rizzo. I doubt that Rizzo has even approached Guzman yet about his willingness to be traded and to what teams he would agree. Maybe by the deadline if Guzman is playing like someone another team might want he'll do that. For the foreseeable future, though, Guzman's not going anywhere.

  31. peric - Mar 18, 2010 at 5:54 PM

    @Sunderland,Let's now apply the same "rules" that the team just applied to Dukes. The guy who purportedly got 'special treatment'? When Dukes got sent down to Syracuse he worked with Tim Foli to improve his game. He won games for Syracuse.BY Maxwell's OWN admission he had a bad attitude about returning to the minors. And it REFLECTED in his play. And I know because I am also a Syracuse Chief's fan! They had to go out and get Morse to preserve their winning record because Justin Maxwell 'was too good to put effort out' on behalf of Syracuse. I saw the same with Pete Orr by the way. Well, Justin what exactly are you saying to Rizzo, Riggleman and Chiefs fans? Especially now that you are hitting .107 in spring training?Sunderland please explain to me why Maxwell is still here and not DFA'ed?

  32. Anonymous - Mar 18, 2010 at 5:57 PM

    Anonymous said… I really like the idea of Desmond on the roster. It would give Riggleman a lot of options. Desmond could play OF & INF. It worked out extremely well for the Marlins – Chris Coghlan. He was moved, "temporarily" from 2B to outfield and was able to win the NL Rookie of the year award.That didn't make sense to me when Desmond was playing OF before, but this is the temporary solution to the long-term problem.If Rizzo would have said this is what we are going to do then I would have thought, ok, they had a plan.Dukes was not an injury where you are in a situation where you now have to fill a hole. This is like Rizzo created his own problem with no solution—well, maybe a platoon of Willie Harris, Bernadina, Maxwell.Maxwell? Have you looked at his MLB record? Have you watched him in Spring Training? His at-bats vs. the others teams starters have him with ZERO hits this Spring. Can we blame that on Dukes distractions too?

  33. Sunderland - Mar 18, 2010 at 6:20 PM

    Peric:I ain't commenting on their roster decisions. I ain't commenting on whether cutting Dukes was right or wrong.I'm commenting on your statement that "clearly Mike Rizzo and Riggleman still need remedial training on how to deal with people under them, how to handle talented athletes."I'm not at all expecting you to see it my way.But that's about the most arrogant statement I've seen. That you believe you can accurately judge them, from a distance, without first hand knowledge of anything, and make that kind of declaration.

  34. greg - Mar 18, 2010 at 6:37 PM

    i don't understand the hangup over guzman's $8m salary.(a) it's a sunk cost. the nats are committed to it already and it's part of their budget. (b) you eat as much of it as you need to if it gets you a prospect. hell, eat *ALL* of it if it makes the prospect better, because it's a sunk cost. his salary should not be an impediment to trading him at all because the acquiring team doesn't *have* to take it all. the only impediment is the 5/10 issue brought up earlier (and the whole 'you need a trade partner to make a trade' thing).

  35. peric - Mar 18, 2010 at 7:10 PM

    @Sunderland,"That you believe you can accurately judge them, from a distance, without first hand knowledge of anything, and make that kind of declaration"I call 'em like I see 'em. Just like your Umps. Given the ration of BS they handed out for releasing the guy (given Maxwell's wonderful recent record), its how I see it. I don't like hypocrisy, I don't like giving up on guys who did go down and work as hard as he did with Foli thereby helping Syracuse, and I have a low tolerance for BS. And few here tolerate any from me.

  36. SilverSpring8 - Mar 18, 2010 at 7:29 PM

    Can we get Austin Kearns back to play right field?Just kidding…

  37. Anonymous - Mar 18, 2010 at 7:34 PM

    See http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/average-is-as-average-does/ for starter averages.Average RF starter OBP is .358. That's right where Willie was last year (.361). However, his .393 slugging is well below the starter average of .469.

  38. Section 222 - Mar 18, 2010 at 8:06 PM

    SilverSpring8 beat me to it. Let's not forget that all time great clubhouse guy, Austin Kearns. He'd be headed for the Hall of Fame, or at least that Nats starting lineup, if being adored by Manny Acta was the criteria instead of performance on the diamond. I agree with Peric that the contrast between Dukes and Maxwell at Syracuse last year was significant. At the very least, it gives the lie to the idea that Dukes would have pitched a fit if he had been told he was starting the year in Syracuse.

  39. greg - Mar 18, 2010 at 8:37 PM

    a "great clubhouse guy" can't overcome crappy play.a "crappy clubhouse guy" *CAN* overwhelm mediocre or poor play. whether or not dukes really fits into that second category or not isn't really something i can say or not (although i've gotten the sense of "good riddance" from people in both the tampa and washington clubhouses if you read between the lines).

  40. Anonymous - Mar 18, 2010 at 9:01 PM

    a "crappy clubhouse guy" *CAN* overwhelm mediocre or poor play.But Dukes didn't, which is why he's gone. Plain and simple.

  41. greg - Mar 18, 2010 at 9:04 PM

    i think that's the story coming out of the nationals' clubhouse. and the one that came out of tampa before washington.

  42. Kenz aFan - Mar 19, 2010 at 12:17 AM

    In 2009, the Nats Right Fielders hit for a .242 average, had a .340 OBP, slugged for .429 and had an OPS of .769, placing them at 18th overall in the Majors and 8th in the National League. The Major League averages were 270/345/446/791. On defense, the Nats were the second worst team in baseball in Right Field, so it wont take much to improve on last season's numbers.Whoever they put in RF will likely not improve on last year's numbers, so hopping that someone will, is in my opinion, wishful thinking. Four guys currently in camp "could" do a decent job in RF. None, unless they really up their game.Maxwell has the most power, while in general, Harris, Morse and Bernadina are better hitters, with Harris and Bernadina having more speed. Harris and Bernadina bat left, while Morse and Maxwell hit from the right side. Morse and Harris are very versatile and will probably make the team, despite the battle for the RF spot. I would think of Maxwell and Bernadina, that Maxwell gets the nod, mostly because he has the potential for more power, since the Nats will already have Harris' speed off the bench.There are two wild cards in Kevin Mench and Chris Duncan. Both have played RF before and both have put above average numbers in the past. Whether they still have anything left in another question.I believe the Nats will take a week and look at how things develop in RF, and if things don't go well, they will either trade for or sign a FA and give him all the at bats he needs to close out camp and get him ready. This next week will be a big indicator as to what the Nats will do.

  43. Anonymous - Mar 19, 2010 at 4:22 PM

    I think it would make a lot of sense to start Willie Harris. His defense would greatly help the pitching staff and his bat has been more of a sure thing then Maxwell. With an outfield of the Willingham, Morgan, and Harris. I don't see opponents getting much between Morgan and Harris. If Maxwell starts showing me the bat then I will have to change my mind but Harris has always gotten better with the more ABs. So pretty much go with a sure thing.

  44. JohninMPLS - Mar 19, 2010 at 6:38 PM

    A coworker and I were recently talking about the possibility of the Twins starting Nick Punto, and he made the point that, by starting him, you're losing the one thing he brings to the table – a spark off the bench who can be used a defensive replacement.Can't the same be said of Harris? I love the guy, and I know he wants to start. But isn't he our bench spark?

  45. Anonymous - Mar 21, 2010 at 2:58 AM

    Perhaps but who else is better? I'd rather have Harris hitting .250 than Maxwell hitting a sub .200. Morse could work but who knows, he was a spark off the bench too in Sept. Ultimately, I will leave it to the experts.

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