Washington's Lopsided Roster Could Hurt Nationals if Trades Can't Be Made

Farid RushdiAnalyst IMarch 26, 2009

WASHINGTON - JULY 22:  Austin Kearns #25 of the Washington Nationals hits a 3-run home run in the eighth inning against the Colorado Rockies at RFK Stadium July 22, 2007 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

Time is getting short for the Washington Nationals.

With just 12 days to go before the start of the 2009 season, the Nationals' roster is woefully unbalanced. There are too many starting outfielders, too few veteran pitchers, and the bullpen remains an enigma.

It would be a safe to say that if Jim Bowden was still the team's general manager, there would be several trades currently in the queue to get rid of the glut of outfielders and pad the starting rotation with at least one veteran arm.

But I'm sure that Mike Rizzo is having difficulty making a deal. Not because he's not up to the task, but rather opposing general managers are testing him, trying to see if they can get an all-star for the equivalent of a bag of balls.

That takes time. It may be weeks, or months, for Rizzo can complete a deal.

Who is most likely to be traded? Let's take a look.


Austin Kearns - Right Field: Career 162 game average: .260-22-86

Boy, I don't know what to make of this guy. He started off his career in Cincinnati at a high average player, batting .315 with a .407 OBP. Since then, he has yet to bat over .270 for a full season.

He gets hurt often-though not to the extend of Nick Johnson-and has played more than 150 games just once in his career. He is an outstanding defensive right fielder.

I think that at this point in his career, Kearns is a starter on a bad major league team or a fourth outfielder/platoon player for a contender. Against lefties, he's averaged .272-19-110 with a .393 OBP over a 550 at-bat season, much better numbers than against right-handers (.256-17-78, .339 OBP).

What's the trade value for a 29-year-old with a history of injuries and who has a difficult time hitting right-handed pitching? Not much. A mid-round prospect and the hope the other team will take over his entire $8 million contract is about all the Nationals can hope go get.


Wily Mo Pena - Left Field

There isn't much love our there for Wily Mo Pena, but in reality, his career numbers aren't much different from Austin Kearns. He's averaged (over a 162 game season) .253-23-65, though his career OBP of just .307 isn't that great. Further, he's a liability in left field, and we aren't talking Adam Dunn liability; we're talking Frank Howard liability.

Like Kearns, Pena hits lefties very well, averaging .277-24-78 against them over a 550 at-bat season. His on-base percentage against them of .340 is acceptable (against righties, it's a woeful .289).

Pena would be an acceptable platoon in left on an average team, but he could also be a potent right-handed bat off the bench (if you were a lefty pitcher on the mound with the bases loaded and no out, you wouldn't want to see Pena pinch hit).

Sadly, because he's been injured, I don't think the Nationals could get much for him. He'll either be a starting outfielder for 'AAA' Syracuse (and be showcased for other teams) or he'll end up being released at the end of spring training.


Josh Willingham - Left Field

Of all the team's spare parts, Willingham has the most trade value. When the trade with the Marlins was made last fall, then GM Jim Bowden said that Willingham would be the team's starting left fielder. But with the signing of Adam Dunn, and the certainty that he'll be the team's left fielder, Willingham is the Nationals' odd-man out.

He's averaged .266-26-86 during his career over a 162 season. He's a good-enough fielder and plays the game hard. He is a solid in the clubhouse.

But with Dunn, Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes starting for the Nationals, I doubt that he'll get 250 at-bats in 2009, unless of course the injury bug bites the team yet again.

Willingham is a unique player because as a right-hander, he hits right-handed pitching better. In a 550-at-bat season, he's averaged .269-22-85. At 29, he still has another six or seven productive years left.

To leave him on the bench is a shame.

If the Nationals aren't going to start him, they need to trade him. Willingham could be the keystone in a trade that could land a solid veteran pitcher.

I don't want to lose him, but I'd rather have someone who can help the team contend for the wild card.


There are also a few other players who might bring some value. The Nationals have three reserve catchers, Josh Bard, Wil Nieves and Javier Valentin. One will make the Nationals and a second will play at 'AAA' Syracuse. Perhaps the odd-man out might be packaged in a deal for a prospect.

Alex Cintron has had a fine spring but has no chance of making the team. A career .277 hitter, he could also have some trade value.

If Mike Rizzo can prove himself to the league's other general managers, and do it quickly, the Nationals could trade some of these players and get in return a veteran pitcher or a couple of prospects.

If not, the Nationals will have one of the most lopsided rosters in the National League.