First, the mailbag. Before I answer the questions, I'd like to point out how bad Ladson was this week. Three out of the seven questions asked were either "I can't answer right now," "I can't judge Montz," and "I don't know at this time." I appreciate the honesty, Bill, but I'm sure there were more than 7 questions in your email inbox. If you don't know, skip them and answer a different one. So without further ado, the mailbag, followed by some minor league free agency signings.
I've been an Austin Kearns fan for years, and he hasn't really lived up to the hype because of injuries and slumps. With his rough season in 2008, is this the end for Kearns as a starter?
-- Chad B., Hitchins, Ky.
The end? No. Kearns will probably not begin the year as the full-time starter, but he'll be backing up two guys in Dukes and Willingham in which you can pretty much count on a DL stint or two. Once he gets in a groove, he'll get a permanent starting job and either be dealt or Willingham will move to 1B permanently.
What are your thoughts on catcher Luke Montz?
-- Louis G., Washington
To be honest, I think his 2008 numbers in AA were a fluke. I certainly hope I'm wrong, but his AAA numbers weren't impressive. Once I see numbers at AAA and ML, I will be convinced. I'm rooting for ya, though, Luke! Prove me wrong!
There seems to be a lot of people getting on Lastings Milledge and his play in center field. I thought he improved dramatically over the course of the season. Why are people writing him off as a corner outfielder?
-- Justin E., Potomac, Md.
"Improved" is a relative term. In Milledge's case, he "improved" from being probably the biggest waste of talent (in his case, talent=range) since Barry Sanders played for the Lions to being simply below average defensively.
Will Ronnie Belliard be playing for the Nationals next season? If so, do you think he will start?
-- Clare M., Mechanicsburg, Pa.
It would be news to me if Belliard wasn't on the Opening Day roster. He won't start, but I do see him getting 30-40% of the innings at 2B, maybe more once Anderson Hernandez comes back down to Earth.
In the two years Manny Acta has been the manager of the Nationals, no starter has pitched a complete game. This is mind-boggling. Why is this? You would think that in two years, at least one pitcher would be able to go the distance.
-- Dave F., Seaford, Del.
Ladson: "Actually, Jason Bergmann and Tim Redding pitched complete games this past season." Delaware Dave=PWNED!
But honestly, I don't really buy into Manny's whole "take them out before they get shelled and, in result, get their feelings hurt" dealio. Let them pitch until they show signs of pending ineffectiveness.
Considering they have a first-base opening, could the Nationals try to pick up a veteran with strong name recognition, such as Nomar Garciaparra, until a young player can take over in September?
-- Keith S., Arlington, Va.
The Nats will probably to to pick up a younger veteran with strong name recognition. Adam Dunn, Mark Texeira, etc. Nomar Garciaparra hasn't been a "strong name" since he was dealt at the 2003 trade deadline.
Where does Kory Casto fit into next year's plans?
-- Bill L., Columbia, Mo.
And here are your 2009 Syracuse Chiefs! Starting in left field, number 5, Kory Casto!
In other news, Baseball America announced in their weekly Minor League Transactions post that the Nats have resigned RHP Ryan Wagner, RHP Dan Leatherman and OF Jemel Spearman while signing RHP Preston Larrison and 1B Brad Eldred.
I've always thought in the back of my mind that Wagner would become a force again. I doubt it more and more every day, but It's a good career move for him to resign with an organization so weak in ML-ready relievers.
I don't have much to say on Leatherman, but he did have really nice numbers in Hagerstown this year. Maybe we'll challenge him with Potomac and possibly Harrisburg around the all-star break.
Spearman's got speed and a decent AVG/OBP combo, but has only 60 career PA at AAA or above at age 28.
The Larrison signing has gotten a lot of love, both from Baseball America and Beyond the Box Score. Here's what BA had to say: "The 28-year-old Larrison is the pick to click in this group. A Tigers’ second-round selection in 2001, he’s pitched in 100 Triple-A games and racked up a solid 3.49 ERA and just 84 strikeouts to go with 57 walks in 134 innings. However, he’s given up just seven home runs in that time, as he’s got one of the better—if not the best—sinkers on the market. His groundout-to-airout ratios in the past two seasons: 2.7 (Buffalo, ‘08), 3.0 (Toledo, ‘08), 3.0 (Toledo, ‘07). Yes, the double play will always be in the back of opposing managers’ minds." And what BtBS says: "I absolutely love this move for Washington. Call him Chris Schroder deluxe. Larrison finally found his way out of the American League Central after a season with Cleveland's Triple-A affiliate and into an organization that should use him at the highest level. Holder of a 69.1% groundball percentage last season, Larrison gets ant killers at an alarmingly high rate. Larrison's swinging strike rates are also enough to make one ecstatic, although not giddy. The tRAs aren't overly impressive, but as a situational reliever with batted ball average flukes, he's a fine addition to the Nationals organization."
And last but not least, Eldred. He's got fantastic power numbers but a beyond-awful BB/K ratio. Hit .244/.305/.546 with 35 HR, 100 RBI, 28 BB and 144 K with CHW's AAA affiliate in 2008. I can hear the shrieks from SoCH already!