Nats Spring Training Surprise
John Patterson, Shawn Hill, Elijah Dukes, Nyjer Morgan, and John Lannan all have something in common. They were all surprisingly cut, sent down, or traded during Spring Training. Every year the Nats have that one surprise move that catches everyone off guard. This year there are rumbling that the Nats could be pursuing either Javier Vazquez or Kyle Lohse for the rotation which would push Detwiler to the bullpen, and while that would be an interesting move it isn't a surprise. Very few people say any of the above moves coming.
John Patterson and Shawn Hill were the best pitchers on the Nats when they were healthy and the Nats of that time weren't in any position to be letting talent walk away, but they grew tired of the ‘when healthy’ moniker and both pitchers ended up released. The year that Elijah Dukes was cut looked to be the year he would finally focus on baseball. Jim Riggleman had ventured down to Florida to attend Elijah Dukes' father's funeral and Dukes mentioned on multiple occasions how much it meant to him, but when he under performed in Spring Training he was gone. Nyjer Morgan was going to be given every opportunity to be the Nats center fielder and those in the front office as well as manager, Jim Riggleman, kept repeating that Nyjer Morgan was their center fielder, but as Spring Training was wrapping up he was sent to the Brewers for Cutter Dykstra. Then last Spring Training when the Nats fifth starter battle came down to Lannan vs. Detwiler, Davey Johnson said that John Lannan was his guy, but he wasn't Mike Rizzo's and Lannan ended up in the minors while Detwiler became the Nats fifth starter.
So what moves are lurking out there in the deepest darkest depth of Natstown ready to shock us? Mike Rizzo may have given us our first hint. He mentioned that he expected a battle in the bullpen and the bench. The battle in the bullpen is already known, but the one on the bench is a new development. Bernadina, Lombardozzi, and Tyler Moore all preformed great last season in back-up roles, but two of them have options and one is nothing more than a fourth outfielder. None of them are invincible. Lombardozzi is the safest of the three as he is the only player the Nats have who can back up three infield positions and two outfield positions. That type of versatility tends to make a player more valuable than one who may outperform him. If Carlos Rivera has a great Spring and the Nats are concerned about Espinosa's shoulder they could decide to go with a utility infielder over the back-up first baseman/left fielder and option Moore to the minors.
That move wouldn't be all that surprising because outside of Espinosa the Nationals have no way that can back up the shortstop position. Lombardozzi can play short, but he can't play it well. Carlos Rivera weakens the offensive output of the bench but would increase its defensive versatility and he did hit .303/.347/.435 in the minors last season. Overall it would be an offensive downgrade from Moore, but the Nats may decide to go with the defensive versatility over the better bat and because they may not want Espinosa backing up shortstop with his bad shoulder. While this move would be a mild surprise it wouldn't be a real shocker.
Roger Bernadina in 2012 hit .291/.372/.405 in 2012, but most of that is Davey Johnson's doing as of Bernadina's 261 total plate appearances 233 of them came against right handed pitchers. Bernadina was put in positions were he would excel and he did. He deserves some credit for that, but he is still only a fourth outfielder and a fourth outfielder who just got his first arbitration contract and won't be getting any cheaper. Because he is an arbitration player, if the Nats release him before the season starts they do not have to pay him his entire salary. So while Roger Bernadina is a fan favorite he isn't a mortal lock to make the team. His release would still be a surprise, but his competition is young, hungry and in many ways a better player.
Corey Brown, in many ways, is Roger Bernadina. Bernadina was thought of as nothing more than a AAAA/4th outfielder type who was too old to be a prospect when the Nats finally called him up. With his chance to play every day in the majors he demonstrated that he was better suited for a back-up role with a career batting line of .252/.320/.373. Corey Brown has the same profile but has hit better in the minors than Bernadina ever did, .269/.355/.486 compared to .266/.351/.388. Brown and Bernadina are very similar players when it comes to hitting for average and getting on base, but Brown has much more power, and if there is something that Davey Johnson likes it is power off the bench. Brown is also two years younger than Bernadina and those younger legs can go a long way in being a just as good, if not better, defender.
Bernadina has a lot of spectacular catches and it can be fun to watch him run down a ball, but the reason he is often making those catches or running down those balls is because he took a bad route or got a bad read on the ball off the bat. Bernadina is an athletic player with great make-up speed, but that speed isn't going to last and defense is often the first thing a player loses as they age. For his career Bernadina is a -10.4 UZR/150 center fielder, -6.7 UZR/150 right fielder, and 12.1 UZR/150 left fielder. Roger Bernadina is a bad center fielder, a below average right fielder, and a great left fielder. That isn't exactly what a team wants in a fourth outfielder. Corey Brown has played a total of 37 1/3 innings in a major league outfield so his numbers are as close to meaningless as numbers get, but if the Nats minor league scouts are to be believed and he does in fact gets better reads on balls than Bernadina, then there is a good chance he is the better outfielder.
Corey Brown is younger, has more power, is likely a better defender, and is cheaper than Bernadina. In many ways Brown is the better option to be the Nats fourth outfielder, but Bernadina has two advantages; he has a major league track record and he is out of options. If the Nationals cut Bernadina he is gone. He is a talented enough player that he won't clear waivers. If the Nats decide to part with Bernadina for Brown then they will lose Bernadina. That would be the most surprising aspect of this move, but it doesn't make it impossible or even all that improbable. Sitting behind Brown the Nats have a slew of players who profile as fourth outfielders. If one of Span, Harper, or Werth do hit the DL for a chunk of time the Nats can call up Eury Perez or Erik Komatsu to serve as the fourth outfielder.
Losing Bernadina would anger some Nats fans, but it might be the wise move as Brown profiles as a more useful player. This may also be a year too soon to write this and the Nats will hold onto Bernadina for one more year and non-tender him next off-season as he is set to become even more expensive and possibly too expensive for a bench player. It would be a surprise for the Nats to release Bernadina, but they have a history of surprising Spring Training decisions and this is one that logically makes sense. Don't expect it to happen, but consider yourself warned that it could.