Photo courtesy Bill Scheuerman
Veteran infielder Alex Cora is in the running for a roster spot.
Thus, the challenge now facing the Nats' front office and coaching staff is how to pare that roster of 38 down to the final 25. Really, there are only 36 players still in the mix; Stephen Strasburg and Chien-Ming Wang will be placed on the disabled list at some point before the end of the spring.
So 11 players still need to be cut, which may be a more difficult task than you'd imagine. Once you analyze the Nationals' remaining roster, you realize more than one player who deserves to make the club is going to get the shaft.
The really tough decisions are going to come on the bench and in the bullpen. Do the Nats keep an extra infielder or an extra outfielder? Do they make sure they've got an experienced long man in the bullpen, or would they rather make sure they keep one of their Rule 5 draftees?
Let's run through the remaining roster of 38, position-by-position, and try to make some sense of all this...
Nothing too difficult here. Pudge and Ramos will make the big-league roster. Flores, though he's made significant strides to come back from his devastating shoulder injury, needs to get some regular at-bats at Class AAA Syracuse before he's ready to face major-league pitching again.
The top five guys are locks to make the team. The question then becomes which of the other three reserve infielders the Nationals want to keep. Unless they decide not to keep any of them in favor of another outfielder, which is a possibility. Ideally, you'd rather not be locked into Hairston as your only backup middle infielder, but it is something the club is considering. If they do decide to keep another one, I think Cora probably gets the nod over Gonzalez and Bixler for his veteran presence.
This picture remains somewhat muddled, dependent in large part on who wins the starting job in center field between Morgan, Ankiel and Bernadina. Ankiel makes the club no matter what. Morgan and Bernadina each have options, though you have to wonder whether the Nats would actually send either guy down. They certainly could keep both on the 25-man roster, though that might prevent them from keeping Stairs as a pinch-hitting specialist. Nix has also thrown himself into the fray with a nice spring, though he still probably faces long odds.
STARTING PITCHERS (7)
It's pretty clear the top five guys will form the Opening Day rotation, barring some unforeseen development over the next two weeks. Detwiler and Maya will almost certainly open the year at Syracuse and will be the first two starters summoned if and when the Nationals need assistance.
This is again where the situation gets muddled. You've got to believe the top five guys (Storen, Burnett, Clippard, Slaten and Coffey) are safe. We've all assumed Rodriguez would make it, too, because he's out of options. But the right-hander has been all over the place in his three spring appearances, and you've got to start wondering whether he's worth keeping. In all likelihood, the Nats will hang onto Rodriguez, if for no other reason than to ensure they've got something to show for the Josh Willingham trade. But Rodriguez needs to show some semblance of control, and son. Ramirez, one of the Rule 5 picks, hasn't appeared in a game yet due to "arm issues." My guess is he'll wind up on the DL, which allows the Nationals to keep him for the time being. Gaudin is probably the front-runner for the final spot because he can serve as a long man in the bullpen, though Stammen and Broderick (the other Rule 5 pick who has pitched well) could possibly sneak in there. Balester is probably going to be the unfortunate victim of the options game.
DISABLED LIST (2)
Strasburg, who won't be ready to pitch in the majors until September at the earliest, obviously will go on the 60-day DL. We'll have to see what the Nationals do with Wang. Will they place him on the 15-day DL in hopes he's ready to pitch sometime in the season's first two months? Or will they determine he won't be back until at least June anyway and put him on the 60-day DL, which would open up a spot on the 40-man roster?