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The First Shot

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Jim Bowden, as Edmund Ruffin*





By mid-afternoon, the first reports were filed. Shortly thereafter, we all knew---both us and them. The headline at fellow SBN site Camden Chat, an outpost sympathetic to the Dictator from the North, was representative:




NATS STRIKE FIRST!!!




Indeed, General Bodes doth just so: he signed ex-Oriole Bernie Castro. WAR!

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Perhaps I hyperbolize by a measure or two.

Outrighted on October 7, Castro was clearly not in the Orioles' plans, and he's likely to see another dose of Triple-A in '06, this time in the Pacific Coast League. O's fans should not weep, and Nats' fans should not break out in a jig. (Well, you guys can if you want; I mean, we all know Needham wants to.)

Still, the Nats were a team with some significant shortcomings, if you're recall, and three of those were:

  1. guys who could play the middle infield (Carlos Baerga, second baseman . . . in 2005???---it happened);
  2. guys who could get on base; and,
  3. guys who could run even sort of fast.
It just so happens that Castro:
  1. plays second base;
  2. can get on base a little (.371 OBP at Ottawa in '05; .360 in a quick look at Baltimore, generally solid OBP in the minors, except for an awful '04 that ran him out of the Padres' organization); and,
  3. runs quite well (the Nats' press release bestows upon him the no-doubt Ladsonian mantle of "one of minor league baseball's premier base stealers"; sure enough, he stole 41 bags in '05 and has a career high of 79).
Plus, Castro is only 24, by which I mean he's not going to turn 25 next week. (His birthday is in mid-July.) [Edit: Presumably, Bernie's birthday is still in mid-July, but he's not 24; thanks to SC from Camden Chat for informing me that Castro, a participant in AgeGate, is really 26.] So, while we're not looking at a future star---and while there's a hint of an attitude problem with him---I think there's something here. Maybe not much, but something.

Good job, Bodes; you picked up for free and committed virtually nothing to a guy who can provide depth in an area that was a difficulty most of the summer. And as for the attitude, hey---according to his WayMoreSports bio, he was named the Southern League's "Best Hustler" in 2002. Yeah!

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As luck would have it, Bodes picked up another middle infielder, and this one probably will stick with the big club. Damian Jackson, who turned 32 in August, is another ex-Padre and, more to the point, another middle infield bench player with some speed (15 steals in '05)and at least a passing recollection of making it on base occasionally (.335 OBP this season). Jackson's career was left for dead a year ago, coming off a campaign in which he compiled all of 30 at-bats for the Cubs and Royals. But he rebounded to a significant degree for the Padres and saw roughly half-time action for the team out of necessity. He did alright, with essentially a .700 OPS.

Jackson's not tremendously likely to better that figure, but it's in the ballpark of his career .680 mark. He strikes out a bit and he wasn't exactly impervious on defense this past season, but he's also quick and versatile. He might be our new utility infielder (see below) or---lo and behold---our poor man's Ryan Freel-type guy. (Jackson also has significant outfield experience.)

Overall, it was a nice day for Jim Bowden---nothing earth-shattering, of course, but he fired a nice shot.

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I think everyone knows that Junior Spivey won't be back. But Jackson's signing might spell the end for DC's favorite back-up quarterback (okay, shortstop---though the calls for Guzman's removal made it seem like the former at times). Jamey Carroll, scrappy, fundamentally-sound, and arbitration-eligible, is due for a raise. How big would still need to be determined, but this is a team that is minding every stray penny or hundred thousand dollars. To that end, Nationals Farm Authority envisions Carroll's departure with a degree of lamentation. Nats Triple Play reminds us that Baerga is probably also gone, though with no hint of lamentation.

* It is said that the story of Ruffin firing the first shot of the Civil War is likely apocryphal; we should be undaunted, though, as Jim Bowden is nothing if not a man of legend.