If you can't beat 'em, Harper advises, hire a relay team:
Can we safely assume Harper was kidding? Not so fast, my friend!
Gathright, who is considered one of the fastest runners in baseball, hit .276 with 13 RBIs and 20 stolen bases in 76 games last year.
Let's set aside Rocket Bill's eminently wise evaluation that the Nats don't really have much of anything Tampa would want in the way of prospects and address why Jim Bowden would set a target lock on Gathright's services in the first place.
Which isn't to denigrate Gathright, who's got a lot of speed. He's six months younger and is a noticeably better player than Watson. While Watson sported a fancy .355 average in the Pacific Coast League last season, Gathright has superior secondary skills and his performance in the International League, when adjusted for context, is just as impressive. Plus, Gathright has already done in 200 big league at-bats last season what one might reasonably expect Watson to do this season in the bigs, give or take (.276/.316/.340, 20/25 in stolen bases.
Still, Gathright and Watson are largely the same player: slight, fleet, lefty-swinging, center fielder.
This nugget by Rocket Bill doesn't make much sense, but it does call into question whether Bodes & Co. don't hold as much confidence or optimism in Watson as it might appear.
Or maybe it's just a silly little rumor.
At any rate, for old time's sake, let's fondly remember Bodes' utterly hyperbolic column from August introducing Brandon Watson to the baseball world:
And what a sparkplug [Watson] was in his first game Tuesday, a critical game we won largely because of Brandon. He not only doubled and homered, but he almost beat out a routine grounder to second at the end of the game. That speed and energy adds a spark. It appeared the dugout had more energy than in the last 10 games. And you could see the excitement when he homered. Maybe what our club has needed is a true leadoff hitter. . . .
If Brandon Watson turns our offense around, then he has to play every day, which means someone has to sit and someone will be unhappy. But it's not about the name on the back of the jersey; it's only about the name on the front.
I don't want to mock Bodes, because anybody can look silly in hindsight, but you really can't make this stuff up. The DC Examiner published Bodes' column on August 11; by August 14, Watson was back in Triple-A.
But Watson is back, and it looks like the team is expecting big things from him---to the extent, foolishly or not, that he might well relegate Ryan Church to the bench. Speaking of which, Banks of the Anacostia provides a good evaluation of the two players (and Marlon Byrd, another rather flight outfielder!) in today's post:
I see the need for a good lead-off hitter, I'm just not convinced yet that Watson is the guy. Let him and Marlon Byrd fight it out for whatever OF spot Church isn't playing, assuming that Soriano gets his wish to play 2B.
Church will probably need to keep his average up in the .290-.300 range to be an OBP plus, but he's a better bet than Watson---injury risks excluded, of course.
The discussion of Jamming Econo's post carried over into the comments section, where he did well to link to Nationals Farm Authority's evaluation of Watson.