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Taking shape, but still inchoate

That's the first definition thereof: in an initial or early stage; just begun.

That's the Nationals' rotation.

Yesterday, the Nats signed Jerome Williams (ex- of the Giants, ex-of the Cubs, sort of ex- of the Athletics) to a contract worth $500,000 if he makes the club out of spring training. Additionally, the Nats signed sore-armed lefty Brandon Claussen (ex- of the Yankees, ex- of the Reds, ex- of an innocent rotator cuff) to a minor league deal. I like both signings. As with most low-cost signings, there are some significant warts present: Williams is going steadily downhill, and Claussen is unable to pitch at the moment and no sure bet to return at a competitive level. However, as with many such signings, the potential for reward is great: Williams, only 25, has shown great potential in the past, and Claussen, a lefty, has pitched steadily enough in the past. Capitol Punishment has a particularly cogent run-down of the signings.

In its article reporting the signings, notes two items of significance. First, that Nats "are out of the running to sign right-handers Tony Armas Jr., Tomo Ohka, Ramon Ortiz, Jorge Sosa or Steve Trachsel." Well, okay. Lord only knows I've written enough---or too much---about the so-called "innings gap" the Nats might well face in 2007. I've written about this angle so much that it's mainly all I've written about this offseason. Part of that is probably forgetting what I wrote about three days prior, but another part is that there hasn't been all that much else ground to cover thematically. With the exception of left and center fields, the position players are pretty much set (especially after the Vidro trade, which was a nice whirlwind), the bench wars aren't all that exciting compared to last year's, the minor leaguers can't really do anything of note until they play again, and stadium webcam and jersey/logo discussions don't necessarily do it for me. But I've long reached the point of diminishing returns on this "innings gap" theme, and I'll stop noting it until further notice. Instead, my paradigm will revert even further to the wonderful old Bill James line "every season is revelation, every success a surprise."

To that end, also notes "Williams will be one of 11 pitchers who will compete for four spots in the starting rotation." (John Patterson will, until further notice, occupy the fifth spot---which is to say, the first slot.) So, eleven pitchers, four spots. I wish Ryan was still blogging, because that's prime battle royale material. (OH MY GOD, HANRAHAN'S GOING FOR THE FOLDING CHAIR!!!) Anyway, who are these eleven guys?

  • Jerome Williams
  • Mike O'Connor
  • Shawn Hill
  • Beltran Perez
  • Tim Redding
  • Colby Lewis
  • Jason Simontacchi
  • Joel Hanrahan
  • Matt Chico
  • Jason Bergmann
  • Chris Michalak
Eleven guys for four spots.

When I took the bar exam in Roanoke, I was a bit probabilistically fearful by the figure that something like six out of ten individuals pass the Virginia exam. (I don't remember the exact figure, but I think that's close.) I imagined lining up with nine other people I knew in law school. Then I imagined four of us getting gunned down, sort of like by the Nazis in The Great Escape. It was more of a fearful fear rather than a rational fear, but fear's fear. It was sort of sobering. I'm glad I passed.

The percentages are roughly flipped here. Of course, the stakes are a bit different---pitching isn't exactly a regulated profession, and for a few of those guys getting sent back to Triple-A isn't exactly an insult or setback. But these pitchers have essentially four out of ten (or eleven) odds, with a few weeks of workouts and about of a month of exhibition games to work things out. Spring training is weird. How to rate such a mass of humanity?

I'm not even going to begin to lay odds. That would diminish the prospect for fun. Whatever it is, it'll be a mystery (or maybe a puzzle).

* * * *

Update [2007-1-13 13:49:9 by Basil]: The Washington Times reports Claussen will be among the guys battling for a spot out of spring training (with a $650,000 salary if he makes the team), and there will be "at least ten pitchers" battling for the final spot in the rotation, including one I forgot, Billy Traber. So perhaps we should add Claussen and Traber to the list above, and drop Michalak and Bergmann. Whatever. We'll see how it shakes out.