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Will Austin Kearns Be In Right For The Washington Nationals In '09?

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Alright let's get serious...But before we do...read this...

(ed. note - "Here's what an anonymously generated yahoosports.com article entitled, "Nationals Team Report", has DC GM Jim Bowden saying (under a subheading, "Quote To Note") about the Washington Nationals' relationship with the DC Faithful..."):

"Everyone has been upfront with the fans from the very beginning, and they understand. Does anyone like losing 90 games? No, nobody likes that.”—GM Jim Bowden, on the Nationals’ struggles this season. The team finished a major league-worst 59-102."

(ed. note - "I'm not sure I understand?...and, just to be clear, the Nationals lost 102 games...but anyway...Why not be upfront about this then too...Is Austin Kearns done in DC?")

The DC GM, according to MLB.com writer Bill Ladson's article, "Nationals see reason for optimism in '09", has plans for the Nationals' outfield, as Mr. Ladson explains after listing the six players currently on the roster and under consideration for the '09 OF; Elijah Dukes, Willie Harris, Austin Kearns,  Ryan Langerhans, Lastings Milledge and Wily Mo Pena...(ed. note - "You have to think Roger Bernadina's in the mix too, right?"):

"The outfield of Dukes, Milledge and Kearns may change, according to general manager Jim Bowden, who wants better defense out there."

...and now back to the yahoosports.com article, we have the anonymous reporter reporting on the DC GM's plans for remaking the outfield, under another subheading, "In Limbo", where it's suggested:

"OF Austin Kearns, who hit .217 during an injury-plagued season and is due to make $18 million over the next two seasons, probably will be dealt if Bowden can find any takers for his contract."

Kearns' contract, (which the then-26-year-old outfielder signed in late January of '07, after he'd been traded from the Reds to DC the previous Spring and combined to hit .264 between Cincinnati and Washington in '06, with 33 doubles, 2 triples, 24 HR's, 86 RBI's, 9 steals, 8 outfield assists and 7 errors in 145 games), calls for AK to earn $8 million in '09 with, according to MLB.com's Bill Ladson's article on the signing entitled, "Nationals, Kearns agree on extension", "...a club option for 2010 worth $10 million or a $1 million buyout." 

Nationals' Team President Stan Kasten spoke generally in that Bill Ladson article about the team's intentions in signing players, (presumably, like Kearns):

"We are eager to invest in long-term building blocks," team president Stan Kasten said. "We hope to acquire many more building blocks. We are just trying to avoid short-term moves, quick fixes that ultimately set you back. I just have a strong feeling about that."

Mr. Bowden was more effusive and direct in his praise of Kearns, with Mr. Ladson quoting the DC GM stating:

"He's a complete player. He is like ... Ryan Zimmerman," general manager Jim Bowden said. "Austin can play the game from both sides. He is really special. He is just 26 years old. His best years are ahead of him."

The 27-year old Kearns hit .266 in 161 games in '07, with 35 doubles, 1 triple, 16 HR's, 74 RBI's, 71 walks, 106 K's, 2 SB's, 9 outfield assists and just 2 errors in the field, but '08 was a near-complete bust for Kearns, who appeared in just 86 games, having had to undergo surgery for a "bone spur" in his right elbow, (where they also found "loose bodies", or bone chips, which kept Kearns out of the lineup from May 17th-July 3rd), and then a suffering a stress fracture to his right foot, which ended his season on August 24th, with Kearns having collected just 10 doubles, 7 HR's, and 32 RBI's.

Austin Kearns ended '08 with a .260 career average, and according to baseball-reference.com's 162 game average, even after last year's struggles...Kearns can still be expected to end up with around 32 doubles, 22 HR's and 86 RBI's every year...but '07's .266 AVG is the highest Kearns has gotten since his rookie year of 2002, when the 22-year-old hit .315 in 101 games...

So, What Is Kearns Worth?

Two months before Kearns signed his 3-year deal with DC in '07, the outfielder's name was mentioned in trade talks with the Mets and Twins, with the likes of Mets' pitcher Mike Pelfrey and Twins' prospect Kevin Slowey offered by MLB.com's Bill Ladson as possible targets in an article entitled, "Kearns could be on the move", in which Mr. Ladson noted:

"If Kearns is traded, that would mean that the outfield is set with Pena in left, Milledge in center and Dukes in right..."

Now?...The Mets would never take Kearns for Pelfrey, after the 24-year-old right-hander finally got it together on the hill and went 13-11 in '08...and after all of Kearns' injuries, it might be a stretch to even imagine that the Twins would swap Slowey, who was 12-11 in 27 '08 starts, helping Minnesota to within a game of first in the AL Central...and as for Wily Mo Pena still being in the plans for the DC outfield...uh, seriously? C'mon...Pena's probably my fourth choice out of those outfielders currently on the roster for a starting spot, behind Bernadina, Harris and Langerhans...WMP hit .206 in 64 games in '08, with 6 doubles, 2 HR's and 10 RBI's...

So what could Kearns bring in return if the Nationals were to deal him? Enough to make a move worth it? Does anyone think Bernadina's an everyday player? Is there anyone else in the system that could come up to replace Kearns if he were dealt? Who's going to be playing in the outfield for DC on Opening Day '09?