Now maybe I shouldn't have gone so far as to say that the readers of federalbaseball.com are as good with polls as Nate Silver and the folks at fivethirtyeight.com as I did in the title above, but most times, when asked, those of you who participate in the polls about the Washington Nationals have arrived at the correct conclusions...Which brings us to the latest poll, in which you've been asked to predict the makeup of the DC outfield in '09, and as of 12 noon, Friday, the 20th of November, the results of the first 125 votes cast are as follows:
(left to right in the OF...)
1. Josh Willingham - Elijah Dukes - Lastings Milledge -- 53 votes, 42%
2. Josh Willingham - Lastings Milledge - Elijah Dukes -- 49 votes, 39%
3. Elijah Dukes - Lastings Milledge - Austin Kearns -- 6 votes, 4%
4. Josh Willingham - Lastings Milledge - Austin Kearns - 5 votes, 4 %
5. Leonard Davis - Roger Bernadina - Justin Maxwell - 4 votes, 3%
Ignoring for a moment that four of the federalbaseball.com readers are clearly prepared for the future, what's most shocking for me is the fact that as a group we are apparently prepared to kick Austin Kearns to the curb, not caring about whether or not the Nationals' Brass has to fork over all or some of the $8 million dollars that Kearns is due in '09. 42% of us have decided that the newly acquired Willingham is going to be starting in left, with Dukes in center and the defensively-challenged Lastings Milledge in right, with the second largest contingent choosing Willingham, Milledge and Dukes left to right, and only 14 of the 125 votes cast placing Kearns in a starting position.
When the Nationals acquired Willingham back on 11/11/08, MLB.com's Bill Ladson, in an article entitled, "Newest Nationals welcomed to team", reported that DC GM Jim Bowden, "...didn't rule out trading one of the outfielders," after having mentioned the names of Willingham, Kearns, Dukes and Milledge earlier in the paragraph. I figured at the time that it was Kearns who'd be traded, with Colorado, who'd just moved outfielder Matt Holliday, as a possible destination, especially since they'd acquired an outfield prospect, Carlos Gonzalez, in the deal, who Bill Ladson had identified as a player of interest for the DC squad in another article entitled, "Nationals not pursuing Manny".
Kearns' .217 AVG in an injury-riddled 2008 campaign probably has a lot to do with the DC Faithful's willingness to part with an outfielder who signed a three-year $16.5 million dollar deal back in in February of '07 and was described as a "building block" by Team President Stan Kasten in an uncredited Washington Times article entitled, "Nationals lock up Kearns", which also quoted DC GM Jim Bowden explaining:
"'He's only 26 years old. His best years are ahead of him. This is a player that is very strong, he has an ability to drive in runs, move the runners over, hit the ball out of the ballpark, and like I said, his best years are ahead of him.'"
Less than two years later, if the federalbaseball.com readers have anything to say about it, Austin Kearns will be coming off the bench or departing DC altogether...???
The second biggest, and probably the toughest decision voters made was to move Lastings Milledge from center to right, with Elijah Dukes taking over in center, but those worried about Milledge's defense in center, might want to read MLB.com's Bill Ladson's article from 2/21/08 entitled, "Milledge happy for new start with Nats", where the then-prospective DC centerfielder told Mr. Ladson:
"'Right and left field are tough positions to play. When I was in center field, everything was so natural that I really didn't think about anything out there. I just played the game.'"
(ed. note -"Natural", huh?)...After the completion of Milledge's first season as the Nationals' primary center fielder, Washington Post writer Chico Harlan began an article entitled, "Milledge May Be Placed In Corner for '09", by writing:
"As a center fielder, Lastings Milledge is still experimenting with the variables, searching for whatever works. 'Do I play shallow, deep?' he said yesterday, just giving an example. 'I'm trying to figure out what I'm most comfortable with.'"
Milledge's assesment of potential move to a corner position? Mr. Harlan quotes the 23-year old outfielder in the same article explaining:
"'Moving to the corner might not help anything,' Milledge said. 'You might have to cover the most ground in center, but it's the easiest as far as routes go.'"
Elijah Dukes came up to the Majors as a center fielder with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and played 38 games there in '07 without committing an error after having been labeled the "Best Athlete" in the Rays' organization in two straight "Top Ten Prospects: Tampa Bay Devil Rays", reports by Baseball America's Bill Ballew on 1/11/06 and 11/15/06, and back in Washington Post writer Chico Harlan's article entitled, "Milledge May Be Placed In Corner for '09", Mr. Harlan interpreted DC GM Jim Bowden's statement that the Nationals needed to "upgrade our defense" in the outfield as an endorsement for Dukes in center, writing:
"Bowden didn't name names, but no hint was needed: Elijah Dukes, currently Washington's starting left fielder, has the natural talent to shift to center..."
As of today, there are 9 outfielders on the Nationals' 40-Man Roster. Roger Bernadina, Leonard Davis and Justin Maxwell are most likely headed to either Double or Triple-A to start the '09 campaign, which leaves it as a choice for Manager Manny Acta, barring any trades, between Austin Kearns, Elijah Dukes, Lastings Milledge, Willie Harris, Wily Mo Pena and Josh Willingham for the three starting spots in the DC outfield...Spring Training is only a winter away...Who wants to break the news to Kearns?...