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2/14/08 No Love For Lopez On Valentine's Day...(No Love = $4.9 M)

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     On January 23, 2007 the Washington Nationals and infielder Felipe Lopez avoided arbitraton by agreeing to a 1-year, $3.9 million dollar deal which split the differences in the two sides' assessments of what the then-twenty-six year old Lopez deserved after he had hit a combined 27 doubles, 3 triples, and 11 HR's with a .287 AVG for the 2006 season in 157 games in Cincinnati and Washington, DC. The $3.9 million dollar contract Lopez received was a $1.2 million dollar raise from what the Reds paid Lopez the previous season.

     This time around the Nationals and Lopez couldn't reach an agreement on a deal and an arbitrator was needed to settle the dispute, deciding today that the Nationals offer of a $1 million dollar raise to a $4.9 million dollar, 1-year deal was a more appropriate increase than the $5.2 million dollars Lopez had requested after hitting just .245 in 154 games with 25 doubles, 6 triples, 9 HR's and 50 RBI's.

     Felipe Lopez heads into Spring Training as a backup infielder according to most reports, but MLB.com's Bill Ladson makes a point of noting, in his article entitled, "Lopez loses arbitration case", that:

          "Lopez is listed as a reserve on the Nationals' depth chart,
          but, privately, some team officials feel he could be their
          leadoff hitter. In 2006, for example, Lopez had a .358 on-
          base percentage and scored 98 runs."

     When the Nationals originally acquired Lopez along with Austin Kearns and Ryan Wagner from the Reds on July 13, 2006, Bill Ladson noted in his article, "Nationals acquire Austin Kearns, Felipe Lopez and Ryan Wagner as part of eight-player deal with Cincinnati," that the shortstop was, "...currently on pace to establish career highs in walks, stolen bases and runs scored," all good signs of a potential leadoff hitter.

     A little over one year later, when Nationals' Manager Manny Acta decided to give Felipe Lopez another chance at the top of the order, after Lopez struggled earlier in the season, Bill Ladson quoted Acta in an article entitled, "Notes: Lopez returns to leadoff spot," stating unequivocally, "...All along, I felt [Lopez] was the ideal guy to lead off for us."

     If Lopez does not somehow win a starting job in the infield, however, he'll be on the bench making $4.9 million dollars while projected starters, Cristian Guzman, who is due $4.2 million in the last year of the 4-year, $16.8 million dollar deal signed back in 2005, and Ronnie Belliard, who will earn $1.6 mill this season, but is signed through '09, will be the DP combo up the middle while the younger Lopez comes off the bench.

     Washington Post writer Barry Svrluga's not convinced, agreeing with MLB.com's Bill Ladson that the starters in "Muddled Middle" of the infield, as Mr. Svrluga writes in a column for his feature, "Five Story Lines for Spring Training", at washingtonpost.com, have yet to be determined, or as he writes:

          "The club is saying Belliard will start at second, Guzmán at
          short, and López must fight for time. Will that be true on
          Opening Day?"

     The middle of the infield? The situation at first? Who do you think should get the fourth and fifth starters' spots? Is Lopez better as a leadoff hitter than Guzman? Who's better defensively?  Are any young infielders even under consideration? Spring Training and the answers to these questions can't come soon enough...

*Felipe Lopez Links*

Felipe Lopez's career stats at thebaseballcube.com:

http://www.thebaseballcube.com/players/L/felipe-lopez.shtml

Washington Post writer Barry Svrluga's, "Nationals Preview", entitled, "Five Story Lines for Spring Training" at washingtonpost.com:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/sports/mlb/longterm/2008/preview/pdf/nationals_preview_08.pdf

MLB.com's Bill Ladson's 1/23/07 article, "Lopez, Nationals avoid arbitration", at washington.nationals.mlb.com:

http://washington.nationals.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20070122&content_id=1784181&vkey=ne ws_was&fext=.jsp&c_id=was

MLB.com's Bill Ladson's article, "Lopez loses arbitration case", at washington.nationals.mlb.com:

http://washington.nationals.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20080214&content_id=2373944&vkey=sp t2008news&fext=.jsp&c_id=was

mlb.com's Bill Ladson's article, "Nationals acquire Austin Kearns, Felipe Lopez and Ryan Wagner as part of eight-player deal with Cincinnati", at washington.nationals.mlb.com:

http://www.mlb.com/content/printer_friendly/was/y2006/m07/d13/c1554994.jsp

mlb.com's Bill Ladson's article, "Notes: Lopez returns to leadoff spot", at washington.nationals.mlb.com:

http://mlb.mlb.com/content/printer_friendly/was/y2007/m07/d18/c2093579.jsp