With opening day finally upon us, the Washington Nationals’ right field platoon remains the same. As of now, the team has chosen to stand pat and promote players internally rather than looking outside the organization for a solution. An important factor that played into this decision was the relative weakness of available right fielders. Though it appears that the Nationals have spoken with the Cubs, Rays, and Brewers about Kosuke Fukudome, B.J. Upton, and Corey Hart, respectively, each has at least one significant obstacle restricting their tradability.
Fukudome, 32, has a partial no-trade clause on his contract current contract, from which he is slated to receive $26.5 million over the next two years. Moreover, though the Cubs’ outfielder would serve as a marginal offensive upgrade over the two Willies, that improvement would be offset by Fukudome’s -3.4 UZR last season. The minimal offensive improvement would not be worth the veritable fortune it would take to acquire it.
Hart, 28, though younger and cheaper ($4.8 million) than Fukudome, posted similar offensive statistics last season, hitting .260/.335/.418 with 12 home runs; however, his UZRs over the last two seasons are -4.7 and -5.1. Thus, Hart is essentially a more cost-effective, worse version of Fukudome, which is certainly not sufficient praise to warrant further pursuit.
Upton, 24, is definitely the most talented of the three. The former second overall pick struggled at the plate last year after having surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder, hitting only .241/.313/.373, though he did hit 11 home runs and steal 42 bases. On the positive side, Upton is scheduled to earn only $3 million this season in the wake of salary arbitration and his contract lasts through the 2012 season. Upton’s true value, though, lies in his defensive prowess. Although he was drafted as a shortstop, Upton has developed into an extremely skilled and rangy centerfielder, posting UZRs of 10.3 and 11.0 the last two years. Unfortunately, this value is not lost upon the Rays. The team that engineered baseball’s first worst-to-first turnaround in 2008 will most assuredly not overlook the attributes that spurred their ascent, namely pitching and defense. It would take a monumental collapse by the Rays for Upton to be available.
While it seems that the Nationals will be forced to make do with the roster they have at this point, there is one point of business that demands attention. At 1:05pm today, Barack Obama will continue the presidential tradition of throwing out the first pitch of the hometown team’s season. After the “First Pitch”, the ball will be handed to Nationals’ ace John Lannan as the team faces the defending National League Champion Philadelphia Phillies and their new star, Roy Halladay. Opening Day is finally here, and every team is even in the standings. The moves have been made, players have been optioned and promoted, and the roster is set. There is only one thing left to do – play ball.