Pitchers and catchers reported Sunday morning and prior to the first bullpen session being thrown, the Nationals revealed the bombshell that veteran outfielder Mike Cameron had announced his retirement rather than returning for one final season. Cameron, who signed a minor league contract this winter, was expected to compete with Rick Ankiel and Roger Bernadina for playing time this season, and presumably his right-handed bat gave him an advantage over the other two. Cameron struggled in 2011 with a poor batting line of .203/.285/.359, but it was thought that a combination of Cameron and Ankiel, with their impressive defensive skills and reasonable career platoon splits, could adequately manage center field until Bryce Harper arrives in Washington, or another suitable alternative could be found. Congratulations to Mike Cameron on a tremendous career, now the Nationals must examine their current options in center field.
As it stands today, the club has Rick Ankiel and Roger Bernadina firmly entrenched into roster spots, with one of them the opening day starter in center field assuming Harper begins the year in the minors, and spring training invitees Jason Michaels and Brett Carroll in competition for the 5th outfielder position. Considering Cameron’s sudden retirement and the adequate but flawed in-house options, General Manager Mike Rizzo and the Nationals front office should look to acquire an alternative via trade or free agency. I recommend the team check on the health of free agent right-handed hitting outfielder Maggio Ordonez and if his ankle has recovered, bring him to Washington to start against left-handed pitching, act as a designated hitter during interleague play, and serve as a pinch hitter in the late innings.
Magglio Ordonez, 38, struggled with injuries and poor performance in 2011, leading to a .255/.303/.331 batting line in 329 at-bats with Detroit. However, Ordonez is only one year removed from a .303/.378/.474 line in 2010, is a career .309/.369/.502 hitter, and furthermore, owns a career .322/.381/.554 slash line against left-handed pitching. Unfortunately, Ordonez re-broke his ankle during the American League Championship Series last fall, and the combination of this injury, his age, and last season’s poor performance has him still available. The typical recovery from a broken ankle takes about six weeks to heal, although it can be several months before one can return to sports-related activities. On a positive note, Ordonez’s BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) in 2011 was .275, some 41 points under his career average and his batting line from last September of .419/.444/.558 provides some semblance of optimism that his skills have not completely eroded and injuries were the root of his struggles.
I will be the first to admit this is not an ideal solution as his health is a large question mark, but unless the Nationals make a spring training trade from their pitching depth to acquire someone, there are very few options available this late in the offseason. On occasions when the Nationals face a right-handed pitcher, they should start Jayson Werth in right field and Ankiel in center field. However, when there is a left-handed starter, I would shift Werth to center field and play Magglio Ordonez in right field to maximize the offense’s potential. If the Nationals can convince Ordonez to agree to a minor league contract, or a guaranteed major league deal with a low base salary and incentives, I think the Nationals should sign him and hope for 325-350 healthy at-bats this season, as the potential for a rebound season far outweighs the risk of such a small financial commitment.
This “Tip of the Fedora” goes out to Mike Cameron on a terrific and underappreciated career. Cameron was kind enough to sign an autograph for me as a kid, thus I have always been his fan, and selfishly wish he had played this season for the Nationals. Congratulations and cheers to you!
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