Mailbag: Sosa a good fit in D.C.?

Mailbag: Is Sammy a slam dunk for Nationals?

After the Nationals ended their first season in Washington with an 81-81 record, a lot of fans want to know about the team's outlook for 2006 as the offseason winds down and Spring Training approaches.

Here are some answers to your questions. Keep those e-mails coming. Thanks a bunch.

Why are the Nationals interested in Sammy Sosa? There's no position open for him to play unless you want to significantly downgrade your defense. He strikes out way too much to be effective and he's injury prone.
-- Chris L., Fredericksburg, Va.

Chris, that is a great question and you are not alone in your evaluation of Sosa. However, you have to understand Jim Bowden's history as a general manager to realize why he is interested in a player like Sosa. First, Bowden is a person who loves to give people second chances (see Jose Guillen, Ron Gant and Benito Santiago).

Second, Bowden has worked with a limited budget his entire career and is always looking for, what I call, lightning in a bottle. Bowden believes that maybe Sosa had a tough time adjusting to American League pitching and needs to be back in familiar surroundings. If the Nationals sign Sosa, it would be for a lot less money than he made in recent years.

Why don't the Nationals have more trust in their Minor League players? They invite all these old guys to Spring Training and no young guys from the farm system that they could work with and develop.
-- Amy T., Savannah, Ga.

They do have trust in some of their Minor League players. They believe in outfielders Frank Diaz, Justin Maxwell and Brandon Watson, shortstop Ian Desmond, infielder Kory Casto and right-hander Collin Balester. But the truth is, most of them are not ready for the big leagues this year.

Second, the Nationals' farm system is dry for the most part. If it wasn't, they would have been able to make trades for outfielder Juan Pierre and right-hander Javier Vazquez.

If the Blue Jays give up on signing catcher Bengie Molina, do the Nationals have enough money available to sign him?
-- Alan, Bethesda, Md.

This question is not as crazy as some might think. According to a source, the Nationals did consider signing Molina for a brief time, but they are committed to Brian Schneider, who is one of the best defensive catchers in baseball. More than anything else, they need to look for a backup catcher. They haven't had a solid one since Schneider held that position in 2002 and '03.

If Cristian Guzman struggles early in the season, do you think Alfonso Soriano could play shortstop?
-- Carl P., Berthierville, Quebec

Unless he changes his managerial philosophy, I don't see Frank Robinson making such a change. Guzman's contract will play a role as well. In the past, the local media has heard Robinson say this about slumping players: "We didn't sign him to sit on the bench." Robinson has had this philosophy going back to his days in Montreal. For example, in 2004, third baseman Tony Batista was in a horrific slump the first two months of the season and was not benched. However, Batista rewarded Robinson by leading the Expos in home runs (32) and RBIs (110) and playing great defense.

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With Michael Tucker signed to be the fourth outfielder, is it more likely that Marlon Byrd is going to be traded?
-- Dan H., Rockville, Md.

I do not see the Nationals trading Byrd at this time. If Sosa is not on the team, Byrd will be competing with Ryan Church and Brandon Watson for a starting job in center field. If Sosa is on the roster, Byrd will be a fourth or fifth outfielder.

What is the status of reliever T.J. Tucker?
-- Edward G., Alexandria, Va.

Tucker, another one of Robinson's favorites, is recovering from Tommy John surgery and will not return to the Major Leagues until June at the earliest. Once he is healthy, I expect him to be one of the long men out of the bullpen and maybe an emergency starter. Tucker is predicting that he will throw harder than he did before.

I understand that Preston Wilson was a disappointment, but he was still a dangerous hitter. Couldn't the Nationals cough up $4 million to solidify a hard-hitting outfield of Wilson, Guillen and, hopefully, Soriano?
-- Dustin C., North Hero, Vt.

Sure, they could have given Wilson that kind of money, but it may not have been money well spent. Not only was Wilson having problems with the bat, but he wasn't very good with the glove.

I just don't think Wilson would have improved his game in a Nationals uniform because, I believe, he would have resisted making adjustments. For example, Wilson didn't want to switch from center field to a corner outfield position. He may change his mind in Houston.

Besides, Wilson's job was to help the Nationals stay in first place, but they went 29-45 with him on the roster.

Do you think the Nationals will try to sign right-hander Jeff Weaver? If so, do you think they have a shot at getting him?
-- Tom P., Burlington, Ontario

The club expressed interest in Weaver, but agent Scott Boras told Bowden last week that he expects his client to make $10 million per season. That kind of money puts the Nationals out of the running for Weaver's services because of their limited payroll, which is around $60 million.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.