Mailbag: Who will step in at shortstop?

Mailbag: Who will step in at shortstop?

With the Nationals starting their second season on April 3 against the Mets at Shea Stadium, a lot of fans want to know about the team as the players work on their skills during Spring Training.

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

If Cristian Guzman is out for the season, would the Nationals consider making Alfonso Soriano the everyday shortstop?
-- Dustin C., Nova Scotia, Canada

I don't see it happening. They have made a commitment to Royce Clayton to be the starting shortstop if Guzman goes on the disabled list. As long as Soriano is on the team, he is an outfielder.

I know Michael Tucker was brought in to provide experience off the bench, but Kenny Kelly and George Lombard are both having a better camp. Is there a chance of either beating Tucker out?
-- John N., Ottawa, Ontario

So far, Tucker has looked overmatched with the bat and a bit slow with the glove, but I think he will make the team over Kelly and Lombard because of his leadership skills. Manager Frank Robinson has often raved how Tucker has taken young players under his wing.

Robinson also has raved about Kelly all spring. The skipper noticed that Kelly's stroke is much shorter and he knows what to do at the plate.

Lombard is a long shot to make the team. While he is arguably the fastest player on the team, he strikes out too much, which might come back to haunt him this spring.

Why don't the Nationals give Billy Traber a shot to be a starter? He seems to be having a good Spring Training.
-- Asher, K., Mountain Brook, Ala.

He's getting a long look, but I still think he is a long shot to make the club. For now, Washington is committed to a rotation of Livan Hernandez, John Patterson, Pedro Astacio, Ramon Ortiz and Tony Armas Jr. Jon Rauch would be the next in line if one of those pitchers falters.

Now that Luis Ayala will be out for the season, who will become the fill his spot as the setup man?
-- Corey C., Frankton, Ind.

Have a question about the Nationals?
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Mike Stanton is the leading candidate to join Gary Majewski and Felix Rodriguez as setup men. Stanton has experience in that role since he was a member of the Braves.

What are the Nationals' plans with the designated hitter in American League parks?
-- Doug S., Potomac, Md.

It's too early to say, but Robinson is known to use various players at the spot during the season. Matt LeCroy is likely the leading candidate, because of his experience in the AL.

Given the current second base situation, do either Soriano or Jose Vidro come across as decent trade bait?
-- Ross L., Washington, D.C.

General manager Jim Bowden is on the phone looking to make deals. It crossed my mind today that maybe he would trade Soriano to the Red Sox for outfielder Wily Mo Pena, one of Bowden's favorite players when he was GM of the Reds.

It seems like one of the biggest underlying issues to the entire Nationals' problems is a dry Minor League system. What steps do they need to take to retool the Minors?
-- Collin L., Alexandria, Va.

Two things: They have to draft well and be patient with their young players. The latter is something this organization hasn't done in last five years. Once ownership is in place, I think there will be a game plan to improve the farm system.

Do the Nationals view Brendan Harris as their second baseman of the future?
-- John A., Monrovia, Md.

Harris is not the second baseman of the future. The club considers him a utility player who can play several positions in the infield.

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