Mailbag: Is Church in club's '07 plans?

Mailbag: Where will Church play next season?

With the Nationals looking ahead to the 2007 season, a lot of baseball fans want to know about the team and its chances of getting better in the National League East.

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

I've seen so many conflicting reports on this that I thought I would send a question to you for clarification. Did the new Collective Bargaining Agreement eliminate compensatory draft picks?
-- Jeremy S., North Bethesda, Md.

No, it did not. Teams can get compensatory draft picks for Type A and B free agents. Teams can no longer get compensation for Type C free agents.

Now that Alfonso Soriano is with the Cubs, how will this hurt the Nationals?
-- Matt D., Montreal

Let's remember that the Nationals finished in fifth place with Soriano on the roster, and I think his loss isn't nearly as bad as the Expos losing Vladimir Guerrero, who was a difference maker. I think the Nationals have enough hitting to be competitive. The top priority is to improve the pitching, which was one of the worst in the league.

Do you think Soriano would still be in Washington if the Nationals allowed him to play second base last year?
-- Derek P., Lachine, Quebec

It wouldn't have made a difference. It was all about collecting $136 million.

It's a shame that the Nationals received nothing for Soriano. A midseason trade last year sure would have made sense. Or what am I missing?
-- Ronnie M., Waynesboro, Pa.

The story goes like this: Nobody was willing to give the Nationals top prospects for Soriano before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. As I wrote on July 29: "According to two baseball sources, some members of the Nationals' think tank don't like the trade offers for Soriano. As one person put it, 'We would lose our jobs [in the future] if we made some of these deals.'"

As a person who covered the Expos, getting draft picks is much better than receiving nothing like the franchise did after Guerrero became a free agent.

Because the Nationals did not re-sign Soriano, do you think they will go after one big-name pitcher or hitter?
-- Jake G., Washington, D.C.

From a free agent standpoint, the answer is no. Team president Stan Kasten said numerous times that the top priority is to rebuild the farm system. Now, I would not be surprised to see general manager Jim Bowden making trades for quality players.

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Is it safe to say Ryan Church has worn out his welcome with Bowden? Church can't hit breaking balls and refuses to work on his hitting in the Mexican Winter League. Are Church and his agent trying to force the Nats to trade him? -- Keith P., Bethesda, Md.

I think it's too early to say that Church has worn out his welcome, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Nationals are trying to trade him. I asked agent Jeff Borris if Church was seeking a trade, and Borris wouldn't answer the question.

Why do you think Kory Casto is the leading candidate in left field over Church? Casto has never faced Major League pitching and Church gives every indication that he can be a solid-hitting corner outfielder.
-- Jerry S., Los Olivos, Calif.

There is no question that Church has the talent to be a solid player, but injuries, lack of production and energy -- at times -- have derailed his career with the Nationals. Plus, there are some in the organization's think tank who believe that Church needs serious work on hitting breaking balls.

I think it's time to give Casto a chance to be the everyday left fielder after winning the team's Minor League Player of the Year award the last two years. If he doesn't do well during Spring Training, Casto could always go down to Triple-A Columbus.

I read a report the Red Sox are interested in closer Chad Cordero for outfielder Willy Mo Pena. Is this a possibility? I hope not.
-- Jarred,T., Fredericksburg, Va.

Cordero is one of the few untouchables. As much as Bowden loves Pena, he would not trade a very good pitcher for a slugger who strikes out too often. If that trade were to happen, it would be a steal for the Red Sox. The Nationals need all the pitching they can get.

When can we expect to see Ian Desmond at the Major League level? I've heard a lot of talk about him, and I want to know if he can really play.
-- Will S., Reston, Va.

Desmond regressed with the bat and glove in 2006. He started with Double-A Harrisburg, but was sent down to Class A Potomac after a very slow start. I will be surprised if we see him in the big leagues in 2007.

Who would you say is the one guy to keep an eye on in the Minor Leagues for the Nationals?
-- Will S., Reston, Va.

Reliever Zechry Zinicola is one guy I'm interested in because Dana Brown, the director of amateur scouting, convinced Bowden to trade Gary Majewski to the Reds believing that Zinicola would be on the 25-man roster in 2007.

Zinicola went a combined 4-1 with 12 saves and a 1.65 ERA in 27 games with Harrisburg, Potomac and Class A Vermont.

Where does Jose Vidro fit in for 2007?
-- Mike Z., Utica, N.Y.

I don't think we'll get an answer to that question until maybe the Winter Meetings or Spring Training. I will be very surprised if Vidro is the everyday second baseman. If Nick Johnson is not ready for Opening Day, I could see Vidro starting at first base.

Do you think Mike Hinckley will get a chance to be in the big leagues anytime soon?
-- Sean, Washington, D.C.

With the lack of pitching on the big-league level, anything is possible, but Hinckley has a lot to prove. He went from being a top pitching prospect in 2004 to a mediocre pitcher because of injuries and problems on the mound.

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