Mailbag: How's the rotation shaping up?

Mailbag: How is the Nats' rotation shaping up?

With Spring Training starting next month, a lot of baseball fans want to know about the Nationals and their chances of getting better in the National League East.

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

What do you think about the Nationals not offering Frank Robinson any kind of paying job with the team?
-- David B., Vienna, Va.

The Lerner group paid more than $400 million to buy the Nationals and it's the organization's right on who it wants to keep. I don't have a problem with its decision regarding Robinson. The best-case scenario, however, would have been team president Stan Kasten and general manager Jim Bowden telling Robinson in late September that he would not have a full-time job in the front office. But Kasten, who took responsibility for the decision, said, "It took so long because we were thinking about it that long. We were considering the best decision. During the offseason, things are happening. ... As soon as we decided this, the first thing we did was call Frank."

With the signings of Jerome Williams and Brandon Claussen, I was wondering how you think the rotation now looks?
-- Mike H., Washington, D.C.

It's still questionable. Neither Williams nor Claussen were productive last season, and Claussen needed shoulder surgery in 2006. Plus, there is no guarantee that they will be in the rotation. They will be battling 11 other pitchers for the final four spots in the rotation.

What is the Nationals' backup plan if shortstop Cristian Guzman is indeed washed up?
-- Collin L., Alexandria, Va.

I would have to believe that Felipe Lopez would go back to shortstop. Who would play second base? That would be hard to say at this time. Bernie Castro is not the answer at second base, because he cannot turn the double play and is not a good hitter.

What is the status of Luis Ayala? Could he potentially close if Chad Cordero is dealt?
-- Derek C., Ottawa, Canada

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Ayala is expected to be ready for Spring Training. I really don't see him closing games if Cordero is traded. Remember, Ayala is coming off elbow reconstruction, and the Nationals are going to take it slow with him. If Cordero is traded, I believe that the closer's role will go to either Jon Rauch or Ryan Wagner.

Since Tim Raines will be on the Hall of Fame ballot next year, do you think he will get into the Hall of Fame quicker than Andre Dawson?
-- James U., Glendale, Calif.

I don't think Raines, who is now a Minor League coach for the Nationals, will ever be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. While he put up great numbers with the Expos, I thought he was just an OK player from 1991-2002. I think sooner or later Dawson will get into the Hall of Fame.

Going into Spring Training, who do you think is going to be the biggest surprise?
-- Ross B., Highland, Ill.

I think Wagner is going to be the biggest surprise. After getting his mechanics straightened out, Wagner had a 3.54 ERA in his last 24 games. I expect him to be even better in 2007.

I hear all this talk of pitchers being traded and looked at, but what about the Nationals' offense. It was terrible last year.
-- Jeff C., Chevy Chase, Md.

Jeff, I have to respectfully disagree with you. The offense was not the reason for the fifth-place finish last season. The pitching was the culprit. In fact, the offense improved dramatically compared to the 2005 season. Even though Alfonso Soriano is not on the roster, I still believe the offense will be pretty good, and hitting coach Mitchell Page will work his magic with the hitters.

I noted that your banner headline on involved Dawson. Like most Washington fans, I never followed the Expos and thought at first that he was some new acquisition for the Nats. How long will we be burdened with Expos history, which is irrelevant to today's Nats and their fans?
-- Woody S., Orlando, Fla.

I understand your feelings, but you have to get used to seeing former Expos on this site. Remember, this team came from Montreal. Thus far, Nationals records have been linked to Expos records. For example, Soriano broke the team's single-season home run record, which was held by Vladimir Guerrero, who was a member of the Expos.

With Jose Vidro traded and Robinson gone, do you feel the Nationals have any strong remaining ties to their Expos roots?
-- Chris B., Jericho, Vt.

I will always believe that Brian Schneider has strong roots in Montreal. He was a popular player and the go-to guy when it came to union matters.

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