Mailbag: Going back to Church

Mailbag: Church has plenty of supporters

The Nationals finished the 2007 season in fourth place with a 73-89 record and fans want to know what Washington can do to get better next season. Here are more answers to your questions.

In last week's mailbag, a reader asked if general manager Jim Bowden is enamored with former Reds. Don't you think the real story is that Bowden is enamored with players he was responsible for bringing to the team? Ryan Church was a member of the Expos, so he doesn't get the love because Bowden doesn't get any credit for bringing him to the team. Not saying that Bowden doesn't have an eye for talent, just that he favors players who will make him look good in the eyes of the media and the ownership group.
-- Swanni P., North Beach, Md.

Don't believe that. In fact, when Bowden took over as GM in late 2004, he looked over plenty of video of Expos players and felt Church was a superstar in the making. In fact, Bowden once compared Church to Cardinals center fielder Jim Edmonds. At the start of the 2005 season, then-manager Frank Robinson was planning to start outfielder Terrmel Sledge, but was told by Bowden to start Church instead.

I can tell you that Bowden doesn't dislike Church. I just think expectations are too high. Church is not a 30-homer, 120-RBI guy. He is a good complementary player who will likely be in a few All-Star Games before his career is over.

The only change Church needs is in the attitude of the GM. If he's another Paul O'Neill, we shouldn't let Bowden mess it up again. You're too easy on the GM.
-- Bill N., Washington, D.C.

I can't tell Bowden how to do his job. The only thing I could do is criticize him. In the three years I've covered Bowden, it's very hard to get on him. I think he has done a great job. The only time I have criticized Bowden was when he sold Jamey Carroll to the Rockies. With the exception of Ronnie Belliard, none of the backup infielders the Nationals have acquired since 2006 can match Carroll's fundamentals on the field.

Chad Cordero had a good number of saves this year, but how he earned them were scary. Is there hope for improvement next year, or do we need to start looking for a new closer?
-- Kevin A., Chantilly, Va.

I think if you saw Rocky Biddle close games the way I have, you would think differently about Cordero, who is a fine closer. I do believe, however, the Nationals might look to trade Cordero and make Jon Rauch the closer.

In my opinion, the way Cordero earned his saves wasn't scary. Less impressive was some of Cordero's work with comfortable leads. In my opinion, the Nats' 10-9 win against the Mets on Sept. 25 was his worst outing of the year. Cordero didn't give up an out, giving up two earned runs in the Mets' sixth-run ninth.

Is Joel Hanrahan in the Nationals' plans in 2008?
-- Randy B, Gainesville, Fla.

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It's too early to tell. I think Spring Training will determine where Hanrahan fits in. Remember, Hanrahan had a rough final month of his rookie season after an initial three promising starts upon being called up in August. He must cut down on his walks. It seemed like he was giving up runs with two outs on a regular basis.

What are the biggest goals for the Nats before they have a good chance at the playoffs?
-- Elizabeth W., Woodbridge, Va.

The No. 1 goal for the Nationals is to improve the farm system and bring up their own players to the big leagues. After that, they need better starting pitching, a leadoff hitter and one more power hitter to help Wily Mo Pena and Ryan Zimmerman.
Do you think the Nationals will try to sign Andruw Jones?
-- Conner G., Birmingham, Ala.

I think they will talk to him, but I think Jones will command a lot of money even though he had a poor season. Remember, Jones' agent is Scott Boras, and there is no such thing as a discount when it comes to a Boras client. We have to keep in mind that team president Stan Kasten said the Nationals are not going to pay outrageous prices for free agents.

I read the article about Bonneville International Corporation retaining the Nats' broadcast rights. Is there really some chance that Charlie Slowes and Dave Jageler won't be back? Say it ain't so, Bill. Slowes and Jageler are the very best in all of baseball, and to lose them would be tragic. The Nats should pay Charlie and Dave whatever they need to stay.
-- Woody S., Orlando, Fla.

I believe that Slowes and Jageler will be back with the Nationals for 2008 and beyond. I can tell you that the Nationals are trying hard to get them signed.

With all the players outrighted to Columbus and opting for free agency, I was most surprised about Tony Batista. He was a better pinch-hitter than Robert Fick. Although Batista doesn't play as many positions as Fick, I don't think that Nats need the versatility next year.
-- Larry W., Washington, DC.

I think it's good to have players who can play a lot of positions, so that's why Fick has been on the team the last two years. Batista becoming a free agent did surprise me. However, I understood why it was done. The Nationals needed to get some of their young players such as pitcher Garrett Mock and first baseman Josh Whitesell on the 40-man roster to protect them from this winter's Rule 5 Draft.

Could you envision A-Rod at shortstop for the Nationals?
-- Buddy W., Ocean City, Md.

I don't see the Nationals spending close to $30 million a year on a player like Rodriguez. The team is spending a lot of money on the farm system in hopes of developing its own stars.

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