Mailbag: What is Kearns' future?

Mailbag: What is Kearns' future?

The Nationals finished the 2008 season in fifth place with a 59-102 record and fans want to know what Washington can do to get better next season. Here are more answers to their questions.

What do you think Austin Kearns's future is with the Nats?
-- Ryan S., Millersville, Md.

It's one of the burning questions of the offseason. I think Kearns is going to stay with the Nationals, because I don't see another team taking on his $8 million contract. He also is coming off a tough year.

Whether Kearns plays every day will depend on who the Nationals acquire during the offseason. As of right now, I see Kearns as an insurance policy in case Elijah Dukes messes up on or off the field.

Does Willie Harris have a shot as an everyday player?
-- Tim T., Reston, Va.

Harris deserves a shot to play every day, but I don't see it happening as a member of the Nationals. The organization sees him in a role as a 10th man, like they did this past season.

About a year ago, I asked if you thought a Chad Cordero trade for Jason Bay was a possibility. You said, "That would be a steal for the Pirates. I want to know why Bay slumped so badly for the Bucs last year." Do you think a player like Bay would have salvaged the poor offense and provided the extra power the Nationals needed throughout the season?
-- Brandon P., Bethesda, Md.

I remember your question and my answer. At the time, I meant what I said. Remember, Bay hit .247 in 2007. This year, Bay had a great season and has given the Red Sox a tremendous boost. But I don't think he would have made a difference for the Nationals. Besides the poor offense that you mentioned, there were a lot of injuries, the team played poorly on defense and pitching was shaky, at best. Here's another thing the fans don't talk about: The base running was awful, especially during the second half.

I have followed Levale Speigner since he was in high school. What are his prospects for next season?
-- Terri S., Lisbon, Ohio

Not good, as far as the Major League team goes. It remains to be seen if Speigner will stay on the 40-man roster between now and Spring Training. He was hit hard during the month of September. Speigner must throw more strikes and keep the ball down.

After the last four seasons, how can we view pitching as the one area not in need of a new coach? The Nationals rank near the bottom of every category in pitching as well as hitting, but we're not replacing the pitching coach during this major housecleaning?
-- Bill W., Alexandria, Va.

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I can tell you firsthand that Randy St. Claire works extremely hard with those pitchers. It's more than just throwing on the mound -- I've seen him work with the pitchers on their bunting and hitting.

The Nationals like how St. Claire works with the young pitchers. John Lannan, Garrett Mock, Joel Hanrahan and Michael Hinckley pitched well under St. Claire. Even Ross Detwiler, who is not in the Major Leagues, will make an occasional trip to Washington just to work with St. Claire.

What is Ryan Wagner's status with the team?
-- Ross B., Highland, Va.

His shoulder is healthy and he will be ready for Spring Training. But he must show Washington that he can be consistent on the mound. Opposing hitters batted .329 against Wagner while he was with Triple-A Columbus.

Why do you keep saying that Lastings Milledge is a building block given his numbers in the Major Leagues? Compare his numbers to the center fielders on contending teams - Elijah Dukes and Justin Maxwell have shown much more potential.
-- Kimon G., Bethesda, Md.

Let's not forget that Milledge missed a month of the season because of a right groin problem, and that he was all over the place in the lineup. I think, when it's all said and done, Milledge will become a good hitter. I was encouraged that he hit .299 after the All-Star break.

As far as Dukes and Maxwell go, there is no question they have a lot of potential. But the jury is still out on Dukes, on and off the field. Maxwell is like Nick Johnson -- he has been hurt every year during his professional career. Let's hope that 2009 marks the first time Maxwell stays healthy for a full season.

How safe is Manny Acta's job, and how long does his current contract run?
-- Frank H., Northampton, UK

Acta has a contract for the 2009 season and a team option for the following season. Is he safe after 2009? I don't know. I think it will depend on how well the team is playing next year. I believe the Nationals have to improve dramatically for him to manage the team past 2009.

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