Nationals manager Davey Johnson is known to covet a veteran presence for the bench and within the clubhouse. Considering the average age of the Nationals’ current roster – Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche are the only two players on the organization’s 40-man roster who were born prior to 1980 – it’s a preference that seems easy to get behind. Werth seems to need more time to adjust to the role of being that veteran presence, alongside the de facto team captain Ryan Zimmerman, and LaRoche seems destined to leave Washington after the season (if not before) so there is no reason to believe he’ll provide much in the way of clubhouse leadership. The need for that veteran voice is going to have to come from elsewhere it would seem.
Rumors over the past week or so have linked the organization to two names in particular who could potentially help fill such a void. However, the two players have had drastically different careers to date which presents an interesting dynamic to how they could fit into the current roster. At first glance I’m not certain either is the right answer to fill the void, but let’s look at each player a little more closely before we come to any true conclusions.
Since the start of the 2007 season, Greg Dobbs has seen a fairly steady amount of playing time in the NL East. He spent four seasons as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies before joining the Florida Marlins for the 2011 campaign. Over his four seasons in Philadelphia, Dobbs was a regular fixture coming off of the Phillies’ bench, including during the team’s World Series run in 2008. He’d make 934 plate appearances over that span, batting .261/.310/.427 with 29 HR and 130 RBI. But, over the final two seasons with the Phillies he was being utilized less and less, and as the team tried to remain atop the division, it seemed more and more as though Dobbs no longer was a fit.
The Phillies let him go after the 2010 season, at which point Dobbs signed a minor league contract with the Marlins in early January. Last season he appeared in 134 games, making a career high 439 plate appearances. He batted .275/.311/.389 with 8 HR and 49 RBI. Most of his appearances came at third base, particularly once the longtime bench player was receiving the bulk of the starts at the position. Dobbs also has experience at first base and in the corner outfield positions.
Dobbs, who is 33, is coming off of the best season of his career made just $600,000 in 2011. Considering the year he just had, he could be looking at a deal in the neighborhood of $1 Million for 2012. It’s unclear what other teams have expressed an interest at this point in time. If the team were to sign him for a one year deal, in that general price range, then I think I could be agreeable to such a deal. Dobbs provides a bat off the bench who has experience in such a situation and who’d be comfortable in such a role. Defensively he could serve as an emergency backup for Zimmerman at third base and as extra insurance at first. He may not be the ideal candidate to fill out a bench role, but he wouldn’t be the worst option available either.
On the other hand, the other name that has been linked to the Nationals of late is Mike Cameron. Cameron doesn’t quite need much of an introduction, as he’s been in the spotlight more throughout his 15 year career. But he’s been known for his defense in center field, having won three Gold Gloves in his career, and for being a consistent power threat (averaging 20+ home runs for most of his career). However, since the 2010 season began Cameron has been largely out of the lineup, either due to injury or a poor attitude.
Cameron signed a two year, $16 Million contract to join the Boston Red Sox prior to the 2010 season to help provide depth to their outfield with a veteran presence. Cameron appeared in only 81 games over the next season and a half, batting just .219/.285/.352 with 7 HR and 24 RBI in 285 plate appearances. He missed significant time during that span to injury.
In addition to struggling at the plate at the start of the 2011 season, it was also becoming evident that Cameron wasn’t happy with his role in Boston. Even at 38 years of age he believed that he was capable of being a starter, and that he should be a starter. His frustrations became public and the Boston market (which is relentless, knowing from first hand experience) simply chewed him up, leaving the organization with little choice but to part ways with him. It was expected that Cameron would simply be released, but the Red Sox were able to find an interested taker, agreeing to deal Cameron to the Marlins in early July for a PTBNL.
He’d appear in 45 games for the Marlins after the trade, batting .238/.331/.420 with 6 HR and 18 RBI in 164 plate appearances. His season would be cut short, however, in early September. Cameron reportedly was involved in some sort of altercation on a team flight, causing the organization to simply release the veteran before the season concluded. Cameron’s bad attitude and poor decisions essentially ran him out of two organizations during the 2011 season. He is not the type of player the Nationals should be bringing in under any circumstances.
It’s no secret that the Nationals will make some additional moves in the coming weeks, addressing various needs on the roster before Spring Training begins. Dobbs could be a tolerable acquisition, presuming the team doesn’t somehow overspend to bring him in. Cameron, however, will hopefully not factor into the team’s decisions regarding which 25 players to bring to Washington at the start of April.
Update, 9:45 AM: Considering this post was actually written yesterday morning and scheduled to post today, word had not yet been made public that the Nationals and Cameron have indeed agreed to terms on a contract. It is believed to be a minor league deal with an invitation to Spring Training. A number of the Nationals beat writers – namely Adam Kilgore and Mark Zuckerman – seem a little more optimistic about the deal than I am. They view it as a no risk proposition, in which Cameron might surprise some people and prove to be a viable stopgap to help fill the center field void until the team is ready to bring Bryce Harper up midseason (at which point Werth would slide over the center). Having watching Cameron pout publicly during his time in Boston last year, I’m not quite sold on this one just yet. But, it’s a minor league deal and Kilgore/Zuckerman are right, there is little risk here.