Since first arriving in Washington four years ago, Roger Bernadina has perpetually teased the Washington Nationals organization and their fans with glimpses of talent and natural ability. Yet, in four years he’s never been able to produce those results on a consistent enough basis to warrant any continuity in playing time. But Bernadina’s making a serious case this Spring for just such a thing.
Through Tuesday’s games, Bernadina was batting an impressive .298/.400/.447 in 47 at bats over 17 games. He’s added 2 HR, 8 RBI, and worked 6 walks this Spring (second on the team to Mark DeRosa‘s 10). He’s also impressed in the field and on the bases, according to reports passed along by Mark Zuckerman.
Bernadina seemed assured of winning a spot on the roster considering the 27 year old is out of options, but his Spring performance seems to have earned him one anyways. Early on he was considered a candidate to share center field with Rick Ankiel, but over the past few weeks it would seem certain that Ankiel is the likely winner of that roster battle, despite the fact that he’s received significantly less playing time this Spring than some of the team’s other outfield options. Bernadina seems a near certainty to land one one of the bench spots, likely in a 4th outfielder role with semi-regular playing time. Some of that playing time may come early on this season, should Michael Morse end up missing time. Bernadina may serve as the team’s primary left fielder for a few weeks.
Aside from the immediate ramifications, Bernadina’s strong play this Spring may prove to have another effect on the organization. It’s no secret that Bernadina’s place on the Washington roster has been a state of flux among many Nationals fans, including the staff here at DoD at times. He’s never been given a consistent opportunity for at bats, which assuredly has taken its toll on his continued development. Now, without the option available to send him to the minor leagues without first risking a waiver claim by another organization (and who couldn’t use a speedy outfielder with potential coming off their bench?), the Nationals may finally be able to see what exactly Bernadina is capable of doing with some degree of regularity in his playing time.
Such a development, coupled with the team’s recent decision to have Bryce Harper work at least part time in center field while at Triple-A Syracuse, would limit the team’s need to go out and acquire a stop-gap center fielder, an option suggested multiple times over the past two months. One of those options, Chicago’s Marlon Byrd, has naturally been connected to the Nationals once again in recent days.
Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun Times is reporting that the Cubs have started to shop their center fielder around, partly in an effort to make room on the roster for when top prospect Brett Jackson is ready for everyday at bats in Chicago. He suggests that the Cubs have spoken with both the Nationals and the Braves about dealing Byrd. Chicago reportedly asked Washington for pitching in return, as their most pressing needs appear to be in the bullpen, though it’s unclear who the Cubs may have asked for before being rebuffed by GM Mike Rizzo.
Back in early January, our own Michael Natelli suggested that Byrd could be an ideal option for the Nationals to pursue. He argued that Byrd’s familiarity with Washington (having been part of the organization during the 2005 and 2006 seasons) would be a plus and his defensive versatility could become invaluable. Byrd has his limitations as well, however, which can’t be overlooked. He’s slated to make $6.5 Million this year before reaching free agency after the season. Presumably Chicago knows they’ll need to pickup a significant portion of that balance in order to deal the 34 year old, but the Nationals would still have to take on extra salary that may not be warranted for what appears to be a part time player.
Early on it was easy to get behind the idea of the Nationals seeking and acquiring a temporary solution to their center field woes. But as the past few weeks have progressed and the projected 25-man roster continues to take shape, the need seems less and less necessary as there appears to be enough internal options to adequately cover the outfield. There’s no certainty that Roger Bernadina is the answer for the next couple of months or couple of years, but there’s at least reason to believe he’s earned an opportunity to show what he’s capable of. At the very least, he should at least be able to match what a Marlon Byrd type player could offer at a fraction of the cost.