June 3, 2020

Cameron retires, muddying Nationals center field picture

Mike Cameron, 17-year Major League veteran, announced his retirement today before ever stepping on a field as a member of the Washington Nationals. The 39-year old signed a one-year, minor league contract with the Nats earlier this off-season, but decided to hang up his spikes before Spring Training even started. Cameron was a solid big leaguer for a long time with a great blend of power, speed and natural defensive instincts in center field.

The announcement comes as surprise to the Nats, who expected Cameron to at least compete in spring training to be the right-handed hitting bench bat and defensive replacement, and potentially even platooning with Rick Ankiel in center field. Now, the picture is less than clear.

First, if Bryce Harper makes the team, this is all moot. And maybe this is a pre-cursor to that. It’s entirely possible the Nats went to Cameron and said, “Look, the kid’s gonna make the club,” leaving the possibility that Cameron wouldn’t make the team or be asked to start the season in Syracuse, prompting Cameron to call it quits. According to MLB.com’s Bill Ladson, Cameron already spoke of 2012 being his last season regardless the circumstances.

But that’s conjecture.

More realistically, Cameron was trying to gear up for spring and realized either his body or heart weren’t in it. And there’s no shame in that.

But if Harper doesn’t make the team (and I believe he’ll start the season in the minors), things get real interesting, and not in such a good way.

In that situation, Michael Morse and Jayson Werth are givens at the corners. Well, presumptive givens, as long as Adam LaRoche is healthy enough to start opening day at first base. Anyway, the recently re-signed Rick Ankiel now figures to slot in center fielder (along with his .296 OBP in 415 plate appearances in 2011). That leaves two outfield bench spots open.

You have to figure left-handed hitting Roger Bernadina will occupy one of those bench spots, if he isn’t part of a trade package at some point. “The Shark” is out of options, and the Nats aren’t just going to expose him to waivers and let him go for nothing. He’s got value as a fourth outfielder/pinch-runner/defensive corner outfielder.

Mark DeRosa has played some outfield in his 10 big league seasons, but he didn’t play there at all last season and has 49 games in the outfield combined in the last three years. He has never played center field in his 14 MLB seasons.

Given that, the right-handed back-up outfielder and potential platoon-mate for Ankiel in center (.282 OBP v. LHP in ’11), is now a mystery.

There are options, but none currently reside on the 40-man roster. The only option there is 21-year old Eury Perez, who has yet to play above High-A. That leaves us with non-roster invitees Jason Michaels and Brett Carroll as real candidates to break camp with the Nats.

Michaels, 36 in May, is an 11-year MLB vet with a career .263/.335/.407 split. Last season for Houston, he made 169 plate appearances and hit .199/.256/.295. Carroll, 29, spent most of ’11 in Triple-A, hitting .270/.345/.447 between Pawtucket and Nashville. He is a .203/.281/.322 Major League hitter in 322 plate appearances.

Both are capable of playing center field, but both profile more as corner outfielders, so there’s no real defensive advantage between them.

Unless the Nats make a move to address the center field situation before opening day, your right-handed bench outfielder and center field platoon could come from an open competition between these two players.

Of course, the other option – regardless if Harper makes the team — is to have Werth open up in center field either way and trot out DeRosa, Bernadina and Ankiel in right field.

Kinda makes you wish Cameron stuck around for one more year.

About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press and is a copy editor for the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, WA. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP

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