What's effect of Cameron retirement on Nats?

What's effect of Cameron retirement on Nats?
February 20, 2012, 1:48 pm
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VIERA, Fla. -- Good morning again from Space Coast Stadium, where today pitchers and catchers (plus the coaching staff) undergo their annual physicals. Thankfully, they don't make the reporters do this, because the results wouldn't be pretty. Let's just say none of us showed up to camp in the best shape of our lives.

Though position players don't officially report until Thursday, plenty have already arrived in camp, including Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Danny Espinosa, Ian Desmond, Rick Ankiel, Steve Lombardozzi and Roger Bernadina. I suspect we'll see even more new faces today.

The one guy we definitely won't see, of course, is Mike Cameron, who surprisingly announced his retirement yesterday morning before ever donning a Nationals uniform once. The Cameron news elicited quite a response, both from ex-teammates, coaches and reporters who raved about the quality ballplayer and man he is, and also from fans who are trying to figure what this all means for the Nationals.

Really, this shouldn't have a huge impact on things in Nats camp. Yes, Cameron was expected to make the club and share the center field job with either Ankiel or Bernadina. But he wasn't expected to hold that job for very long, not with Bryce Harper on the way and Werth likely to take over center field once that happens.

Harper, as we've been saying all winter, might force his way onto the Opening Day roster but is probably going to have to spend a month or two at Class AAA Syracuse. And if that common wisdom holds true, the Nationals will have to piece together a short-term outfield combination without Harper or Cameron.

How might that look? Well, it's probably safe to say Ankiel will be the Opening Day center fielder (especially if the Cubs start right-hander Matt Garza) and he'll probably see plenty of action there in the early portion of the season.

But there's another name to keep in mind: Mark DeRosa. Signed to a one-year deal over the winter, the 37-year-old utilityman figures to see time at all four corner positions, including right field on occasion. That would allow Werth to slide over to center field every once in awhile and give manager Davey Johnson a right-handed-heavy lineup.

Here's another name to consider: Lombardozzi. If the rookie makes the roster, the Nationals are going to have to find ways to get him as many at-bats as possible off the bench. The majority of those would come at second base and shortstop, but perhaps he could find his way into the outfield as well. I wouldn't be surprised if we see the Nationals experiment with Lombardozzi in the outfield this spring. Certainly something to keep an eye on.

Cameron's retirement does leave another bench spot up for grabs among several contenders. The Nationals could choose to go in a number of directions here, but above all else, you would assume they're going to want to have a right-handed bat take that spot. That could increase the chances of Jason Michaels, Brett Carroll and Jarrett Hoffpauir making the club as non-roster invitees. It could also open the door for Carlos Rivero, a right-handed infielder who hit .275 with 15 homers for the Phillies' Class AA affiliate last season.

In the end, what the Nationals will probably lose most from Cameron's retirement is his veteran clubhouse presence. GM Mike Rizzo spoke glowingly about him all winter and talked about how he would serve as a leader and mentor for young players, particularly Harper. (If you click on the above video, you'll notice I mention the importance of Cameron holding that role with the club -- obviously we taped the segment last week before I left for Viera and before the retirement news came out.)

But overall, the loss of Cameron (while disappointing for those who looked forward to playing alongside him, coaching him or simply covering him) shouldn't have a major effect on things moving forward.