Will Nats out of options complicate roster decisions?

Over at MLBTradeRumors.com (and, really, how did we ever survive without our daily dose of aggregated baseball headlines before this site?), they’ve constructed team-by-team lists of players who are out of options. These players must make the 25-man roster or be passed through waivers in an attempt to assign them to a minor league club.

Some will make it, as teams are disinterested in them, figuring what they have is better than what they could have if they claimed a specific player. Others will change teams, as clubs lower in the standings will take a flyer on a guy to replace an injured player or hold a space for a not-yet-ready prospect. If you want a good explanation of how options and waiver works, click here. For instance, one of the most misunderstood facets of the minor league options is that one option allows for unlimited movement from the major leagues to the minors in a season. Then again, I’m a geek when it comes to baseball’s arcane rules and regulations.

The five Nationals who no longer have a minor league option remaining (meaning they must make the club out of spring training or be exposed to waivers) are outfielder Roger Bernadina, right-handers Tyler Clippard and Henry Rodriguez, and left-handers Ross Detwiler and Tom Gorzelanny.

Out of this group, Clippard is a lock to make the club, and Rodriguez and Detwiler are pretty much sure things. Rodriguez has battled with his control throughout his career, making him the typical hard-thrower who doesn’t always know where the ball is going. His performance in 59 games last season - a 3-3 record, 3.56 ERA, two saves and 70 strikeouts in 65 2/3 innings - make him a good candidate for setup duties in 2012. But he’s got to cut down on the walks - 45 of them - and his 14 wild pitches, which led the National League (and were the most of any reliever in baseball). If ever there was a spring that Rodriguez needed to have a series of clean outings, this is it. The allure of triple-digit fastballs only carries you so far, though it would likely lead another team to take a shot on him if the Nats tried to sneak him through waivers.

Detwiler looked like a candidate for the rotation until the club signed free agent Edwin Jackson two weeks ago. Now he’s part of a crowd of lefty long men in the bullpen that includes Gorzelanny and John Lannan. Because he’s only 25, the former first-round pick in 2006 remains in the Nationals’ long-range plans. Strong efforts in his last three 2011 starts - a 2-1 record and 1.80 ERA - left a lingering positive impression, and if one of the starting pitchers stumbles, Detwiler will probably get the first crack as a replacement. Lannan has an option remaining, but it would be painful for the Nats to farm out a guy making $5 million (their second-highest-paid hurler behind Jackson). Gorzelanny makes only $2.1 million, and he could be attractive to a club with a high payroll, financial flexibility and a need for a southpaw swingman.

The biggest question mark is Bernadina, an enigmatic player whose roots in the organization go back to the Montreal days - signed as a non-drafted free agent in 2001, he’s the longest-tenured member of the organization. He’s been given chance after chance to win a full-time job, and has only a .242 career average, 18 homers and 37 stolen bases to show for parts of four seasons in the majors. Trouble is, Bernadina - and the Nats, for that matter - can’t seem to decide what kind of player he is - a defensive specialist, a fourth outfielder, a potential power hitter or purely a speed guy. The outfield picture is crowded with guys like top prospect Bryce Harper and non-roster invitees RIck Ankiel and Mike Cameron angling for playing time, Bernadina is on shaky ground.

At 27, Bernadina won’t have many more opportunities to state his case before he’s lumped into the organizational depth category - and that’s assuming he passes through waivers if the Nationals don’t go north with him as part of the roster. The good news for Bernadina is that he’s done just enough - highlight-reel catches, swiping a base at the right time, a little pop - to probably intrigue another system if his name hit the waiver wire. But if he wants to remain in D.C., he’s got to figure out a way not to fumble whatever chance he’s presented in Viera, Fla., when position players report Feb. 24.

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