In the newspaper bidness, we called them "space holders" or "plugs." They were stories/pictures that went into the space of stories that were coming for later editions. You basically wasted your time getting them ready because hardly anyone saw the early editions. But you couldn't just leave the space empty.
This is how I view the Nationals' 2010 rotation.
The results of my latest poll surprised me twice. First, we fell short of my stated goal of 100 votes. We got 97. Three short. My heart aches.
Most important, the overwhelming response shocked me. Of those 97, we had 79 voters say that sorting out the rotation was the top priority of the spring. That makes me one of the crazy ones because I don't think the rotation really matters much now.
Work with me here and I'll try to explain. It involves some assumptions. One of my old editors used to say, "Assumptions are the mother of all (screw) ups," and he's right. We can't help but assume a few things when we're talking about so many spaceholders and missing pieces.
Given for 2010: Marquis, Lannan and Olsen (assuming for health)
Given for 2011: Marquis, Lannan, Strasburg (assuming expected development), Zimmermann (assuming health), Detwiler (assuming health). OK, maybe the last one isn't a given. You can make a small case for some others but he's the one of the masses who impresssed me the most, at least in September.
That still leaves you with Wang and Olsen so there's some wiggle room if someone doesn't develop or heal or a major trade offer comes along.
Can anyone argue those are the Nats' top seven starters? I'm sure some could but I'm going to guess most agree. Wang is probably shakiest of the bunch because there's no way to guess what he'll look like coming back. He's the furthest removed from his successful years.
OK, let's say Zimmermann and Detwiler don't pitch in the majors this year. Likely for Zimmermann, less likely for Detwiler. That leaves the Nats with Lannan, Marquis, Olsen, Plug, Plug until June. Then you add Strasburg and you need one Plug.
Does it really matter who does the plugging?
Martis. Mock. Martin. Stammen. Livo (probably the best choice if it's just for a plug). Chico.
Does it make a difference how those starts are divided? Does one give you that much better a chance than the other? Livo because of his experience probably has a better chance of winning more games. Martis has youth on his side and has shown more flashes than the others but, hell, Ramon Ortiz almost threw a no-hitter. Martis needs that ol' consistency thing. Stammen maybe has a chance but how good will he be at his best? Good enough to crack that top seven? I'm about Mocked out, I think we've seen his best and I don't think it's all that good.
I have no idea what to think about Chico. When he pitched a full season what seems like ages ago, he seemed to fit in with this crew. I didn't see anything that put him in the Lannan/Zimmermann/Detwiler class.
Let's go with the top three of Lannan/Marquis/Olsen and, as far as I'm concerned, you can draw the other two starters out of a hat for two months. Then pick the most successful to fill the final plug spot once Strasburg arrives.
I think the bullpen roles are pretty well defined, too. There's some competition for 1-2 spots but at least some capable pieces seem to be there. I also think the middle infield situation will sort out quickly, though I'm guessing my thought (Desmond) won't be the team's thought.
Makeup of the bench strikes me as the spring key. There appears to be better options this year. Harris and Nieves (until Flores is healthy) are givens. Who gets the other spots? You need someone who can handle first to replace Dunn late (Morse). Maxwell, Duncan, Bernadina - who is the extra non-Harris outfielder (Maxwell should be one). Does Eric Bruntlett have a chance? Does Desmond stick as utility (please no - SS or Syracuse). A bench has to be more than spare parts and the Nats have a lot of ways they can go this spring. That's a good thing. It's up to them to make the right choices.
This week's poll will be simple and I hope I get 10 zillion votes Who starts the opener? Lannan because of his history with the team or Marquis because of what he allegedly represents? Tell your friends. Vote early.