Auctions and Auditions

It is that time of year, when contending teams stock up for a final run to the flag and non-contenders send unsubtle signals to their players about their plans for the future. In Kansas City (for instance), the Royals designated Jose Guillen for assignment and signaled that they would be open to dealing him to a contending N.L. team, perhaps the San Francisco Giants. The message couldn’t be plainer: after their three year $36 million splurge on Guillen, the Royals are calling it quits on the outfielder, who’s on the brink of free agency. And if the Royals can’t find a taker? Well, Guillen is free to find work elsewhere. Guillen isn’t the only one on the hot seat. In Florida, Cody Ross is getting unmistakable signs that he’s not in the team’s future plans, while in Chicago, baseball yakkers say that Kosuke Fukudome is so unwanted that the Cubs will not only ship him out to a team that wants him, but will pay a large part of his remaining salary if only he will go elsewhere.

The Washington Nationals are sending signals of their own. On Thursday, the Nats placed Nyjer Morgan on the 15-day disabled list. The Nats’ center fielder wasn’t pleased: “”It [freaking] sucks,” Morgan said. “I feel fine. But, whatever.” Nats’ skipper Jim Riggleman ignored the comment, putting his best this-is-really-terrible face on the move. “I hope it’s just two weeks,” he said. It seems likely that Morgan, despite his protest, gets it; he might “feel fine,” but the Nats don’t. By putting Roger Bernadina (.277, 8 HRs) in center and Michael Morse (.330, 7 HRs), in right, the Nats are auditioning their 2011 outfield: which would be younger and more potent– a good outfield, sans Morgan. The same kind of a signal was sent by Riggleman to Jason Marquis, who was recently reactivated and is set to pitch in Los Angeles on Sunday. After a season of elbow woes (and surgery to remove bone chips), Mike Rizzo & Company would love to include Marquis in their future plans. But whether Marquis is around for 2011 is an open question. He wants to contribute,” Riggleman said. “If he’s the real Jason Marquis, the guy who is sinking the ball and getting ground balls and attacking hitters, he can really help us and be a part of our future.” And if not?

After splitting their four game series with the woeful D-Backs in Phoenix, the Nats are 14.5 games back in the N.L. East. While there’s no chance that they’ll contend for a playoff spot, the rest of the season is hardly a wash: the team will spend the rest of the current campaign auctioning and auditioning — the Morgan-to-the-D.L. move is just the beginning. And based on what the Nats are doing now, you have to believe the future is bright. While the team cannot overtake the Chops or Ponies, the underfunded and disappointing Fish and the New York Palookas are within striking distance. If the Marlins (losers of four straight) have a plan (except for stockpiling young arms), we can’t find it, while the listless New York Tailspins are beset by “anxiety” and regularly “mailing it in.” For the first time in three years, the Nationals have nowhere near the same set of problems. The team has moved younger and better hitters (Bernadina and Morse) into key spots and are days away from a series of “you’re going to Hollywood” bookings that will start with Marquis and continue with appearances by Jordan Zimmermann (below), Yunesky Maya, Wilson Ramos and (even) Danny Espinosa. Which is not even to mention the continuing American Idol-like tour of “the kid” — who is now slated to start against the Marlins on Tuesday. The news is good for Nats fans: a team that was so filled with hope in April will be filled with even more hope come September.