Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Archive for March, 2011

25-man roster finalization; Don’t like it but understand it.


Did we really need a .232 pinch hitter who can't play the field? Photo Carlson/AP via

As the Nats are breaking camp, they’ve announced a flurry of roster moves that are setting up the team for its opening day.  And, in a series of moves reminiscent to 2009’s opening day roster, we’re breaking camp not necessarily with the best guys on our 25-man roster, but with the best team option status (or lack of them) can assemble.

As the title of this post suggests, I understand the logic of these decisions but don’t necessarily like what it means for the team.  I think we’re weaker than we could be, and we’re keeping around veterans with no long term place for this team instead of playing guys who deserve to be on the MLB squad.  I think it sends a bad message to guys who deserve to be playing but who will be heading to Syracuse.

Both Collin Balester and Roger Bernadina seem to have missed out on roster spots so that the team would not lose players who may have trade value in Chad Gaudin and Laynce Nix respectively.

For some reason, we’re keeping Matt Stairs instead of a player who can actually help off the bench.  As pointed out by Ben Goessling, this also means that our bench is incredibly lefty-heavy and we’ll struggle with matchups later in games. Isn’t Rizzo obsessed with defense?  How does Stair’s lack of *any* discernable defensive capability fit in with his overall vision for this team?  Another Natsmosphere twitter-er asked this good question; if Adam LaRoche‘s shoulder puts him on the DL; who exactly is the backup first baseman out of this group of bench players?

So, for our final 25-man roster we’re using 4 non-roster invitees.  Gaudin makes the team and probably deserved it.  Nix makes the team and seems to be trade bait.  Stairs makes the team for some reason or another.  And Alex Cora probably (deservedly) makes the team as Alberto Gonzalez‘s replacement (who we’ve traded to San Diego for a pretty good prospect considering we would have DFA’d him in 3 days…).

I guess if we obtain prospects for Gaudin or Nix in a trade later on this season, then it would be worth the options burn on Balester and Bernadina.  I hope so; along with Detwiler and Mock, 2011 represents their final option year.

Written by Todd Boss

March 29th, 2011 at 9:28 am

Thoughts on the Morgan trade

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Nats fans have seen their last Nyjer Morgan tantrum

Just two days after it became rather clear that Morgan was not going to win the starting Center Field job, Rizzo dealt the player to Milwaukee for low-level infield prospect Cutter Dykstra and some cash.  Nice move by Rizzo, taking a guy we were probably going to release in a few days and getting something (anything) in return.  Dykstra is a younger player but he’s a 2nd round pick who has put up decent numbers in the lower minor leagues thus far.  Keith Law says he’s no more than an Organizational player, but something is better than nothing.

Morgan should be happy with the deal; he may not start in Milwaukee but at least he’s now on a contender instead of being a 30-yr old in AAA.

One could argue the Nats were a bit hasty on the decision; Morgan had turned around his spring, rebounding from a slow start to post a .241/.328/.315 line for the spring.  Perhaps giving him a month into the regular season to see if he could return to 2009 form would have been the right thing to do.  Unfortunately, a log-jam of outfielders in camp that were outperforming Morgan were pressing the team’s hand.

Morgan’s trade means we have no real lead-off hitter.  We probably go with Desmond but he only had a .308 obp last year.  We will replace Morgan in the outfield with a platoon between Rick Ankiel and Jerry Hairston, Jr, neither of which really is a long term solution.  We also seem set to keep Laynce Nix after his great spring, meaning that Bernadina loses the options game and will go to AAA.  My guess is that we’re keeping Nix solely to trade him and get something in value, and Bernadina should be right back up.

My guess on what happens next is something like the following: Ankiel struggles at the plate, we trade Nix and Bernadina returns to the majors as the 4th outfielder.  Then, Corey Brown recovers from his ankle issues, gets healthy in AAA, hits well and gets called up to be the new leadoff/center fielder around mid June.

One nice side-effect of the deal is the freeing up of a roster spot.  Since it is looking more and more likely that we’re keeping 2 and perhaps 3 non-roster invitees we need to make some 40man moves.  Gaudin and Nix, perhaps Stairs seem to have made this team.  We’re at 39/40 now with the Morgan move.  I can see Wang going to the 60-day DL to free up one spot but an extra spot for Stairs is tough.  Perhaps we 60-day DL Elvin Ramirez.  We could just return him flat out (though I’m not sure you are allowed to return an injured rule5 guy).  We could also look to DFA someone; Severino may be expendable with the acquisition of lefty specialist Lee Hyde.

Off Topic: Comments on VCU into the final four


A quick comment on the VCU run through to the final four.

It seems to me that the rise of the mid-major schools and the lack of respect given by coaches and national media is coming to a head.  Perhaps George Mason’s run in 2006 was considered truly “cinderella” but Butler’s national championship appearance last year from a one-bid conference (not to mention their fantastic performance against Duke in the final) coupled with their return this year should be enough to give the national media pause.  When are these great teams from mid-major conferences going to get their due?

Lets talk about VCU.  4th place in the CAA, usually a one-bid conference.  This year though they earned 3 bids and probably would have fared better had ODU not been matched up with Butler to start the tourney.  VCU did not receive ONE vote in the final AP poll.  They were #49 in the final RPI rankings.  Yet here’s what they have done in the tourney:

  • Beat USC by 13
  • Beat Georgetown by 18 (ranked in the 22-25 range towards the end of the season)
  • Beat Purdue by 18 (ranked 10-12 range towards the end of the year)
  • Eke by Florida State in OT 72-71 (3rd place in ACC, probably better than a #10 seed)
  • Beat Kansas soundly by 10.

I’m sorry, but when you beat two teams as soundly as they beat Georgetown and Purdue, on neutral courts and on the biggest stage possible, it tells me you are a team that belongs in the discussion of the best basketball teams out there.  Georgetown apologists (and there are many in this town) will tell you Wright was just coming back from injury.  I don’t buy it; that was a senior-heavy lineup that flat out got beat.  Wright played, by the way, and VCU controlled the game from the start.

I watched the Kansas game all the way through and it was no fluke.  They lead 41-27 at the half, weathered a massive run by Kansas to start the 2nd half, made key shots to get their lead back, and never allowed Kansas to really be “in the game” for the entirety of the last 4 minutes.  This may be a “massive upset” per the same national media members who couldn’t comprehend VCU being this good, but to me it was another dominating performance by a team that clearly merited mention prior to this run.

So the question is; why did no one know about VCU if they were capable of beating top-ranked teams so soundly?

It makes you wonder; if VCU was so soundly beating teams from these major conferences, imagine where we’d be if GMU didn’t have to play Ohio State so early, or if ODU-Butler was a first-round game instead of a regional final?  ODU and GMU were clearly better teams than VCU all year but suffered from being slightly “too good” and earning 8 and 9 seeds instead of the coveted 11 seed (which has an amazingly easy path to the elite 8 if their cards fall correctly).

In my opinion, college basketball is undergoing a fundamental change.  Sure you’re going to have your blue blood teams (Duke, UNC, Kansas, Kentucky) that are always good and always have players.  But sooner or later people need to realize that the best team in a mid-major is clearly better than the 4th place team in the SEC.  Because we’re seeing it proven, again and again, on the floor.  Perhaps we can get to a point where there are more Gonzagas and Butlers in the rankings instead of Georgetowns and Louisvilles.

Written by Todd Boss

March 27th, 2011 at 5:18 pm

Posted in Non-Baseball

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Spring Training Games Week 4: Nats Pitcher good/bad/inconclusive

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Week 4 is “moving week.”  Management will soon need to make all the decisions on who makes this team, and the candidates need to make statements in their appearances this week.  Bullpen members, Center Field, backup outfielders and backup infielders seem to be the four competitions yet to really be decided upon.

As with the previous 3 weeks, here’s links to Kilgore’s running game-day blogs (when he does them), Bill Ladson’s game wrap-ups and the official box score on

The Good

  • Tom Gorzelanny: Pitched effectively on 3/20, 5 IP, 2 ER, 4 H, 2 BB, 3 K, 84 pitches, 47 strikes.  The 2 runs were on a wind-aided homer that wasn’t that bad of a pitch.  Gorzelanny needed 84 pitches to complete 5 innings but he threw a LOT of balls.  He was getting squeezed (on one of the BBs he clearly had him for strike 3) by the umpire and he was more effective than his line shows.  One area of concern though is velocity; the MASN broadcast only had him in the upper 80s on his fastballs.  He followed this up with a similarly good 3/25 performance vs the Cards: 6ip with only 77 pitches, 4 hits and a walk, getting 5Ks.  Perhaps my earlier concerns about him will be proven unfounded.
  • Brian Broderick: seems to have effectively won his spot in the bullpen by continuing his nearly scoreless spring training.  He could be a major find for this team.  The more interesting question becomes this, “who makes way?”  Because we’re also hearing that Chad Gaudin is making this team too, meaning that TWO guys who were favorites to make this team at the beginning of spring training are heading to Syracuse.
  • John Lannan: a great start on 3/22 (albeit against the weak Astros) puts him in line to be our #2 starter when camp breaks.  Final line: 6IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 K’s, 66 pitches, 42 for strikes.  66 pitches for 6 complete innings is fantastic, even against the awful Astros.  Lets hope we’re getting the post-minor league banishment version of Lannan (6-3 record with a 3.42 era and 1.24 whip in his 10 games after returning) versus his first 14 games of 2010 (2-5, 5.76 era and 1.85 whip).
  • Colin Balester continues to prove he belongs by throwing great middle relief.  He may lose out in the options dance come April 1st, but he should force his way back to Washington.  Kilgore described his curves as “untouchable” on 3/22 and says he’s easily one of the 7 best relievers in camp.
  • Jordan Zimmermann: his 3/24 start was pretty good; 5 scoreless innings, giving up 5 hits and a walk, striking out 6.  He only needed 90 pitches through 5 and his fastball was sitting 94, reaching 96 (despite what the stadium radar gun was showing on TV…).  He looks like he’s slotting into the #3 starter role.

The Bad

  • Stammen: optioned on 3/25 as expected.  I say this is “bad” because I feel Stammen is better than he’s shown.  His fip and xfip last year were 2nd best on the team to Strasburg (whose advanced numbers, by the way, were the best in the league by a fair margin for starters).  I think he can still be an effective back-of-the-rotation starter in the majors.  Now it seems he’s being converted to middle-relief and will enter a very jumbled mix of players in the AAA bullpen competition.  He may very well be out of a job before we know it.

The Concerning

  • Most of the Bullpen: As Zuckerman notes here on NatsInsider, our supposed strength is turning into a scary liability.  Clippard, Coffey, and Storen all pitched 3/20, all three looked less than stellar and all three now have spring ERAs that would not merit their 25-man roster spots.  Storen picked in up on 3/22 with a nice 1-2-3 9th and followed it up with a really nice 1-2-3 9th on 3/25.  Clippard rebounded on 3/24 but Coffey did not.  Perhaps Coffey will be our 2011 version of Brian Bruney, a veteran reliever on a reasonable contract who gets cut very quickly into the season.  We’ll see.
  • Livan Hernandez: 5 ip, 6 h, 2 er, 3 bb, 1 k, 83 pitches, 50 strikes outing on 3/21 against the STL varsity.  Zuckerman described it as a solid outing and that Livan faded a bit late.  He only threw 5 innings and he was fading!?  I know that this is what we get out of Livan generally; lots of baserunners and him pitching out of jams based on guile and experience.  But I’d like to see a bit more competence from our opening day starter.  He threw again on 3/26 and was efficient in 4 innings but left due to a neck issue (from sleeping on it wrong).

Written by Todd Boss

March 27th, 2011 at 2:35 pm

Posted in Majors Pitching

Werth Batting 2nd? It doesn’t solve our main L-R problem

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The Best #2 hitter in the league. Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images North America)

The Nats apparently want to bat Werth 2nd.  At the beginning of Spring Training the plan seemed to be a lineup like this:

  • Morgan-Desmond-Zimmerman-Werth-LaRoche-Morse-Espinosa-Catcher-Pitcher

which would be

  • L-R-R-R-L-R-S-R-Pitcher.

This lineup was very righty heavy and with the problem of putting 3 straight right handed hitters at 2-3-4.

If Werth bats 2nd, I suppose our lineup now goes (in fact, this is more or less the lineup going today 3/26/11, with injury substitutions for Werth and LaRoche).

  • Desmond-Werth-Zimmerman-LaRoche-Morse-Ankiel-Espinosa-Catcher-Pitcher

which would be

  • R-R-R-L-R-L-S-R-Pitcher.

Well, how exactly does this help?  You still have three straight right-handed guys in your lineup.  And 5 of 8 hitters to boot.  We’d allow loogy matchups to eat us up in games and would still be susceptible against lefty starters.  What we need is to go with something like this:

  • Desmond-Espinosa-Zimmerman-LaRoche-Werth-Ankiel-Morse-Catcher-Pitcher

which would be

  • R-S-R-L-R-L-R-R-Pitcher.

or perhaps this lineup:

  • Bernadina-Desmond-Zimmermann-LaRoche-Werth-Morse-Espinosa-Catcher-Pitcher

which would be

  • L-R-R-L-R-R-S-R-Pitcher.

Both these later lineups are more balanced and split up the lefty-righty combos.  Of course, Espinosa isn’t ready for the #2 spot and Bernadina isn’t the ideal leadoff hitter.  So we really can’t go with these lineups from the onset.

The Nats really needed Morgan to own the leadoff and center field position this year.  By losing him we have no natural leadoff hitter any longer.  Desmond really is a #2 hitter.  It is one of the reasons I advocated for an attempted trade for someone like Jacoby Ellsbury back in the middle of the off-season.

Perhaps the solution is one Corey Brown, slated to start in AAA.  He plays center field, shows pretty good 20-20 like numbers career in the minors, and has a great OBP.  His slash line between AA and AAA for 2010 was .283/.370/.466 with 15 homers and 22 Sbs.  That sounds like a fantastic CF/leadoff options.  Oh, and he bats lefty too.  Maybe that Willingham trade wasn’t so bad after all if Brown can show some MLB value.

Written by Todd Boss

March 26th, 2011 at 10:53 am

My 2011 Fantasy Team


Note; stop reading now if you’re one of those people who hate to hear about fantasy teams or analysis of leagues.  I understand your point; its kinda like hearing someone go on and on about how their ugly baby just did the cutest thing last week.

I’m in a modified 5×5 yahoo league with 9 other fantasy baseball nuts (of all the fantasy sports, baseball tends to have the biggest nerds I think.  Well, perhaps fantasy golf or fantasy nascar).  We’ve modified the typical 5×5 categories to add in a 6th category on both sides.  We put in OPS on the hitter side and Losses on the pitcher side.  We made this change a few years back when one of the players won by churning and burning starting pitchers over and over to stock-pile wins and Ks.

Before going into my draft results and analysis, a few notes on my strategy for picking baseball teams:

  • I like pitching and I like to analyze pitching, so I focus on pitchers.  I like to have the bare minimum of hitters and load up on pitchers.  This strategy can be questioned; the clear winner last year had a bare minimum of pitchers but tons of hitter depth and was tough to beat.
  • I try to focus on NL starters with good K rates.  I try to avoid AL pitchers if I can, and I especially try to avoid AL east pitchers because of the gauntlet of great hitting teams they face.
  • I try to get 5 closers.  This can be tough, especially in a 10-person league with only (theoretically) 30 closers to go around.  However, I try not to overpay for closers.  Two years ago I experimented with a Zero closer system and it did not fare as well as I thought it would.
  • Do not overpay for a Catcher.  I’ve been burned so many times on catchers going down with injuries (in the past three years I’ve dealt with Varitek, Russell Martin and Victor Martinez injuries or inadequacies, going to the waiver wire each time).

Here’s my team’s draft results.  I was picking 2nd in a 10-man league with a typical snake-style draft order.

1. Hanley RamirezPujols goes first; I could have gone with Tulowitzki here but I opted to go with a guy who has been a bit more consistent (and less injury prone) at the #2 spot.
2. Matt Holliday.  By the time I pick again, all the top tier 1B and 3B were gone.  I figured this would happen and had targeted a couple of lower-end 1B and 3B players that I figured I could get later on (see rounds 10 and 14).   I wanted Hamilton here but he went earlier than I thought he would.  I would have loved for Adrian Gonzalez to slip but he did not.
3. Tim Lincecum.  I was either-or for Felix Hernandez or Lincecum here.  In the end I went for Lincecum because of the NL angle and because of how bad Seattle is.  Hernandez went immediately after Lincecum.
4. Richie Weeks.  Coming back at the end of the 4th, I needed to focus one at least one of the “skill” positions that can be tough to fill.  I wanted Uggla but missed him by a few picks.  Weeks is a good all around player; 29 homers with 11 SBs in 2010.  I’ll take that out of the 2nd base position.  Someone took a flier on Chase Utley not knowing just how bad his injury is … it pays to be prepared and up-to-date on injury news.  Weeks himself is an injury risk and was listed as a possible fantasy bust for 2011.  We’ll keep our fingers crossed.
5. Jason Heyward: I can’t remember if Posey was sitting there available at this point or not, but I like having an up-and-coming power hitter here.
6. Alex Rios: I filled my 3rd OF position with a bit of a sleeper in Rios.  He was #27 fantasy producer in 2010, hitting 21 homers and getting 34 sbs.  My first 5 out-field players all can be described as guys who can hit for power and get SBs.
7. Cole Hamels: I missed out on Cliff Lee but am a bit wary of him this year anyway.  He wasn’t THAT great in the regular season last year.  Meanwhile Hamels had a sneaky solid season with 211 ks in 208 innings.  He took a lot of losses though; lets hope that his move to the #4 starter puts him in line to get many more wins.
8. Mat Latos.  #32 ranked 2010 fantasy performer in the end of the 8th round.  I’ll take that.  Lots of Ks, great ERA and whip and pitching in the massive Petco.  Love this pick.
9. Neftali Feliz: I announced prior to this pick that I didn’t care if he was starting or closing, that I wanted him.  He apparently will be the closer, which i’m kinda bummed about since I think he’d be a great starter … but at the same time he’s probably the 3rd or 4th best closer out there.  I wanted Marmol and his ridiculous K rates but he went very early.  I also wanted Heath Bell right around here but missed him by one pick, with Acheson getting him just before I was to pick him.
10. Paul Konerko.  In the 10th round I sitll didn’t have a first baseman or a third baseman, two positions that are very power-hitter friendly.  As mentioned above, once I missed out on the top guys in the 1st-2nd rounds, I made a calculated gamble targeting two guys I figured would be either overlooked or be later round guys.  Konerko was the first: he was the #12 fantasy hitter last year, blasting 39 homers with 111 rbis.  It was a contract year, which is a bit scary, but he also inherits Adam Dunn as protection for 2011.  I’m hoping he continues to hit at this level despite him being 35 this year.  With him and Dunn switching off between 1B and DH perhaps the rest will do him good.
11. Jonathan Sanchez.  Oddly Yahoo has him ranked 173rd, despite being the 70th best producer last year.  I don’t get it; 13-9, 205 ks in 193 innings, good era and whip.  This may have been a reach by ranking points but I like him.
12. Matt Weiters. At this point there was a slight run on Catchers and I felt I needed to make a move.  I was looking at either Weiters or Geovany Soto.  Honestly before the draft I would have loved to have taken a shot at Carlos Santana but he went very early.  I debated between Soto and Weiters and went with the promising rookie.  Vito, drafting right behond me, was thinking the same thing and immediately snapped up Soto.
13. JJ Putz.  At this point in the draft, I nearly had all my positional players and generally go SP-RP all the way out.  I wanted to get my hands on at least one of the upper-end closers available and went with Putz.  Putz took a setup job in Chicago last year and pitched well enough to earn another closer job.  Arizona isn’t going to get him a ton of closer opportunities but after their debacle last year trying Qualls, Rauch and the kitchen sink in the role, Putz may do well.  Remember, Matt Capps got a ton of saves for a last place team last year too.
14. Pedro Alvarez.  My last positional player.  Most of the good 3rd basement went in the first two rounds.  I didn’t want to mess with guys like Bautista (flash in the pan?), Michael Young (he’s a utility player in a bad professional situation) or Aramis Ramirez (two bad years in a row).  I was targeting Alvarez or Mark Reynolds.  Reynolds hit less than .200 last year after a monster 2009 and is moving to a fantastic hitters park for him, so that was tempting.  But he’s also moving to the toughest division with a lot of upper-end pitching and he may push 250 Ks this year.  Meanwhile, Alvarez is a cool rookie with a lot of upside and he could be fun to follow.
15. Francisco Cordero: my 3rd closer; from here out my goal is to get the best closers available til I get to 5, then get whatever starting pitchers look enticing.  Cordero got 40 saves last year; works for me.
16. Leo Nunez; 20 picks later I get Nunez, who I have ranked right next to Cordero.  More Ks, better whip but fewer saves for Florida.
17. Brandon Lyon: Not a ton of saves last year but he wasn’t the closer til August.  then in 6 weeks he got 15 saves.  I’m hoping this is a steal of a pick and he racks up 35-40 saves this year.
18. Madison Bumgarner; Amazing, i’ve got Bumgarner ranked the exact same as Sanchez, who I got 7 rounds earlier.  I like Bumgarner and think he can be as effective as he was in the playoffs.  Honestly I wanted Hellickson around here but Droopy got him.  Bumgarner fits my profile better; NL starter with good numbers.  Not the best K/9 guy but he’s also a youngster and can get better.
19. Carlos Zambrano; This pick was partly a joke; there is a massive Cubs fan in our league (Erwin) who absolutely would have picked this guy.  But this was also strategic; Zambrano got an incredibly quick hook out of the rotation last year, missed a month but still finished the season 11-6 with 8.1K/9.  He was very effective down the stretch.  I’m hoping he picks right back up where he was before.
20. David Aardsma: Strategy pick; I know he’s going to start the season on the DL, so I will move him to my DL slot and pick up another guy.  As it turned out I did not pick up a utility player, so I’ll get the best hitter available before the season starts.
21. Anibel Sanchez: in the last round, i looked at my starting pitcher depth charts for the NL and selected what I thought was the best targeted starter available.  I was considering the likes of Fausto Carmona, Travis Wood, Dallas Braden or Jorge De La Rosa.  In the end Sanchez had a solid season last year for Florida and could do well.

Here’s the team by position:

  • C: Matt Weiters
  • 1B: Paul Konerko
  • 2B: Rickie Weeks
  • 3B: Pedro Alvarez
  • SS: Hanley Ramirez
  • OF: Matt Holliday, Jason Heyward, Alex Rios
  • SP: Lincecum, Hamels, Latos, Sanchez, Bumgarner, Zambrano, Sanchez
  • Closers: Felix, Putz, Cordero, Nunez, Lyon and Aardsma

Based on last year’s averages/week, my hitters are probably going to be

  • a bit below average for Runs scored (30.8 versus 27.6)
  • a bit above averages for Homers (7.92 versus 7.0)
  • right around average for RBIs (29.1 versus 28.1)
  • right around average for SBs (4.8 versus 4.2)
  • above average for BA (.202 versus .273)
  • above average for OPS (.838 vs .790)

Based on last year’s averages/week, my pitchers are probably going to be

  • Above average for Wins (5.00 vs 3.65)
  • Below average for Losses (4 vs 2.9)
  • Above average for Saves (4.56 vs 3.88)
  • Well Above average for Ks (69.4 vs 48.2)
  • Above average for ERA (3.20 vs 3.553)
  • Right around average for WHIP (1.24 vs 1.25)

I see 6 categories where i’m above average, 3 where i’m about average, two a bit below average and one where i’m well below average.  That could average out to a lot of 7-5 or 8-4 weeks.  Far enough.

Draft Analysis Conclusions: it is fair to say i’m weaker on the hitting side.  That tends to happen when drafting very early and missing out on the 1B and 3B rush.  I much more like drafting 4-5-6th spots so you can get top-tier guys in both positions.  I will have to be diligent on the waiver wire looking for hitters.  There are a couple of non-drafted guys that I like who may fit in at 1B if Konerko falters badly.

I’m also depending a lot on 2-3 non-sexy names (Weeks, Rios, Konerko) and several high profile rookies (Weiters, Heyward, Alvarez, Bumgarner).  This could really backfire if these guys don’t produce.  I’m most worried about Alvarez, who put up decent numbers in half a season last year but it may be a stretch to assume he’s already a 30-homer guy. I’m also worried about Weeks’ health and ability to stay on the field.  He may end up sitting in my DL spot for a while. I may focus on finding a speedster/leadoff/high SB/high Runs guy for my utility player.

I really like my slew of starters.  All of them have good K/9, era and whip values.  Lots of losses though; i’m hoping for a bounceback season for Lincecum and better w/l records from the likes of Hamels and Sanchez.

I’ve got a lot of closer depth, including the Aardsma pickup.  There’s a few other possible closers to be had as well; Lidge is down with an injury, Washington’s situation is certainly fluid, Tampa’s closer really hasn’t been identified, Atlanta may flip flop Venters and Kimbrell, and nobody at all knows who is going to close in Toronto.  So there’s more waiver wire work to be done.

1. Hanley Ramirez
2. Matt Holliday
3. Tim Lincecum
4. Richie Weeks
5. Jason Heyward
6. Alex Rios
7. Cole Hamels
8. Matt Latos
9. Neftali Feliz
10. Paul Konerko
11. Jonathan Sanchez
12. Matt Weiters
13. JJ Putz
14. Pedro Alvarez
15. Francisco Cordero
16. Leo Nunez
17. Brandon Lyon
18. Madison Bumgarner
19. Carlos Zambrano
20. David Aardsma
21. Anibal Sanchez

Rodriguez’s DL trip incredibly fortuitous for the Nats


A "neck spasm" is sending Rodriguez to the DL. Photo:

A few days ago I was kvetching about the Henry Rodriguez situation in this space.  One sentence summary; he was “stuck” on the 25-man b/e he had no options yet was being held out of games to work on his mechanics.

Now, it appears the Nats decision makers has been given a lucky parachute out of this debacle, with rumors now swirling that Rodriguez will start the season on the DL.  Kilgore reports that he was experiencing soreness in his shoulder while Ladson said he saw a doctor for some neck stiffness.  Yesterday morning Comak reported he experienced a “neck spasm.”  I’ll bet $100 someone took him aside and basically told him to claim some sort of soft-tissue, difficult to diagnose injury in order to enable a disabled trip visit.

Either way, stashing Rodriguez on the DL is the best way to resolve this situation.  It may be slightly unethical in terms of player movement, but it certainly happens all the time.

Rodriguez’s DL trip means the bullpen and player retention issues that were plaguing the Nats resolve themselves for the most part.  Here’s how the bullpen almost certainly shakes out now:

  • closer: Storen (despite his troubles, he’ll be given every opportunity to keep the spot)
  • setup: Clippard, Coffey and Burnett.  Coffey may be on thin ice though.
  • loogy: Slaten.  The Lee Hyde waiver pickup (and to a lesser extent Villone) provides Slaten insurance.
  • long-men: Broderick and Gaudin: Rule5 draftee makes the team and could be a steal.  Gaudin earns his way back onto a major league roster.

The Gaudin retention means we need another 40-man spot; my guess is that Chien-Ming Wang goes on the 60-day dl.

Balester loses out despite pitching very well; clearly an options move.  When most of your bullpen options have little to no roster flexibility, you put yourself into a situation where you send down better guys in lieu of keeping lesser guys.  I’m sure Balester understands this and hopefully he gets another shot to come up soon.  If Coffey continues to struggle we should see a Brian Bruney-esque release and a quick callup for Balester.

Written by Todd Boss

March 25th, 2011 at 10:45 am

Posted in Majors Pitching

Quick Thoughts on the Oliver Perez acquisition


Perez's down and out of NY; can he come back with the Nats? Photo:

Word came down on March 21st that the New York Mets had finally given up on Oliver Perez turning his career around and flat out released him.  He had a great 2007 season, going 15-10 in a full season starting for a nifty 121 era+.  Despite coming back down to earth in 2008, the Mets signed him to a 3yr/$36M contract for 2009-11.  He got hurt in 2009, was grossly ineffective in 2010, and now the Mets have decided to eat his entire $12m salary just to be rid of him in 2011.  He was reportedly only throwing in the mid 80s and the Mets were looking at him as a Loogy, not a starter or even a long reliever.

Two days later, Nats fans hear that he’s signed a minor league deal with Washington.  Beat reporters Goessling and Zuckerman nicely summed up similar thoughts to me with respect to this move and what it may mean for the AAA rotation.  But here’s some questions and answers about the move.

Q: Why didn’t the Mets try to trade him? The answer is probably along the lines of, who would want to assume $12M of salary?  Perhaps if the deal was Perez plus $11M for a prospect.  But Perez has looked so bad, his velocity so far below where it used to be, that the Mets probably figured no team would trade anything of value for him.

Q: Why didn’t the Mets just assign him to AAA to keep him? Perez has enough MLB service that he could refuse the assignment and become a free agent, essentially putting him in the exact same spot he is now by virtue of his unconditional release.

Q: Why would the Nats possibly want him? This is a very low risk, low cost move.  Even if he makes the majors we’re not paying anything more than the MLB minimum salary for him (somewhere in the $450k range).  He has already agreed to go to AAA, where he could NOT go for New York.  He can go to AAA, work on his mechanics in a low-stress, low-visibility environment and try to regain what once made him a great prospect.

Q: Is the displacement of other AAA pitchers worth the risk?  Assuming that Perez is treated like a starter, we’re probably now looking at this for the AAA rotation:

  • Locks: Maya and Detwiler.  These guys are options 1A and 1B for rising to the majors, and if it were not for option statuses or contracts of the 5 guys who ARE starting in the bigs at least Detwiler may have been up there.
  • 40-man guys being given shots: Mock.  For unknown reasons Mock continues to be viewed as part of the future for this team.  But if he’s still being considered a starter, he will be in the AAA rotation.  This list also possibly includes Stammen if the team values him more as a starter than a long-reliever.  We’ll see.  They seem to have him converted to a reliever at this point.
  • Rising AA guys/prospects: Arneson, Tatusko, Milone: Arneson was in AAA last year but is not on the 40-man and has lived through two rule5 drafts.  He didn’t pitch badly in 2010 but not flashy enough to warrant a look at the MLB level.  Tatusko put up great AA numbers and deserves a shot in AAA.  Milone (and to a lesser extent perhaps even Meyers or Roark) also pitched well enough in AA to be thinking about a move to AAA.
  • Non 40-man Vets hanging on: Chico, Martin, Martis, Atilano.   And now add Perez to this list.

So what happens?  I think your AAA rotation will be Maya, Detwiler, Mock, Perez and Tatusko.  Arneson gets bumped to long relief, as does Stammen, Chico, and Martis.  Martin and Atilano may be out of a job.  Milone, Meyers and Roark start in AA with a mindset of rising quickly to replace a promoted starter, or to replace Perez if we give up on him.

Is signing Perez worth delaying the AAA promotion of Milone?  Probably not.  But I agree with putting Perez into the rotation at the expense of any one of Chico, Martin, Martis or Atilano.  I think these latter four guys basically need to be released to make room for the next wave of guys.  If all four passed through waivers and came back to Washington, then there seems to be little chance they will be making it as professionals much longer.

Conclusions: I don’t HATE this move for the Nats.  It is low cost and low risk.  Lets just hope it does not retard the growth of our slew of good-looking AA pitchers.

Written by Todd Boss

March 24th, 2011 at 1:32 pm

What does Rodriguez’s “shelving” mean for this team?


Rodriguez's tenure as a Nat has been so rough so far, I can't even find a picture wearing our uniform. Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images via

When the Nationals traded Josh Willingham for power arm Henry Rodriguez and minor league outfielder Corey Brown in December, the team and its fans thought we were getting a good outfielder prospect plus a valuable power arm, back of the bullpen type in exchange for a defensively challenged left fielder who couldn’t stay healthy (that is certainly the glass-is-half-empty analysis of Willingham’s contributions to this team, but so be it).

Brown was always set to repeat AAA, having struggled there last year after dominating lower levels of the minors.  He still may feature in our outfield at some point if our slew of LF/CF options fail us and he plays well to start the season.  His ankle injury certainly is not helping him prepare for 2011, but he’s not the real prize of the Willingham trade.

Rodriguez, after showing up for spring training 2 weeks late and not getting into a game for another week, is now “being shelved” to work on his mechanics.  A week before opening day.  Here’s his stats for the spring thus far: 2 1/3 innings, 7.71 era, 3 hits, 3 walks and only about half the pitches he’s thrown being in the strike zone.  The coaching staff report that his mechanics are out of whack, that he cannot repeat his delivery and he’s been doing nothing but bullpen work for the past 5 days.


Rodriguez has no minor league options.  The Athletics knew this and the Nationals knew this upon trading their starting left fielder, #5 hitter and top OPS producer from 2010.  Now this roster inflexibility is set to cause a serious issue for this team.  We can’t just “invent” an injury for Rodriguez to store him on the DL; last time I checked my orthopaedic surgeon didn’t treat “mechanical flaw” as an injury.  So, instead of leaving someone deserving on the opening day roster (say, Collin Balester or even Drew Storen, not that he’s been 100% deserving based on his spring performance but remember he did appear in 50+ games last year rather effectively, especially for a rookie), we’re going to probably lug him around for a while and look for incredibly low-priority outings for him to “remember” how to pitch again.

I know all of Willingham’s faults.  He’s injury prone, he was arbitration eligible and his salary was escalating, he hasn’t ever played a full season without time off for injuries.  More importantly to Rizzo, he was a severe defensive liability, even in a position that traditionally can “hide” poor defenders.  And Rizzo from the onset has seemed dead set on fielding a team of track stars, no matter what the cost.

But none of those reasons factor in the most important point; Willingham can mash the ball.  In two seasons in Washington he had OPS+ figures of 129 and 127 (which would have ranked him about 20th in the NL had he qualified each year) and hit in the 5th hole protecting Adam Dunn admirably.  You don’t just give up that much offense unless you KNOW you’re getting something of equal value in return.

Right now, we’re not getting anything close to equal value for him.  And it may have larger ramifications for the team that breaks camp in a week or so.

Written by Todd Boss

March 23rd, 2011 at 11:09 am

What would the Nats look like without FA signings?


Commenter Mark L, in response to my statement that (paraphrased) the 2011 Nationals cannot afford to keep rule 5 picks on this team, pointed out that the team really has little chance of competing in 2011 and thus it is really the perfect time to be keeping and testing rule5 guys.

In theory I agree with this premise w.r.t. keeping rule 5 guys.  We’re not going to win the pennant in 2011.

I think in reality though the team has gone mostly backwards since arriving here in 2005 and cannot afford to ever seem as if they’re not trying to make progress.  I blame a lot of that on Bowden’s obsession with former Reds and tools-y players who became such a nightmare to integrate as a team that Acta had to be scuttled as a manager in favor of the more old-school Riggleman. The team lost the entirety of good will and excitement that came with a new stadium and the Lerners as owners had to be shocked at how quickly they destroyed their season ticket base (most observers believe they’ve lost more than half their season ticket holders just from 2009!). So the team is just not in a position to play for the future any more; they have to appear to be improving the team even marginally for the next few years to put themselves in a better position financially.

If the team was really playing for 2013 (as, say, the KC Royals clearly are), they’d never have even brought in the likes of Ankiel, Coffey, Hairston, basically every mid-career veteran and go completely with a lineup of prospects and these rule5 guys.   Arguably they wouldn’t have spent the money on Werth either.  What would the 25-man roster really look like without any FA signings?  Lets take a look:

  • Catchers: Pudge, Ramos (remember, they *had* to get Pudge b/c of the state of their catcher depth pre 2010).  If you like, you can replace Pudge with someone like Flores or even Maldonado, since Norris is not ready for the majors in 2011.
  • Infield: Marrero, Espinosa, Desmond, Zimmerman backed up by Gonzalez and Lombardozzi.  This would have required a serious leap of faith on the readiness of Marrero for 2011, and we’d be rushing Lombardozzi to the majors.  Perhaps we would have replaced Lombardozzi with Bixler.
  • Outfield: Bernadina, Morgan, Burgess, Morse and CBrown.  I know Burgess was traded, but perhaps the team keeps him and installs him in right field knowing they wouldn’t have Werth.  Perhaps Burgess and Morse compete for right field and we bring up newly acquired CBrown as the 5th outfielder.
  • Starters: Maya, Detwiler, Livan, Lannan, Zimmermann.  I leave Livan in here if only because we signed him to such a sweetheart deal.  If we don’t count Livan, we’re looking at someone like Stammen, Mock, Detwiler or Chico in that 5th spot.  Or perhaps we use Broderick as the 5th starter instead of putting him in long relief.
  • Relievers: Storen, Clippard, Burnett, Slaten, Broderick, HRodriguez and Carr/Kimball (with ERodriguez on DL).  Our bullpen would have hard throwers at the back end and we’d immediately give AFL hero Kimball or Carr a shot.

Of this active roster, 17-18 would be on pre-arbitration salaries and the total payroll would probably be in the $28-30M range for the entire team. It’d be the “right” thing to do but the town would absolutely howl in protest.

I dunno. I go back and forth as a fan. Part of me says screw 2011, play the kids, see what they can do this year and regroup for 2012 when you can have a very good Strasburg-Zimmermann 1-2 punch to go along with general improvement across the rest of our younger guys.  The other part of me says that incremental growth in terms of wins and respectability for this team is just as important in terms of attracting free agents and enabling the team to make a quick leap in a couple years. If this team can win 75 games this year, Strasburg comes back and probably improves the team 5 wins just by himself, we acquire an incrementally better #3 pitcher and hope that Maya, Detwiler and our rising AAA guys become real major league options. If you’re a 81 win team a couple of key free agent signings coupled with the natural rise of our core up and coming players can improve the team 10-12 wins very quickly. Suddenly we’re a 90 win team and still have a manageable payroll to augment and take the next steps to rise above Atlanta and Philadelphia in the division.

That’s “the plan,” right?