Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for March, 2012

Nats Franchise Trade history; biggest, best, worst

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Was getting Gonzalez the "biggest" trade the franchise has ever made? Photo Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images via nydailynews.com

In response to a topic that came up in the comments section, I’ll do a 3-part series reviewing the biggest/best/worst moves by the franchise since arriving here in Washington.  We’ll differentiate between Jim Bowden and Mike Rizzo moves as we go through.  We’ll talk about trades, then draft picks, then FA signings.

First up: Trades.

The Nats have made dozens of trades since 2005, and by my records have traded with every team in the league save for three: Baltimore, Cleveland and the Los Angeles Angels.  In fact, the franchise has not done business with Baltimore in any capacity since the year 2000, a testament perhaps to the difficulties of dealing with Peter Angelos even before the team moved to Washington.  Now post-relocation, the conventional wisdom is that the two teams would never do business on the off-chance that one team ended up “winning” a trade with the other.

I’ll divide this post into into 3 sections: the “biggest” deal (not the most players, but the biggest impact/most news worthy), the “best” deal(s) and the “worst” deals.  For Rizzo, we’ll add a 4th category for “Too Early to Tell,” since the big off-season trade of last season probably won’t shake it self out for a few more years.

Jim Bowden Tenure: Nov 2004 – Mar 2009

Biggest Trades

  • 2005: Soriano deal
  • 2006: Kearns/Lopez deal
  • 2007: Milledge deal
  • 2008: Willingham/Olsen deal

The Alfonso Soriano move made all sorts of news; he wouldn’t move to LF, threatened not to play at all, then ended up putting in a 40/40 season in a pitcher’s ballpark and then resulted a host of national news as the team debated whether to trade him, re-sign him or let him go.  Bowden held firm on his demands in the trade market, never traded him and landed two compensatory draft picks (which the Nats turned into Jordan Zimmermann and Josh Smoker).

The Kearns/Lopez deal, in the end, was more about moving deck chairs than making progress for either team.  Bowden was obsessed with players that he knew from his Cincinnati days, and showed a proclivity to trade for or acquire them throughout his tenure here, and this deal was just the biggest example.  The only player in the deal who still remains with his original team is Bill Bray, and most of the players in the deal have become large disappointments for their careers or are out of baseball.  The Reds accused Bowden publically of selling them damaged goods (Gary Majewski got injured about 5 minutes after the trade was completed) and Kearns/Lopez never really lived up to anything close to their potential.

We’ll talk about the other two deals below.

Best Trades

  • 2007: Getting Tyler Clippard
  • 2009: Getting Michael Morse
  • 2008: Getting Willingham/Olsen

Bowden gets major credit for obtaining two core members of the current Nationals squad for almost nothing.  He obtained Tyler Clippard from the Yankees for Jonathan Albaladejo in a like-for-like trade of under-performing minor league relievers.  Of course we all know what’s happeend since; Clippard has become a super-star setup man, the 2011 league leader in holds.   Getting Michael Morse in return for sending the feeble Ryan Langerhans to Seattle in what most thought was a mercy trade at the time (i.e., trying to send good-guy Langerhans to a team that would actually play him) seems like one of the steals of the decade.  Nobody thought Morse had a fraction of the potential he’s now shown to have.

I include getting Josh Willingham and Scott Olsen as a win based on who we gave up: PJ Dean, Emilio Bonifacio and Jake Smolinski.  I’ve always had a soft spot for Willingham and thought his offense potential was the key to this deal; we got two major leaguers for two dead-end minor leaguers plus a backup infielder.  Luckily for the Nats, Florida was always ready to give up arbitration candidates to save a buck.

Worst Trades

  • 2007: Milledge deal

Honestly, I had a hard time really saying that I thought one of Bowden’s trades was egregiously bad.  Most of his deals (outside the deals mentioned above as biggest or best) were minor leaguer swaps or dumping veterans at the trade deadline.  Even the acquisition of Elijah Dukes wasn’t really that “bad” based on who we gave up (Glenn Gibson, who was released a couple years later by Tampa Bay and ended up back with us anyway).

However, the acquisition of Lastings Milledge for Ryan Church and Brian Schneider might be the one trade that I’d most quibble with.  Bowden showed his obsession with “toolsy” and “potential” players in this deal, acquiring the malcontent Milledge and giving the Mets two immediate starters.  At the time I certainly defended the deal; neither Church or Schneider were slated to be starters for the 2008 Nats so you could argue that we got a plus prospect for two backups.  I know I certainly argued that point.  Church seemed to be a brooding platoon outfielder who wouldn’t be happy unless he was starting and Schneider had lost his starting spot to Jesus Flores and was a relatively weak hitter.

As it has worked out Church was a very productive player for New York, Flores got hurt and left the team in a very serious catcher-dearth position, and Milledge turned out to be not nearly the talent that we thought we were getting.  By the time we flipped him to Pittsburgh in 2009 he was barely hitting his weight in AAA and was completely out of the picture for this team.

Mike Rizzo Tenure: Mar 2009 – present

Biggest Trades

  • 2011: Gio Gonzalez deal

  • 2009: Morgan/Burnett deal

  • 2010: Ramos for Capps deal

  • 2011: Henry Rodriguez/Willingham deal

  • 2011: Gorzelanny deal

You have to hand it to Mike Rizzo; he’s not been afraid to make deals.  In his 3 year tenure he’s made 5 significant deals that have vastly changed the way this team is constructed.  Two of those deals (Morgan/Burnett and the Willingham deals) were mostly about cleaning up the roster to get it more in his image of pro-clubhouse guys and pro-defense.  Trading away Milledge and Willingham succeeded in moving the team towards these goals.  The Gorzelanny and Gonzalez trades were about acquiring power arms to shore up the rotation, another tenant of Rizzo-constructed teams.

Best Trades

  • 2010: getting Wilson Ramos

Clearly Rizzo’s best move was stealing Wilson Ramos for a closer (Matt Capps) that we had ample candidates for internally.  The Twins panicked post-Joe Nathan injury and overloaded their bullpen with closer candidates.  Meanwhile Rizzo turned an astute FA signing (a minor league signing that turned into an All Star) into an even more astute trade by getting a nearly MLB-ready catcher in return for a guy who the team wouldn’t be re-signing anyway.  Great move.

Worst Trades

  • 2011: Gomes for Rhinehart/Manno
  • 2009: Bruney for ptbnl (eventually rule5 top pick Jamie Hoffman)

Most readers here loved Christopher Manno and the promise he was showing in A-ball.  Most were also aghast to see Manno go the other way to Cincinnati for a 4th outfielder Jonny Gomes.  At the time, the argument was that Davey Johnson wanted a bat off the bench and that the team needed some OF depth.  What really happened was that Gomes hit his way out of his type-B arbitration status and played so poorly the 2nd half of 2011 that the team couldn’t dare offer him arbitration to get a compensatory draft pick.  So we traded two decent prospects for a half season of awful production.  Not a good move.

Even worse, trading anything to acquire Brian Bruney.  The team acquired Bruney, promptly argued against him and beat him in arbitration, and then (unsurprisingly) Bruney vastly underperformed until being flat out released a few months into the 2010 season.  For me this is a lesson in what not to do with your arbitration eligible players.  It wasn’t so much what we gave up (the first pick in the rule-5 draft *could* have been used to acquire someone of value), it was what we got in return.

Too Early to Tell Trades

  • 2011: Gio Gonzalez deal

Pro-prospect pundits (anyone at Baseball Prospectus, Keith Law, etc) will already tell you that the Nats vastly overpaid for Gio Gonzalez.  That’s because they value the potential of prospects more than the proven commodity of the major league player.  But the fact is this; you KNOW what you’re getting in Gonzalez but you have no idea how a low-A prospect will play out.  The Nats rolled the dice that AJ Cole isn’t going to turn into the next incarnation of Justin Verlander and that Brad Peacock‘s promise will peak as a middle reliever.  The only way to tell how this trade turns out is to track the progress of those players we gave up versus what Gonzalez does for this team over the next 3-4 years.

Thoughts?  Any trades out there that stick in your minds that you thought should be mentioned?

My 2012 Fantasy Baseball Team

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Kemp reacts to being the first overall pick in my fantasy league. Photo unknown via ladodgertalk.com

As with last year’s edition of this post, feel free to stop reading now if you don’t want to read fantasy team analysis of a league that you’re not necessarily in.  I know that really grates some people, and I understand.  For those of you who do play fantasy, I’ll try to talk about who was available and who I had to choose from for each pick so you can get a context of the decisions I made.

League overview: 12 team 6×6 head to head.  Your categories are:

  • Hitting: Runs, HRs, RBIs, SBs, Batting Average and OPS.
  • Pitching: Wins, Saves, K’s, ERA, WHIP and Holds.

Last year we had Losses as a category instead of Holds but too many of the league hated the Losses category, but wanted to keep OPS as a 6th category.  So we’ve introduced Holds as a category for the 2012 season.  I proposed this but rather inadvertantly; my strategy going into this 2012 season was going to be to go after the exact type of pitcher who normally gets holds; the setup-guy, the excellent specialized reliever who pitchers 60-70 innings but gets 70-80 K’s with excellent ERAs and WHIPs.  With no Losses to worry about, the value of holding any type of pitcher increased over last year’s edition of the league. The only downside was that we are also introducing a transaction limit for the season (65 over the 21 week season).  So picking good arms early will be crucial.

We added an 11th and 12th team to the league at the last minute, two newer guys to fantasy baseball who made some “interesting” picks throughout the night.  I was picking 1st out of the 12 in a typical snake draft order.

My draft strategy for 2012 is as follows:

  • Get the minimum number of hitters, and get them early to get the best players available.
  • Focus on Homers.  Homers lead to Runs and RBIs, 3 of your 6 offensive categories.
  • Get a couple of top end starters early, then spend the entire 2nd half of the draft on pitching.
  • Focus on NL, high K/9 starters only.
  • Get a high end closer if they’re available, but don’t over spend.
  • Focus on the high-end Holds leaders and setup guys, getting guys who can close in a pinch.

What became  apparent about 5 rounds into the draft is the disservice of drafting 1st (or last) in such a huge league; if a run starts on a position, you have almost no chance of getting any of the top guys.  Catchers, top-end Holds guys and top-end Closers all had major runs without my even getting a consideration to get a pick in.  Once all the top closers were gone, I decided not to scrounge for saves, at all.  If a guy like Rodriguez or Holland becomes a closer and I get free saves, all the better.  But what I really want are low ERA, low WHIP innings all week that help lower the overall team ERA/WHIP.

Below are my round-by-round picks.  Yahoo O-Ranks are given; this is Yahoo’s rank for the player for the 2012 season.  Average Draft Rank (ADR) is listed as per MockDraftCentral’s ratings, though honestly after the Holds guys start going off the board the ADR is mostly useless.  Plus ADR reports are based on the classic 5×5 league, not the 6×6 league that we’re doing.   But it does illustrate some of the over-drafts and/or value picks I got.

  1. Matt Kemp: (Yahoo #2, ADR #2) With the first overall pick I really was choosing between Kemp and Miguel Cabrera.  I liked Cabrera because he’ll be gaining positional flexibility at 3B, a relatively thin position.  I also like Cabrera because he’s gaining Prince Fielder to provide lineup protection.  However; Kemp was the #1 producer last season, had 39 Hrs to Cabrera’s 30 and threw in 40 steals for good measure.  I think Kemp is the best player in baseball and I see no reason that he won’t at least repeat his (near) 40/40 performance.  With the understanding that I’ll be missing most of the high end infielders by virtue of not picking again until the 23rd overall pick, I take Kemp.  Cabrera’s grounder to the face just a few hours before the draft didn’t really factor into the decision.  Ironically Ryan Braun was ADR #1 but he didn’t go until 4th or 5th in our league.
  2. Ian Kinsler: (Yahoo #20, ADR #23).  With the 24th pick, I really wanted Curtis Granderson, who was a bit undervalued (Yahoo ranked #22 but 6th best player in 2011), but he got snagged just before I picked.  Kinsler was highest guy on the board and was the natural pick.  I’ve had Kinsler before and he’s always a solid, mid 20s producer with some consistency.  He was hurt in 2010 but in 2009 was a top 10 player.  Lets hope for a similar season.  2B is thin (even more so with Chase Utley‘s injury), so I didn’t mind getting a halfway decent one this high.
  3. Giancarlo Stanton: (Yahoo #25, ADR #26): With the 25th pick, I reached a little bit for Stanton.   I didn’t want to go with slighly higher ranked guys like Mark Teixeira and certainly not Hanley Ramirez (who Itook #2 overall last year and absolutely killed my team).  Cliff Lee (Yahoo #24) should have been there but was drafted incredibly early by one of the new guys in the league.  So, faced with a slew of positional guys after Stanton on the Yahoo chart who all under performed last year (Beltre, McCutchen, Wright) and therefore were not worth the draft position, I took a gamble on Stanton.  Personally I think this guy is going to be one of the biggest names in the game; a 45 homer guy who helps bring his team back to relevance.  Unfortunately I wasn’t aware that he’s been dinged up in Spring Training and now may miss opening day.  That’s not good drafting.  But i’d rather have him and miss a couple weeks than be frustrated with an injury prone guy.
  4. Tim Lincecum: (Yahoo #28, ADR #24)
  5. Cole Hamels: (Yahoo #32, ADR #29): After 22 more picks, drafting with the 48th and 49th overall pick I was stunned to see two NL heavyweight starters sitting there available for the taking.   According to ADR both these guys should have been long gone.  Lincecum struggled last year clearly, but Hamels overperformed based on his Yahoo ranking (#21 performer in 2011) and fit my profile of an NL starter with good stats.  No argument here; I took the two leading starters available.  Its like a repeat of 2011: I had both these starters last year and I’m looking forward to having them both again this year.
  6. Brett Lawrie (Yahoo #45, ADR #53): With the 72nd overall pick I again got great value in Lawrie.  At this point I had not drafted either a 3B or a 1B, having missed out on the first couple of tiers of both.  I had a 1B targeted (see pick #8) so I went for an upside pick.  Lawrie had 9 homers in just 150 ABs in 2011 and based on his minor league production he seems set to be a monster hitter in this league.  Based on who was left on the board at that position at this time (Mark Reynolds, David Frese, Martin Prado) I went with the best available guy.  That being said, Lawrie is a risk.  I’m slightly worried that 2 of my top 4 hitters are relatively young guys who could go south; this strategy failed me last year (when Jason Heyward and Pedro Alvarez both underperformed so badly that I had to drop them).
  7. Alex Gordon; (Yahoo #66, ADR #61): Right after Lawrie with the 73rd overall pick, I was scanning down the available hitters, with an eye on 2011 performance, I was amazed again to find a near top 20 guy from last  year.   Gordon was ranked #23 in 2011 performance but was still on the board.  I grabbed him.  23 Homers, 87 rbi along with 17 steals and I think this is a halfway decent pick.  He takes my last OF spot.
  8. Lance Berkman: (Yahoo #86, ADR #95); With the 96th pick I nabbed Berkman.  Waiting until the 8th round to find a first baseman is not usually a good strategy … but it has served me well in the past.  Instead of overpaying for one of the top 1Bs, I like to wait and get nearly as good a player but many rounds below.  Last year it was Paul Konerko (who I would have loved to get again but Jamos snapped him up a few rounds earlier) so this year I targeted Berkman.  Another undervalued pick (his 2011 yahoo ranking: 32) who qualifies at both OF and 1B but who will be playing the far less taxing 1B position fulltime in 2012.  Because of this shift to the infield, i’m hoping for a healther season and more ABs.  Berkman proved last year he can still hit, and with a relatively decent lineup still around him he should still see pitches to hit despite the Cardinals losing Pujols.  31 homers last year in just 488 ABs; he could broach 40 if he gets 600 Abs like he should.
  9. Jimmy Rollins: (Yahoo #73, ADR #88).  97th overall, still continuing to get value.  Rollins isn’t the best SS out there, but by the 9th round he’s as good as you’re going to get.  He was a decent producer in 2011 but is a far cry from his 2007-2009 numbers (when in consecutive seasons he was the 5th, 9th and 12th ranked fantasy player).  He has some power, 30 SB capability and a decent bat.  With the Phillies injury concerns, perhaps more RBI opportunities will fall to Rollins.
  10. Joe Mauer (Yahoo #95, ADR #82).  At the 120th pick, I was missing two positional players: a catcher and a utility guy.  I’ve been burned in the past drafting catchers too high, and frankly am happy to roll the dice with the recovering Mauer.  Mauer has positional flexibility of qualifying for 1B if needed but what I really need is for him to be in the lineup and hitting.  If Mauer returns anywhere close to his 2009 form (#12 fantasy producer) this will be the steal of the draft.
  11. Josh Johnson (Yahoo #101, ADR #99).  More value, but also more risk, with the #121 pick.  Johnson fits my profile of high K NL starters … but of course is coming off of a major arm injury.  Is he ready to go?  If he’s healthy, this is a 4th or 5th round talent way down in the 11th.  If not … well there’s always the waiver wire.
  12. Drew Stubbs: (Yahoo #92, ADR #79).  With the 144th pick I needed one last hitter to supplement my bench and noticed the huge number of SBs that Stubbs had last year (40).  He was decently ranked for value and I think this is a pretty decent pick.  The ADR of 79 probably is skewed higher because in a 5×5 league steals are more important.  But Steals are important here as well, and looking at this team i’ve got a ton of them.  Big fan of this pick here.
  13. Mike Adams.  Pick #145 and the beginning of my main 2012 strategy; focus on setup guys who get holds and have good peripherals.  By the 13th round the top Holds guys from 2011 (Clippard, Venters, Robinson, and Marshall) were all gone; I was most disappointed to have missed on Robinson in particular, who went just a few picks before I went.  I grabbed Adams as the best holds guy available.  (note from here on out I won’t bother with Yahoo ranks or ADRs for Holds guys since they doesn’t make any sense).
  14. Ricky Romero: (Yahoo #109, ADR #86): At this point in the draft I was targeting a few more starters and a few more setup guys and went for best players available.  but getting a guy of Romero’s caliber with the 168th pick is great.  Romero isn’t entirely my kind of starter; he’s AL, and more importantly he’s AL East.  But his K/9 is improved and he’s a good pitcher on a team that will get wins.  He had 15 wins last year with a sub 3.00 ERA; imagine if he pitched in the NL.  Regardless, he’s a good pickup at this point in the draft.
  15. Francisco Rodriguez: I like K-Rod because, well, if Milwaukee’s closer (John Axford) falters or gets hurt, suddenly I’ve got a pretty good closer getting saves.  As it stands, Rodriguez will get a ton of Hold opportunities and has all the incidentals I want in a back-end reliever (good K/9, good holds from 2011).  The only downside on him is his ERA; its a bit high for an 8th inning guy.
  16. Fernando Salas: Salas was St. Louis’ closer for most of 2011 but got demoted after a couple of blown saves in August.  He didn’t get demoted because his numbers were bad; in fact his 2011 numbers were great.  Unfortunately for Salas, Jason Motte lit it up in the post season and enters 2012 with the job clearly in hand.  Which means, like Rodriguez, he’ll get save opportunities as the former closer and would be the presumptive replacement in case of injury or ineffectiveness.
  17. Jeremy Hellickson (Yahoo #183, ADR #127); Going against my better judgement, I picked up yet another AL East pitcher, but once again went for value.  Hellickson was my 193rd pick and despite being Yahoo ranked 183, he was 86th in performance in 2011.  Lots of people think Hellickson will regress in 2012 because of his amazingly low BABIP (.223 in 2011).  However not all of Hellickson’s BABIP variation is attributed to “luck;” He’s a flyball pitcher.  And flyball pitchers will have more of their balls in play caught, keeping BABIP low.  Hellickson had only 35% of balls in play be grounders in 2011.  Roy Halladay, by way of comparison, has been 50% or more groundballs every year of his career.  Where this should be catching up to Hellickson is in homers given up (more fly balls should lead to more homers), but his home ballpark helps.  Either way. I’ll take him with the 193rd pick.
  18. Mark Melancon: Another deposed closer in Melancon, who got 20 saves for Houston last year but joins Boston as the presumptive 8th inning guy behind Andrew Bailey.  Remember; Bailey missed 2 months in 2011 with a forearm strain; Melancon ably fits into the closer spot.  This pick may be affected by recent news that Daniel Bard will be returning to the bullpen, but holds guys don’t have to be 8th inning guys.
  19. Greg Holland: What a find here; Holland has fantastic numbers and could be another steal since KC closer Soria has blown out his elbow.  I don’t think Holland gets the call as the closer immediately, but if new acquisition Broxton doesn’t step up Holland will.
  20. Alexi Ogando (Yahoo #227, ADP #208); Looking for two more starters I went for best names on the board.  Ogando may not be the best but he’ll get Ks and he has a big arm.  And at the 240th pick of the night I’m happy to get a 13 game winner on a playoff team.
  21. Josh Collmenter (Yahoo #312, ADP #305):  I don’t understand why Collmenter is so low; he plays in the weaker NL West, is in the NL, and won 10 games with good numbers last year (#140 ranked yahoo fantasy in 2011).    Oh; just found out why; he’s got a 14.00 ERA in Spring Training thus far.  Ouch.  We’ll keep an eye on his first couple starts (perhaps sitting him if he’s going against a touch lineup) and see how he goes.

Team analysis

Hitters: I’ve got a ton of power, but also a ton of SB capability.  Kemp is 40/40 guy, Kinsler and Lawrie project to be 30/30 and Gordon a 20/20 guy.  Rollins and Stubbs both get a ton of steals.  I’ve got 5 guys with 30+ homer capability.  Homers lead to runs and RBIs.  What may hurt me is AVG and OPS: Kinsler, Stanton and Stubbs all seem to be .250 hitters.  Rollins and Stubbs both are < .800 OPS guys.  So we’ll take the good with the bad.  But I do like my hitters.

Name Team Pos O-rank 2011 Actual Owned H/AB R HR RBI SB AVG OPS
Lance Berkman StL 1B,OF 86 32 97% 147/488 90 31 94 2 0.301 0.959
Ian Kinsler Tex 2B 20 22 99% 158/620 121 32 77 30 0.255 0.832
Brett Lawrie Tor 3B 45 771 97% 44/150 26 9 25 7 0.293 0.953
Joe Mauer Min C,1B 95 820 97% 85/296 38 3 30 0 0.287 0.728
Matt Kemp LAD OF 2 1 99% 195/602 115 39 126 40 0.324 0.985
Giancarlo Stanton Mia OF 25 66 99% 135/516 79 34 87 5 0.262 0.893
Alex Gordon KC OF 66 23 98% 185/611 101 23 87 17 0.303 0.878
Jimmy Rollins Phi SS 73 67 97% 152/567 87 16 63 30 0.268 0.737
Drew Stubbs Cin OF 92 103 93% 147/604 92 15 44 40 0.243 0.685

Pitchers: I’m less liking my starters versus what I had last year.  I have three good NL guns but then have three #2/#3 AL starters.  And I have a big injury risk in Johnson to go with spring dismal performances out of Collmenter.  I may be playing some waiver wire games.

Name Team Pos O-rank 2011 Actual Owned IP W SV K HLD ERA WHIP
Tim Lincecum SF SP 28 49 99% 217 13 0 220 0 2.74 1.21
Cole Hamels Phi SP 32 21 99% 216 14 0 194 0 2.79 0.99
Josh Johnson Mia SP 101 183 97% 60.1 3 0 56 0 1.64 0.98
Ricky Romero Tor SP 109 46 95% 225 15 0 178 0 2.92 1.14
Jeremy Hellickson TB SP 183 86 86% 189 13 0 117 0 2.95 1.15
Alexi Ogando Tex SP 227 131 68% 169 13 0 126 0 3.51 1.14
Josh Collmenter Ari SP,RP 312 140 21% 154.1 10 0 100 0 3.38 1.07

The middle relief/holds strategy should be interesting; with a transaction limit in place we’re going to have to monitor the 5 RPs closely.  I’m not after saves (clearly; having not drafted a single closer) but I wouldn’t mind getting a few here and there.  I have tried the no-closer route in the past; it didn’t work exactly as I wanted.  I had too many mediocre starters and got killed in ERA and WHIP.  This time around is slightly different; by focusing on middle relievers who generally have great stats, I’m hoping to keep ERA and WHIP down and continually add Ks and holds.

Name Team Pos O-rank 2011 Actual Owned IP W SV K HLD ERA WHIP
Mike Adams Tex RP 305 83 32% 73.2 5 2 74 32 1.47 0.79
Francisco Rodriguez Mil RP 374 149 33% 71.2 6 23 79 17 2.64 1.3
Fernando Salas StL RP 371 73 31% 75 5 24 75 6 2.28 0.95
Mark Melancon Bos RP 379 138 14% 74.1 8 20 66 3 2.78 1.22
Greg Holland KC RP 383 135 11% 60 5 4 74 18 1.8 0.93

That’s your fantasy team.  What do you think?

Nats seem set to sputter out of the gate

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Morse's injury is starting to really concern me. Photo Jacqueline Martin/AP via federalbaseball.com

Why?

Because it seems like half the team is nursing a strain or an injury or a cold.

You can’t get ready for a 162-game season if you’re not getting ABsMichael Morse has a grand total of 7 ABs this spring.  Adam LaRoche?  8 Abs.  Rick Ankiel?  6.  That’s a big chunk of the presumed starting lineup for this team.   Chien-Ming Wang probably will start the season on the DL as a precaution after straining a hamstring; good thing we havn’t traded John Lannan yet.  Now we hear that Drew Storen has a cold.  He’s only got 2 IP all spring!

Of course we’ve gotten plenty of at bats for Ian Desmond to show us that he’s learned little from his late season improvements; he’s hitting .200 for the spring.

On the bright side, the rest of the rotation seems to be doing ok.  You never want to over-analyze spring training stats; players may go out one inning and work entirely on spotting their change up on the outside corner, not caring what the hitters do to the ball.  If a hitter knows the same pitch is coming 4-5 times in a row, he’s gonna put a charge into it.  Of course, that being said Gio Gonzalez has looked exceptional this spring, flashing more speed than had been previously reported and is pitching to a 1.42 era clip.

And, the Nats do open up with two of the weaker teams in the league.  They could very well take 2 of 3 from both Chicago and the Mets to come home 4-2 no matter who is batting.

Are you worried  yet?

Written by Todd Boss

March 20th, 2012 at 6:46 pm

Nats Rule-5 lossee Spring Training Update pt 1

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Are the Nats gonna get Brad Meyers back? Photo Kevin Littlefield/Milb via mlb.com

I was thinking about the AAA rotation and how thin it stands to be for my “updated minor league rotation” post last week, when I was reminded that we may eventually get back at least one solid AAA starter if Brad Meyers fails to make the Yankees 25-man roster.  Then, spurred on by this Seedlingstothestars.com post reviewing all the Rule-5 draft picks so far this spring, here’s a quick look at both Meyers and Erik Komatsu, who were both taken in the Rule 5 draft last December but who both may very well end up back with the team.

  • Brad Meyers Spring Training Stats as of 3/10/12: No stats.  He reportedly injured his shoulder lifting weights over the winter and, while he’s throwing off flat ground he’s yet to appear in a game.  I’m guessing he’ll get stashed on the DL so the Yankees don’t have to immediately return him, waiting to see if they get an early season injury.

Most pundits (examples here and here) seem to think that Meyers is competing for the Long Man spot in the Yankees rotation, what with the late off-season acquisitions of both Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda filling out all 5 available starter spots for the team (not to mention the jettisoning of AJ Burnett).   It is relatively difficult to see Meyers beating out the likes of Freddie Garcia or Phil Hughes (who themselves seem to be set up to be the 5th starter and long man, depending on the outcome of spring training battles) for this spot, and the rest of the Yankees bullpen seems set.  But, without any spring training stats to go by and with his injury status up in the air, and the possibility of a DL trip looming, I’d say that its safe to say he’s not getting returned to the Nats any time soon.

How about Komatsu?

  • Erik Komatsu Spring Training Stats as of 3/10/12: .333/.385/.583 through 12 at-bats in 6 games, playing mostly right field.  He’s got a double, a triple, and a SB.  Not bad so far.

Here’s a good analysis of Komatsu by a St. Louis focused blog upon his acquisition last December; he’s clearly competing for a backup outfielder spot, what with the team’s acquisition of new RF starter Carlos Beltran (moving incumbent Lance Berkman to the vacated 1B position for 2012). The Cardinals have a clear 4th outfielder candidate in Allen Craig but Craig is injured and most likely won’t start the season with the team.  Komatsu is also competing with a couple other prospects for a backup outfielder job, but may very well stick with the team out of camp.  I’d like to see Komatsu back; he was disappointed that he didn’t get much of a shot in Washington and he was coming off an injury most of last off-season.  But at the same time this team has been looking  high and low for a possible lead-off hitter/center fielder and Komatsu could (if you squint perhaps) fill that role.

Movie Review: Moneyball

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Brad Pitt playing the part of Billy Beane. Photo movie still via splatf.com

Yes I know, I’m probably one of the last people out there who take the time to write a baseball-themed blog to actually see the movie Moneyball, the film adaptation of Michael Lewis‘ seminal baseball book by the same name.  We took some time last weekend during a period of relaxation to order it on PPV from DirecTV and watch it.  Here’s some thoughts;

First, I’ll freely admit that I struggled to appreciate the movie for two primary reasons:

  1. I read the book, several times over, digesting the analysis that Lewis offered for the success of the Athletics in the early 2000s, following the narrative of Billy Beane‘s rise from backup outfielder to advance scout and eventually the front office at such a young age and reading along for the primary story line revolving around the strategy employed during the infamous 2002 draft.
  2. I could not get over the distraction of so many parts of the story being purposely changed (changing Paul DePodesta‘s character to be the fictitiously named Peter Brand) or outright fabricated (the entire storyline involving Beane’s daughter).

I’ll leave aside my primary criticism of the book in general; as I’ve stated in this space and in other forums, Lewis really did not discuss the fact that the 2002 Athletics were blessed with a quartet of starters that has only been matched a few times in the last 40 years or so, and they were a huge part of the team’s success.  For me, yes the construction of the hitters on that team was unique and interesting, but that team doesn’t win 103 games without three starters who each posted a 125 ERA+ or (in some cases significantly) better.

From a movie critique stand point, I thought Brad Pitt did a pretty good job of portraying the engimatic Billy Beane, if anything toning down the violent temper as it was portrayed in the book.  Jonah Hill‘s portrayal of the DePodesto character was, to me, bland and lacking depth.  I was really surprised to see him get an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor frankly.

The entire storyline in the movie about Beane getting into the fight with the head scout was completely manipulated from how it really happened; in the movie they were talking about free agents but in the book they were talking about amateur players during the 2002 draft.  I suppose from a storyline perspective the conflict needed to occur when it did; a movie that was supposed to tell the tale of how Beane selected all these undervalued players in order to make the 2002 on-field team win wouldn’t really work if the primary conflict was about a bunch of 21yr old draftees that wouldn’t even feature in the majors (if at all) for 3-4 years onward.  But as someone who knows the actual details, it made understanding the storyline that the movie was telling that much more difficult.

In the end, my wife thought it was a “good movie” so its subsequent accolades seem in order.  Hollywood can’t really make a movie that appeals to the fraction of 1% of baseball fans who read that book and understood its statistical analysis.  You have to appeal to the masses for commercial success.

But I found myself struggling to decide whether I thought the movie was “good” or not.  It was entertaining.  The actors were ok, I guess.  I know many have criticized the Art Howe portrayal in the movie … but then again many criticized the portrayal of Howe in the book as well.  Lewis seemed to belittle many people in the book as a way of playing up his primary character.  But nothing about the movie really convinced me it was a seminal movie, that it was some great masterpiece of filmmaking that was worthy of an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.

What did you guys think?

Written by Todd Boss

March 9th, 2012 at 3:28 pm

NL East Rotation Preview

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Remember this guy? He’ll be 100% for next spring and may spell a changing of the guard in the division. Photo via AllansGraphics.com

With major moves being made this off-season for the rotations of the NL East teams, we seem set to be in store for some serious pitching duels intradivision in 2012.  How do the rotations stack up, right now?  If the season started tomorrow, here’s what we’d be looking at for rotations:

Philadelphia Atlanta Miami Washington New York
#1 Halladay Hudson Johnson Strasburg Santana?
#2 Lee Jurrjens Buehrle Gonzalez Dickey
#3 Hamels Hanson Sanchez Zimmermann Pelfrey
#4 Worley Beachy Nolasco Jackson Niese
#5 Pineiro Delgado Zambrano Wang Gee
In the mix Blanton, Kendrick, Willis? Minor, Teheran Vazquez?Volstad, LeBlanc Lannan, Detwiler, Gorzelanny Young? Schwinden?

By team, some observations:

  • Philadelphia plans on replacing Roy Oswalt‘s 2011 starts with a call-up who looked pretty good last year in Worley. Joe Blanton looks like the odd-man out and his $8.5M salary may be wasted by virtue of an underrated but saavy acquisition of Joel Pineiro.  The Oswalt trade didn’t give the team what it seeked (a World Series title) but it didn’t cost them a ton in prospects either (JA Happ didn’t exactly light it up for Houston).  They’ve signed Dontrelle Willis for rotation depth.  Still, you can’t argue with three Cy Young candidates at the top of your rotation, and this team remains the team to beat in the division despite injuries (Ryan Howard) and aging (every single projected starter not named Hunter Pence is 30 or older, and Pence will be 29).   The pitching staff was #1 in ERA in the NL and I can’t imagine them dropping far from that.    If Worley performs like he did in 2011, and if Pineiro returns to his St. Louis form, then this is just as tough a 1-5 as last year.
  • Atlanta should have won the wild card last year and seems set to roll out a rather similar rotation this year.  They’ll replace their worst starter Derek Lowe with starts from one of three up-and-coming rookies (I’ve got Delgado slated there now but likely Mike Minor wins the #5 spot in spring training) and should be improved.  Hudson is a year older and hasn’t missed a start in 2 years, but is slow coming back from off-season back surgery and may or may not be ready for opeing day.  The staff was #4 in the NL in team ERA and should do nothing but improve … but there’s some serious injury question marks.  Their incredible SP minor league depth should get them through.
  • Miami has a some major question marks, despite acquiring Mark Buehrle to slot into their #2 spot.  They will cross their fingers on Josh Johnson; if he’s not healthy this team will be really hurt.  Nolasco can be brilliant or awful from start to start.   We still don’t know if Vazquez is retiring or returning; my initial guess would have been that he was too good in 2011 (3.69 era, 106 era+) and too young (reportedly 34 but i’ve never heard of any age-questioning here) to retire.  To provide cover though, the team traded for the volatile but possibly still talented Carlos Zambrano to slot in at #5.  Which Zambrano will they get?  And will his notorious clubhouse antics gibe with new hot-head manager Ozzie Guillen? On paper, a 1-5 of Johnson, Buehrle, Nolasco, Sanchez and Zambrano spells an awful lot of power and a lot of Ks.  They could be tough.  They should improve on last year’s #10 team ERA ranking.
  • Washington just got a lot better, replacing 29 mostly awful Livan Hernandez starts with a healthy Stephen Strasburg and likewise replacing 35 combined mediocre starts out of Jason Marquis and Tom Gorzelanny with newly acquired power lefty Gio Gonzalez and power righty Edwin Jackson. They were 6th in the NL in team ERA, have mostly the same bullpen in place (5th best in the league in ERA in 2011) and seem set to improve.   Chien-Ming Wang seems set for the #5 spot, leaving John Lannan potentially being the most expensive pitcher in Syracuse.   The jeopardy the team now has is an utter lack of starting pitching depth; Peacock and Milone WERE our 2012 rotational safety nets; now we have just Detwiler, Gorzelanny and a couple guys who clearly seem to be AAA starters.  For this reason the team probably keeps Lannan around with the eventual goal of having him provide cover until our next wave of high-end pitching prospects develop.  Either way, this rotation and bullpen look to be improved from 2011.
  • New York faces a grim 2012, not only in the rotation but also in the front office.  We’re hearing reports that Johan Santana is still too hurt to make opening day (though he’s since spelled some of these concerns with his first spring training outing).  Converted knuckleballer R.A. Dickey spent his off-season in a nasty fight with management over his charity climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro.  All their other starters posted ERAs in the mid to upper 4′s (or worse) with ERA+ figures in the 78-82 range.  And there doesn’t seem to be help coming on the Free Agency front (since the team can’t afford to keep operations running without bank loans) or on the prospect front (a quick glance at their AAA and AA starting talent resulted in ONE starter who had a minor league era in the respectable range, an 18th rounder in AA).  I think this team is finishing dead last in 2012 and may lose 100 games despite their payroll.  And to add insult to injury, the owners were just forced to cough up $83 million in a pre-trial settlement over their Madhoff scandal involvement.  Tough times are ahead for the Mets.

What do you guys think?  In terms of Washington, more than a few pundits have stated that the addition of Gonzalez makes the Nats a wild card contender, right now, and that was before the Jackson move finally brought some plaudits from typically cynical national baseball writers when considering signings by this franchise.

Do you think the Nats have now supplanted the Braves as having the 2nd best rotation in the division (as ESPN’s Buster Olney is opining?)  I think they have; I think Atlanta’s starters may be taking a slight step back while our quintet looks to be a solid, young but relatively experienced core.

Ask Boswell 3/5/12

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Here’s Tom Boswell‘s weekly Monday chat from 3/5/12.  Of the baseball questions he took, here’s how I’d have answered them.  While lots of questions pertained to the recent Gregg Williams “bounty” issues and whether or not the Redskins partook during his time here, the starting of spring training has got Nats fans pretty excited.

As always, questions are edited for clarity and I write my own answer prior to reading his.

Q: What do you think the Nats w/l record will be?  Can they win 90 games?

A: For a team that won 80 last year (though their pythagorean W/L record was slightly worse), I don’t think its a stretch to assume they can improve another 10 games.  Mark Zuckerman did a nice little WAR analysis and showed that full seasons from Zimmerman, LaRoche and Strasburg, along with the new additions of Gonzalez and Jackson *should* give the team at least another 10 wins, perhaps a bit more.  That’s assuming basically that everyone else performs at the same levels they did last year, and it assumes that the WAR stat directly translates to wins on the field.  In reality, you have to plan for some people to step up while others step back.  Can we assume that Morse will hit 30 homers again?  Its a tough one to assume; he could break a leg and suddenly our offense is in tatters.

That’s why I’ve been a bit more conservative, predicting 8 more wins for this team and have them at 88-74 with this squad.  If the team is in the WC hunt, and they augment the offense, or if Harper comes up and produces … suddenly that’s a 90-91 win team.  Boswell didn’t really answer this question, just went off on Strasburg tangents.

Q: Who is your opening day starter?

A: barring injury it has to be Strasburg.  I think your initial 5-man rotation goes like this, in this order: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Jackson and Wang.  This gives you a decent righty-lefty matchup at the top.  Perhaps you replace Wang with Lannan and have Jackson go out 5th to get a true R-L-R-L-R rotation.  Or perhaps Davey Johnson doesn’t care about lefty/righty matchups.  I’m more interested to see who the home opener starter is, since it happens 7 games into the season.  Right now it looks to be Gonzalez, which would be great, but early season rain-outs can greatly affect rotation orders.  Boswell says Strasburg but had a good caveat; if its 30 degrees and snowing in Chicago on opening day Strasburg probably won’t go.

Q: Where is this team’s Lenny Dykstra-esque scrappy mean streak player?

A: Honestly, the Mets-to-Nats comparisons may not ever bee 100%.   I don’t see a Dykstra type on this roster.  Mostly because this roster still does not have a center fielder/lead off type, which is exactly what Dykstra was.  Boswell says that Werth may still fill this role.

Q: Why didn’t the team keep Bixler and Nix?

A: Bixler is a good question; for reasons unknown the team designated him for assignment in the off-season while still possessing 40-man room (inexplicably; they did this a number of times, losing Kimball at one point but also losing two decent players in the Rule 5 draft).   Nix they probably thought was replaceable on the FA market … or at least obtainable for cheap.  There does always seem to be a number of halfway decent corner outfielders on the market who are available for less than what Nix got.  Boswell says Nix’s 2yr contract was the problem … the Nats want flexibility for 2014.  No mention of Bixler.

Q: If Tyler Clippard is our “MVP,” why isn’t he being paid more?

A: Two reasons; clearly the questioner doesn’t understand the whole arbitration process.  Just because Clippard is our best pitches doesn’t equate to him being the highest paid player.  Veterans always make more than pre-arb guys; don’t forget the players belong to a Union, and Union members reward longevitiy.  Secondly; Clippard unfortunately is a commodity player; he’s a non-closer reliever who doesn’t rack up saves and thus won’t ever be compensated like a Jonathan Papelbon or a Mariano Rivera, despite his value to the team.  Its an unfair world in some respects, and I just hope that the Nats do him right and keep paying him while he’s productive for the team.  Boswell mirrors my two thoughts but then also says that relievers are starting to become aware of newer stats like WPA that value Clippard highly (1st in the NL last year, above big name starters like Roy Halladay).

Q: What are your thoughts on the extra wild card?

A: Baseball purists may whine and complain, but the modern professional sports scene in this country, fortunately or unfortunately, places a ton of emphasis on playoffs versus regular season accomplishment.  Even with these two additional WC teams, Baseball still has the fewest of its teams reaching the regular season of any of the four major sports.  And, in a sport where payroll disparities may not determine the World Series victor every year they clearly help predict the playoff contendors (Yankees: one missed playoff appearance since 1994), having more teams in competition for the playoffs is good for the sport.  Frankly I’d like to see Baseball go to a 32-team/8-division structure similar to the NFL and adopt the NFL’s exact playoff structure.  The problem there is finding two more markets without cannibalizing the NY or LA market.  Boswell says “time will tell,” but also admits that he hated the first WC round initially but likes it now.  He also points out something I hadn’t thought of; the importance of your #3 starter with a new round of playoffs.

Q: Should the team just skip Strasburg’s start every few times to extend his 160IP limit until the end of the season?

A: It isn’t a bad idea; Zimmermann skipped one start and hit his 160IPs at roughly September 1st.  So skipping a few more starts for Strasburg would put him well into September.  But I don’t think he’ll be served well by jacking around his days rest.  Starters depend on getting into routines in order to pitch their best.  Honestly I think this situation may very well play it self out naturally; even in 2010 Strasburg had two separate DL stints; if he spends 30 days or so on the DL at various times we’ll get a full season out of him.  Boswell agrees with me on the not-skipping-a-start theory.

Q: How secure is Ramos as the #1 catcher?

A: I’d say he’s pretty secure.  Flores may have had a good winter, but winter leagues aren’t exactly MLB quality.  Flores’ injury history has more or less derailed his career, and that’s unfortunate.  The team has found a solid #1 in Ramos and will stick with him, with Flores getting his typical 1 or 2 starts a week.  The inclusion of Derek Norris in the Gonzalez package also spoke volumes about where this team thinks it is in terms of catcher depth, as does the 40-man addition of Maldonado, a journeyman catcher who now benefits from a distinct lack of upper-level minor league catcher depth.  Look for the team to make catcher a focus in the 2012 draft to start back up the catcher pipeline.  In the mean time, I doubt Flores will be trade bait even if he performs amazingly well, at least until we find another catcher in the wings.  Boswell says Ramos is as #1 as any #1 can be.

Q: Who are the best catchers ever?

A: For a combination of defense, calling games, arm strength as well as offense, i’d go with Johnny Bench.  But you also have to throw in Ivan Rodriguez in his prime.  Mike Piazza was notoriously bad defensively.  Jorge Posada was subpar defensively in his later years but was a monster bat.  I’d include other names from the past few decades like Carlton Fisk. Before Fisk and Bench, there was a dearth of HoF inductees from the catcher position for some 30 years, to Yogi Berra who is probably the benchmark for all-around catchers (with Bench).   Boswell says Bench as well, but mentions Varitek with Posada.  Interesting.

Q: What is the team going to do with Ian Desmond?

A: I’d guess that 2012 is the make it or break it year for Desmond.  If he’s hitting .220 at the all-star break without significant value proven at the SS position, the team may make a change.  Move Espinosa to SS, install DeRosa as starting 2B, look to move Desmond and perhaps make Lombardozzi the utility guy.  I also find it very interesting that Anthony Rendon is getting reps at both 2B and SS; if that kind of hitter can slot in at short stop on even an as-needed basis he could be even more of a dangerous prospect than he already is.  Boswell agrees; this is a big year for Desmond.

Q: If catcher is so important, why did we move Bryce Harper away from the position?

A: one word: longevity.  Yeah he was a catcher growing up but catchers get the crap beat out of them, have constant injury concerns, and the wear and tear of catching affects their hitting.  With such a bat potential, he needs to be on the field and playing 162 games.  That being said, I was slightly surprised that he didn’t at least try to stick at C for at least a little bit of his career … but understand the reasoning stated.  Boswell said the same things I said, but added that scouts didn’t really think he was a natural catcher anyway, so he got moved to the OF quickly.

Q: What would MLB’s response be to the same “bounty” scandal going on in the NFL?

A: Hard one; its not like purposeful bean-balls without context are common in the MLB.  And the game is just too random to purposely try to spike someone, or slide into them on purpose, or to purposely hit a catcher.  These plays are so bang-bang and so naturally occurring to baseball players who have played all their lives that they’re hard to script.  If it was found out to be happening?  Long suspensions.  Boswell thinks such a situation would be lifetime bans, if proven.

Q: Strasburg has never pitched more than 7 innings, at any level, ever.  Is this a concern?

A: I have a hard time believing this, but won’t challenge the questioner since I’m not entirely in a position to go searching through the guy’s college career.  Is it a concern?  eh.  Its modern baseball.  No more 150 pitch games, no more 38 start seasons.    Little leaguers have pitch count/innings limits, high school teams only play twice a week.  College rotations you go once a week.  I’d only be concerned if he showed any inclination of slowing down later in games, which he doesn’t.  Boswell isn’t concerned.

Can we put the “Bryce Harper will make the team” stories to rest?

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We all know what Harper's potential is; but shouldn't we wait until the ramifications of early promotion have passed? Photo unknown via curlyw.mlbblog.com

Davey Johnson inadvertently has started a storyline that just won’t go to bed; by saying that he wants Bryce Harper to break camp with the 25-man team, national writers and local beat reporters keep reporting about the possibility of Harper playing RF for the team on opening day.

Here’s the facts that that these reporters conveniently forget:

  1. If Harper starts the season with the big league club, then he reaches Free Agency one year earlier.
  2. If Harper joins the big league club after mid April but before mid-to-late June, then the financial penalties to the club are severe.

In case you weren’t aware of these two issues, lets discuss.

1. Reaching Free Agency a year early: See this excellent Service Time Consideration post from Ben Nicholson-Smith at mlbtraderumors.com.  Simply put, if the Nats start Harper with the big league club as of April 1st, then he will be eligible for free agency at the end of the 2017 season.   If we wait a few weeks, then that buys the club an entire extra season of Harper’s time for the 2018 season.  As has been put simply by other writers, a few weeks of Harper’s rookie season at age 19 is absolutely not going to be worth the value he will provide to the team during an entire 2018 season, by which point he looks to have many full seasons of experience and should be nearing his baseball peak at age 25.

2. Super 2 Status implications: As we should all know by now, the financial implications of bringing up super stars too early can be severe.  Dave Sheinen did this analysis best back when we were asking the same question about Stephen Strasburg, looking at the Tim Lincecum case as a lesson learned.  The Giants called up Lincecum about two weeks prior to the Super-2 status deadline and it has roughly cost them $18million in unneeded salary.

Lots has been said about how Davey Johnson broke camp with two young superstars in Dwight Gooden and Daryl Strawberry during his time with the Mets in the mid 1980s, with the narrative being that he’s not afraid to give young players a shot early.  That’s a great story but it omits one key point: the Super-2 status didn’t exist when Johnson made these decisions!   The Super-2 status didn’t exist in the Collective Bargaining Agreement until 1990, when the players negotiated in the status as a way of getting more money earlier to their union members.  A great idea at the time, but it has had the unintended effect of teams now keeping their best prospects in the minors until the mid-June time-frame as a way of gaming the system and keeping their pay low.

Frankly, I’m tired of reading stories about Harper that don’t at least tacitly acknowledge these two important points, and to me any story that talks of Harper making the team blindly without addressing these two modern baseball issues is lazy sports writing.  Johnson may want the guy now, but Mike Rizzo is the guy who has to answer to fans as to why the Nats won’t be able to get a free agent in 3 year’s time because of the payroll implications (upwards of $18M in some cases) of screwing up these decisions.  $18M in payroll generally buys you two starting players on the free agency market, and those two players can make the difference far more than a few weeks of Harper hitting .200 as a 19-yr old.

Honestly, everyone thought that this issue would have been addressed in the latest version of the CBA, negotiated ad-naseum over the past off season.  The clause helps no one; players are kept in the minors longer to game the system, teams have to wait to bring up players that could help them win now, and fans are forced to wait to see the best young stars.  Instead the two sides managed to make the situation WORSE, by increasing the percentage of players that qualify for Super-2 and now forcing teams to keep players in the minors even longer.  It was an inexplicable decision by both sides to further exacerbate the problem.  I realize that no matter what you do, there has to be a cutoff date for service time deadlines to qualify for free agency and/or super-2 status, but why no just make that date early in the season and fix all the problems caused by super-2?

As a fan of the team this season, yeah I’d love to see Harper up and starting in RF.  Who wouldn’t?  But as a long term fan, I want this team to have the best chance of winning for years to come.  And thus I want Harper in the minors until these two issues are non-issues any longer.

Why is baseball so intent on killing their international talent pools?

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Bud Selig continuing to ignore the facts to save a buck. Photo via ajc.com

Bud Selig continues to push for an international draft.

Why can’t he see what irrevocable damage this would do to the game of baseball??  The cause and effect of including Puerto Rico into the domestic rule-4 (aka amateur) draft is pretty clear; when the province (a former hotbed of baseball prospects) was added to the US draft, MLB teams no longer had any incentive to host baseball academies on the island, which then led to almost no money being sent to develop amateur players, which has led to a startling drop-off of talent being drafted out of the territory.

If the same is done for the ENTIRETY of the world, what do you think will happen in developing baseball countries like Venezuela, Dominican Republic and the like?  Every MLB team will close up shop, stop spending money to develop and scout players, and we’ll stop seeing the massive inflow of foreign talent.  Its that simple.  An international draft works in Basketball because it is far more of an international sport than Baseball; there’s significant pro leagues world wide and a massive interest in developing players.  So there’s no need for NBA teams to setup basketball academies in places like Germany or Spain; they already exist and are funded by international amateur/olympic organizations.

The same situation doesn’t exist in baseball, and our sport has already suffered for Selig’s blatant pandering to tight fisted owners.  Clearly Jerry Reinsdorf was behind the limits of amateur bonus money negotiated into the last CBA and clearly is behind this international draft effort as well; for reasons unknown Reinsdorf and Selig are so myopic they cannot see the long term damage this will do to the sport: in order to save just a few million dollars here and there in signing bonuses they want to do billions of dollars in long term damage to the sport.

The most recent CBA already took the first steps towards hurting small-market teams and shutting the door on two-sport stars by putting in artificial and (in my opinion) unneeded limitations on bonus monies.  In a sport that clearly has massive revenue discrepancies between big city teams in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and the like versus places like Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Oakland, why would the league purposely eliminate the primary way that these small market teams can improve themselves?  Its as if Selig called up the owners of large market teams with incompetent GMs and said, “Hey guys, how can we screw these teams to overcome our own incompetencies that we’re paving over by spending $150M/year in payroll?”

It really is infuriating…

How could we fix this issue, if an international draft was forced upon the sport?  I’d be ok with an international draft if, somehow, the draft rules were modified so that teams that developed talent in their own private academies were somehow given the ability to keep their own talent.  Perhaps a modified draft where international prospects were graded by independent talent evaluators and teams could burn one of their own amateur draft picks by taking one of their own?  How about an expansion-type draft situation where teams could protect a number of players ahead of each amateur draft, and then at the end of each round they could protect one additional player?

Written by Todd Boss

March 3rd, 2012 at 9:38 am

Updated Minor League Rotation Predictions for 2012

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Solis’ TJ surgery news thins our already-too-thin starting pitching minor league depth. Photo via Natsinsider blog/Mark Zuckerman

With Spring Training in full swing, most of the focus is on the Nationals 25-man roster and who may or may not make it.  Even with the additions to the major league roster, our minor league starter development is still incredibly important to this team for the long run.  Despite having Strasburg, Zimmermann and Gonzalez each locked up for many years (roughly, 2016, 2016 and 2018 respectively with options exercised), the rest of the rotation is not exactly set in stone for the long run.  Wang and Jackson are on one-year FA contracts and Lannan doesn’t seem a lock to be tendered this coming off season (where he’ll face arbitration for the third time and, if he stays here and puts in 30 starts, could be in line for something close to $8M in 2013).  That is, if Lannan is still even with the team in a year’s time (he seems surplus to requirements right now and may be a trade candidate).

Even more importantly, three key starters in our farm system went the other way for Gonzalez.  Our 2012 AAA starter safety net of Milone and Peacock is now set to be the 4th and 5th starter in Oakland, and our most electric younger arm (Cole) is now one of Billy Beane‘s best prospects.

That being said, lets talk about what the 2012 minor league rotations may look like, and where interest may lie with up and coming arms.  Experienced readers will note that, by and large, I only focus on minor league starters.  That is because, for the very large part, that pitchers rise up in the minors as starters and only get converted to be relievers upon failing as starters.  If you look at our current bullpen; Clippard, Rodriguez, Burnett, Gorzelanny, Detwiler and Lidge are all former starters, converted to being relievers either because of poor performance or for physical reasons.  Only Storen has grown up entirely as a reliever.  Therefore, the odds of a guy who is already pitching in relief in the lower minors rising up to be a part of the MLB bullpen is relatively slim.  Loogies?  Another matter, but still a difficult path (just ask someone like Josh Smoker).  Therefore, I tend to focus on Starters with occasional lip service given to closers per level and other relievers who are pitching their way into promotions.

Luke Erickson has posted some predictions (for AAA, AA, high-A and low-A), I put in an updated guess on Syracuse’s rotation post Gonzalez trade, and I had a series of posts at the end of last season wrapping up each level with predictions for 2012.  From all those posts, here’s my preliminary guesses on the rotations for the minor league rotations:

  • AAA: Stammen, Maya, Arneson, Ballard, Buschmann

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Erickson’s guesses of Atkins and Hernandez though replacing the last two; I’m guessing there’s going to be a wide-open competition for this rotation in this year’s spring training.  And, I specifically did not include John Lannan here; I just cannot believe the team is going to stick him in Syracuse by virtue of his option after signing on to pay him $5M.

First man promoted: I’d guess Stammen, who did have some successes in last year’s call-up, but it’ll take a swine-flu epidemic in the Nationals clubhouse for him to get called up to make some starts.  The MLB staff looks to have two former starters in their bullpen who will get the ball before Stammen gets a shot in 2012, and that doesn’t include the Wang/Lannan 5th starter conundrum.

First man demoted to the bullpen: Arneson; he’s bounced our system around like a pinball lately, and the team seems to use him as a multi-level handy-man instead of a starter prospect.

  • AA: Rosenbaum, Bronson, Demny, Gilliam, Olbrychowski

This list did have Sammy Solis until his TJ surgery was announced, and I put in Olbrychowski, who was halfway decent in a bunch of 2nd half starts in 2011.  I do think Roark is done being a starter in this system but I could be wrong.  Gilliam was the little-known make-weight player in the Gonzalez trade and I think he makes it to the Harrisburg roster.

First man promoted: Danny Rosenbaum, who aced Potomac last year and has the same make up as Lannan.  But, unfortunately there’s no top-10 stars on this list that could make an immediate impact.

First man demoted to the bullpen: Obrychowski, who started 2011 in the pen and may be on a short leash if someone in Potomac lights it up.

  • High-A: Purke, Meyer, Selik, Grace, Hill

I think Purke is advanced enough to start here, as is Meyer.  Of course, I also think Purke’s injury history could work against him and he ends up in extended spring for a bit.  Either way, I think both would be poorly served by sticking them in Low-A.  They’re both first round talents and need to be going against older, more advanced hitters right now.  This rotation is the future for the Nats; if they can’t find a 2014 starter out of this group, then we’ll be spending a ton in the FA pitching market for years to come.  This rotation is hurt by the loss of Taylor Jordan, who will be out the entirety of 2012 with TJ surgery after pitching very effectively for the first half of 2011 for Hagerstown.  Hill is the name i’m least confident in, only putting him here by virtue of his being a senior draftee in 2011, thus he’d be at least 3 years too old for low-A this year.

First man promoted: Cameron Selik; the phenom from 2011′s Hagerstown staff already has a ton of Potomac experience and could move up soon.  Despite their promise, I think both Purke and Meyers will be in Potomac for at least a half a season to get their professional legs.

First man demoted to the bullpen: Grace: he wasn’t entirely convincing as a starter in low-A, but his numbers were skewed by one or two really bad outings.

  • Low-A: Turnbull, Hansen, Ray, McGeary, Karns?

Maybe the 5th would be Karns, who if healthy could be a quick riser after so many injuries have derailed what was a promising young arm.  I think Ray starts here again with the idea of quickly promoting him, despite his success here last year.  He’s still young.  Of course, I could also see Ray and Hill switching places between low- and high-A.

First man promoted:  Robbie Ray: he out pitched AJ Cole last year without any of the Baseball America top 100 love.  I think he’s the next in a long line of lower velocity but higher result lefty starters that the system has been developing (see Lannan, Detwiler to a certain extent, Solis, Rosenbaum and McGeary for comps).

First man demoted to the bullpen: Karns, if he’s here.  I’m guessing Karns has this season to show that he continues to be a starter prospect, with a back-of-the-bullpen job waiting if he can’t show he’s durable enough to go 6 innings every 5 days.

  • Short-A: MRodriguez, Dupra, Baez and 2 draft picks.
  • GCL: Mieses repeating plus 4 guys from DSL and the 2012 draft.

There’s almost no point of trying to predict the short season rotations, but I do believe that the names listed here aren’t going to make the Low-A roster but are still worth keeping as starters in extended spring.  We had almost no starter talent in the GCL last season, with only Mieses making enough of an impression to keep him in that role.

Lastly, Taylor Jordan and Sammy Solis start the year on the DL, unfortunately, both with Tommy John surgery.  They would have both been prominent members of their rotations after great seasons last year, and their injuries further thin our starting pitching depth post Gonzalez trade.