Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for November, 2012

Span for Meyer; Understand it but don’t entirely like it

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The team gets the lead-off hitter it has needed for years in Denard Span. Photo Bruce Kluckhohn/Minnesota Twins via twitter

At least Nats fans can start understanding the team’s off-season plans a little more clearly now.  The first domino has fallen.  The Nats acquired Denard Span from Minnesota for Alex Meyer yesterday.

I’ve argued against a center field acquisition for a while now.  Here’s three primary reasons why:

1. I don’t feel the Nats needed a center fielder.  Bryce Harper put up a 17.6 UZR/150 in 715+ innings while showing a plus-plus arm (both statistically and for any casual observers).   He’s just turning 20.  There is no reason to think he cannot ably patrol center for at least the next few years.  I’ve used this analogy before, but I feel like its the Yankees approaching Mickey Mantle after his first season in center and saying, “Hey Mick, we like you in center but we have this barely above league average guy At least until point #2 possibly comes to play:

2. Brian Goodwin, along with Destin Hood, Eury Perez, Michael Taylor and any other marginal OF prospect the team has is now effectively blocked for at least the next 3 years and possibly longer.  Span is signed through 2014 (with a very affordable 2015 option), Jayson Werth signed through 2017, and Harper is under team control through at least 2017.   There’s your outfield for the next 3 years guaranteed, 2/3rds of which is locked up for the next 5.  I just feel that the better path would have been to let Harper play CF until Goodwin or Perez seems ready (clearly Godwin is an upper-end prospect who has impressed ever since he was drafted, and the team didn’t add Perez to their 40-man roster just to give him the extra salary) and just make do with a slugger in left field.

3. The loss of Alex Meyer represents the best healthy starter arm in the entire system, a system which is becoming thinner and thinner (with this trade on the backs of the Gio trade I’d guess the Nats are now going to be in the bottom 5 farm systems when rankings start coming out).  You can argue whether or not Meyer was going to stick as a starter (see the “bright side” points below), but inarguably this weakens the farm system in general and further weakens a specific problem that may pop up sooner than later; starting pitcher depth.  If one of our big 4 suffers a spring training injury, it is difficult to see who may step up and be counted on for starts.

This move clearly forces the Nationals hand on Michael Morse, and now the team may end up negotiating from a point of weakness if they need to move him.  The decision path for the team now is clearly “Morse or LaRoche” at first base.  If the team does bring back Adam LaRoche suddenly Morse is without a lineup spot and his trade value diminishes quickly.  If the rumors are true that LaRoche is “only” seeking a 3 year deal, the Nats should stumble over themselves to offer him a 3 year deal (3yrs $40M seems more than fair based on what LaRoche did for us last year) and lock up the plus-defender/middle of the order bat.

This move also cannot be a happy day for Tyler Moore; he’s clearly set on being a backup now in 2013 no matter what happens with Morse/LaRoche, despite promising numbers in 2012.   Well, unless the team fails to re-sign LaRoche AND moves Morse (which I suppose is still possible but would make little sense), which would then install Moore as the every day first baseman.  Between Moore, Morse possibly being out of a position and Goodwin being blocked for years to come, you have to think we’re going to see some more moves involving these players (hopefully to acquire a starter, or some starter depth in the minors).


Now, on the bright side (since I’ve been accused of being too negative in my analysis), I will say the following:

1. We did not give up a ton for Span.  I like Meyer, but I’m afraid he may not stick as a starter.  The scouting knock on him has always related to his tall frame and repeatability of his delivery.  He has a funky leg kick and slightly weird mechanics, further muddying the waters.  Lastly he’s a huge guy and he (at first glance in videos) seems to really throw standing up and doesn’t use a ton of his lower body.  All of this spells “reliever” in his future.  If Meyer tops out as a fireballing reliever, this trade looks even better.

2. Span inarguably fills a need; a high OBP leadoff hitter.  He’s a .357 career OBP guy with speed and who hits lefty, a nearly perfect fit for what this lineup needs at the top.  Leadoff hitters generally come from one of three positions: CF, SS and 2B.  If the team decided it NEEDED a leadoff guy, and with Desmond and Espinosa locked into the SS and 2B slots for the time being, clearly the only place the team could go was a center-fielder.  The USAToday article linked at the top said it best (paraphrasing): this move is as if you bought a new chair for your living room, which forced you to have to move around your furniture.  You didn’t necessarily need the new chair, but it certainly makes your living room look better.  This move enables Werth to move further down in the lineup and return to his power stroke.

3. We didn’t spend good money after bad on BJ Upton or Michael Bourn, who’s 5yr/$75M demands would have been a real waste of money.  Span’s contract is great: 5yrs for $16.5M guaranteed plus a $9M option in 2015.   The Nats acquired a desired resource without appreciably increasing payroll, allowing them to focus (perhaps) on a FA starter.

Initial reaction to the trade in the Baseball World seems mixed, which is great since it probably indicates that this is a pretty fair trade all in all.  Keith Law doesn’t like it of  course, but that’s because Law believes every low-minors big arm is turning into Justin Verlander (Law also thought the Gio Gonzalez trade was a “huge win” for Oakland because they got AJ Cole, the same AJ Cole who put up a 7.82 ERA in high-A this year and was forced to repeat Low-A).  Meanwhile Dave Cameron calls this a “huge win” for Washington, focusing on Span’s numbers and mentioning the same concerns about Meyer that I do.  Rob Neyer pays a complement to Mike Rizzo and the Nats and says the team is well-positioned for several years.  Ken Rosenthal talks about the about-face the franchise has done in the last 3 years in the eyes of potential Free Agents, specifically Zack Greinke, who declined the Nats trade offer 2 years ago but now could be the final piece in building a juggernaut.


Coincidentally, those who think this moves Harper to LEFT field may be mistaken.  Werth’s defense in right has inarguably slipped (he posted a -14.2 UZR/150 in right this year, a significant drop from his previous decent-to-good seasons there).  I think Harper should play right field, with his gun for an arm protecting against 1st-to-3rd runners while Werth should immediately put up great UZR numbers in left.  Possible lineup in 2013 (assuming for now that LaRoche is leaving):

  1. Span (L) – CF
  2. Werth (R) -LF
  3. Zimmerman (R) – 3B
  4. Harper (L) – RF
  5. Morse (R) – 1B
  6. Desmond (R) – SS
  7. Espinosa (S) – 2B
  8. Suzuki (R) – C
  9. Pitcher.

L-R-R-L-R-R-S-R for good balance.  I could also see Desmond and Werth switching spots in the lineup.  Harper to cleanup may be a bit early, but without adding another lefty bat the lineup could have too many right-handed hitters in a row.

Now, what if LaRoche re-signs?  Then suddenly this lineup has pretty good balance.  With LaRoche in the fold i’d probably go like this:

  1. Span (L) – CF
  2. Werth (R) -LF
  3. Harper (L) – RF
  4. Zimmerman (R) – 3B
  5. LaRoche (L) – 1B
  6. Desmond (R) – SS
  7. Espinosa (S) – 2B
  8. Suzuki (R) – C
  9. Pitcher.

That’d be a slight modification over where these guys hit last year, but would give nearly perfect lefty-righty balance.


In the end, you have to give up something you value to get something you value.  The Nats made a good trade, despite my thinking they didn’t need to make the trade in the first place.  They’re an improved team on the field for 2013.

Nats Franchise FA history; biggest, best, worst deals

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Jayson Werth is certainly our most expensive FA, by a considerable sum. Photo Mitchell Layton/Getty Images NA

The second in a series: The first looked at the Biggest/Best/Worst Trades of the Washington Nationals era and was posted in late March.  Yes, it took me 8 months to return to this series, despite writing most of this post in July.  Here in Part 2, we’ll look at the biggest, best and worst Free Agent signings in the tenures of both Jim Bowden and Mike Rizzo. In the last section we’ll look at Draft picks.

Ground rules for this article:

1. When considering a Free Agent we’ll only consider the FIRST signing in this list.  So, for guys who have signed multiple one-year free agent contracts in a row (guys like Rick Ankiel and Chien-Ming Wang), we’ll only consider them as a single signing.  For others who signed here and then left, only to come back (example: Livan Hernandez) we’ll consider them as separate signings.

2. We are considering extensions given to existing players (since they don’t fit elsewhere).  You can consider an extension just a pre-emptive free agent contract.

3. We’re mostly focusing here on Major League free agents; each year we sign many minor league FAs ahead of camp.  If a Minor League FA signing ends up having a decent impact on the major league team, we’ll note him (good recent example being Laynce Nix).

Just for review, here’s the tenure period of both GMs:

  • Nov 2004 – Mar 2009: Jim Bowden
  • Mar 2009 – present: Mike Rizzo

The team has made dozens and dozens of signings: I won’t try to go through them all here.  For those interested, here’s my List of Free Agents from over the years (also available on the links section to the right of this blog).  I put up a similar notes file (List of Trades and Trading Partners) from the first post of this series, also available in the list of resources on the right-hand side of the blog.

Jim Bowden Tenure: Nov 2004 – Mar 2009

Bowden’s Biggest Free Agent Signings

  • 2006: Nick Johnson 3yr $16.5M
  • 2007: Austin Kearns 3yr $16.5M
  • 2008: Cristian Guzman 2yr $16M
  • 2009: Adam Dunn 2yr $20M

I wonder sometimes if Bowden doesn’t sit in his ESPN office as he writes his blogs and ask himself what he could have done here had he had more money to spend.  Look at this list; Bowden’s biggest deal in 5 off-seasons was a 2yr/$20M contract for a slugger who really had nowhere else to go that off-season.  Jayson Werth will make more than that annually starting in 2014.

Bowden’s Best Free Agent Signings

  • 2006: Brian Schneider 4yr extension, $2.9M
  • 2007: Ronnie Belliard 1yr ML deal
  • 2007: Dmitri Young 1yr ML deal
  • 2008: Willie Harris 1yr $800K
  • 2009: Adam Dunn 2yr $20M

Bowden’s 2007 off-season was pretty amazing, looking back.  He assembled a team on the backs of Minor League Free Agents galore, one of which (Dmitri Young) ended up being our lone All-Star.  The team went 73-89 and gave 145 of its 162 starts to guys who aren’t even in the league any more (exceptions: Joel Hanrahan‘s 11 starts with 6.00 ERA and late-season call up John Lannan‘s 6 starts as a 22-yr old).  He was the master of the scrap heap and spun a team that should have lost 100 games into a respectable 73 win team.  Too bad that luck ran out in 2008 as the team bottomed out.  But you have to hand it to Bowden for these three 2007 signings; Hanrahan didn’t really pay off for the Nationals, ever, but did enable us to eventually get Sean Burnett, a valuable member of the team’s bullpen these last few years.

All things considered, I’d have to say that Adam Dunn may have been his best FA signing.  Dunn’s bat was mostly wasted during his two years here, considering the unbelievably bad pitching staffs that Bowden assembled.  But the combination of Zimmerman-Dunn-Willingham was a pretty fearsome 3-4-5.  Ironically, NOT re-signing Dunn may also have been one of Rizzo’s best non-moves, considering Dunn’s amazing 2011 collapse and the subsequent rise of Michael Morse (who would have continued to be a bit player if the Nats still had Dunn in LF).

Bowden’s Worst Free Agent Signings

  • 2007: Austin Kearns 3yr $16.5M
  • 2008: Paul Lo Duca 1yr $5M
  • 2008: Rob Mackowiak 1yr $1.5M
  • 2008: Johnny Estrada 1yr $1.25M
  • 2008: Cristian Guzman 2yr extension $16M
  • 2009: Daniel Cabrera 1yr $2.6M

2008 was as bad as 2007 was good for Bowden.  Nearly every move he made back-fired, some spectacularly.  Paul Lo Duca hadn’t been signed for a week when his name showed up prominently in the Mitchell Report; he was released before July.  Rob Mackowiak and Johnny Estrada were just stealing money; its still not clear what Bowden saw in these guys.  I hated the Kearns deal, never understood what Bowden saw in the guy.  Daniel Cabrera was so bad for us it was almost comical, and it was a relief when we DFA’d him after 8 starts.

But the worst FA signing has to the Guzman extension.  He seemed decent enough after coming back from an injury that cost him all of 2005 and most of 2006, but Bowden inexplicably extended him for 2 years for the same amount of money that he had earned the previous four … and almost immediately his production tailed off.   Its not that Guzman was that BAD in 2009 and 2010, its just that he was so vastly overpaid for what he gave the team.  We flipped him for two minor league pitchers, he promptly hit .152 in 15 games for Texas and he was out of the league.

Mike Rizzo Tenure: Mar 2009 – present

Rizzo’s Biggest Free Agent Signings

  • 2010: Ryan Zimmerman 5yr $45M
  • 2011: Jayson Werth 7yr $126M
  • 2012: Ryan Zimmermann 8yrs $100M
  • 2012: Gio Gonzalez 5yr $42M

Its ironic that I had to remove three deals from this list (LaRoche, Jackson, Marquis) that would have qualified for Bowden’s “biggest deal” list.  That’s because the size of these deals are just dwarfing what the team was willing to do under Bowden.  Lots of pundits have (and continue to) criticized the Jayson Werth deal, and it routinely appears on anyone’s list of “Worst Baseball Contracts.”  And his 2011 season confirmed just how bad this may have turned out for Washington.  But a bounceback 2012, which featured Werth putting up a 125 OPS+ despite missing a ton of time with a broken wrist, showing the flexibility of batting lead-off when the team needed him, plus providing the veteran leadership and professionalism that this young team needs certainly would earn back some of that contract value.  In hindsight, I think the team made this deal as a strawman, to send a message to the rest of the league that we were NOT a low-budget, poorly run team, and to pave the path back to respectability in the minds of other professionals out there that Washington can be a destination franchise.

Rizzo’s Best Free Agent Signings

  • 2009: Julian Tavarez 1yr ML
  • 2009: Joe Beimel 1yr $2M
  • 2010: Livan Hernandez 1yr ML 900k
  • 2011: Jerry Hairston 1yr $2M
  • 2010: Matt Capps 1yr $3.5M
  • 2010: Joel Peralta 1yr ML
  • 2011: Todd Coffey 1yr $1.35M
  • 2011: Laynce Nix 1yr ML

In terms of impact-per-dollar, I think the first Livan Hernandez year of his return was probably the best FA signing that Rizzo has done.  Hernandez went 10-12 with a 3.66 ERA and a 110 ERA+ for less than a million dollars on the FA market.  That’s roughly $90k a Win, when most teams are paying more than $1M/win for free agent starting pitching.   However clearly Rizzo’s most shrewd FA deal was the Matt Capps signing.  He took Capps off the scrap heap; he was released by Pittsburgh after a horrid 2009, and his half season of excellent relief for us turned into Wilson Ramos and a minor leaguer (Joe Testa), returned in trade from Minnesota.  I will also mention that the value that minor league signings Julian Tavarez, Joel Peralta, and Laynce Nix gave the team was also fantastic, considering where these players were in their careers prior to joining us.

Rizzo’s Worst Free Agent Signings

  • 2010: Yunesky Maya 4yr $8M
  • 2010: Ivan Rodriguez 2yr $6M
  • 2010: Jason Marquis 2yr $15M
  • 2011: Matt Stairs 1yr ML
  • 2012: Brad Lidge 1yr $1M
  • Chein Ming Wang: all of them.

2010, Rizzo’s first FA class, didn’t turn out very well did it? Yunesky Maya has been a pretty big disappointment, giving the team just one MLB win for an $8M investment.  Ivan Rodriguez just proved to be slightly too old to be worth the starter money he was paid; you could argue that the leadership he provided was worth the money.   And Jason Marquis, bought as a stop-gap for a failed farm system, was god-awful in 2010.  I won’t completely kill Rizzo for the Brad Lidge experiment; it was worth a $1M flier to see if he had anything left in the tank.  Matt Stairs would have been another fine, low-cost experiment except for the fact that the team kept giving him at-bats for weeks/months after it was clear he was washed up.

For me the worst FA signing was related to the money poured down the Chien-Ming Wang rathole for three years running.  The Nats ended up investing $8M total over three years to get 16 starts, 6 wins and a 4.94 ERA.

Rizzo’s Too Early to Tell Free Agent Signings

  • 2011: Jayson Werth 7yr $126M
  • 2012: Ryan Zimmermann 8yrs $100M
  • 2012: Gio Gonzalez 5yr $42M

So far, Werth’s contract is trending as an over-pay, Zimmerman’s as an injury concern, and Gonzalez trending as a complete steal (21 wins for $8.4M AAV in 2012?  That’s a fantastic return for the money).  Pundits have stated that the Nats have “two 9-figure contracts but zero 9-figure players” (I read it at the time of the Zimmerman signing but cannot find the link).  I think that’s slightly unfair to these players, but until Zimmerman can stay healthy enough to produce at his 2009 level, you have to admit that he may be overpaid as well.  Perhaps Zimmerman’s brittle health issues can be alleviated if he makes the move to 1B, where he can continue to play gold glove calibre defense but have less of a tax on his body.  This analysis obviously does not take Zimmerman’s “value” to the franchise into account, which may be unfair when considering this contract (nobody really said Derek Jeter‘s latest contract was a massive overpay considering his service to the Yankees,  his “stature” as the captain and his eventual Hall of Fame induction; for the Yankees to cut him loose would have been a massive public relations gaffe).

Coincidentally, I didn’t view the contracts of guys like LaRoche, Jackson, or Morse as being specifically “good” or “bad.”   I think LaRoche’s one bad/one good season plus Jackson’s MLB average season was just about on-par with expectations for their contracts.  Morse’s 2011 production was pre-contract, so we’ll see how his 2013 goes.

Thoughts?  Any FA signings or extensions out there that stick in your minds that you thought should be mentioned?

Ask Boswell 11/26/12 Edition

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The Nats entire off-season plan revolves around what Adam LaRoche does. Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

I havn’t done a “how would I answer this chat question” from The Washington Post’s Tom Boswell in a while, but on the back of his 11/26/12 “Stay the Course” opinion piece in the Washington Post (where he basically advises that the team should stay out of the major FA market this off-season), I thought I’d chime in and read/respond to his 11/26/12 chat.

My opinion on Boswell’s piece; I don’t think you can stand pat in today’s baseball world.  Yes this team won 98 games last year.  But does anyone think we’ll win 98 games again by doing little to nothing to address the team’s needs?  Trying to replace Adam LaRoche and Edwin Jackson‘s departures internally has a large chance of weakening the team, and I believe we need to explore a significant FA purchase (or a trade) this off-season.  Now, inarguably TV deals and the rising revenue streams are fueling the FA market, and we’re already seeing contracts that heretofore would have been immediately labeled as “over pays.”  Therefore, even if the Nats go after a 2nd or 3rd tier player in free agency, they’re going to be compensated far more than we ever thought their value represented.  But this is just the way the baseball world is going; we can no longer say that someone is “overpriced” … we need to remember that everyone is going to be “overpriced.”  Perhaps Jayson Werth‘s $126M/7yr deal will look like a bargain in a few  years.

And this is before even addressing the impact that the amazing new Los Angeles Dodger’s TV deal, reportedly worth between $6 and $7 billion dollars over 25 years, will have on the baseball world.  Even at the low-end estimate, that’s $240M a year in RSN revenue.  $240M a year!  They could field a $200M team, pay luxury taxes and still have money to spare under this deal, and that’s before a single dollar in gate, game-day revenues, suites, parking or merchandising comes in.  To call this a “game-changer” is an understatement; I think this could be a serious issue facing Baseball in the coming years.  We’re already seeing what the new ownership group is capable of doing in terms of acquiring talent without much regard to payroll.  What happens if they also acquire the likes of Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke this coming winter?  A quick check of Cot’s page shows that Los Angeles has $169.5M committed to its top 14 players right now, with three guys making > 20M and nine total with pay > $11M/year.  And they’re reportedly in the mix for the top FAs this off-season, potentially adding 20-30M more to that base number.  That’s amazing.  Just more revenue sharing for Jeffrey Loria to pocket I guess (Thanks Bud!).

Anyway, back to the chat responses.  As always, I write my response before reading his, and sometimes edit questions here for clarity/conciseness.  I’m only answering baseball-related questions, ignoring the slew of Redskins issues.

Q: Are the Nats positioning themselves to make a strong push in the next two drafts?

A: This is what I whittled down a long-winded, rambling “question” to.  The gist is that a comp pick from Adam LaRoche leaving, plus another potential comp pick if Michael Morse leaves next year could help re-stock the farm system.  I’d tend to say, “maybe.”  The Nats are no longer where they were in 2009 and 2010, getting franchise players by virtue of back to back awful seasons.  So the likelihood of finding an impact player is far less.  That being said, having multiple first and supplemental first round picks is a great way to find players and to get guys who “slipped” due to signability/injury issues (as Lucas Giolito did this year).

The Nats farm system has taken some hits in the last two seasons; one from trade (losing 4 top-10 players in the Gio Gonzalez trade) and then another from injury concerns for its top guys (Sammy Solis, Matthew Purke, Lucas Giolito, and Anthony Rendon all representing 1st and 2nd round talents who suffered either season-ending injuries or significant injuries curtailing their progression in the last calendar year, to say nothing of injuries to lower-level guys like Taylor Jordan who will provide depth rising up).  This thinned farm system may prevent Rizzo from making the kind of deal he made last summer, and he may want to focus on getting some more depth in the 2013 draft, as much as is possible from drafting so low.

Here’s the issue writing my own response before reading Boswell’s: he didn’t even talk about the draft portion of the “question,” instead talking about the FA pitcher angle.

Q: What do you think the team is planning on doing to replace Edwin Jackson?

A: I’d guess the team is working on two fronts: one looking at possible trade angles with teams that have surplus starting pitching (Arizona, Tampa Bay, Oakland, Los Angeles Dodgers and perhaps even Atlanta) and seeing if he can swing a deal.  Then I’d guess he’s looking at a 2nd tier of starters, looking to avoid the Greinke sweepstakes (despite his affinity for the hurler).  I do NOT think the team is going to tender John Lannan, instead looking to get a better pitcher for slightly more money than the $5M he’d likely earn at a minimum in 2013.  Of course, with the prices we’ve seen for lefties already perhaps we will tender Lannan and consider another $5M insurance policy a bargain.  Boswell scrolls through the same 2nd tier of starters, noting that there’s definitely someone out there who could work.  He also mentioned the team may look at re-signing Zach Duke, though I’d be surprised by that.  Why would we re-sign Duke but non-tender Lannan, if Lannan clearly is a better pitcher?

Q: Is the lack of a MASN deal hindering the Nats FA plans?

A: You have to think it is.  If the Nats knew what they were getting next year, they’d certainly have a better idea of how much they could spend.  The fact that Bud Selig has allowed Peter Angelos to hijack this MASN revenue negotiation for this long is deplorable.  Of course, by waiting this long with the negotiations Angelos has only cost himself money, as the price we can command as a franchise certainly skyrocketed between the end of 2011 and now.  So there’s that.  But its clear the team is getting a pittance as compared to other comparably sized markets (Houston, Philadelphia) and needs a larger share.  Boswell doesn’t think the lack of a deal is affecting the team’s plans, mostly because there’s not a $250M player on the market this year as there was last year.

Q: Were you invited to any of the seven off-season Nationals player weddings?

A: I wasn’t.  Boswell wasn’t either.  :-)

Q: Why did the MLB allow the Marlins trade to go through? It poisons Miami against baseball probably for a decade and will surely be seen as a cautionary tale for city governments for at least as long.

A: Simple reason: Selig is buddies with Jeffrey Loria and has enabled his crummy behaviors for nearly 2 decades.  More complex reason: on the face of it, from a purely baseball sense this trade was little different than the Boston-Los Angeles trade, and I’d guess you would have a hard time accepting one and denying the other.  Loria’s position with Miami is not Selig’s concern; he got the new stadium that Selig claims is necessary in every market and Loria clearly will continue to profit from the team.  To an owner, that’s the primary concern.  And Selig works for the owners.  All of us bloggers and columnists to deplored the trade and Loria in general (including me, in this space in September and again in November) and talk about the sanctity of the game are just blowing hot-air.  Selig doesn’t care.  Boswell didn’t really answer the question, just saying that baseball is dead in Miami for a long, long time.  Hey, it only helps the Nats to have a 110 loss team in the division, right?

Q: Is Adam LaRoche destined for the AL as an aging 1st baseman?

A: I don’t think so; the questioner compared LaRoche to Adam Dunn, who can DH and is more valuable in the AL.  Inarguably aging sluggers fare better in the AL … but LaRoche just won a gold glove for his defense at first base.  He isn’t exactly a plodding first baseman slowed by age.  He should be able to capably play the position for several more  years, through whatever contract he’s about to sign.  Boswell agrees that this is the trend, and says that Baltimore is a possible destination … but mentions nothing about LaRoche’s plus defense.

Q: Why aren’t the Nats making a bigger play for Edwin Jackson?

A: A good question.  I questioned the Nats lack of a Qualifying Offer being extended to Jackson and surmised it was because the team was afraid he’d take it (having a history of working on one-year deals).  So clearly the lack of the Q.O. indicates a new direction for the team.  I don’t think its related to his meltdown in the post-season; that can happen to anyone (see most of our pitching staff not named Ross Detwiler).  I’d guess that it relates somehow to Jackson’s maddening capabilities; shutdown power pitcher one night, gopher-ball machine the next.  I think they’re just going in a different direction.  Boswell says Jackson wants a 5-year deal … which if true even more reinforces my questioning of the lack of the Q.O.  I disagree with his sentiment that the team is “saving room” for the rising farm system arms; to me a prospect starter is not a solution until the day he arrives in the majors and gives you 30 starts.

Q: Why did Tampa extend Evan Longoria?

A: The team had him under baseball’s most team-friendly contract (6yrs, $17.5M with three team options, locking him to Tampa from 2008 til 2016).  One of baseball’s best players, he made just $2M and $4.5M in the last two seasons.  Which is just ridiculous.  I feel Tampa did the extension to show good faith to the player who was just so woefully underpaid.  Boswell didn’t really answer the question, just saying its a good move because hitters come back from injury better than pitchers.

Q: Should the team be worried about losing LaRoche and his lefty power?

A: Yes absolutely.  Which is why the team should either try to get him to sign a reasonable deal (3 years max) OR the team should let him walk and try to replace the lefty power on the FA market (perhaps in the form of someone like Nick Swisher, who won’t be cheap but also can stick in LF for a while and should fit in nicely to the clubhouse).  Or maybe the team swings a deal for a lefty outfielder in trade and sticks Morse at first.  Boswell agrees, thinking that LaRoche’s hot FA market will get him a 4 year deal for more money than the Nats are willing to pay.

Q: Is there any chance that MASN just cuts ties with the Nats and frees us from the awful deal?

A: No. Chance. In. Hell.  Angelos stands to get such massive, major profit from this deal that he’ll die before giving in.  There is just no way.  And more and more its looking like this pact with the devil, which enabled the team to move here, will be a limiting factor in the years to come.  People talk about how Atlanta has the worst TV deal in the MLB?  Well what about the Nats?  Boswell asked Selig about this and was told that “everything is on the table.”  I highly doubt that, but I’m not going to call Boswell a liar.  I’ll just say, “Don’t hold your breath” that the Nats will be allowed to extract themselves from MASN and create their own RSN.  This would be the absolute dream scenario, but I just cannot see Selig backpeddaling on this deal less than a decade after it was signed.

Q: Will the Nats learn the lessons heeded by other big-money teams who got saddled with old, expensive players?

A: Hopefully so.  Not giving LaRoche 4 years would be a signal to that end.  But it can be difficult; what happens when the whole core of our young team hits free agency?  That’s a lot of big checks to write, and the fan base will bemoan every star that is allowed to walk.  Boswell thinks LaRoche is consistent enough to warrant the contract, but also notes that he’s several years past the typical hitter prime.

Q: Is Morse really the better choice at 1B if it’s between him and Moore? Is he really just that bad in the OF?

A: I’m convinced this narrative is overplayed.  Morse was a shortstop coming up through the minors, so he’s not exactly immobile, and suddenly nobody remembers that Tyler Moore was a plodding minor league first-baseman who only tried LF for the first time in spring training of last year.  Now suddenly Morse isn’t the better LF option?  I don’t buy it.  Neither are great LF choices; Morse had a -23.3 UZR/150 in 493 innings while Moore had a -22.7 in 229 innings this past season (small sample sizes both).  So it seems they’re both awful out there.  But then again (as I’ve said many times) you can “hide” guys in LF if they’re big bats.  You take the lesser defense in order to get a middle-of-the-order hitter.  The last thing you want is a #8 hitter (think Xavier Nady) bumbling around in LF and hitting .190.  If we lose LaRoche, I think the team should put Moore back in his natural position at 1B and let Morse get one more season out there.  Boswell didn’t answer the question, instead rambling about something else.



Have we seen the last 300-game winner? (updated post 2012 season)

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San Francisco Giants starter Randy Johnson acknowledges the crowd after the Giants beat the Washington Nationals 5-1 for his 300th win, in the first game of a baseball doubleheader Thursday, June 4, 2009, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Despite being much maligned as a method of judging a starting pitcher’s worth, the “Win” is still the essential goal of every starter in the majors and the accumulation of them over a season or career still inspires much thought and discussion.  The magical “300 win” threshold remains one of the more challenging career objectives for any starter, and remains an interesting benchmark to discuss.    Only 23 pitchers in the history of the game have reached 300 wins.

So, after Randy Johnson‘s reaching the benchmark, and after a number of recent start pitchers also hitting the plateau (Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens and Tom Glavine), are we ever going to see another 300-win pitcher?

Here’s some other reading on this same topic by the likes of John Dewan (referencing Bill James‘ annual predictions on who may reach 300 wins with his percentile chances), David Schoenfield (in a dated piece predicting Roy Halladay‘s chances for getting to 300 wins), and an early 2012 piece from Jon Paul Morosi talking about Clayton Kershaw‘s chances.

Achieving 300 wins in a career is getting more and more difficult.  Here’s some interesting stats  about reaching 300 wins for a starter in the modern baseball age:

  • If a pitcher were to enter the major leagues at age 23, he would need to AVERAGE 20 wins for the next 15 years to reach 300 and pitch until age 38.
  • Put another way, that same pitcher entering at age 23 would have to average 18 wins for 17 seasons to reach 300 by about age 40.
  • The majors have had ONLY Eleven 20-game winners in total over the past 5 seasons.  (Seven of which have come in the last two years, echoing the “rise of the pitcher” and the collapse of the PED slugger era, so perhaps its getting easier to accumulate wins).
  • 5-man rotations mean that starters are averaging 33-34 starts a year, down from the 38-40 starts that Pitchers would get just 20 years ago.
  • Because of mania over inning counts, specialized relievers, and an obsession with using “closers” in save situations, starters now only earn decisions in around 69% of starts, down from 78.5% of starts in 1972 (source Jay Jaffe‘s article, referenced further down).  This means the average pitcher only gets about 24 decisions from their 33-34 starts, making the 20-game winner even that more rare.  One can argue that better pitchers get more decisions because they’re more likely to pitch into the 7th and 8th innings, by which time their team should have scored enough runs to win for them.  But the fact remains that a lot of wins and losses are in the modern bullpen.

In 2009, just as Randy Johnson won his 300th, I had two long winded discussions (one in April 2009, another in June 2009) an older version of this blog that I maintained with friends about the demise of the 300-game winner.  Blog author Jason Amos did a great summary in this posting along with some great links.  Now, with another 3 seasons in the books, I thought it might be interesting to see who we were considering as candidates just a few years ago and who might be the next “best” candidates to get to 300 wins.  I’ll address candidates and their chances as we present pitchers a number of different ways.

(coincidentally, the 300-game winner spreadsheet I’m using for this post can be found at this link, and in the Links section along the right hand side of this page).

Here’s the current list of active wins leaders post 2012.  For brevity’s sake here’s the top 10 (and I’ve included Jamie Moyer as being “active” for the sake of this argument):

Rank pitcher age wins
1 Jamie Moyer 49 269
2 Andy Pettitte 40 245
3 Roy Halladay 35 199
4 CC Sabathia 31 197
5 Tim Hudson 36 197
6 Livan Hernandez 37 178
7 Derek Lowe 39 175
8 Mark Buehrle 33 174
9 Bartolo Colon 39 171
10 Kevin Millwood 37 169

Of this list of top 10 active win leaders, clearly most of them are never going to reach 300 wins.  Jamie Moyer has not yet retired at age 49, but the odds of him even making another MLB roster seem thin. Likewise Livan Hernandez and Derek Lowe may struggle to get guaranteed contracts in 2013.  Andy Pettitte has returned and pitched effectively for the Yankees this year, but he’s 50+ wins away from the plateau and only seems likely to maybe pitch one more year.   Bartolo Colon does have a contract for 2013 but it may be his last season, and Kevin Millwood is just too far away.  Tim Hudson, despite his strong performances the last few years, is just too far away at this point as well.  The chances of any of these guys to reach 300 wins is 0%.

How about the rest of this top 10 list?  Specifically CC Sabathia, Roy Halladay and Mark Buehrle?  There’s some intriguing candidates there. Lets look at their chances a slightly different way.

When Randy Johnson hit 300 wins, two Baseball Prospectus authors posted similar posts to this with some interesting analysis.  First, Jay Jaffe used a fun little stat he called the Jaffe Blind Optimism method (JABO), which takes a pitcher and assumes he will win 15 games a year until age 42.  Well, this incredibly optimistic formula leads us to a new set of more reasonable candidates.  I changed the formula slightly and only ran out the 15 wins/year til age 40 and got this list:

Rank pitcher age wins Jaffe 15wins/yr avg->40
1 CC Sabathia 31 197 332
2 Felix Hernandez 26 98 308
3 Clayton Kershaw 24 61 301
4 Trevor Cahill 24 53 293
5 Justin Verlander 29 124 289
6 Matt Cain 27 85 280
7 Mark Buehrle 33 174 279
8 Yovani Gallardo 26 69 279
9 Chad Billingsley 27 80 275
10 Roy Halladay 35 199 274

By this analysis we see that CC Sabathia looks like a pretty sure bet to hit 300 wins, and for good reason.  He’s been healthy, he plays for a team that is constantly winning, and he doesn’t have to pitch like a Cy Young award winner to get wins in New  York (21, 19 and 15 wins his last three seasons).  He has always been healthy and just needs 5 more solid seasons to be very close to the 300 win plateau.  He’s signed through 2016 (with an option for 2017), and there’s no reason to think he’s not going to see that contract through.  His elbow-injury scare in the post-season turned out to be innocuous, but we’ll keep an eye on his health status in 2013.  If he loses a season or more to injury the chances of his making 300 wins declines precipitously.  Felix Hernandez has nearly a 100 career wins at age 26, and also seems like a decent bet to hit 300 wins at this point.  But, he’ll need to move to a winning team to make this task easier on himself; he’s only won 13,14 and 13 games the last three seasons because of dreadful run support.  He’s signed through 2014 and I’d be surprised if he stays in Seattle (unless they turn that franchise around in the next 3 years).

Clayton Kershaw and (surprisingly) Trevor Cahill appear here by virtue of a lot of early career success (Cahill was an 18 game winner for a bad Oakland team at age 22 in the majors, no small feat).  While both have been injury free thus far, it is really difficult to project 24yr olds as staying healthy deep into their 30s.  So, we’ll say they’re promising for now but need to get to about 150 wins before we can really start projecting their odds.  Yovani Gallardo has quietly been racking up wins as Milwaukee’s “ace,” but is sort of in the same boat as Kershaw and Cahill; he’s only 26, so its hard to see how he’ll sit at age 30.  If he’s got another 60-70 wins in four year’s time, we’ll talk.

Justin Verlander‘s 24-win season in 2011, as well as his established status as the “Best Pitcher in Baseball” right now, has launched him into the discussion.  The problem is that he “only” has 124 wins entering his age-30 year.  He needs to average 18 wins a  year for the next decade to have a shot.  That’s a tall task, especially considering how well he pitched to just get to 17-8 this year.  It isn’t out of the realm of possible, but it is a longshot.

Mark Buehrle and Roy Halladay are both aging workhorses whose chances of reaching the plateau are dimming.  Buehrle has just moved to the hyper-competitive AL East and wasn’t exactly dominating to begin with.  Meanwhile Halladay’s injury struggles have limited his wins the last couple seasons, likely knocking any chance he had of hitting the plateau.  I’ll give them each non-zero chances, but barely non-zero.  I’ll give them both the benefit of the doubt because they both seem like the kind of pitchers who could pitch well into their 40s and get the extra wins they’d need to move over the top.

Matt Cain and Chad Billingsley are both mentioned because they had a ton of wins before the age of 25; both in reality are not accumulating wins at the pace they’ll need to stay even close to hitting the 300-win plateau.  Plus Billingsley struggled with an injury this year and may be affected next season.  Chances right now; slim.

Just for the sake of argument, here’s the next 10 players ranked by the modified Jaffe system:

Rank pitcher age wins Jaffe 15wins/yr avg->40
11 Zack Greinke 28 91 271
12 David Price 26 61 271
13 Johnny Cueto 26 60 270
14 Gio Gonzalez 26 59 269
15 Carlos Zambrano 31 132 267
16 Jered Weaver 29 102 267
17 Jon Lester 28 85 265
18 Jair Jurrjens 26 53 263
19 Ervin Santana 29 96 261
20 Tim Lincecum 28 79 259

I posted this list because a number of these players were formerly listed as good candidates to hit 300 wins.  Specifically, Carlos Zambrano, Jered Weaver, and Tim Lincecum.  Zambrano may be out of baseball in 2013, Lincecum may not even be a starter any more, and Weaver, while clearly getting a ton of wins lately needs a slew of 19-20 game winning seasons to catch back up.  The collection of 26-yr olds in David Price, Johnny Cueto, and our own Gio Gonzalez are all well behind the paces being set by fellow-aged pitchers Hernandez, Cain and Gallardo, though it isn’t hard to see any of these three post multiple 18-20 win seasons in the coming years.

So, here’s my predictions of the chances by player discussed above (anyone not listed here specifically also sits at 0% chance of making 300 wins):

Name age wins % Chance
CC Sabathia 31 197 90%
Felix Hernandez 26 98 75%
Justin Verlander 29 124 33%
Clayton Kershaw 24 61 25%
Trevor Cahill 24 53 20%
Roy Halladay 35 199 10%
Yovani Gallardo 26 69 10%
Mark Buehrle 33 174 5%
Matt Cain 27 85 5%
Chad Billingsley 27 80 5%
Jamie Moyer 49 269 0%
Andy Pettitte 40 245 0%
Tim Hudson 36 197 0%
Livan Hernandez 37 178 0%
Derek Lowe 39 175 0%
Bartolo Colon 39 171 0%
Kevin Millwood 37 169 0%

Conclusion: I believe we will see another 300-game winner.  I think Sabathia has a very good chance of making it, as does Felix Hernandez at this point in his career.  But injuries can quickly turn a 300-game career into an “out of baseball by 36″ career, so nothing is set in stone.

Possible 2013 WBC Nationals participants?

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Harper makes perfect sense to represent the US in 2013 WBC. Photo GQ magazine Mar 2012

I read a quickie piece with some Mike Rizzo quotes from the Washington Time’s beat reporter Amanda Comak on November 11th, 2012 and there was an interesting tidbit at the bottom: per Comak,  Rizzo has not been approached yet about any Washington Nationals participation in the WBC, but would approach each request on a “case-by-case basis” to determine what is in the best interests of the team.  This got me thinking about possible Nats representatives on 2013 WBC teams.

Lets take a quick look at the Nationals representatives on WBC teams from the past, talk about whether its really in the best interests of the team to even let these guys play, and then talk about who may be candidates for the 2013 WBC regardless.

(Note: I’ve added updates highlighted in red since the original 11/21/12 publication date on players mentioned here).

Washington has sent a decent number of players to play in the WBC over the years, with very mixed results for the team’s interests.  In 2006 the team sent seven different players to the inaugural WBC:

  • Luis Ayala for Mexico
  • Chad Cordero, Gary Majewski and Brian Schneider for team USA
  • Ronnie Belliard, Alberto Castillo, and Wily Mo Pena for the Dominican Republic.

The tournament was marred for the team by a blown UCL ligament to Ayala, who had undergone elbow surgery earlier in the off-season but pitched for his home country anyway.  The team did not want Ayala to participate in the inaugural event, did not want him used by the Mexican team, and team officials were “livid” by the injury, which cost Ayala the season and cost the team its 8th inning setup guy.  Ayala recovered to pitch again in 2008 but was never as effective, and was shipped out in 2009 for a PTBNL.  Coincidentally, I suspect the team still harbors some ill-will towards Ayala to this day.  Meanwhile the other two relievers who participated both experienced regressions in form; Cordero’s ERA nearly doubled (from 1.82 to 3.19) from his breakout 2005 season while Majewski’s numbers dipped slightly before he was traded in the big Cincinnati deal of 2006.

In 2009, the team had 5 participants:

  • Pete Orr playing for Canada
  • Joel Hanrahan and Adam Dunn playing for the USA
  • Saul Rivera and Ivan Rodriguez playing for Puerto Rico.

The WBC seemed to energize particularly Dunn, who enjoyed playing in a post-season atmosphere for the first (and only) time in his career.  Nobody suffered any injuries, but Hanrahan in particular may have been affected by his lack of a proper spring training; he posted a 7.71 ERA for the team while losing the closer spot and was shipped to Pittsburgh.  Ironically, Rivera also experienced a huge regression of form, going from a 3.96 ERA in 2008 to a 6.10 ERA in 2009 and was eventually released.

This begs the question; do we even WANT our pitchers playing on this team?  The first two WBCs have shown pretty distinctly that our pitchers have regressed greatly after playing.  This only makes sense: the spring training routines are greatly impacted to play in this event.  We may see a ton of front-office resistance to specific guys (especially those coming off injury) playing in the 2013 event.  Which could affect the eligibility of some specific players for 2013.

Now, which Nats may play for the 2013 teams?  First off, looking at the Nationals 40-man roster, we have become an amazingly heavy USA-born team (we’ll get to non-40man roster players in a moment). Thanks to the Nats big board resource (originated by Brian Oliver and now maintained by “SpringfieldFan”), which has the country of origin for players, here’s a breakdown of the home-country of our current 36 active (as of November 15th, 2012) roster players:

  • USA: 27 (would be 29 if adding in our rule-5 avoidance players)
  • Venezuela: 5 (Jesus Flores, Sandy Leon, Wilson Ramos, Henry Rodriguez, and Carlos Rivero)
  • Cuba: 1 (Yunesky Maya)
  • Columbia: 1 (Jhonatan Solano)
  • Dominican Republic: 1 (Eury Perez)
  • Netherlands (via Curacao): 1 (Roger Bernadina)

As you can see, the massive bulk of our team is USA born, and essentially our entire post-season starting roster was USA born as well.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that these USA-born players will actually play for team USA (Alex Rodriguez played for Puerto Rico despite being born and raised in Miami, and our own Danny Espinosa is eligible to play for Mexico by virtue of his first-generation born in the US status), but almost all of these guys will be up for consideration for the USA team.  And this only accounts for our 40-man players; as we’ll see below there’s plenty of lower-minors players from smaller countries that will participate.

Who from the Nationals franchise may make a 2013 WBC roster?  First off, thanks to James Wagner‘s 11/15/12 NatsJournal post we already know of three WBC participants; Solano is on the Columbian team, minor leaguer Jimmy Van Ostrand is on the Canadian team, and A-ball catcher Adrian Nieto is on the Spanish team.  Curacao qualifies to play with the Netherlands, and I’d guess that Bernadina would make a great choice considering the lack of Dutch players in baseball (Baseball Continuum’s projections agree.  And as of 12/4/12 he’s officially been listed as a Netherlands participant).. Venezuela is already qualified for the main draw and has a relatively strong possible team.  The Baseball Continuum blog posted an early projection of the Venezuelan team and listed Flores as a likely participant (specifically mentioning that Ramos wasn’t considered due to injury recovery; I’d suspect these two players to switch based on Ramos’ recovery and Flores’ awful 2012).   If Henry Rodriguez was healthy i’d guess he would be on that list too, but his season-ending surgery probably precludes his participation.  The Dominican Republic has perhaps the strongest depth and has no need for the recently called up Perez among its outfield depth.  Maya’s defection eliminates him from discussion for the Cuban team.  (12/4/12 update): Chien-Ming Wang has been announced as a member of Chinese Taipei’s team (for the purposes of this article I investigated all 2012 Nats).

Which leaves our large contingent of American players.  A couple of writers have started postulating on these rosters (David Schoenfield‘s very early guess as to a potential USA roster is here, Baseball Continuum’s latest projection is here).  So using these two posts as a starting point, lets go position-by-position and give some thoughts as to who may get some consideration.  Keep in mind the WBC rosters are generally very reliever heavy, since no starter is going to be “allowed” to pitch a complete game in March.

(Note: I’m still considering our Free Agents as “Nats players” for the purposes of this analysis, since this really goes position by position from our 2012 team to find candidates).

  • Catcher: Kurt Suzuki isn’t nearly in the class of the likes of Buster Posey, Brian McCann, Joe Mauer, or Matt Weiters.  There are a ton of quality american backstops right now.
  • First Base: Free Agent Adam LaRoche probably faces far too much competition from the likes of Prince Fielder, Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn, Allen Craig, Eric Hosmer, and Mark Teixeira to make this team.  If it were me, I’d go with Fielder and Teixeira.  But, LaRoche’s great 2012 season and his Gold Glove recognition may get him a spot.  He is a FA though, so i’d guess he won’t commit until he signs and gets the go-ahead from his new team.  Or, perhaps he uses the WBC to showcase himself?  Not likely needed; he should sign long before the WBC kicks off in March.
  • Second Base: Danny Espinosa is a decent player, but not in the same league as  Shoenfield’s projection of Dustin Pedroia and Ben Zobrist.  Brandon Phillips is also in the mix for the team.
  • Shortstop: Ian Desmond‘s breakout 2013 season may get him some consideration.  There’s not a lot of American quality short stops out there.  Troy Tulowitzki is the obvious leading choice (as was Derek Jeter in the first two WBCs), but is he ready to come back from injury?  Looking around the majors there are a couple other possibilities (JJ Hardy, Brendan Ryan, Jimmy Rollins and Brandon Crawford all could be alternatives as well).   I think Desmond’s combination of offense and defense, combined with Tulowitzki’s injury recovery could get him on the team.
  • Third Base: Ryan Zimmerman cannot break the hegomony of David Wright and Evan Longoria right now, even given Longoria’s injury struggles this season.  Chase Headley and David Freese are also in the 3b mix.  12/4/12 update: Apparently Wright is committed, Longoria is out due to injury recovery and Headley “was not asked,” so perhaps Zimmerman is back in the mix.
  • Outfielders: I think Bryce Harper is a natural to make this team, not only on talent but also because of the brand-name recognition (and TV ratings and fan interest) it would generate.  Same goes for Mike Trout.  Otherwise there’s a slew of top-end american players who can man the outfield and they read like the top of the MVP boards: Braun, Kemp, McCutchen, Stanton, Hamilton, and Granderson are all candidates to make this team.  12/6/12 update: Scott Boras has stated that Harper will skip the WBC to focus on his sophomore season.
  • Starters: The two logical Nats candidates to be considered would be Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg.  But lets be honest; there is no way in hell Strasburg would be allowed to play.  Could Gonzalez make this team?  Given the depth of American starter talent right now (just off the top of my head: Verlander, LincecumCain, Hamels, Halladay, Kershaw, Lee, Weaver, Sabathia, Medlen, and so on) perhaps this will be a selection of attrition moreso than a selection of availability.  So if a number of the older guys on this list beg out, perhaps Gio gets his shot.  The WBC’s location in San Francisco has already lead to Ryan Vogelsong committing to play in his home town, and could lead to other Bay Area players signing up.  I’m not sure any of the rest of our starters are really candidates, given the reputations of the above list plus the reliever-heavy nature of the roster.
  • Relievers: our two most well known relievers (Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen) are possibilities; would the Nats block Storen based on his 2012 injury?  Craig Stammen‘s breakout 2012 season could get him looks, based on the reliever-heavy needs of the team.  Normally Sean Burnett may be in the loogy mix, but there’s better lefty relievers out there AND Burnett’s FA status may lead him to bow out to curry favor to his new team (Schoenfeld lists Burnett as a possible member back in July, before knowing he’s declared free agency).  The question is, would you take Clippard/Storen against the likes of this list of quality american back-of-the-bullpen arms: Kimbrel, Ventors, Marshall, League, Janssen, Papelbon, Hanrahan, Motte, Boggs, Bailey, Reed, and Nathan?  Possibly, considering that a lot of these guys probably bow out.  We’ve sent multiple relievers to each of the past two WBCs and its likely going to be the same thing this year.

Summary: here’s my guesses as to which Nats (and recent ex-Nats) will play in the WBC:

  • Venezuela: Ramos
  • Spain: Nieto
  • Canada: Van Ostrand
  • Columbia: Solano
  • Netherlands: Bernadina
  • Chinese Taipei: Wang
  • USA: Harper, Desmond, Gonzalez, Clippard.  Perhaps Zimmerman and Stammen.

March 2013 update: here’s the post-WBC actual list of participants when all was said and done, helped by  the list of rosters via Wikipedia.  MLB reports that nine (9) Nationals are participating in the classic, though the below list (excluding Wang) totals more.  They’re not counting Solano/Columbia, having lost in the preliminaries.

  • Columbia: Jhonatan Solano (AAA/Mlb in 2012)
  • Spain: Adrian Nieto (low-A in 2012)
  • Canada: Jimmy Van Ostrand (AA in 2012)
  • Italy: Matt Torra, Mike Costanzo (both AAA in 2012, Washington MLFA signings for 2013)
  • Netherlands: Roger Bernadina, Randolph Oduber (high-A in 2012)
  • Chinese Taipei: Chien-Ming Wang (former Nat, non-signed FA for 2013 start of season)
  • USA: Gio Gonzalez, Ross Detwiler
  • Dominican Republic: Eury Perez (3/4/13 addition to DR team)

Nats 2012 Rule 5 Protection Analysis

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Is Nathan Karns a 40-man roster addition candidate ahead of the rule-5 draft? Photo Potomac Nationals official via milb.com

In part I on this topic yesterday, we talked about the Nats Rule 5 draft history.  Today we’ll talk about Parts II and III: who the Nats may think about protecting ahead of this year’s Rule 5 draft, and what the team may be seeking if they participated and drafted a player or two in the Rule 5 draft themselves.

Part II: Nationals Rule-5 Draft Protection Candidates.

I kvetched a little bit about this topic in this space earlier this off-season, talking about the lack of roster space for the upcoming Rule 5 draft.  I suspected that as a result of MLB deals given to guys like Anthony Rendon and Matthew Purke, in addition to the glut of guys we had to add mid season, we may be seeing some guys not getting protected this year that would be in other years.  As of today, the Nats 40-man roster sits at 36 players with a bit of immediate room to spare (we could non-tender the likes of John Lannan, Tom Gorzelanny or Jesus Flores (speaking of Rule 5 additions) in a pinch, and I think Carlos Rivero may be imminently DFA’d), but we also have several 25-man roster spots departing via free agency that need to be filled, quickly filling back in those empty spots.  So, perhaps the issue isn’t as bad as I thought it might be.

That being said, here’s a look at some of our Rule 5 eligible guys that may warrant protection.  For “official” opinions here’s Mark Zuckerman‘s Rule5 post, along with Adam Kilgore‘s version of the same analysis.  This is a combination of first-time eligible guys for the 2012 draft (mostly, guys who were college junior draftees from 2009 or high school draftees in 2008), prior year eligible guys who have suddenly worked their way onto the radar, and any International FA signing from 2008 or before (they are treated the same way as high school age draftees).  Working off a list that Luke Erickson posted LAST november, along with his post on the same topic this week, and of course referencing the two great nats farm system resources maintained by “SpringfieldFan” (and formerly by Brian Oliver): the Nats Draft Tracker and the Nats Big Board, here’s some thoughts on protection candidates:

Stronger Candidates to protect

  • Nathan Karns: he finally had an injury-free season, and he put up numbers as expected when the team gave him an above-slot deal in 2009.  He is older, and only projects as a AA starter in 2013, but he is an intriguing starter prospect for the Nats in 2014.
  • Destin Hood: I don’t think the team is ready to give up on the long-term 2008 2nd round project.  His numbers have been increasing as he reportedly is learning the game better.  I suspect the team protects him to protect their investment.
  • Danny Rosenbaum; the “Ace” of Harrisburg this year, and our furthest advanced legitimate starter prospect, Rosenbaum projects more like a Tommy Milone or John Lannan right now.  I’d suspect that the team may protect him, thinking that someone could stash him as a loogy for a year.  I’m not sure his ceiling is in the Nats rotation, but he could be a good trade candidate.  He hit the DL late last year, which makes it slightly less likely that a team would take a flier on him, but his track record warrants his mention.
  • Patrick McCoy: he just repeated AA and despite already being Rule-5 eligible last  year he improved on his numbers in 2012.  Why protect him?  Because this team needs a Loogy, and McCoy may be the leading lefty reliever in our upper-minor leagues.
  • Jeff Kobernus has put up consistent numbers his whole career, but still projects as a power-less middle infielder.  Would the team protect him, thinking he has a chance to become the next Steve Lombardozzi?  Would the team protect him just to protect their bonus money?

Weaker candidates to protect

  • Trevor Holder: a 3rd round pick roundly criticized at the time of being an underslot money saver, Holder had decent peripherals in high-A and AA this year.  But, he doesn’t seem to project as the dominant right-hander he was in college and seems likely to top out as an org-arm.  Despite his 3rd round pedigree, I don’t see a team taking a flier on him in rule-5.
  • Pat Lehman; a local guy (GWU), but despite having good numbers in AAA he remains a very common commodity; a right handed minor league reliever.  Even if he’s drafted, it isn’t that great a loss because of the depth we already have at the position.
  • Paul Demny; despite making the AFL team this year, I don’t quite see Demny as being a draft risk.  His ERA this year and in years past has been substandard.
  • Robert Gilliam; only really mentioned here since we just acquired him last off-season in the Gio Gonzalez trade and the team probably doesn’t want to lose him, but his 6.37 ERA in AA makes it extremely unlikely someone grabs him in the Rule 5.
  • Erik Davis: technically rule-5 eligible last year, he stepped up this year and put up pretty dominant AA numbers.  As with Lehman, he’s a righty reliever in AA so the odds of his getting picked (or protected) seem slim.

Players not worth protecting for various Reasons

Now, there’s a bunch of “good names” that are Rule 5 eligible in our system but who are not listed here, including guys who toiled as high as AA last year.  Anyone not listed here is probably not going to be missed, even if they are drafted.  Plus, the likelihood of a decent pitcher prospect who has never played above A-ball being drafted in rule-5 is extemely slim.  Most of the guys above are mentioned because of their capability to be “stashed” on a MLB roster.  This includes:

  • last year’s departures Brad Meyers (coming off injury) and Erik Komatsu (clearly been passed on the organizational OF depth chart).  Yes they got picked last year, but both got returned and I’d be surprised to see them picked again.
  • higher profile draft picks Josh Smoker and Jack McGeary: neither has advanced far enough in their careers to realistically stick with a MLB team.
  • Jeff Mandel may be an accomplished AAA pitcher, but I don’t think he’s anything more than that.
  • Rob Wort hasn’t advanced far enough up the chain to be considered.
  • Justin Bloxom could be a dark horse prospect next year, but only made it to AA the second half of last year.

Who would I protect, If I was the GM?  I’d protect Karns, Hood, Rosenbaum and McCoy right now, filling the four current openings on the roster.  If a move needs to be made (a FA signing or a trade), then you make one-for-one DFAs or non-tenders as needed.  You have 40-man room; might as well use it.  My order of protection is probably Karns, McCoy, Hood and Rosenbaum (from most important to least important to protect).  Odds are that the team only opts to protect a couple of guys to give immediate roster flexibility heading into the winter meetings.

Part III: Might the Nats participate in the Rule-5 draft this year?

This year’s Rule 5 draft has some intrigue for the team; unlike last year, we have definite holes in the bullpen and on the roster which can be “more easily” filled via the Rule 5 draft.  We need a lefty out of the bullpen, we need a backup middle infielder and we need a 5th starter.  The odds of finding the latter in the rule 5 draft are very slim, but the odds of finding one of the first two are better.  If you look at the last couple of Rule 5 drafts, nearly every player drafted is either a Pitcher or a Middle Infielder.  Most teams carry a second backup middle infielder who gets very little playing time, ideal for “hiding” rule 5 draftees.  And of course every bullpen has a “mop up” guy who pitches once or twice a week in low-leverage situations, also a great place to hide a rule-5 guy.

Besides, the “penalty” for drafting a guy and returning him is pretty small in baseball terms: $25,000 net (it costs $50,000 fee to select a player, then if you “offer” them back the original team has to refund $25,000 of that fee).   So I’d be surprised honestly if the team didn’t roll the dice with at least a flier on either of the two needs mentioned above.

Personally, I’m not a big fan of the Rule 5 draft any longer.  It was created as a way to liberate players who were stuck in farm systems behind established players (much the way that minor league free agency rules attempted to do the same), but now seems to be a cheap method of teams to get an extended tryout of players.  I’ve now come to believe that the draft is not necessarily in the best interests of the players or the teams; just read below for the organizational transaction chaos that followed players.  It also seems like a high number of players who get drafted in rule-5 immediately suffer season-ending injuries; coincidence or correlation?  If you’re a rule-5 drafted arm, the drafting team knows you must perform at a MLB level to stay in the organization.  Wouldn’t that imply there’s added pressure to compete, leading to overthrowing and arm injuries?  Plus, teams that lose players often get them returned damaged and having lost a season of service time.  I suppose players are the ones that are pro-Rule 5 draft, in that it immediately means a promotion to the 40-man roster, MLB service time and higher pay.

In the end, it makes for a good reason to write a 2,500 word blog post, and it may result in our team having new prospects to evaluate and dream about, so perhaps I protest too much.

Ladson’s Inbox: 11/16/12 edition

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Werth; the most expensive lead-off hitter in the majors? Photo Mitchell Layton/Getty Images NA

Another edition of mlb.com Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson‘s inbox for 11/16/12.  As always, I write my responses before reading his and edit some questions for clarity.

Q: Why are the Nats looking for a lead-off batter when Jayson Werth appeared to do the job very well in 2012? Do the Nats think someone can do that job better, or do they think Werth belongs elsewhere in the batting order?

A: A decent question, which the questioner answered him (her?) self, frankly.  From quotes I read from Davey Johnson at the time, when Jayson Werth came back from the wrist injury the team was missing any reasonable lead-off option and Johnson asked Werth if he’d do it.  He enthusiastically said yes.  My personal opinion is that Werth’s wrist injury probably wasn’t entirely healed to his liking, thus sapping his power stroke and making it easier for him to focus on contact hitting and OBP from the lead-off spot than it would be for him to return to his middle-of-the-order power.  He couldn’t have had a better lead-off hitter-esque split from his time there; .309/.388/.450 when hitting from the #1 position this season.  That is fantastic.  But realistically the Nats need to find another, proper lead-off hitter for two main reasons (one practical, one political); Practically; Werth is a bigger, better hitter than a lead-off guy and needs to be in the middle of the order, driving in runs with his power potential.  Politically; you don’t spend #126M on a lead-off guy.  I hate to say it, but it is what it is.  I wish the Nats had a better internal lead-off option; Danny Espinosa is the natural person to install there.  Switch hitter, a very good hitter in the minors.  But so far in his career he’s incredibly strike-out prone, his average is disappointing and his lefty/righty splits are awful (as addressed in a separate question further down).  The reason the “Nats want a lead-off-centerfielder” rumors won’t go away is directly tied to this fact.  Ladson agrees, mentioning frequent FA target Michael Bourn and Angel Pagan as options.

Q: Given Roger Bernadina’s improved hitting this past season, is there any possibility that the Nats may try him as a leadoff hitter?

A: Roger Bernadina absolutely turned a corner professionally in 2012, increasing his OPS+ figure fully 30 points from 2011 and posting a split line of .291/.372/.405.  Yeah, that’d be a fantastic line to have at lead-off.  I’ll freely admit that I thought Bernadina was closer to a DFA than he was to a valuable spot on this team last spring training.  We already know just how good a center-fielder he is defensively, and he’s lefty so he puts another lefty bat in the lineup and would allow the team to move Bryce Harper deeper into the order.  Imagine a lineup of Bernadina-Desmond-Zimmerman-Harper-Morse-Werth-Espinosa-Suzuki; LRRLRRSR, giving good lefty-righty balance through the lineup.  This lineup of course assumes Adam LaRoche departs as a FA (which I think is likely).  Now, do I think this is going to happen?  No.  I believe the team views Bernadina as a 4th outfielder, a super-sub, defensive replacement for later innings and he thrived in that role last year.  But that being said, if the FA market proves too costly (or if the Nats choose to go all-in on a SP and leave the batting lineup as-is), this is absolutely a viable option to try in 2013.  Ladson agrees with my sentiments; the Nats view Bernadina as a 4th outfielder.

Q: What do you think of Tony Beasley taking over as Nats manager after Davey Johnson calls it quits? Beasley has the experience. He just needs a chance.

A: Honestly I’d expect Mike Rizzo to bring on-board a more experienced skipper if/when Johnson hangs them up.  Perhaps someone from his Arizona days.  How many teams really promote from within for on-field management?  Ladson thinks Randy Knorr is the heir-apparent.

Q: Why don’t the Nats consider left-hander John Lannan a No. 4 or 5 starter in ’13? Lannan showed he can pitch well in the past.

A: Man, how many times have I answered this question?  Lannan is a league-average pitcher, posting a career ERA+ of 103.  He isn’t a fireballer and rarely “dominates” a game.  Mike Rizzo wants power arms and just doesn’t rate Lannan.  He’ll look here and high for a harder-thrower for the 5th starter spot and is likely to roll the dice with hurlers Ryan Perry or Christian Garcia before he goes with Lannan next year.  Besides; Lannan would need to be tendered a contract and likely earns at least a nominal raise over the $5M he earned for toiling in AAA last year.  It just is not good value to pay $5M for a 5th starter when you’ve got MLB-minimum guys that can possibly do the job just as well.  Look for Lannan to get non-tendered and be pitching for a 2nd division team in 2013.  Ladson mirrors exactly what I wrote here.

Q: What are the chances of our GM, Mike Rizzo, going after a shutdown closer?

A: Zero.  Rizzo (rightly so in my mind) doesn’t rate closers on the open market as worthwhile investments.  I agree; I think relievers are fungible assets that are to be used and discarded as needed.  Now, if a former closer can be had on the open market cheap, Rizzo absolutely will bring them in.  He’s done this more than once in the past; Brad Lidge in 2012, Matt Capps in 2010.  Lidge didn’t work out at all but he only cost the team $1M.   Capps turned out fantastically, made the all-star team and was flipped for Wilson Ramos in what I think is Rizzo’s best trade (well, the Gio Gonzalez trade wasn’t half bad either).  The pickings on the closer FA market are slim, but I could see the team taking a flier on an injury reclamation project like Ryan Madson or Brett Myers.  Perhaps even re-signing Capps, who lost his closer role and could be inserted in middle-relief.  We do have bigger priorities though; namely replacing our 3 lefty specialists (Tom Gorzelanny is still tied to the club but isn’t a guarantee to get tendered).  Ladson says the team has a shutdown closer in Drew Storen and will focus elsewhere.

Q: Is Danny Espinosa really a switch-hitter? He is just horrible from the left side. Why doesn’t he just bat from the right side?

A: Great question, one that I’ve asked many times myself.  His career splits lefty/righty are pretty telling. .227/.306/.393 from the left side, .276/.346/.467 from the right.  He’s an all-star caliber hitter from the right-side only, posting a 124 OPS+.  I privately wonder if the team isn’t going to make the decision for him, and a full spring training just hitting from the right-side could be in order.  Of course, his value as a right-handed only hitter is greatly diminished.  Plus there’s a life-time of adjustments to be had; if you’ve been facing right handed arms from the left side your whole life, who is to say that you won’t similarly struggle once you’re seeing breaking pitches from the other side?  A tough call.  My gut says he sticks it out and the team shows the same patience with him that they showed with Desmond, who rewarded the team with a breakthrough 2012.  Ladson reports that Johnson has “all the confidence in the world” in Espinosa.  Looks like 2013 is a make-it or break-it year for  him.

Q: Can Zach Duke start for the Nationals? How does he compare with Zack Greinke?

A: Wow; comparing Zach Duke (a minor league FA signing this year with a career 49-74 record) to Zack Greinke (inarguably the top FA pitcher on the market with a Cy Young to his name) is sort of like comparing a fast-food joint to a steak-house.  There is no comparison; Duke is going to be lucky to get a guaranteed contract while Greinke is likely to get a nine-figure deal.  Can Duke start for this team?  Well, assuming the team resigns him (he’s a free agent) he’s not even as good as Lannan, who they could lock up for 2013 if they choose.  And (as discussed above) if the team doesn’t rate Lannan they certainly wouldn’t rate Duke.  I don’t think Duke even could feature as a LOOGY; he likely seeks another shot at starting in 2013 somewhere.  Ladson agrees, albeit without the hyperbole of my answer.

Q: What will the Nats do with Yunesky Maya? He appears he found himself while pitching a full season with Triple-A Syracuse.

A: I’d hardly say 11-10 with a 3.88 ERA in AAA is “finding himself.”  I’ll admit Yunesky Maya had some decent starts down the stretch, but he also had some awful ones.  Just like he did all season.  Maya got two shots in 2010 and 2011 to stick in the majors and failed both times.  I don’t think he’ll get a third.  Look for the Nats to obtain a 4th minor league option on Maya by virtue of his having fewer than 5 pro seasons and him spending 2013, his last of a 4yr $8M contract, as starter insurance in Syracuse again.  Ladson states that Maya is rule-5 eligible; Uh, perhaps you need to read up on the purpose of that draft Bill.  Its for NON 40-man roster guys.

Q: What’s up with Chris Marrero? Haven’t heard anything about him replacing Adam LaRoche at first base.

A: Another lost season for Chris Marrero, who spent a huge amount of time recovering from an off-season hamstring injury and ended up playing just 37 games in Syracuse after several rehab stops in the lower minors.  Zero home runs in AAA for the year.  I hate to say it, but Marrero has been passed by on the depth chart for first base, and the team would absolutely look at Michael Morse first and Tyler Moore second to man first base at the major league level before giving Marrero a shot.  His positional inflexibility really hurts him, in that he’s not showing the kind of power you need to at the position to get promoted upwards.  He’s still young though (born in 1988, he’s only 24).  Maybe he’s worth including in trade to another club.  Ladson didn’t say much; i’m not sure he really knows what the team plans for Marrero either.


Predicting the End-of-Season Awards: how’d we do?

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Cabrera wins the AL MVP as expected; can the blogosphere now declare peace? Photo AP via sportingnews.com

Here’s a wrap up of the end of season awards.  I posted my predictions here in Mid October.   The dream of going 8-for-8 is over.  Read on for a summary of my predicions versus actual results.

  • AL MVP:  Prediction: Miguel Cabrera.  Winner: Cabrera.  Trout 2nd, Beltre a distant 3rd.
  • AL Cy Young: Prediction: David Price. Winner: Price.
  • AL Rookie of the Year: Prediction: Mike Trout. Winner: Trout, Unanimously.
  • AL Manager of the Year: Prediction: Buck Showalter.  Winner: Bob Melvin.
  • Sporting News AL GM: Prediction: Billy Beane.  Winner: Beane.
  • Sporting News AL Comeback player of the Year: Prediction: Adam Dunn.  Winner: Dunn.  Note that there are now also MLB and Players Choice versions of this award, and they do not always agree with Sporting News’ picks.  But SN is the oldest version so I’ll continue to guess based on it.
  • NL MVP: Prediction: Buster Posey. Winner: Posey.  Braun 2nd, McCutchen 3rd.
  • NL Cy Young: Prediction: R.A. Dickey. Winner: Dickey.
  • NL Rookie of the Year: Prediction: Bryce Harper.  Winner: Harper.
  • NL Manager of the Year: Prediction: Davey Johnson.  Winner: Johnson.
  • Sporting News NL GM: Prediction: Mike Rizzo. Winner: Rizzo, who technically came in 2nd to Beane as Sporting News only awarded one Executive of the year award.
  • Sporting News NL Comeback player of the year: Prediction: Buster Posey.  Winner: Posey.

My Final Prediction results: 7 of 8 of BBWAA awards predicted correctly, 11 of 12 including Sporting News awards.

Discussion (here’s a link to all the 2012 post-season BBWAA voting with totals from Baseball-Reference.com, plus i’ve included links to the voting and ballots where I could below).

  • AL MVP: Cabrera wins over Trout; let the internet wars begin!  The only thing that surprised me here was the relative landslide victory Cabrera had; he got 22 of the 28 first place votes, far more than I thought he’d get.  This result shows what a lot of holier-than-thou bloggers need to wake up and understand; the MVP is NOT the award for the best player.  Clearly these people (often rather rudely) do not understand the difference between stats-based analysis and context.  Trout played for a 3rd place team; had he never played for the Angels this season … they still would have finished third.  Like it or not, voters start their MVP lists by grabbing the best player on the playoff teams, and adjust accordingly.  The solution to these arguments may be to create a hitting version of the Cy Young so that Trout can get his deserved due for his fantastic 2012 season.
  • AL Cy Young: Price wins in a very close race over Justin Verlander, who had almost identical (and slightly better) sabremetric numbers to his dominant Cy Young last year and was the odds-on favorite of the Sabr-nerd crowd to win.  I predicted Dickey not because he was inarguably the better pitcher; I predicted he’d win because voters sometimes like to give these awards to the fresh new candidate, and I saw that happening here.  Price and Verlander split the first and second place votes almost down the middle, except for one random first place vote that went to Fernando Rodney.  The Rodney vote, combined with both Los Angeles voters giving 2nd place votes to Jered Weaver, is the margin of loss for Verlander.  Still, this was the closest Cy Young voting race in the history of the award.
  • AL Rookie of the Y ear: No doubt here; Trout becomes just the 8th unanimous RoY pick in baseball’s history, and deservedly so.  Yoenis Cespedes second, Yu Darvish third.
  • AL Manager: My first miss on BBWAA awards in three years.  The criticism of this award is that it is less about who actually manages their team the best; it really is given to the team that “surprised” baseball pundits the most.  In retrospect, for all the reasons I predicted Billy Beane would get the executive award I should have given more thought to Melvin winning the Manager award.  Showalter’s Orioles certainly surprised, and you can squint and say that their record in one-run games is entirely on the manager.  But there’s no mistaking that the Athletics out-played their potential far more distinctly than the Orioles did.
  • AL Executive: No surprise that Beane picks up this award, after flipping 3/5s of his rotation, signing the cuban defector Cespedes and getting Josh Reddick in trade, putting together a team that I thought could lose 110 games but instead won the AL West over two of the most bally-hoo’d teams in the majors.  For all the people that chastised Beane for Moneyball, he has risen again after his early career success.
  • AL Comeback player: I really struggled to pick a winner, thinking that Dunn’s pseudo-rebound from 2011’s disaster was a good enough example, and I got lucky.  SN picked Dunn while other AL comeback awards out there went to Fernando Rodney.
  • NL MVP: Posey takes this race in a landslide, getting 27 of the 32 first place votes.  I’m really glad to see Braun get 2nd place despite the stigma surrounding his negated PED test last off-season; he won my “Modern Triple Crown” and was the best hitter in the league.  Chase Headley gets deserved recognition and a 5th place vote.  Several Nats got votes as expected, but none were factors in the race itself.
  • NL Cy Young: this race wasn’t as close as I thought it may be, but Dickey beats out Clayton Kershaw for many of the same reasons Price beat out Verlander.  Our own Gio Gonzalez comes in a close third; as it turns out, one reporter in St Louis completely left him off his ballot, purportedly because Gonzalez didn’t broach 200 innings.  Which makes no sense, since this same reporter gave his 5th place vote to a reliever.  *sigh* I hate hypocrites
  • NL Rookie of the Year: Harper won a very close race over Wade Miley and for good reason; on September 1st you would have said that Miley was the easy RoY candidate.  A strong finish combined with Harper’s narrative and probably some east-coast bias gave him the award.   One writer completely left Miley off his ballot, but that wouldn’t have made a difference in the voting totals in the end.  Another side note: have you ever even heard of the two Washington BBWAA chapter members?
  • NL Manager: Johnson picks up the “manager of the most surprising team” award relatively easily; there really weren’t any other contenders once Pittsburgh collapsed mid-season.
  • NL Executive: Rizzo’s Gio Gonzalez trade, Jackson signing and Harper call-up all led to a 17-game improvement and the major’s best record, earning him 2nd place in the overall executive award voting (to Beane) and thus the highest ranking NL executive.
  • NL Comeback player: Posey was really a no-brainer, and won the award as expected.

I’ll say this in conclusion; the Trout-Cabrera arguments were the most one-sided, rude and biased I’ve seen yet in the whole “new school” trend of baseball writing.  Even more ridiculous than the Jack Morris antagonists.  And I’m thankful that, after today, I won’t have to read one more “Why Trout is the MVP” article.

Nats Arbitration Decisions; my predictions

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Tyler Clippard faces what could be a very interesting arbitration case this offseason. Photo Jonathan Newton/wp.com

Once the dust settled on this year’s Super-2 cutoff (and we discovered that Drew Storen will be arbitration eligible this year while Ryan Perry will not), the Nats will have no less than TEN arbitration-eligible players this off-season, setting the stage for some non-tender decisions, some possible contract extensions, and (hopefully not) some arbitration cases.  The Non-tender deadline isn’t until November 30th, but its never too soon to talk about what the team may do.

Here’s the 10 players eligible, a discussion as to what kind of salary they may obtain and whether or not the team will even tender a contract.  Note: the salary estimates are from mlbtraderumors Matt Swartz‘s arbitration projections model, with my own thoughts adjusting up or down based on opinion and noted as such).  Arbitration salaries essentially try to project the full FA value of a player and then award 40%/60%/80% of that FA salary in each of the three typical arbitration years.  For guys getting a 4th, I generally assume they’re getting nearly 100% of their FA value in the last year.

Locks to get a Contract Tender

  • Ian Desmond. 1st year Eligible/$3.2M estimate: Breakout season in 2012 will earn him plenty of dollars in his first and subsequent arbitration cases.  $3.2M equates to nearly a $10M/year full FA value, probably fair for now but could escalate if Desmond continues to provide Gold Glove calibre defense to go along with middle-of-the-order power.  It may be slightly early to think about a longer-term contract extension for Desmond; I’d want to wait and see if his 2012 production continues into 2013.  Remember; he’s just one year removed from a time when most Nats fans wanted him replaced.
  • Drew Storen: 1st year Eligible/$1.7M estimate: Storen will get a 4th year of eligiblity by virtue of a quick call-up after getting drafted.  $1.7 over 4 arb years equates roughly to a FA value of $7M/year, which seems a bit low for a good closer.  I’d guess Storen could get slightly more money, though the team probably argues that his injuries in 2012 prevented him from giving full value, and is probably why he’s estimated at $1.7 instead of nearer to the $4M that Chad Cordero got his first arb year with this team.  Rizzo has dangled Storen in trade talks in the past, but seems likely to keep him (at the possible expense of Clippard) for the coming season.
  • Craig Stammen: 1st year Eligible/$900k estimate: Another super-2 guy who was incredibly valuable to the team this year.  I’d guess he’ll get more than 900k despite his role as a middle reliever, since 900k is barely more than the typical veteran minimum (which is roughly $800k, what Mark DeRosa made in 2012).  Though, 900k equates to roughly a $3.5M FA value, which seems high for the kind of middle relief right-hander that are a dime a dozen in this league.  I’d guess Stammen is the right kind of guy for the team to buy out a couple of arbitration years, much as they did with Sean Burnett a couple years ago.   But, being a fungible middle-relief arm, don’t look for anything other than a 2 year deal so the team is protected in case of injury.
  • Jordan Zimmermann: 2nd year eligible, $4.9M estimate: Another super-2 guy who will get a 4th year of arbitration, this estimate also seems low considering the season that Zimmerman just put in.  It also roughly equates his FA value at roughly $10M a year, which I’d guess is also undervaluing Zimmermann.  Ask yourself; if he was on the open market, you’d have to think he’s getting more than $10M/year (point of comparison: Kyle Lohse turned down a 13.3M qualifying option and may get 4/60; who would you rather have?)
  • Tyler Clippard: 2nd year eligible, $4.6M estimate: I see this estimate as high frankly, as being too much of a raise over his 2012 salary of $1.625 despite his being the closer most this year.  Clippard said it himself; its better to be the closer, get the saves and get the salary.  But $4.6M for a setup guy is way too hefty.  If Clippard comes in this high with his demand, look for an ugly arbitration hearing.  Honestly, I could see Clippard being a trade candidate and making this arbitration decision someone else’s headache, and the team goes into 2013 with Storen firmly entrenched as the closer with the likes of Mattheus, Garcia and Henry Rodriguez vying for the 8th inning role.
  • Ross Detwiler: 1st year eligible, $2.2M estimate: This seems right in line with what Jordan Zimmermann got last year ($2.3M in his first eligible year).  A successful young starter going through this process the first time.
  • Roger Bernadina: 1st year eligible, $1.1M estimate: A year ago I thought Bernadina was going to get DFA’d at the end of spring training.  Now I wonder if he’s got enough value to be flipped in trade after a standout season for this team as its 4th outfielder.  $1.1m is very reasonable for a 4th outfielder with his defensive skills, so don’t be surprised to see Bernadina remain in this role with the team for several years.

Most likely Non-Tender candidates

  • Jesus Flores: 4th year eligible, $1.2M estimate.  Flores represents an interesting test case.  Clearly he no longer has a 25-man catcher spot, having fallen behind both Wilson Ramos and Kurt Suzuki on the depth chart.  The team also has shown itself to have decent rising catcher depth in the likes of Sandy Leon and Jhonatan Solano.  And Flores really regressed this year both offensively and defensively, so much so that the team had to go out and acquire Suzuki late in the season.   So I completely understand those that think that Flores is a non-tender candidate.  BUT, you don’t just cut loose valuable commodities, and a healthy catcher who can serve as a backup in the majors is still worth keeping.  That being said (as I reported in an earlier post), Flores seems to have achieved 5 service years, meaning that despite his option availability he’d have to agree to be assigned to AAA.  Which means his flexibility is completely compromised for this team in 2013.  The only remaining reason to sign him would be as insurance in case Suzuki or Ramos get hurt in spring training.  If he doesn’t get traded in the next two weeks, look for a non-tender.
  • Tom Gorzelanny: 4th year eligible, $2.8M estimate.  I’m not sure I agree with the MLBtraderumor estimate here, because the likelihood of players getting pay DECREASES in arbitration is pretty slim.  Its not like Gorzelanny posted a 6.00 ERA in 2012 after all.  Gorzelanny made $3M in 2012, where he predominantly served as our long-man/mop-up guy out of the pen.   The question the team has to ask itself is this; is $3M too expensive for the last guy out of the pen?  I believe it is, and thus I believe Gorzelanny is destined to get non-tendered.  I believe the team likes him but his salary isn’t matching up to his role any longer, so I see him being forced to take a significant salary cut if he wanted to stay here.  Were I the Nationals, I’d rather take a shot at a MLB-minimum guy (or even a rule-5 guy) in that mop-up role.  The only thing that gives me pause in declaring that the team is ready to cut ties with a lefty reliever is the apparent sky-high cost of lefty relievers on the market; Jeremy Affeldt just signed a 3 year $18M deal to stay with San Francisco.  Would this contract convince the Nats management that perhaps Gorzelanny is a player worth hanging on to?
  • John Lannan: 3rd year eligible, $5M estimate.  There are two schools of thought with Lannan in the Natmosphere right now.  One group believes that the team will let Edwin Jackson walk, Lannan will naturally take his place as the 5th starter and the team won’t pursue any starter talent in trade or in free agency.  The other school of thought (and the one to which I subscribe to) states that Mike Rizzo values power arms and doesn’t rate Lannan at all, that $5M (which I think is a low estimate if he were to actually reach arbitration) is far too expensive for a soft-tossing 5th starter, and that the team will be actively searching for a 5th power arm to replace Jackson in the rotation.  I think the team would rather take that $5M+ and use it to pay an acquisition versus continuing to fund Lannan’s sub 100 ERA+ exploits.  This opinion ignores the rising cost of lefty starters, and the relative dearth of quality starts on the FA market, so perhaps the Nats hang on to him one more year.

Having so many arbitration eligible guys means that the Nats payroll will take a significant hit.  Assuming that the team tenders the above 8 players (including Flores), here’s what the payroll implication will be:

Player 2011 salary 2012 estimate
Desmond $512,500 $3,200,000
Storen $498,750 $1,700,000
Stammen $485,000 $900,000
Zimmermann $2,300,000 $4,900,000
Clippard $1,650,000 $4,600,000
Detwiler $485,000 $2,200,000
Bernadina $493,500 $1,100,000
Flores $815,000 $1,200,000
subttl $7,239,750 $19,800,000
Gorzelanny $3,000,000 $2,800,000
Lannan $5,000,000 $5,000,000

The team needs to plan on paying more than twice it did in 2013 for the services of the top 8 arbitration eligible players in 2012.  Most of that money can be made up by non-tendering both Gorzelanny and Lannan … except that those players would need to then be replaced on the roster.   Still, getting these 8 players for less than $20M a year while the Yankees owe Alex Rodriguez $28M for 2013 alone sort of puts things in context.  It is a good problem to have, having to pay your arbitration-eligible stars more and more each year.

Loria a disgrace to the Game

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Jeffrey Loria, the biggest con-man in Miami. Photo unknown via si.com

A couple of months ago, I posted an entry titled “Is Jeffrey Loria the worst owner in sports?” after a series of off-season gaffes came to light.  Perhaps that title was prone to hyperbole, as the comment section talked about other awful owners in professional sports.  However, I’m bringing up the topic again.

The previous post was written before Heath Bell was shipped off to Arizona, before Ozzie Guillen was officially fired, and (the reason for this re-hashing of the topic) before the absolutely ridiculous fire-sale trade announced yesterday evening, where the Marlins shipped off the rest of 2011’s off-season acquisitions (Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle), along with their best starting pitcher (Josh Johnson), their starting catcher (John Buck) and a valuable utility player in former Nat Emilio Bonifacio to the Toronto Blue Jays for a quartet of malcontents and decent-at-best prospects.  Oh, just for good measure the Marlins kicked in $4M dollars of (likely) revenue sharing money to boot.

I completely agree with the initial reactions from national baseball writers Bob Nightengale (who called the team a “Ponzi Scheme“), Ken Rosenthal (who says Loria should “just sell the team“), Buster Olney (who calls the Marlins the “Ultimate con“), from Scott Miller (saying that Loria “must be stopped“), from Keith Law (who called the deal a “boondoggle“) and from Jeff Passan (who calls this “a Baseball Tragedy“).  Passan’s article in-particular is worth a read, as it details all the shameful behaviors of Loria and his son-in-law, napoleonistic team president David Samson, in gory details.  You’ll feel the heat of anger just reading each new incident that these two con artists have perpetrated over the years.

Most infuriating to me is that this represents just the latest profiteering injustice that Bud Selig has empowered Loria to commit.  Going back to his days with the Expos (who he left in shambles and which directly led to our first years of franchise incompetence), continuing through to the criminal negotiations resulting in a mostly-publicly funded stadium, now resulting in this dismantling (which leaves the team with roughly $20M in committed 2013 payroll).  The shame is that Loria will pocket MILLIONS and millions more dollars by shedding all these ill-thought contracts.  How is that fair to the baseball fans in Miami, or the taxpayers in Florida, or the players that remain on that team (see Giancarlo Stanton‘s tweet for his opinion of the move), or to the other owners, or to the players union in general?

Selig should absolutely veto this trade in the “Best interests of Baseball” clause, and should force Loria to sell.  The reaction and upheaval from the national media is unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed reading and folling the sport.  Enough is enough.  I realize that these moves only benefit us as Nationals fans (since the Miami team is now likely to lose nearly 110 games, ala the 2012 Houston Astros), but my sense of fair play and businessmen obtaining ill-gotten profits spurs me to write this post today.