Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for December, 2012

Ladson’s Inbox 12/28/12 edition

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Rodriguez getting ready to fire in another pitch he has no idea where its going. Photo via humorfeast.blogspot.com

Holiday edition mailbag from MLB.com’s Nats beat writer Bill Ladson for 12/28/12.

As always, I write my response here before reading his, and sometimes edit questions for clarity.

Q: Where does Henry Rodriguez fit in the Nationals’ plan this upcoming season?

A: A good question; Mike Rizzo loves Rodriguez but I find him completely frustrating as a fan.   In 2011 he led the league in wild pitches despite only throwing 65 innings, and in 2012 he had a -0.7 WAR and a 69 ERA+ before hitting the DL for season ending surgery.  He’s got no minor league options and thus has to be either carried on the active roster or be subject to DL shenanigans.  Davey Johnson also loves him, and said he was the Nats best pitcher last spring training.  My guess is that Rodriguez holds it together for another spring, breaks camp with the team and then plays his way into a DFA.  The team can replace his 7th/8th inning innings with Christian Garcia rather easily (assuming of course that the team realizes that Garcia’s arm is too fragile to reliably be depended upon as a starter).  Ladson predicts he’ll be a middle reliever for this team in 2013.

Q: What are the Nats going to do with first baseman Chris Marrero?

A: Great question; he has one more minor league option, is clearly behind the likes of Chad Tracy and Tyler Moore on the first base backup pecking order, but really hasn’t got much left to prove in the minors.  He hit admirably enough at AA and AAA in 2010 and 2011.  I think Marrero’s problem is that he’s stuck at first base but has limited power capabilities.  If he played LF, perhaps you could deal with someone who didn’t look to hit more than a handful of homers at the MLB level.  But he plays a position that needs 25-30 homers of production.  I think he’s trade bait ultimately.  Ladson says the team’s bench is set and that Marrero may be traded.

Q: Isn’t it time to make Ross Detwiler the No. 4 starter? Also, what do you think of Nats’ rotation?

A: I’m not exactly sure what the questioner wants; does it really matter if Detwiler is #4 or #5?  Not really (not until the playoffs anyway).  Detwiler is the 5th starter inarguably on this team, looking at the accomplishments of the 4 other guys.

I think the rotation is either the best or competing to be the best in the sport.  I’ve got a future post ranking all 30 rotations (I’m more or less waiting for the last of the impact free agents to sign before publishing it), and (teaser) the Nats are in the top 3 without question.  However, the Nats rotation is very, very thin.  If one of the 5 guys goes down, I really don’t know who is going to step up to make starts.   Zach Duke?  Ryan Perry?  Lets pray for a healthy spring training.  Ladson says Detwiler is the 4th starter entering spring training, and that he likes the rotation.  Not a very deep answer.

Q: Bill Bray was an OK pitcher in his last stint with the Nationals. Do you think he will be anywhere near as good the second time around?

A: It all depends on his health.  A groin strain and then a back strain cost him more than 100 games last year.   Those injuries should be healed up well enough by now; if he was recovering from an arm injury I’d be more worried.  He posted a 133 ERA+ in 2011; i don’t see any reason why he couldn’t repeat that performance in 2013.  However, I still think the team needs to pursue one more lefty out of the pen.  Michael Gonzalez just signed with Milwaukee, meaning that all three of our lefty bullpen guys from 2012 are gone.  J.P. Howell remains available but competition is fierce for his services.  Ladson says it all depends on his health.

Q: Should the Nationals be concerned with the way Ryan Zimmerman was releasing the ball at the end of 2012 season?

A: Yes.  They should be concerned with the way he’s been throwing the ball for several years now, AND they should have been concerned with the effects of the shoulder injury that was bothering him all season.  Off-season surgery fixed the latter part.  As for the former … I think its just inevitable that Zimmerman moves to 1B.  At some point I feel his arm action is going to turn into some sort of Chuck Knoblock mental block.  Ladson reminds of Zimmerman’s surgery.

Q: Why don’t the Nationals just give Adam LaRoche a third year? If things don’t pan out by the third year, the team could trade him.

A: Good question.  The core of the team is locked up for 3 more years, why not extend the offer?  I think perhaps the answer relates to the massive amount of arbitration salary the team is looking at by 2015.  They might have 12-13 arbitration cases with escalating salary by then.   And its no guarantee to be able to trade Adam LaRoche in 2015; what kind of return would we get?  We’d likely get marginal prospects AND have to pay most of his salary.  I’m not even mentioning the obvious; he just turned 33; do you want to guarantee a 3rd year 8-figure salary to a 35-yr old?  Isn’t that exactly the kind of contracts that are killing the Phillies right now?  Plus, signing LaRoche locks of 1B for 3 years … meaning no room for Moore for 2 more years AND no room to move Zimmerman if his arm turns into mush.  I know the team likes LaRoche, but it makes more sense for the future of the team to let him walk.  Ladson echos my comments on age and having to eat money on a trade.  He also mentions that the team would like Matthew Skole at first by 2015, which I don’t necessarily think will happen (but we’ll see).

Nats Franchise Draft history; biggest, best, worst Draft Picks

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Face of the Franchise Zimmerman easily represents the best player drafted in the Washington era (by WAR). Photo team official

This is the Third in a long-delayed series of “Best of” posts, breaking down the transactions of both the club’s General Managers.  Previously:

1. Biggest/Best/Worst Trades in Nats History (March 2012)

2. Biggest/Best/Worst Free Agent signings in Nats History (November 2012).

Here’s Part 3: looking at the Biggest, Best and Worst Draft picks the team has made since arriving here in Washington.

Ground rules for this article:

1. Unlike the trades and free agent posts, assiging “credit” or “blame” for draft picks on the General Manager is not entirely straightforward.  Baseball teams rely heavily on Scouting Directors and their staffs when it comes to the draft, especially once you get past the first few rounds.  So, perhaps for the purposes of this article it is better to talk about the “Reign of Jim Bowden” and the “Reign of Mike Rizzo” instead of insinuating that every draft decision was made by the GM during these times.  Much like the President of the US gets credit/blame when  the US economy as a whole rises or falls (whether or not you’d like to argue that a president’s decisions can influence a multi-trillion dollar economy), so does the GM get the credit/blame for his staff’s draft picks.  Most baseball pundits that I’ve read generally say that the GM/Team Ownership is always directly involved in making any 1st round and supplemental first round picks (because of the money), and will be involved if over-slot bonuses come up in later rounds, but that by the 5th round or so the entire draft is being conducted without the GM’s involvement.  Which leads us to point #2…

2. Related to #1; Mike Rizzo, whom Bowden hired in July of 2006, may not have been the Scouting Director but he certainly had a say in the drafts (coming from a scouting background in Arizona).   I’ll list scouting directors tenure here as well, related to #1 and #2.  But, it probably isn’t going to be entirely fair to the GM to say that such-and-such a pick was “good” or “bad” if it was actually being done by his staff.

3.  It is entirely “hindsight is 20/20″ in nature.  But, it is what it is.  If you draft a 1st rounder who flames out in low-A, he’s a failure.  If you draft a major leaguer in the 21st round, he’s a fantastic success.  Mostly here in judging the “best draft picks” I’m looking for value in later rounds.  As it turns out judging “worst” draft picks mostly will be around first round busts.

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

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

And here’s the tenure period of Scouting Directors during our time here in Washington:

  • Mid 2002 – Mar 2009: Dana Brown
  • Mar 2009 – Present: Kris Kline

The quintessential Nats Draft resource is the Draft Tracker Spreadsheet, initially created by NatsFarm.com’s Brian Oliver and now maintained by “SpringfieldFan. ” It has all our draft picks, where they came from and signing bonuses.  A file I’ve kept recently (The Draft Prospects Worksheet) is a file I started to create when the Nats started getting some upper-end draft picks as a way to track who we may take.  Lastly, you can query the entire amateur draft results per team at baseball-reference.com (the link will go to the 2009 draft by way of example).

Jim Bowden Tenure: Nov 2004 – Mar 2009

Bowden’s Biggest Draft Picks (in terms of dollars committed).

  • 2005 1st rnd: Ryan Zimmerman, $2.975M
  • 2007 1st rnd: Ross Detwiler, $2.1M
  • 2007 6th rnd: Jack McGeary: $1.8M
  • 2006 1st rnd: Chris Marrero: $1.6M
  • 2006 1st rnd: Colten Willems: $1.4M

Bowden’s Best Draft Picks

  • 2005 11th rnd: John Lannan out of Siena College.  A durable and servicable lefty starter with MLB average numbers out of a small college in the 11th round is a great find.
  • 2005 12th rnd: Craig Stammen out of Dayton.  He didn’t look as if he’d be successful until his transition to the bullpen, where his arm action and movement have baffled hitters during his shorter reliever stints.
  • 2006 41st rnd: Brad Peacock out of a Florida HS as a “draft and follow” guy (which enabled teams to take late round fliers on good talent, so this isn’t exactly the same as finding a true 41st round player who made the majors, since Peacock likely wouldn’t have been taken without the DDE rules in place and would have been an upper round draft pick the next season he was eligible).
  • 2007 2nd rnd: Jordan Zimmermann out of U Wisconsin Stevens Point (not because of his draft position, but because of the scouting out of such a small school).  Zimmermann survived TJ surgery and now looks like a hidden Ace in the making.
  • 2007 4th rnd: Derek Norris out of a Kansas HS: possibly the best HS player the team has drafted since arriving in DC.
  • 2008 10th rnd: Tommy Milone out of USC.  Rizzo may not have rated him, but he looks to be in Oakland’s rotation for many years to come.
  • 2008 16th rnd: Tyler Moore out of Mississippi State.  Scouts continually have downplayed Moore’s power; I have never read a scouting report on Moore that didn’t focus on “holes in his swing” or “defensive liabilities.”  All he’s done is mash the ball at every level he’s been challenged with in his career.
  • 2008 19th rnd: Steve Lombardozzi out of St. Petersburg JuCo.  Despite his pedigree (his father played in the Majors in parts of 6 seasons), Lombardozzi was lightly pursued and surprisingly signed as a late round JuCo draftee.  He’s scraped his way to the top though and could find himself starting if the team decides to move Espinosa.

Despite the issues at the top of the 2008 draft, it may have been Bowden’s best.  He took no less than 6 guys who now are on 25-man rosters in this league (Milone, Moore, Lombardozzi, Espinosa, and Crow).  2005 wasn’t bad either, with 7 guys that have MLB appearances (though only 3 remain with the team).

Bowden’s Worst Draft Picks

  • 2006: almost the entire draft.  Bowden blew the first 6 picks on high schoolers, the best of whom was Chris Marrero, who has contributed -0.7 WAR in his career thus far.  First round pick Colten Willems flamed out and just gave up playing in the middle of the 2010 season, Stephen Englund was released (but not before earning a 50-game suspension for Amphetemine usage), Sean Black didn’t sign and Stephen King has yet to succeed above A-ball despite being in his his 6th pro season (and, just for good measure, had his own 50-game drug suspension in 2009).  Only one player in the top 12 rounds of picks even played a day in the majors.  Just a complete debacle of a draft.
  • 2007′s high schoolers: Smoker, Souza, Burgess, and Smolinkski: all top 3 round picks, all busts.
  • 2007′s Jack McGeary, who insisted (admirably) on also going to college, but probably at the detriment of his baseball career.  I’m sorry; if someone pays you $1.8M dollars in cash, you probably should work for that money.   McGeary never was able to master anything above rookie ball and was so under-valued by the team that they failed to protect him in the minor league phase of the 2012 Rule 5 draft (where he was subsequently taken by Boston).
  • The 2008 Aaron Crow debacle.  Yes I know that this pick turned into 2009′s Drew Storen.  And yes I know that Crow has now been turned into a middle reliever while Storen has turned into an effective closer.  At the time, this move helped continue the “incompetent” labels that the organization was earning, as Bowden reportedly refused to negotiate with Crow’s agents and failed to do his due diligence before drafting the player.  Who is to say whether Crow’s electric arm wouldn’t have turned into a regular rotation member in our organization (Kansas City doesn’t exactly have a stellar record of developing pitchers).  In the end, getting Storen and also not losing the opportunity cost of missing a year’s development time of a first round pick (by virtue of the rest of the team being so awful) ended up not hurting the team.  But it still goes down as a draft failure for Bowden.

Mike Rizzo Tenure: Mar 2009 – present

Rizzo’s Biggest Draft Picks (in terms of dollars committed).

  • 2009 1st rnd: Stephen Strasburg: $7.5M bonus, 15.1M guaranteed
  • 2010 1st rnd: Bryce Harper: $6.25M bonus, $9.9M guaranteed
  • 2011 1st rnd: Anthony Rendon: $6M, $7.2M guaranteed
  • 2011 3rd rnd: Matthew Purke: $2.75M bonus, $4.15M guaranteed
  • 2011 1st rnd (supplemental): Brian Goodwin: $3M
  • 2012 1st rnd: Lucas Giolito: $2.9M
  • 2011 1st rnd: Alex Meyer: $2M
  • 2010 4th rnd: A.J. Cole: $2M
  • 2009 1st rnd: Drew Storen: $1.6M

As we saw with the Free Agent post, Rizzo clearly had more money to work with from Ownership than Bowden did.  Spending $2M on a 4th round pick (AJ Cole) would have been unheard of in the Bowden reign.

Rizzo’s Best Draft Picks

  • 2009 12th rnd: Nathan Karns out of Texas Tech: Karns got 4th/5th round money in the 12th round but has been bedeviled by injuries until this year.  By now we know what he’s capable of; our organization’s Minor League pitcher of the Year earned a spot on the 40-man roster and could be in line for a 2013 late season call-up.  It could be too-early to tell, but right now this is looking like one of Rizzo’s best.
  • 2009 22nd rnd: Danny Rosenbaum out of Xavier; despite the team not protecting him and losing him in Rule-5, he had come out of no-where to be one of our best pitching prospects.
  • 2010 12th rnd: Robbie Ray out of a Tennessee HS; he had a great debut and has been steadily rising up the ranks.  The team was able to buy him out of a committment to the University of Arkansas by offering 2nd round money.
  • 2010 22nd rnd: Cameron Selik as a U Kansas senior has made it to AA and looks like a great later-round steal, especially for a college senior this low in the draft.
  • 2011 5th rnd: Matt Skole out of  Georgia Tech looks like he could be an excellent hitting prospect and is making it into the top 5 lists of Nationals prospects.
  • 2011 1st rnd supp: Brian Goodwin out of a Miami JuCo looks more advanced than anyone would have thought at this point, and could be pressing for playing time in 2013.  I don’t normally give plaudits for 1st round talents, but the team aggressively pursued and captured Goodwin at a time when it looked like he was heading to UNC.

Rizzo’s Worst Draft Picks

  • 2009 2nd rnd: Jeff Kobernus out of Cal Berkeley.  Perhaps less because of his production (which was mostly poor for his career), but moreso because the decision not to protect him and value your investment in the player, leading to his departure in the 2012 rule-5 draft.  No worries for Nats fans: Rizzo drafted almost the doppelganger of Kobernus in 2012: again taking a 2nd baseman from California in the second round (Tony Renda).  Lets hope it works out better this time.
  • 2009 3rd rnd: Trevor Holder out of Georgia.  A blatant punt on the draft pick to save money, Holder was a college senior with zero leverage and should have been offered closer to $1,000 instead of the $200,000 he got.  Holder has struggled for years in our system.  He did have a decent 2nd half in Harrisburg, so there is hope yet.  But 3rd round picks should have more promise than Holder has shown.
  • 2010 3rd rnd: Rick Hague out of Rice.  He hasn’t lived up to his 3rd round billing yet, though (to be fair) he has struggled with some injuries.

Rizzo’s Too Soon to Tell Draft Picks

  • 2010 2nd rnd: Sammy Solis was looking promising out of U San Diego, but has been side lined by Tommy John Surgery.
  • The 2011 college-arm gamble: Rizzo drafted dozens of college players this draft, stocking the system with experienced amateurs.
  • 2012 1st: the Lucas Giolito gamble won’t play itself out for a couple of years, but it is safe to say Rizzo went “all in” on this player.  A 1-1 talent but damaged goods upon drafting, the team is putting a lot of faith into its experience in dealing with hurlers going through Tommy John.
  • 2011 3rd: Matt Purke got a MLB deal and a whole lot of money, and has done relatively nothing to earn it because of lingering shoulder injuries.  I’m listing him as too early to tell, but the signs are not good.


Off-Topic: Why are there so many Sports articles about Tim Tebow?

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The most talked about 3rd string QB in sports history. Photo AP via businessinsider.com

Seriously?

The 3rd string quarterback of a mediocre NFL team is in the news, literally every day.  Multiple times per day.

Why is there so much press surrounding Tim Tebow?

Just this week, we learned he broke up with his girlfriend, that he’s disappointed about being passed over for the starting gig the last week of the season, that he could have run the wildcat if asked, that he may be heading to Jacksonville, that some ESPN analyst thinks he’s a fraud, that the Jets should just cut him now, and that he would have done whatever his coach asked him.  Of the 50-someodd articles in my RSS feed just now, there were no less than 10 related to Tebow.

Why??  Why is he constantly in the news?  Is it because he plays for the Jets?  I didn’t realize the Jets were such a newsworthy football team.  Is it because he’s in New York and there’s just more sports media per square foot there than elsewhere?  Possibly.  Is it because the closest city to ESPN headquarters in New York and ESPN employs far too many columnists and analysts?  Possibly.  Is it because Tebow is a former Heisman trophy winner?  Doubtful; there’s been numerous Heisman winners who were awful in the pros.  Is it because he’s amazingly talented and people really thought he’d be the savior of the NFL?  I doubt it; every analysis piece I read seems to come with stated opinions of just how mediocre a player he is.

Can it stop?  I’m really, really tired of hearing about him.  Most ardent football fans couldn’t name the backups of most NFL teams outside their own rooting interests; why does sports nation need to know the every move of Tim Tebow??

Written by Todd Boss

December 26th, 2012 at 10:52 am

Posted in Non-Baseball

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Obligatory Class of 2013 Hall of Fame opinion piece

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Roger Clemens; is he a Hall of Famer or an opportunity for writers to make a PED statement? Photo unknown.

Obligatory Class of 2013 Hall of Fame opinion piece.

The 2013 Hall of Fame class ballot was released in Late November, on BBWAA’s site.   Here’s the 2013 class on Baseball-Reference.com, along with relevant career stats and past voting results.

As we’re about to read, over and over again from every writer in the Baseball world, this is the Steroid-era ballot.  Several of the biggest names of the era are on the ballot.  Just in case you were wondering who has or hasn’t been officially linked to PEDs, here’s a handy guide for your ethical dilemma.

My Previous posts on the same topic:

I typed up such exhaustive opinions on a number of candidates from the two previous versions of these posts, that I won’t repeat them here.  Instead i’ll just state below, of the returning candidates this year here’s who I’d vote for and who I wouldn’t in list form.

Returning Candidates I’d vote for:

  • Jeff Bagwell
  • Jack Morris
  • Tim Raines
  • Mark McGwire
  • Edgar Martinez

Returning Candidates that I would NOT vote for (my reasons mostly are stated in the 2012 class post referenced above):

  • Bernie Williams
  • Alan Trammell
  • Lee Smith
  • Larry Walker
  • Rafael Palmeiro
  • Don Mattingly
  • Fred McGriff
  • Dale Murphy

New Candidates in 2012 that I’d vote for, with some  discussion; Unlike a lot of opinions I state, my thoughts on the Hall of Fame have always been more driven by how a player “seems” to be in the pantheon of baseball history.  I don’t like to get into the same stats-driven discussions that other writers do.  So and so had a career WAR of X, or a career ERA+ of Y, which makes him better than this other guy.

  • Barry Bonds: A transcendent player before any use of “the cream” or “the clear,” this 7-time MVP is clearly in the pantheon of the greatest players of all-time.  The best 5-tool player since Willie Mays, the only thing that should have been standing in the way of unanimous voting is Bonds’ surly nature towards sports writers (several of whom would have “penalized” him by omitting him from first ballot status).
  • Roger Clemens: replace “7-time MVP” with “7-time Cy Young winner” and the Bonds argument essentially repeats itself with Clemens.  Normally we’d be talking about his place as one of the greatest right handed pitchers to ever play the game.  Instead we’re talking about how much of his later career was enhanced by virtue of foreign substances.
  • Mike Piazza: One of the best 3 hitting catchers of all time (Johnny Bench being the best, with Yogi Berra in the discussion), his purported “back acne” proof of steroid use likely costs him votes.  Which is just ridiculous, but that’s the nature of this ballot and the next 15 year’s worth of ballots unfortunately.
  • Curt Schilling: his career accomplishments don’t include a Cy Young award, but that wasn’t for lack of trying; he just happened to pitch in the same ERA as Randy Johnson and Johan Santana in his prime power.  But Schilling was a game-changing starter, an Ace who could get you the win.  He was one of the biggest “big game” pitchers out there.  And, his legendary playoff performances push him over the top for me.  Some will argue against him b/c he “only” had 216 wins or he “only” had a career 3.46 ERA.  He passes the eye test for me.
  • Craig Biggio: he wasn’t the flashiest player, but then again you can’t judge middle infielders the same way as you judge power hitters.  Biggio hit the 3,000 hit plateau, was a good combination of power (291 career homers) and speed (414 career SBs), and showed good defense (several Gold Gloves).  For one of the last career one-team guys, he makes the cut for me.

New Candidates that I would NOT vote for:

  • Sammy Sosa: 600+ career homers, and I can’t help but think that a good number of those were either PED or corked-bat assisted.  That’s probably completely unfair, but you can make a good argument that more than 150 of his career homers were likely “surplus” to his legitimate career capabilities.  He averaged 37 homers/season as he approached his prime, then suddenly averaged 60/season for four seasons.  Clearly Bonds’ 73-homer season is attributable to a single-season PED spike, but Sosa made a career of it.  There’s just no way for me to distinguish who the real Sosa was (he had a 99 OPS+ the year before his power spike) versus the PED enhanced version.
  • Kenny Lofton: I know lots of people view Lofton in the same breath as Rickey Henderson in terms of quality lead-off hitters, but to me he was just a vagabond who kept looking for work year after year.  He played for 12 teams by the time he hung them up.  Perhaps I’m not really “remembering” his time in Cleveland, where he stole a ton of bases and set the table for that powerful lineup.   He had a handful of gold gloves, a handful of all-star appearances.  I may be under-appreciating him a bit, but when I hear his name I don’t knee-jerk Hall of Famer.
  • Everyone else first time eligible, the best player of which is probably David Wells.  Wells basically had two good seasons (the only two times he received any Cy Young consideration) and otherwise was a rubber-armed hurler who prided himself on making 35 starts despite being in god-awful shape (as noted extensively in Joe Torre‘s book The Yankee Years).

I’d be shocked if anyone else on the first time eligible list got enough votes to even stay eligible for 2014′s ballot.

Critics may state that my fake ballot has some inconsistencies; how can I support a vote for Biggio but not for Trammell?   How can you vote for McGwire but not Sosa?  How can you vote for Edgar Martinez but not Larry Walker?  How can you vote for *any* PED guys but shun Sosa and Palmeiro?  How can you support Morris but not support Wells?   All these are good points; good arguable points.  Maybe if I had an official ballot I’d have a more serious discussion with myself about these points.  All the above thumbs-up/thumbs-down opinions are mostly knee jerk, did the guy “feel” like a hall of famer as opposed to a full statistical analysis.   As I covered in my Jack Morris piece, I think its ok to have slightly lesser players who contributed more to the baseball pantheon than slightly better players statistically who had no real lasting impact on the game.

And for now, that’s good enough for me and my fake Hall of Fame ballot.

Ladson’s inbox 12/18/12

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Lots of loogy talk in this off-season; Burnett's a hard man to replace. Photo: masnsports.com

Another edition of mlb.com’s Nationals beat reporter Bill Ladson’s Inbox, this time from 12/18/12.

As always, I write my response before reading his, and sometimes edit questions for clarity.

Q: Who will replace Sean Burnett as the lefty specialist in the bullpen?

Q: Is there any chance of the Nationals getting J.P. Howell to fill Burnett’s spot? Do you think the club needs him?

A: The Nats 2013 Loogy right now is likely to be minor league acquiree and former franchise 1st round pick Bill Bray.  If he’s healthy, and if he makes the team.  He’s the leader in the clubhouse right now, given the real lack of left handed relief in the farm system right now.  Clicking on baseball-reference’s great franchise pitching depth chart, there’s really not a single viable option that pitched above AA still in the system (I like Patrick McCoy, who did decently in AA, but he wasn’t picked up in Rule 5, which implies to me that he’s definitely not MLB ready).  Zach Duke seems set to be the Tom Gorzelanny replacement; the long-relief/spot-start/mop-up guy, and not necessarily the one-out guy.  The team is still involved with rumors of signing J.P. Howell, and of course could still re-sign Michael Gonzalez, who did so wonderfully for is in 2012.  However, lots of teams are in on lefty specialists right now and we may get out-bid.  I’m partial to Bray; he is a Virginia guy, went to William & Mary, and is the cousin of a buddy of mine (who, when I saw him last weekend, promised to have access to tickets if Bray makes the team).  Lets cross our fingers (stated completely selfishly).

Do we “need” Howell/Gonzalez?  I don’t know if we “need” another lefty, but I’d like another lefty in case Bray isn’t ready to go.  So I’d like to see another acquisition of someone for depth.  I think the bullpen looks better with a second lefty late-innings guy.  Ladson wrote almost exactly what I just wrote, naming all the same points.

Q: When looking at the 40-man roster, could you tell me what Yunesky Maya has to offer?

A: Maya still serves as last-ditch starter help, in case of a rash of injuries at the MLB level.  Despite his poor performances in two prior MLB stints, he’d still be preferable to other career minor league veteran options we probably will have in AAA this year (thinking the likes of Roark, Broderick, or Mandel).  His salary is guaranteed; we might as well keep him around as insurance.  If you’re looking to complain about a 40-man spot being wasted, look no further than Carlos Rivero.   Ladson calls the Maya signing Mike Rizzo‘s worst, and says the same thing I do about starter insurance.

Q: Who do you think has more of an upside: Michael Morse or Adam LaRoche?

A: An oddly worded question; I’m not sure either guy truly has upside at this point in their careers.  Michael Morse is in the last year of a contract, his sub-par defense has him outside of Rizzo’s vision of a pro-defense team, and there’s no guarantee that his 31 homer performance in 2011 wasn’t a complete one-off.  Adam LaRoche is already in his decline years and any guaranteed money is considered a big risk.  The best thing to do for the team would be to get LaRoche to return on as short of a guaranteed contract as he’ll take, and to flip Morse for some farm system depth (vastly depleted in the last 14 calendar months).   But, life isn’t that simple.  LaRoche has to be thinking for himself, and knows that this is the best and last time he’ll have to earn an 8-figure guaranteed deal.  So he has to max things out.  If someone else offers him 3 guaranteed years, he just has to take it.  He’ll never get $13M/year offered to him again.  Which would leave Morse in a contract year playing an easier defensive position (1B), and hopefully being 100% healthy he puts up another 2011 season.   Ladson is a pro-LaRoche guy.

Q: Considering his last outing in the postseason against the Cardinals, is Drew Storen the Nationals’ closer entering Spring Training, or will he have to win the job?

A: One badly timed blow-up won’t cost Drew Storen his job; he earned it back after taking a back seat to Tyler Clippard all summer, and that’s how things will stand going into 2013.  Clippard really struggled down the stretch in the role, and I cannot see any spring training competition at this point.   One thing that wouldn’t surprise me would be a trade though; only one guy can close, but both Clippard and Storen are closer-quality arms.  It could be lucrative to the team in terms of prospect depth to move one or the other to a team in need of a closer (and a team that values saves).  This move may not occur until next off-season though, when Clippard’s salary expectations will be far higher than the team may be willing to stomach for a non-closer.   Ladson says he expects Storen to be 100% and to get 30-35 saves.

Q: Burnett, who was a valuable asset in the bullpen, signed a two-year deal with the Angels. Couldn’t the Nationals have matched that kind of deal?

A: Yes they could have matched the Angel’s offer for Sean Burnett; it really wasn’t that much money.  But, by saving a few million here and there suddenly you have enough to buy a front-line starter.  That’s the right way to build a team in a fiscally responsible way.  That being said, I think perhaps the team was surprised that Burnett “only” signed a 2 year deal, given Jeremy Affeldt‘s 3 year contract for more money (Burnett’s deal has a 3rd year club option).   But Rizzo belives in the same thing that I believe in; bullpen arms are a commodity, can be found for relatively little money and you can get great performance for your dollar.  Think about Gonzalez last year; he was a minor league signing mid-season, and he posted a 132 ERA+ for us in 35 2/3 innings.  I think Bray could absolutely be this year’s version of Gonzalez.  Ladson has a good point: he thinks the Nats were slightly scared off by Burnett’s off -season elbow surgery and didn’t want to guarantee 2 years.

Q: Johnson’s favoritism drives me crazy, and I’m weary of reading about him trying to coax LaRoche into signing. Doesn’t favoritism bother the rest of the team, perhaps cause discord? And does the ballclub truly believe LaRoche can achieve the same numbers next year? I am dubious.

A: A great question; I’ve said in the past that Davey Johnson‘s overt recruiting of LaRoche in the media has to be grating to Morse.  If LaRoche signs elsewhere, I would absolutely believe there may be some discord in the clubhouse between Morse and Johnson that will need to be addressed.  Other readers on this blog don’t necessarily believe this is the case, saying that Morse has to know that “its a business.”  But how would you feel if your boss was overtly recruiting your replacement?  I’d be pissed.  Can LaRoche match his 2012 numbers in 2013?  Sure.  The odds are against him though.  Its more likely to expect declines in production natural with his advancing age.  Ladson says the players love Johnson and would never question him, but didn’t even mention Morse’s name.

Q: Do you think Ian Desmond can pull off another incredible year in 2013?

A: Sure!  Do I think Ian Desmond could also regress at the plate to his pre 2012 numbers?  Yes I do.  I really have no idea what to expect out of guys like Desmond and Roger Bernadina, who both had career years and significantly improved their offense over their career norms.  Are these one-time improvements?  Meanwhile, a guy like Danny Espinosa is in the reverse situation; he’s regressing year to year, and needs to make a leap like Desmond made.  Predictions?   I think all three players stay roughly where they are, Espinosa starts losing ABs against lefties to Lombardozzi, and Rendon starts to force the team’s hand by tearing up AAA in early 2013.   Ladson is really pro-Desmond, saying that he’ll go down as one of the great short-stops in baseball.  That’s heavy praise.

Jack Morris, Statistics and the meaning of the Hall of Fame

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Its Hall of Fame ballot time. Let the Jack Morris arguments start-up again. Photo John Iacono via si.com

(coincidentally, this is the exact same picture and exact same caption as I used last year.  Nothing w/r/t Morris has changed).

Every year about this time comes the inevitable Jack Morris battles when it comes to deciding whether or not he’s a Hall-of-Famer.  Those who argue against him (and argue they do, rather loudly, as exemplified by writers such as David Schoenfield, Rob Neyer, and Joe Posnanski and easily found at nearly any baseball blog, almost all of which are extremely anti-Morris) typically point at Morris’ career ERA, his ERA+, his career WAR and then argue that he was actually a mediocre pitcher.  They have all sorts of arguments against “pitching to score” and even make arguments that middling starters from the 90s are actually “better” than Morris.

My one overriding opinion on the whole “Hall of Fame” worthiness argument is that the stat-inclined seem to be missing the whole point of the “Hall of Fame.”  It isn’t defined as the “Hall of the Best  Statistically Significant players above some arbitrary benchmark.”  If it were, then arguments comparing Morris to Rick Reushel or Brad Radke (both of whom have higher career WARs than Morris) would be important.  (side note: Ironically, this is the same distinction that these people generally also miss when talking about the “Most Valuable Player” award; it isn’t the “Best Player” its the “Most Valuable,” and therefore you can’t just give me a gazillion stats that tell me why Mike Trout had a better season than Miguel Cabrera and call me an idiot for saying that Cabrera was the MVP this year.  How can you be the MVP of a 3rd place team that would have still been a 3rd place team with or without you?  How can you be the “most valuable” player in the league but have zero impact on your team’s standings or the playoffs?  But I digress).

No; its the Hall of FAME (emphasis mine).  It should be the Hall of the most FAMOUS people in the game’s history.  And inarguably Jack Morris is more famous than either Reushel or Radke (since these two pitchers are often used in comparison).  And since its baseball writers themselves that a) remember Morris as being better and more famous than he was according to specific career-measuring stats like WAR, and b) do the voting themselves, its likely that Morris may very well get into Cooperstown despite other people feeling that he’s a lesser pitcher.  Its why a pitcher like Catfish Hunter has been elected already, despite his having even worse career numbers (in the sabre-slanted statistical categories that the new-wave know-it-all bloggers constantly refer to) than Morris.  I can’t recall ever reading one single article talking about how bad it is that Hunter is in the hall of fame, but it seems that EVERY single baseball blogger and columnist out there under the age of 30 has written multiple times about how its the death of the legitimacy of the Hall of Fame if Morris makes it in.  I just don’t get it.

A lot of these arguments seem to be driven by one stat: Career WAR.  People look at that one overriding stat and make their arguments.  My biggest problem with career WAR is its “accumulator nature.”  It rewards a healthy, mediocre pitcher who makes a ton of starts and accumulates a ton of strikeouts and wins and innings pitched. Meanwhile a better pitcher with a higher peak who ends his career earlier won’t “score” as high in career WAR.

The two pitchers in particular i’m looking at in the above paragraph are Bert Blyleven (career bWAR of 89.3) and Pedro Martinez (career bWAR of 80.5).  There is not one person in their right mind that would say with a straight face that Blyleven was a “better” pitcher than Martinez.  But, if you look at the WAR without context you’d argue that was the case.

Blyleven during his career, for those of us actually old enough to have seen him play, was a mediocre pitcher.  Plain and simple.  In 22 seasons he made 3 All Star teams and received Cy Young votes only 4 times, never coming close to sniffing the award.  Morris on the other hand, received Cy Young votes in 7 of his 18 seasons and started the All Star game 3 times.  Morris STARTED more all-star games than Blyleven ever made.  Blyleven was traded for relative nobodies a number of times in his career, and the prevailing press of the day referred to him as a middling pitcher.  Only after he’s retired, when we “discovered” statistics like ERA+ and FIP and realized he was better than his numbers at the time indicated did we make the push for him into the HoF.

Why do I point out All Star appearances and Cy Young voting?  Because in the context of the Hall of Fame discussion, they’re important.  You can quibble about the meaning of all star appearances (certainly they’ve been diluted in the last 20 years) and cy young votes all you want, but the fact is this: if you REALLY want to know who the writers felt were the best players of their day, then all star appearances and Cy Young/MVP voting is vitally important.

But here’s my main point: why can’t the Hall recognize BOTH the likes of Blyleven (better than people realized at the time) AND also recognize Morris (overrated statistically but still historically significant and thus “famous” enough for enshrinement)?  Why do people devote so much time towards disparaging the case for Morris?  Yes, Morris gets undue credit for his fantastic 1991 World Series Start, for leading the 1984 Tigers, for leading the 1980s in Wins.   If you ask any player or manager in the game at the time, they’d likely tell you Morris was one of the best.   But these are all the same aspects that make him “Famous” and thus a likely candidate for the Hall of FAME.  These are the same reasons why a fine pitcher like Curt Schilling, who also was part of some iconic moments in the game’s history, also should be in Cooperstown (in my opinion).

I just feel like the nature of sports writing has come to the point where people use statistical measures as the be-all, end-all proof of everything in baseball.  And then they forget that the game is played by humans, that there are ALWAYS some things that cannot be measured, and just because some statistic has been cheapened in today’s game (I’m thinking of the pitcher Win) does not mean it was always cheapened.  I know there’s people out there who wrote doctoral thesises about how Morris never “pitched to score.”  But how do you measure a pitcher who knows he’s gotta go 9 innings, who knows he’s not getting pulled in the 6th inning for a lefty-on-lefty matchup, who knows he’s more likely to throw 160 pitches than 95?  I absolutely think there’s something in the “pitching to score” arguments, if only because I have played with pitchers who absolutely would coast through games when they got a lead, or who would “take innings off” against in order to preserve their arm to go 9 full innings.  Unless you had a biometric measure on every single pitch Jack Morris ever threw, correlated to the weather, the score, his team’s bullpen status and his manager’s whims, you can NOT tell me that Morris did or did not pitch to score, let up with a big lead, or cruise through innings knowing he may have to go 9 on a 100 degree day.  Just because you can’t prove something mathematically doesn’t mean it still doesn’t exist.  Tom Verducci did an excellent piece recently on Morris and his innings pitched and complete games in context, somewhat related to this topic.

Morris comes from a transitionary time in baseball, before specialized relief pitchers, before the power of the 90s and before PEDs.  He comes from a time severely under-represented in the Hall (think of players like Dale Murphy, Alan Trammell, Denny MartinezOrel Hershiser and Bret Saberhagen: these were the stars of the 80s and some of them barely got 2% of the HoF vote), a side-effect of the ridiculously talented players we saw in the 90s and thus victims of the inevitable comparisons, falling wanting.  He holds an important place in the history of the game, in the narrative of the 1980s, and of the fantastic 1991 World Series.  Cooperstown is a museum, not a spreadsheet.

Call me ignorant, call me old school.  Whatever.  Maybe I’m just tired of the negative rhetoric.  I say “Elect Jack Morris.”

Ask Boswell; 12/17/12 Edition

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Is he staying or going? Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images

Another Ask Boswell edition, dated 12/17/12.

As always, I type my response here before reading his answer (which sometimes leads to non-answers, since Tom Boswell sometimes doesn’t directly answer the same question i’m answering), and I sometimes edit questions for clarity.

Q: What is it going to take to settle this MASN Mess?

A: Probably a huge check to Peter Angelos to buy out his 90% stake in MASN.  But I like the approach baseball is taking; clearly Angelos has himself an incredibly one-sided deal, and clearly the whole “we’ll renegotiate in 5 years” turned out to be a gigantic mess.  Because its now drug on for more than a year with Angelos predicably low-balling the team while other teams out there get multiples of millions of dollars more per year than the Nationals are getting.  Wendy Thurm at fangraphs.com posted a great review of all 30 team’s RSN contracts.  For comparison purposes the next closest Market sizes to Washington (based on 2008 MSA) are Miami and Houston.  Miami gets $18M/year in a very bad deal, Washington is getting $29M/year, and Houston just negotiated a $80m/year deal.  Detroit, which is smaller still than Washington, is getting $40M/year in an old deal that expires in 2017, though they’re likely not to rise too much because of the economic conditions of their market.  What does all that mean?  Clearly Washington is no New York/Boston/Los Angeles, but clearly the team needs more than $29M.

I hope Fox Sports comes along, buys out Angelos and negotiates individual terms with the two franchises.  Will it happen?  Probably no, probably never.  Perhaps the solution will be a change of ownership in Baltimore, and Bud Selig (or whoever the commissioner is at the time) tacks on a clause of the switch to split off the RSN.  I could see that happening.

Boswell says it will take time, anger, and maybe even Selig imposing his whole “best interests of the game” clause.

Q: Who has the most frightening lineup in baseball ( Angels, Dodgers, or Blue Jays)?

A: Hmm.  The Angels now feature no less than SIX guys who have hit 30 homers in a season; Trout, Pujols, Trumbo, Hamilton, Morales and Wells.   That’s some incredible offense (even if Vernon Wells‘ time is past).   The Yankees and the Rangers were 1-2 in Runs Scored, Slugging and OPS in 2012 but both will be weakened by injuries and FA defections in 2013.  The Dodgers lineup “seems” potent, but includes a significant number of question marks.  If everyone plays to their potential, then yes the Dodgers could be fearsome.  But its more likely that  Crawford struggles and that Adrian Gonzalez continues to appear as if his best days are past.  Lastly Toronto may have a great middle of the order but they can’t match the Angels for up-and-down the lineup power.   The additions of Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera aren’t going to help them catch the Angels.  Boswell says Toronto is best.

Q: With Hamilton->Los Angeles, are the odds of LaRoche leaving higher?

A: I think the ongoing stalemate over contract length plus Texas suddenly being majorly in the market for a middle-of-the-order lefty bat to replace Hamilton should have Nats fans worried (or rejoicing, depending on your viewpoint) that Adam LaRoche may be plying his trade in Dallas the next few years.   I would not be surprised to see LaRoche sign a 3 year deal in Texas right now.  Is that the end of the world for the Nats?  No … I think the team will do just fine with Michael Morse playing first and Tyler Moore getting backup reps in LF and at First.  Others have pointed out that Morse’s lefty/right splits are nearly identical and it doesn’t matter that we wouldn’t have another lefty in the lineup.  And (not that the average fan cares about this point) it would save a bit on payroll, perhaps allowing the team to augment/buy something they may need at the trade deadline.

Q: With all the FA stars seemingly ending up in the AL, are the Nats better just by attrition?

A: A fair point.  But the NL Dodgers have certainly bought their fair share of talent too.  As a Nats fan, you have to be happy about the decline of our divisional rivals in the past few months: Marlins fire-sale, Mets basically turning into a mid-market team (and traded away their Ace in RA Dickey this week), and the Phillies making one curious acquisition (Michael Young) after another (Ben Revere).  Washington has improved this off-season, and if they can stave off the injury bug that hit the offense last season they could improve on 98 wins in 2013.   But I also think St. Louis will be just as good, I think Cincinnati has improved, and of course the Dodgers could be scary if all their talent comes together.  Boswell thinks so, but also has stated before that the WS now goes through Los Angeles.

Q: Is there something amiss in the MASN contract legally, since Angelos has not accepted what should have been stipulated in the contract?

A: It sure seems so.  Ever since Angelos got the team, his legal background seems to have Selig spooked.  I wonder if this is why Selig has not pressed more for a solution to this situation.  Boswell thinks that the search for a MASN buyer could be indicative of a permanent stalemate in the contract talks.

Q: Will Philadelphia fans forgive Lannan for breaking Utley’s hand?  Should the Nats batters be worried when he returns?

A: Yes the Philadelphia fans will forgive and forget; remember, most fans just root for the laundry.  Whoever is wearing the jersey is a friend, everyone else is foe.  I don’t think our batters should be too worried; I’m sure they look forward to facing John Lannan.  He’s not exactly the second coming of Cy Young after all.  Boswell says that Chase Utley brings the HBP on himself by virtue of his hitting too close to the plate.

Q: You’re Mike Rizzo: Do you have another big move up your sleeve, either a trade of a FA signing? Or are you satisfied with what you’ve got, and standing pat?

A: I don’t think the team has any more major moves; Mike Rizzo left the winter meetings early because his work was done.  I can see a couple of players getting moved for prospect depth, and perhaps an under-the-radar signing for a right handed reliever to compete for a spot in spring training (ala Brad Lidge last year), but that’s it.  This team is who it is right now.  Well, once the LaRoche situation is resolved anyway.  Boswell agrees.

Q: Who you got for more wins this year, Angels or Dodgers?

A: Dodgers.  Easier division, more talent added.  The Angels have to deal with both Oakland and Texas, and look to have a significantly worse rotation so far in 2013.  The Angels can’t improve much from 89 wins, but the Dodgers can definitely improve on 86 wins.  Boswell didn’t really answer; he says both make the playoffs but neither makes the WS.

Q: Was it the # of Years that convinced Hamilton to go to Los Angeles?

A: I think it was partly a sense that Josh Hamilton felt he wasn’t wanted in Texas, and then mostly from there the right destination in terms of team and guaranteed dollars.  Some cynics out there in the baseball world say that the team doesn’t matter; that players only follow the money.  I don’t believe that necessarily.  Money issues equal, If you had to choose between a franchise on the brink of the playoffs, in a warm-weather city like Los Angeles versus a team that hasn’t contended in years in a crummy weather city (thinking Seattle, another rumored destination), where would you choose?  Boswell says Hamilton isn’t worth 5 years but didn’t answer this part of the question otherwise.

Trevor Bauer Trade; what happened?

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Bauer is traded before the ink is dry on his contract. Why? Photo Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images via bleacherreport.com

It isn’t every day that you see a guy like Trevor Bauer traded.  Why?

  • He was traded less than a year after being drafted in the upper 1st round (3rd overall).
  • He was traded despite signing a Major League deal and getting a $3.4M bonus.  The bonus money isn’t exactly a sunk cost here; we’re not talking about a guy who is 5 years into his minor league career.
  • He was traded despite being the first player from his draft class to matriculate to the majors, appearing at the end of 2012′s season, getting 4 starts in September.
  • He was traded after a minor league season in which (among AA and AAA) he compiled a 12-2 record with a 2.42 ERA with 157 K’s in 130 1/3 innings, including time spent in the hitter-bonanza PCL.  As a 21-year old.
  • He was traded after being named Arizona’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
  • He was traded despite in-arguably being considered an “Ace” pitching prospect.

So, why was Arizona so quick to give up on this guy?   It isn’t like they moved Bauer to get a game-changing set of prospects or impact major league players; the return seems to be a lighter-hitting shortstop (Didi Gregorius), an inconsistent reliever (Tony Sipp) and a first base prospect who is immediately blocked on the Arizona roster by other, better players (Lars Anderson).

The answer seems to be a combination of several factors, none of them flattering to Bauer and his make-up/personality:

  1. Bauer’s refusal to alter his unique warm-up methods.  We saw this coming; he issued a “warning” to drafting teams that he did not want his extreme long-toss warmup method changed or questioned.
  2. Bauer’s refusal to allow his catcher to call the game.  In his four September games, he repeatedly shook off catcher Miguel Montero, a seven year veteran catcher.  And that didn’t seem to go over well with either catcher or coach when asked about it at the time.
  3. Bauer’s approach during his MLB time; he reportedly pitches “backwards,” setting up hitters with off-speed stuff before using his fastball as his  outpitch.  But this approach is counter to most recommended approaches for attacking hitters, especially bottom-of-the-order hitters.  He reportedly nibbled too much, didn’t go after hitters, walked a number of 7-8-9 guys, and then (in a common refrain) refused to alter his approach.
  4. Bauer’s tantrum when removed from the PCL championship game, showing up AAA manager Billy Butler (an accomplished MLB veteran) in the process.
  5. Bauer’s maturity level being questioned in the media by the team’s owner.
  6. Bauer’s clubhouse demeaner reportedly being, shall we say, “less than optimal” for getting along well with others.  I can’t find links off-hand, but I read opinions that describe Bauer variously as being “an Ass,” being cocky, being “prickly,”  being a know-it-all, and already dividing the MLB clubhouse despite his relative short time there.

Ok, that’s a long list of issues, some of them very serious when it comes to a professional ball-player.

Its easy to say, “well the kid is only 21″ and excusing any/all these issues.  But there is something to be said about a 21 year old kid arriving in a Major League ball club, with a manager of the pedigree and career accomplishments of Kirk Gibson and an on-the-field staff of old-school pros (including Don BaylorMatt Williams and pitching coach Charles Nagy), and telling them that he knows better than they do.  Perhaps its that simple; perhaps the management had already essentially given up on Bauer’s ability to be coached, to receive instruction, to even receive recommondations, and GM Josh Towers pulled the plug.

But he’d have to be just incredibly hard headed for the team to have already arrived at the point of no return.  We’re not talking about some random 15th rounder.  We’re talking about a game-changing, significant investment they made in this kid.

Bauer, for his part, clearly has confidence in his approach, studied and crafted his motion based on biomechanical information he had at hand (his major at UCLA?  Biomedical Engineering), and believes that his preparation and his motion are what has enabled him to garner a high 1st round pick, what allowed him to zoom through the minors, and are what will enable him to be a successful professional.  I can understand his viewpoint; why should I change what has gotten me where I am now?   In some ways this reminds me of the whole “old-school/new-school” arguments that we have related to evaluating baseball players; new-school sabrematricians clearly have a dim view of their old-school/veteran sports writer counter parts and often have no issue writing that such-and-such a veteran sportswriter is flat out “an idiot.”  Well; is Bauer the “new school” approach to crafting pitching mechanics and his Arizona coaches are the “old school” approach to teaching pitching?

In some ways, we as fans forget that a clubhouse is rather similar to an office environment; you have “good” and “bad” workers, you have super stars and people just playing out the string.  Imagine if you had a 21-yr old hot-shot rookie just out of school who came in and told you (a seasoned veteran of some accomplish) that he knew how to do his job better than you?  I would imagine that the kid would seem pretty grating in the process.  Is this what happened in Arizona?

Should we be putting any blame on the Organization?  This isn’t the first time we’ve heard “issues” revolving around Arizona, their staff and management, and a player.  In addition to the Bauer situation, the continual Justin Upton trade rumors, persisting on now for a second off-season.  If the guy (Upton) is so good, why has the team been trying to move him for 2 years?  They benched him in 2012 and he got into a public spat with the owner this past season.  Is this a player issue or is there something in the organization that keeps rearing its head?  The situation reminds me somewhat of the Aaron Crow draft situation, where Jim Bowden drafted a kid who apparently had made it known he wanted no part of the organization.  If Arizona knew going in that Bauer was going to be difficult, why draft him at all?

Ladson’s inbox 12/11/12

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LaRoche; Staying or going? Photo Rob Carr/Getty Images via bleacherreport.com

Hey, everybody’s doing inbox responses this week.  Here’s Bill Ladson‘s latest inbox column, dated 12/11/12.

As always, I write the response here before reading his, and sometimes edit questions for clarity.

Q: Are you pleased with the Denard Span trade? Or do you think the Nats should have tried to sign Michael Bourn?

A: My thoughts are pretty clear on the Denard Span trade; in a sentence, I didn’t think we needed to make the trade, but the deal we struck was fair.  If it comes down to Span versus Michael Bourn, there’s no question in my mind you go with Span; Bourn wants too much money, is older, they’re roughly equivalent in terms of UZR/150, and Bourn has lesser career batting stats (104 OPS+ career for Span versus 90 for Bourn).  I think there’s a reason that BJ Upton signed and most teams with CF needs/wants have solved them (Phillies and Ben Revere, Giants and re-signing Angel Pagan, Braves and Upton, Nats and Span, etc) and Bourn still sits unsigned; he and his super-agent Scott Boras are over-valuing his services.  Ladson says he likes Span for his contract and his age versus Bourn.

Q: Why are the Nats thinking about getting rid of a 30-homer, 100-RBI guy in Adam LaRoche?

A: First, lets be fair; the Nats are “not getting rid” of the Free Agent Adam LaRoche; he’s a free agent and can sign anywhere he chooses.  Maybe LaRoche is tired of the humidity in Washington and wants to find a team closer to home.  Maybe his wife really likes the Pacific Northwest and he’s looking to move to Seattle.  Ok seriously; the problem with LaRoche is simply his age; yes he was 30/100 THIS year; what will he do next year?  More importantly, what would he do 3 years from now when he’s 35 and earning $15M/year or so?  That’s the risk in any FA contract for someone in his 30s, and these types of contracts have a tendency to add up and really hamstring your budgets.  Just look at the Yankees and Phillies right now; think the Phillies wish they had about $50M in payroll flexibility to improve their .500 team?  The team really doesn’t want to commit more than a couple years, but at LaRoche’s age this is really his last shot at a big-time, life altering guaranteed contract.  He really needs to get as much guaranteed money as he can.  If the Red Sox give him a 3year guaranteed contract, he really needs to take it.  Ladson states the obvious; Nats offering 2 years, LaRoche wants 3.

Q: Who will be the Nats’ second baseman in 2013 — Danny Espinosa or Steve Lombardozzi?

A: Danny Espinosa.  The team showed patience waiting for Ian Desmond to turn it around and seem likely to do the same with Espinosa.  Now, if it were me, I wouldn’t mind cashing in Espinosa’s defensive stature and 20-home run prowness and shed his 190Ks/season to obtain some farm system depth and just live with Steve Lombardozzi playing 2nd and batting 8th, but there’s really no reason to do that right now.  Espinosa is at MLB minimum and may make the leap; and Lombardozzi may really just be a utility/backup infielder type.  Ladson predicts a gold glove and an All-Star appearance for Espinosa.  That made me chuckle.  He’s very optimistic.

Q: What does the Span trade mean for the future of Tyler Moore? Moore has good pop and belongs in the everyday lineup.

A: Well, clearly the Span acquisition means that Tyler Moore is at best looking at another season of backup at-bats.  What is more important to Moore is what happens with LaRoche/Michael Morse.  Because those are the blockers to Moore getting actual playing time right now.  Moore’s production last season was great for a first  year guy; .840 OPS, 124 OPS+, a 22 home run full season pace.  He hit righties better than lefties, which fares well for his maturation as a hitter.  But there’s just no room for him right now.  I suspect he may be trade bait if the team signs LaRoche to a 3year deal, just as Morse will be.  Ladson states the obvious; Moore will come off the bench this year.

Q: Who will be the Nationals’ starting catcher on Opening Day?

A: Great question.  I’d go with Kurt Suzuki for now, until hearing how Wilson Ramos‘ recovery is going.  Remember, Ramos had to have two knee surgeries last summer; I don’t think its a guarantee that he’s ready opening day.  Ladson agrees, saying the team is taking it slow w/ Ramos.

Q: Do you think Michael Morse is a defensive liability in the outfield? If LaRoche signs with the Nats, what impact will that have on Morse?

A: Yes he’s a defensive liability in LF.  But I don’t mind having a 30 homer defensive liability in left.  But I’m not the GM of the Nationals who seems dead set on replacing all sub-par defenders on his roster.  If LaRoche signs, it pretty clearly means an imminent trade of Morse, since it makes little sense to have his bat sitting in a backup capacity.   Ladson doesn’t think he’s as big of a liability in LF as I do, pointing out that Morse seemed like he was playing hurt at the end of the season.

Q: What will the Nats do with Chien-Ming Wang?

A: Nothing.  Chien-Ming Wang is a free agent and can sign anywhere he wants.  If the Nats give him another dollar of guaranteed money I’ll be furious.  Ladson says he’s not coming back and may not sign til mid-season, ala Roy Oswalt.

Ask Boswell 12/10/12 edition

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Denard Span's "best of 2012" defensive catch, highlighting more of what we can expect in 2013. Photo NYpost.com

I wasn’t expecting much baseball talk in Ask Boswell this week (12/10/12), not with the Redskins on a 4-game winning streak.  But there were some significant baseball moves to discuss, and a ton of baseball questions made their way in.  So here we go.  As always, I read the question and answer before reading Tom Boswell‘s response, and sometimes edit questions for clarity:

Q: I find it hard to imagine any starter of worth will sign with the Nats now that there are five rotation certainties in place.  Will the Nats get the starter depth they desire?

A: There is definitely a class of starter out there who absolutely would take a minor league contract with a team like the Nats in order to rehabilitate their FA value, which may have been eroded due to injury or a bad season.  Who would sign Erik Bedard (as an example) to anything guaranteed right now?  Or Jonathan Sanchez?   I would say though that more likely is the team acquiring guys on the minor league free agent market (where there’s 100s of guys available) and trading for farm system depth (I could envision both Michael Morse and Danny Espinosa being moved for prospect depth right now).  Boswell didn’t really address this part of the question, instead focusing on the next question.

Q: Why did Rizzo non-tender Gorzelanny, who as the LHP long man could spot start? He has been effective at times, the non-tender now seems like a false economy.

A: Simple econonmics; despite Tom Gorzelanny‘s salary being miniscule in the grand scheme of things, they couldn’t tender him and risk getting an un-acceptable award in arbitration.  I posted on the topic ahead of the non-tender deadline.  I’m hopeful that Gorzelanny re-signs with the team at something close to his 2012 salary.  But, that being said the bullpen looks awfully full right now and there might not be room for him.  5 returning RH relievers, new signing Zach Duke and only one spot left, likely being filled by Bill Bray in a pure LOOGY move.  Boswell points out that Duke exactly replicates what Gorzelanny would have given us at a fraction of the price.  Enough said.

Q: How do you like the Denard Span acquisition versus Philly’s acquisition of Ben Revere?   Should the Nats have acquired Revere instead of Span?  Do the Nats have an internal CF option after Span’s contract ends?

A: I posted my opinion on the Span deal here; quick analysis: liked the Denard Span deal but didn’t like that they made it.   Now, if I compare the Span to the Revere deals, I can’t help but say that I think Philadelphia overpaid, badly.  Trevor May was Philly’s #1 prospect in their system.  May for Revere may have been a decent deal (akin to our own Alex Meyer for Span), but throwing in a servicable starter with 46 decent MLB starts under his belt was questionable.  It isn’t like Ben Revere is the second coming of Joe DiMaggio; he had a 89 OPS+ last year in his third pro season.  Great defense absolutely, but at what cost at the plate?  At least Span profiles as a better-than-league-average hitter.   The Span contract is for 2 years, by which time the Nats have a slew of potential replacements (in likely order Goodwin, Perez, Hood, Taylor), so yes there’s plenty of rising talent in the system at center.  Boswell doubts the talent of Trevor May despite the consensus scouting opinion of the player, but he likes Worley and thinks the Phillies “took a flier on talent.”  He does think Span > Revere though.

Q: Have the Nats done enough to their roster to win it all?  Do they need another closer?

A: I believe the team has already done enough to re-qualify for the 2013 playoffs, especially in the NL East where Miami and the Mets are reeling, barring a slate of pitching injuries.  I can make a legitimate argument (tease for a future post) that the WAR improvements expected from our existing players (Strasburg, Harper, a full season of Werth, etc), plus addition by subtraction for players who hurt us last year (Nady, DeRosa, Henry Rodriguez, etc) alone will result in a better team than 2012.   Do we need another closer?  No, but I think one more right handed option out of the pen could help.   That being said, we don’t really have any 25-man room right now given the anticipated pen.  I liked last year’s Brad Lidge signing as a way to get some bullpen help, but doubt the team will do it this year.  As far as Drew Storen goes, he’s a top notch reliever and does not need to be replaced.  But I could see the team flipping him or Tyler Clippard as they get more expensive.  Boswell says the Los Angeles acquisitions change the game, and teams like the Nats may have to re-think their approaches.

Q: What do you think of the Shields trade? Who comes out ahead? Do the Rays have enough pitching to remain AL East contenders, even after trading their No 1 starter?

A: I believe Tampa Bay fleeced Kansas City; Shields was NOT their #1 starter (David PriceJeremy Hellickson) or honestly maybe not even their #3 (Matt Moore, at least on potential).  So the Rays traded a mid-rotation starter who they wanted to move anyway, along with a long-man in Wade Davis for the best prospect in the minors right now  (Wil Myers), the Royal’s #1 pitching prospect (Jake Odorizzi), another high-end pitching prospect (Mike Montgomery, a former highly regarded arm), and yet another minor league player.  That is just frankly ridiculous.  If you had told me the trade was simply Myers for both Shields and Davis, I could have squinted and understood.  But the addition of the other prospects made this a complete heist for Tampa.  You don’t trade the best prospect in the minor leagues for anything less than an ACE starter.  Does Tampa have enough to remain AL east contenders?  Absolutely yes; this was a trade of spare parts for Tampa (akin to the Nats trading Tyler Moore and Steve Lombardozzi for some other team’s two best prospects) and they didn’t give up anything that they weren’t already planning on replacing.  Dayton Moore has gone all in on this move; if the Royals do not win the division in 2013, he’s out of a job.  Boswell didn’t really offer an opinion, just saying that the Rays are still stocked and noting that the price in prospects was why the Nats stayed away.  Disappointed not to read an opinion on the trade.

Q: Will Harper be hitting cleanup this year and, if so, what’s your thinking on this?

A: Answer: It depends.  If the team does NOT re-sign Adam LaRoche, then they have precious little left-handed hitting in the lineup, and Harper will be forced to bat somewhere in the middle of the order.  Cleanup may have to be the spot.  If LaRoche does come back, then the team can spread out its lefty power and continue with a similar lineup to what they used last year (going Harper-Zimmerman-LaRoche-Werth for L-R-L-R).  I certainly don’t think that someone like Harper will have any issues batting clean-up in the major leagues; one thing he’s never been accused of lacking is pride.  Boswell agrees with the opinion here, and then talks about just how much respect Harper earned in his rookie season.

Q: Should I be worried about our pitching depth? Our pitching was remarkably healthy this year and if that doesn’t hold true, especially with questions about Haren’s health I am not sure we can assume that will hold true this season. Don’t we need another starter or two who could eat innings if needed?

A: Yes, we have a depth issue.  Especially given that we’ve traded nearly an entire AAA team worth of rotation insurance in the last two off-seasons (Milone, Peacock, Meyer, Rosenbaum all traded away or lost to rule 5 in the last two off-seasons).  But Dan Haren has been remarkably durable through his career, only missing 28 games in his entire career to injury.  So lets temper the whole “Haren is fragile narrative.”  He’s not; he just happened to have an injury in 2012.  I’m assuming, until proven otherwise, that Haren will return to his previous form and throw 220 innings.  Does this mean that we weren’t lucky in 2012 and should plan for someone to get hurt in the rotation?  Absolutely.  I believe this is why moving either Michael Morse or Danny Espinosa for starter depth is wise.  Boswell reminds the reader about Duke’s starting capability and the team’s plans for Christian Garcia.  There’s also Ryan Perry.  And there’s also the slew of guys who won’t get MLB jobs but who aren’t ready to hang them up who will be there for the taking.  You know, guys exactly like Duke was last year 2 days before the start of the season.

Q: Don’t you think that if LaRoche was going to re-sign that he would have by now? If he goes, have the Nat’s alienated Morse?

A: No; the baseball off-season moves slowly, and few moves happen before the Winter Meetings anyway.  LaRoche is right on schedule for his negotiations.  Now, the team’s overt coveting of LaRoche has to have Morse pissed.  I would be; clearly the team is planning for your exit on a day to day basis in the open press.  Which is a real shame, because I like Morse and don’t think he did anything to warrant being treated this way.  Boswell somehow thinks that this whole dance is a compliment to Morse.  I don’t get it.

Q: Rizzo has a 2 year offer on the table for LaRoche, and history says he’s not likely to budge. Moreover, with other options like Morse and Moore, there’s no reason for him to. If another team needed help at 1B and was willing to give LaRoche 3 years, wouldn’t they have done so already? You’ve said all along you see the Nats and LaRoche amicably parting ways. Still see it that way?

A: Rizzo can budge on his demands.  Hey; at least it isn’t a four year deal that LaRoche is demanding.  I think a 2year deal with a club option for a 3rd makes a lot of sense for the team.  For the player, not so much.  This is LaRoche’s last chance at the free agent bonanza; he has to get the biggest contract he can.  The market for LaRoche won’t completely clear until Josh Hamilton signs.  While they’re not apples-to-apples comparisons, they are both lefty power hitters.  If a team that wanted Hamilton doesn’t get him, they can come looking for LaRoche to fit a middle of the order lefty bat.  The team still needs and wants LaRoche for two main reasons; plus defense and lefty power.  They’ll take a step backwards in both categories by going with Morse at first and Moore as first guy off the bench.  At the beginning of the off-season I thought LaRoche was leaving, because he’d want (and get) a 4 year deal.  Now I think he may be back.  Boswell now thinks LaRoche may be back and the team may give a 3rd year.

Q: I realize that the life with LaRoche is much preferred by the Nats. However, do you think there will be much of drop off in the quality of Nats play? Even without him, I have no doubt that the Nats will still win their share of games and make the playoffs (assuming the starting rotation stays relatively healthy). All starters are strike out pitchers. Offensive production should be about eqaul (though not as balanced),and Morse/Moore will probably make a few more errors. I feel like moving Zimmerman to first in 2014 and have Rendon starting at third would be the ideal way to make sure the core stays in tact.

A: I mostly agree; we’ll live without LaRoche but will be righty-heavy.  Morse is healthy and has shown 30 homer capabilities in the past; why wouldn’t he do that again in 2013?  It is a contract  year for him after all.  Meanwhile. the “save first base for Ryan Zimmerman” plan is one I’m 100% for; we’re just waiting for Anthony Rendon to show up.  Boswell cautions to temper expectations for Rendon, who hasn’t had an injury-free season in years.

Q: Why does Shane Victorino get a 3 year deal before Adam LaRoche?

A: Because the Red Sox made a rash, poor signing?  The LaRoche market just hasn’t played out yet.  Plus, filling a first baseman versus a corner outfielder is more risky for teams, so they do more due diligence.  Boswell doesn’t like the Victorino deal.  At all.

Q: Michael Young had the lowest WAR of ANY position player last year, do you really think he’s an upgrade for the Phillies? Personally, I can’t wait for those fans to start booing him 2 weeks into the season.

A: Yes, Michael Young looked pretty bad statistically last year.  But i’m guessing that a change of scenery may help him.  Texas has spent the past several seasons acquiring players to overtly replace Young; the year after he won a gold glove at short the team asked him to make way for Elvis Andrus and he moved to third.  Then the team moved him off of third when they acquired Adrian Beltre.  Then the team moved him to first … but then gave most of the starts at first to Mitch Moreland Maybe his 2012 was just pure disappointment in his treatment by the club where he’d played his entire career.  I think though that at his age (36 next year) he’ll be lucky to be just replacement level.  Boswell states the obvious; the Phillies are hoping for the 2011 version of Young, not the 2012 version.