Nationals Arm Race

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

What to do when Ankiel comes back from the DL?


Bernadina's 5/13/11 catch has to be one of the plays of the season. Photo: Masn TV Screen shot via

(I swear I had this post written over the weekend; i’m not copying my fellow bloggers’ ideas :-)

The Nats have an OF problem coming.  Rick Ankiel (season slash line: .221/.302/.288 mostly out of the #2 hole) has been ably replaced in the lineup and in center field by Roger Bernadina, who is now trying to live up to the billing that the team had hoped for him all off-season (when most pundits and bloggers had annointed him the starting left fielder despite a relatively mediocre 2010 slash line of .246/.307/.384.  In his first 10 games and 38 at bats he had a .344/.447/.406 slash line hitting leadoff, to go with 4 SBs without being caught.  And he’s clearly playing lights out defense in center, with some highlight reel catches and adequate enough defense from an UZR/150 perspective.

Is Bernadina’s performance sustainable?  Probably not; his BABIP was an unnaturally high .407 (though frequent bunters will have an maintain higher BABIPs than the MLB average in the .290-.300 range).  An OBP of .450 was also not sustainable.  Sure enough, as of 5/19’s game he’s returned to a more typical .273/.360/.318 line (though I like the .360 obp from the leadoff spot).

So, if Bernadina is staying up and continuing to play, who makes way on the 25-man?  Ankiel’s return would give the team 5 outfielders on a team that can only really carry 4. Here’s some relevant contract and options details of our 5 OFers:

  • Jayson Werth: Clearly he’s not going anywhere.
  • Laynce Nix: He’s got 5 years of service time and would refuse an assignment to AAA, not to mention being exposed to waivers when we did so.  He’s our current clean up hitter and has wrested the starting job away from Morse.
  • Michael Morse: No options left; if we ask him to go to Syracuse he has to clear waivers, and there’s teams out there sniffing around for right handed OF help (ahem, Philadelphia).
  • Rick Ankiel: 5 years of service time, so he can refuse an assignment.  Plus we’re not paying him $1.5M to just let him go.
  • Roger Bernadina: currently burning his 3rd and last option, but performing decently from the top of the order.

In other words, the only guy who we CAN option to the minors is Bernadina.  But can the team purposely send down a guy who has been giving them their best leadoff production all season?  I don’t think they can.

How about the rest of the bench right now?  Assuming for the time being that Hairston is the starting 3rd baseman and Ramos is the starting catcher, here’s our current bench:

  • Ivan Rodriguez: Plenty of service time, plus on a $2M contract, plus he’s the backup catcher.  He’s staying (unless the Red Sox panic and trade something for him).
  • Matt Stairs: Tons of service time; would refuse any outright to AAA and look for another PH job.
  • Alex Cora: 11+ years of service time so could refuse outrighting.
  • Brian Bixler: Very little service time, was on a minor league contract to begin with, and has options (2011 would be his 3rd option, though he’s been outrighted in the past).

I’ll editorialize about the 25-man spot that Stairs currently occupies for a moment; he is 2 for 21 on the season right now, cannot play the field, and effectively shortens the bench by one player.  If you want his veteran presence around, then DFA him and hire him as a bench coach!

Now, that being said for reasons inexplicable Stairs probably stays on the roster.  So, when Ankiel is ready to come back I’m going to guess that the team options Bixler, keeps 5 outfielders, Ankiel serves as a 4th outfielder, and Morse participates in some sort of lefty-righty platoon with Nix.

We’ll revisit this entire situation once Ryan Zimmerman is ready to play, because that’s when something has to give.

Written by Todd Boss

May 20th, 2011 at 10:40 am

Posted in Nats in General

11 Responses to 'What to do when Ankiel comes back from the DL?'

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  1. I have a theory that LaRoche might make an unexpected trip to the 15 DL, and that Morse may get a bunch of starts at 1B.


    20 May 11 at 11:06 am

  2. A good theory. We all know/knew that LaRoche was a slow starter, but this is now beyond a slow start. He’s got 169 ABs now and the season is a quarter over. he’s 25 for 169. That’s just ridiculous especially for a first baseman/power position. Morse (as a former infielder) can more than ably man first. I’d be up for that.

    It does beg the question; did Rizzo over-think his whole approach to this season by over-emphasizing defense? Yeah its great that LaRoche is a plus defender at first base … but if he’s hitting to a 50 OPS+ does his defense outweigh his lack of offensive contribution?

    Todd Boss

    20 May 11 at 11:19 am

  3. Stairs stays thru the weekend to DH. Once this quick interleague matchup with the O’s is over, Ankiel comes off the DL and Stairs will be let go.

    Nix/Morse platoon in LF. Bernie in CF. LaRoche at 1B. Ankiel takes over the LH PH spot (as well as 4th OF duties – something Stairs didn’t do).

    Once Zimmerman comes off the DL, it’ll be right around the time for the next batch of interleague games in mid/late June. Bixler will be optioned then and Zim might start his comeback as the DH in the away games.


    20 May 11 at 11:29 am

  4. Stairs release: I think that’s what Fans would LIKE to see happen, but for some reason I don’t see it happening. The team knew what they were getting out of Stairs when they made the decision to keep him on the 25-man, and I don’t think they’ll change their opinion and eat the salary now. I’d love to read analysis of why he’s being kept despite almost no production at the plate and no value in the field.

    Todd Boss

    20 May 11 at 11:55 am

  5. Yeah, but Stairs originally was signed to a minor-league deal that would bump him up to $850K if he made the 25-man roster. I think getting only two hits in two months is worth giving up the $850K if it means keeping Bernadina in the leadoff/everyday CF role.

    I just don’t see how Rizzo would be able to justify, at this point in time, sending Bernadina down when Ankiel is ready to come off the DL. I really like Ankiel’s defense in CF, but the Nats currently have a desperate need for a leadoff hitter and Bernie so far is the only one to show that he might be able to hold on to that role.

    I also don’t see Rizzo keeping 5 OFers (Ankiel, Bernie, Nix, Morse and Werth) and 1 DH (Stairs) especially with 3 of them being left-handed.

    Of course, the other possibility is that Stairs will “tweak” a hammy sometime this weekend while DHing and will be placed on the DL – coincidentally right at the same time that Ankiel is eligible to come off the DL.


    20 May 11 at 12:08 pm

  6. I think it’s Bixler to go down first. Assuming everyone is still healthy when Zimmerman comes back, then it’s probably Stairs. But I don’t think they release Stairs now while Bixler has options. If someone gets hurt in the next few weeks, they’ll have a slot of Zim.


    20 May 11 at 12:22 pm

  7. We can only hope that someone will come up with a soft-tissue injury requiring a DL stint; it seems to be the favorite move of the team so far. Problem is, its a lot easier to invent an injury to a pitcher (whose arms always hurt) than a positional player.

    I guess we’ll see. I’m certainly NOT a Stairs defender and a) don’t think he deserved to make the 25-man team and b) absolutely think he has earned his release.

    His inclusion on the roster is counter to everything Rizzo said in the off season about getting better defensively. Which makes me believe that Stairs is Riggleman’s pet, and he’s not going anywhere. Like i said in the original post; if you like the guy great! Make him a bench coach but don’t eat a 25-man spot on him.

    Todd Boss

    20 May 11 at 12:48 pm

  8. Agree on Bixler now (he’s a ‘free’ move to Rizzo’s option-consumed mind) and Stairs later, barring some kind of injury.

    But to Todd’s ‘It does beg the question; did Rizzo over-think his whole approach to this season by over-emphasizing defense?’, I think that the answer is no. Rizzo got the concept right, I think, but is being victimized by a kind of a perfect storm going on offense (call it the ‘100 year flood’ scenario). So I don’t blame Rizzo. For instance, (a) Zimm has missed so much time, (b) Werth and Laroche (two hitters with ample track record) have underperformed to a large degree, (c) Desi, Morse and Espy (3 hitters with less of a track record but better peripherals) to hit so low, and (d) no one else hitting over their head to compensate. What are the odds that all of that would happen? Pretty low, right?

    If two of those things break our way, what is our record? Over .500 at least, and everyone is praising good ol’ Mike. But where he failed (imo) is bullpen construction and bench options. You have talked long about the ‘pen (rightly so) but I keep going back to Nix=Ankiel=Bernie=Stairs. It is crazy that there is no RH with pop, or a super defense guy like Fuld. That at least creates options for a manager.


    20 May 11 at 2:06 pm

  9. Can’t argue with any of this. With any sort of decent offense this team would not only be above .500, but probably be close to 1st. They’ve scored 157 runs in 43 games (3.65 runs per game) on offense, good for 13th in the NL. Florida is 6th in the NL with 180 runs, or about 4.3/game. From a Pythagorean standpoint 180 runs would only put us at 22-21 … i think in reality we’d be more than a few games over .500.

    Right now in games we score 3 or less, we’re 3-17.
    In games we score 4 or 5 runs, we’re 7-6
    In games we score 6 or more runs, we’re 10-0.

    If you do this same analysis for most other teams you’ll see a similar pattern. Most teams win nearly 100% of games that they score more than 5 runs, most teams are right around .500 when they score in the 4-5 range, and most teams are way under .500 when scoring 3 or less. The really GREAT teams are the ones that find ways to win more often than lose when they score in the 3-5 range. Here’s the same analysis for Philly right now:

    Score 3 or less: 9-15
    Score 4-5: 7-2
    Score 6+: 10-0.

    Todd Boss

    20 May 11 at 2:55 pm

  10. I think CK has the best idea. I get nauseous every time I hear plaudits about LaRouche’s defense.
    To quote the great Dick Allen “You know how you play 1st base……. you hit!”

    Mark L

    20 May 11 at 3:23 pm

  11. @Todd – and the thing is, there was every rational reason to think that most of these exact players (except Espy, maybe) – the ones providing the good defense – should be hitting better and scoring more runs. That is why I don’t think Rizzo got the idea wrong.

    It is not like we are trying to say ‘if I could only find a different player who plays the same D but hits better’, or ‘if this guy would just start getting on base .050 higher than his career averages.’


    20 May 11 at 3:40 pm

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