Nationals Arm Race

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

My answers to Ladson’s inbox questions: 5/26/11 edition.

8 comments

Do you really think Albert Pujols will leave St. Louis? Photo unknown source via fantasyknuckleheads.com

Here’s the latest in a recurring theme.  Bill Ladson posted his own answers to the following reader questions.

Q: What’s the long-term plan for the leadoff spot?
A: I think the team had hoped that Corey Brown (obtained in the Josh Willingham deal) would be further along in his AAA development than he has shown thus far.  As of today he’s hitting .202/.322/.323 and only has two stolen bases on the season.  That’s really not going to cut it.

I thought center field/lead-off hitter was a major area of concern going into the off-season, and thought (rightly) that Nyger Morgan‘s tenure was close to being done with the team after his erratic behavior and precipitous offensive decline last season.  But, center field is a really tough position to find and fill (see this older post that looked at the makeup of each of the 30 CF starters at the time … there’s not a ton of major names on that list), and the team entered spring training with Morgan penciled in as the starter.

Short Term (as in the next two years): I think we’ll continue to use Roger Bernadina in the role, unless Brown somehow remember how to hit.  2012 we’ll see more of the same.  Unless we can work a trade for someone that makes sense (see the BJ Upton question below).

Long Term (2013 and beyond): we’ll hope that one of our middle infield hitters owns the role.  I’d love to see Danny Espinosa or Ian Desmond blossom in that spot, but they both are struggling this year and both strike out, a lot.

(Ladson honestly didn’t have an answer … citing the lack of anyone in the minors to provide help.  Yeah, that’s true too).

Q: (paraphrased) Is the team going to trade Pudge Rodriguez?

A: I don’t believe they will.  I think its bad to assume that you can just magically trade a veteran.  Remember, Pudge is hitting .202 on the season right now with very little pop.  He looks every one of his 39 years.  Yes he’s still a great defensive catcher and he still has a great arm, but who would want him?  We keep hearing rumors (Boston, now San Francisco with Buster Posey‘s injury), but I think any trade we’d make would have to include nearly all his remaining salary, and we’d be looking at a low-level prospect in return.  For that kind of payment, why not just keep him through the rest of his contract so that Flores can stay in AAA and play every day.  (Ladson thinks that Pudge will be dealt, but he thinks the team is trading most every veteran no matter how poorly they’re hitting).

Q: (paraphrased) Is Wilson Ramos the everyday catcher?

A: Not yet, but he should be.  So far this year he’s gotten 127 plate appearances to Pudge’s 79, giving him about 60% of the at bats.  In a normal catcher platoon you’d have the backup going once-a-week or so (by way of comparison, Atlanta’s Brian McCann has 82% of his team’s catcher at-bats right now, and Matt Weiters has about 77%).  Part of that is out of respect to Pudge as the future hall of famer, and part of that is natural breaking in of a rookie.  But on a team that didn’t have Pudge as the backup, Ramos would be in the 80% range of playing for sure.  (Ladson says he’ll be the full time catcher in the 2nd half for sure).
Q: (paraphrased) Is the team really interested in BJ Upton?

A: I would be, if I was Rizzo.  He’s the exact prototypical leadoff/center fielder that this team desperately needs right now.  He’s not the best hitter (career 103 ops+) but he gets on base a lot (.345 career obp) and steals a ton of bases and has a career 4.9 uzr/150 in center field.  He’ll be a FA after next season, so odds are the Rays aren’t going to trade him unless they get good prospects in return.  Perhaps we look at him as a FA signing for the 2013 season, with the idea of putting Harper in Left field.  (Ladson says we did scout him earlier, but it was just normal scouting.  He doesn’t think Upton is any better than what we currently have offensively, which I rather disagree with).

Q: How is Chien-Ming Wang’s rehab going? Can we expect him in the Majors soon?

A: Short answer: poorly and never.  We have heard very little about Wang other than reports at the end of spring training that he was still months away from pitching.  Personally, I took that as a very bad omen.  It seems to be the same place he was in at this time last year.  He’s made no rehabilitation progress in nearly two years despite several million dollars of salary expended.  Not only do I not think he’s going to be in the majors soon, I’ll be shocked if he even goes out on a rehab assignment.  Reason?  Rehab assignments have time limits, Wang has no options remaining, meaning he’d have to be cut loose if he wasn’t ready to join the majors.  Frankly, I think he’s done.  (Ladson states the obvious; Wang will not pitch in a major or minor league game in the first half of the season).

Q: Have you heard any updates as to whether first baseman Chris Marrero’s defense is improving?

A: Marrero has definitely cut down on his errors in AAA, and is hitting decently enough.  I was of the opinion that he should have been called up to replace LaRoche on the MLB roster, but the timing worked out to re-call Rick Ankiel from his rehab assignment (where he was busy striking out repeatedly in AA-games).  The team line was that Marrero needs to play a whole season in AAA for some reason.  I say, with LaRoche’s injury and Zimmerman’s extended absense, this season is nearly lost already and to give the kid some playing time.  (Ladson says his defense is vastly improved).

Q: Who do the Nats envision playing first base in the future — Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, some lesser free agent, Marrero, a future draftee? What’s the long-term strategy there?

A: Pujols will never leave St. Louis.  Fielder probably signs with the Chicago Cubs, one of the only major-payroll teams that don’t have a first baseman locked up for $100M long term (Yankees = Teixeira, Red Sox = Gonzalez, Phillies = Howard, and the Mets & Dodgers are not going to be buying anyone until ownership situations are resolved).  Fielder to the Cubs makes perfect sense and they’ll pay him enough to make it worth his while.  Rizzo would never buy Fielder.  He’s not “defensive minded” and doesn’t fit the mold of what Rizzo wants to put on the field.  LaRoche was exactly what he wanted (well, except for the shredded shoulder that is).

Long Term strategy: i’ll bet they continue to sign one or two year contracts with decent hitters who happen to be good fielders (LaRoche, Derrick Lee, even Carlos Pena to a certain extent) until the team produces someone that fits the bill.

(Ladson thinks the team will trade for a 1B or sign another FA in the off season.  I seriously doubt that.  LaRoche is signed through 2012 and will be back.  It isn’t a career ending injury, just season-ending.  He’ll play in 2012).

Written by Todd Boss

May 27th, 2011 at 12:38 am

8 Responses to 'My answers to Ladson’s inbox questions: 5/26/11 edition.'

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  1. I agree with most of these points, but I call a bit of a cheap shot on Ankiel. He took the golden sombrero in ONE AA game – the only game he appeared in – before he was called up. To say “striking out repeatedly in AA games” makes it sound like he was down there for a week or two on a Maxwell-like quest for contact; certainly use of the plural (“games”) is inaccurate, not just misleading. I’m not a big fan of Ankiel, but the case against him can be built fairly and doesn’t require that sort of thing.

    John C.

    27 May 11 at 10:09 am

  2. Fair enough, that was kind of a cheap shot. Still, I have higher expectations of a major league veteran of 1500+ plate appearances going against 22-23yr old kids in AA. Its professionally embarrassing to get struck out repeatedly by someone who may never make the major leagues. In a similar vein, Oliver Perez gave up 2 hits in 6 innings in his first Harrisburg start. I say, well, he should have given up zero hits with 10ks going against AA hitting given his accomplishments in the majors. Maybe my expectations are a bit high for these guys down in the bus leagues on rehab assignments.

    If he struck out four times because his timing is off, well perhaps he should have spent more time in extended spring training. If he struck out four times because he was completely over-matched by a AA pitcher while recovering from his wrist injury, then his reinstatement from the DL is incredibly near-sighted and will do nothing but hurt the team. (This seems more likely … why not call up Marrero and give him some MLB reps as a natural first baseman replacement? Why push Bixler into the OF for the first time in his career and put Morse at first, where he’s only played a handful of games? Its almost like the team WANTS to give Ankiel more at bats. Why? To show he will continue to hit .215? He’s NOT part of the future for this team; he’s a stop gap until we either trade for a better CF candidate or develop a solid one internally). As you can tell, I’m not happy with the franchise management over the past week or so.

    Todd Boss

    27 May 11 at 10:23 am

  3. I agree with the first commenter. Ankiel hadn’t faced live pitching in 3 weeks and got rushed down into a rehab of one game. I would think that he was ab it rusty. He did come back up and make contact his first 2 plate appearances in the bigs. I agree he should have spent more time on a rehab assignment though, seemed like a panic move to rush him back instead of at least calling up Marrero for 3 or 4 games while Ankiel rehabed properly.

    Oliver Perez hadn’t started a game all year and you managed to down him because he gave up 2 hits? Strasburg gave up multiple runs in the minors last year, should he have no hit everybody the entire time since he was hyped as a major league ready ace?

    pdowdy83

    27 May 11 at 11:00 am

  4. Extended spring training isn’t just BP and tanning; they’re playing games down there as well. Obviously not high-leverage, paid-attendance games but there’s an extended spring “league” that plays. So to say Ankiel didn’t face live pitching, or that Perez hadn’t started a game isn’t entirely true.

    I was making an (exaggerated) point about major leaguers playing in rehab games. Yes I expect Perez to be dominant in AA, and even more so in AAA (where I believe the talent level is lesser than in AA in a lot of ways). If he’s not, it means he’s truly washed up. The real proof of Perez’ capabilities won’t happen til he’s back in MLB games.

    Todd Boss

    27 May 11 at 11:09 am

  5. Multiple sources say the Nats are getting interest for both Marquis & Pudge.
    Pudge is right now exactly how the other 29 backup catchers fare. Almost all of these guys go by the ‘catch and throw’ moniker. meaning good to great defense with miniscule offense.
    Frequent contributor Peric says Solano has passed Flores already. He’s always been great defensively, but now has a .745 OPS, which is 100+ better than Flores.

    Mark L

    27 May 11 at 2:45 pm

  6. If you believe the mlbtraderumors.com feeds, the Rangers called about Coffey. Why did we let them get off the phone!? :-) I guess the team doesn’t want to wave the white flag on 2011 yet, but in truth any vet on a one-year contract or in the last year of a contract should eventually be moved. Coffey, Pudge, Marquis, Hairston, Cora, Ankiel, Gaudin, Stairs, Nix and even Livan all fall into that category. Some of these guys are probably un-moveable/value-less on the trade market, and I’d be shocked if we trade Livan given the value he gives for his contract, but the others are fair game. We have backup catchers to use, we have relievers in Syracuse we can call up w/o additional 40-man moves.

    Flores; tough one. I see Solano’s stats are definitely better but Flores has demonstrated his MLB hitting capabilities well enough in the past. Maybe you call up Solano to be backup to Ramos and let Flores continue to play FT in AAA. His value lays in regaining his uber-prospect status.

    Todd Boss

    27 May 11 at 6:17 pm

  7. I agree completely on Coffey. The Nats were the perfect team for Coffey, as relievers are notoriously erratic from one year to the next; the Nats can let him pitch,let everyone see that this is one of his good years send him along………the Rangers system is so deep they could give up someone that we could really use.
    Look at what we got for Guzman from them.
    We have 2 or 3 guys who could easily replace him.
    You said word for word on what to do with Solano if we trade Pudge.

    Mark L

    27 May 11 at 7:58 pm

  8. Did you know Guzman is still a free agent? Didn’t even sign a minor league deal anywhere. The Rangers basically gave us two AA starters for a few at bats of his time last season. Not that Tatusko and Roark are going to be game changes for this team in the next 10 years, but these deadline deals never seem to give decent value to the time acquiring the vet. How much would the Twins rather have Ramos versus Capps right now?

    Todd Boss

    27 May 11 at 11:28 pm

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