WP columnist Tom Boswell conducted his weekly chat today 6/20/11, via the Washington Post chat pages. Boswell heavily covered the US Open and took a number of questions on Rory McIlroy and the tournament, but he did field some Nats questions.
As always, the questions below are paraphrased from their original asking for space and levity.
Q: Is Jayson Werth already a bust?
A: I think there’s some impatient Nats fans out there. Yeah he’s hitting .232/.332/.409, but his OPS+ is still above 100, so its not like he’s having an Adam Dunn-esque season. I think he’s struggled with the absence of his lineup protection Ryan Zimmerman and has tried too hard to carry the team and earn his contract. Happens all the time in the first year of a massive deal, or the first year with a new team and a new stadium and a new city.
Lots of pundits flat out panned the Werth contract. Too much money, he’s too old, he’s not a superstar. Well, its not like the Phillies didn’t want him back; he was a coveted free agent and we overpaid because we had to. I still maintain that if Werth had signed 7rs/$126M with New York or Boston, nobody would have said a thing (indeed, Carl Crawford signed for MORE money and is hitting worse, yet you don’t see many articles slamming Boston for such a horrible contract). I think a lot of the flak was just the Nats perception as being cheap, and breaking that perception.
(Boswell mentions the same two players I just did, and says that he believes Werth is just “playing tight” right now. Fair enough).
Q: Did Riggleman leave Gorzelanny in to bat in the 4th inning on 6/19, in an attempt to avoid another Marquis-blowup by taking him out prior to 5 complete innings (so that he wouldn’t qualify for the win)?
A: Maybe. Maybe not. Gorzelanny was giving up a LOT of hits, he had given up runs in 3 straight innings and was probably heading for an early shower. But the Nats got 2 runs back in the bottom of the 4th and Gorzelanny wasn’t near 100 pitches on the day. Unfortunately he went out and gave up more runs in the 5th and had to get hooked. Managers aren’t omniscient, and Riggleman had no idea he was going to get pounded for 3 more runs. Keep in mind as well, this was Gorzelanny’s first game back, he didn’t really have a ton of rehab time (one AAA start) and was more or less rushed back into service because of how bad Maya performed. (Boswell didn’t really answer the question, just saying that Riggleman has to manage a group of 25 guys, each with different incentives).
Q: How would you re-align baseball, if you were commissioner for a day? Would you keep divisions?
A: Short answer: Move Houston to AL West to create a fantastic Dallas-Houston rivalry and to create 6 divisions of 5 teams each. Standardize the DH across the board. Have rotating divisional focus but stick to it (not like what they do now, where its random what teams play who). Who cares if there’s inter-league play at the end of the season; make the matchups compelling and people will come to see the games.
Another move could be to add 2 more teams and have an NFL-style playoff structure. 8 divisions of 4 teams each, with 4 division winners and two wildcards in each league. The two wild cards play the lesser two divisional winners, giving the two best divisional winners a weekend bye and some semblance of an advantage. Assuming you add two teams to to the AL (in Portland and San Antonio, the two current largest markets without major league baseball teams), you could have divisions like this:
|AL South||Tampa Bay||Texas||Kansas City||San Antonio|
|AL West||Seattle||Los Angeles||Oakland||Portland|
|NL East||Philadelphia||Atlanta||NY Mets||Washington|
|NL South||Florida||Houston||St. Louis||Colorado|
|NL West||San Francisco||Arizona||Los Angeles||San Diego|
This plan would preserve most of the current rivalries in baseball while creating some new ones. Tampa moves out of the AL east but goes against two like-minded franchises in terms of building on youth in Texas and Kansas City. The AL South has a bit more travel, but Tampa’s strong TV ratings should be maintained with 8pm start times instead of 7pm during its many central time zone trips. San Antonio builds an instant in-division rivalry with their Houston neighbors. The AL Central keeps its four core teams while the AL west gets an instant Seattle-Portland rivalry while keeping all its games on Pacific time.
The NL East, Central and West all make plenty of sense. The only fault of this plan is what to do with the collection of teams that end up in the NL “South.” You could do something a bit more radical to the existing rivalries in this plan:
|NL East||Philadelphia||Pittsburgh||NY Mets||Washington|
|NL South||Florida||Houston||St. Louis||Atlanta|
|NL West||San Francisco||Arizona||Los Angeles||San Diego|
Here, the Pirates join the NL east to allow Florida and Atlanta to stay close together. The central teams now cut down on travel a little bit (though Cincinnati is closer to Pittsburgh than most any other NL team, so splitting them up doesn’t make a ton of sense).
Just some random thoughts. (Boswell, coincidentally, completely punted on the question, saying he had no idea but that any plan done just to make life easier for the AL east doormats Toronto and Baltimore needs to be rethought.)
Q: Do the Nats move Rendon to 1st base if he hits like everyone is talking?
A: It all depends. If he hits his way into the majors next June, then we may have to get creative where to put him (left field?) If it takes a few years and we’re looking at FA first basemen then sure, 1st base makes perfect sense. If its 3 years from now, Desmond is still hitting .205 and Espinosa looks like a franchise player, move Espinosa to short and install Rendon at 2nd. Lots of options. Way too early to decide. Hell, we haven’t even signed the guy yet! Boswell insinuates that perhaps its Zimmerman who makes way. Wow, hadn’t considered that possibility. I have a hard time believing that we’re going to move the best defensive third baseman in the majors on account of a few throwing errors.
Q: Is Bernadina part of the Nats future?
A: I have a hard time believing so. He’s a fringe-below average major league hitter. He can play a good center, but we’re grooming Bryce Harper to play center (I would hope). So Bernadina is left to compete for a left field spot with guys who can adequately man the position but hit 25 homers. (Boswell completely ignored the Bernadina question).
Q: How does Morse’s prowness defensively at 1st compare to LaRoche and Dunn?
A: He’s clearly in between, though closer to LaRoche than most would say. So far this year in about 2/3s the innings Morse has a 4.1 UZR/150 rating, which is pretty darn good for a first time full time first baseman. LaRoche’s was higher (at 9), not surprisingly since he’s one of the best defensive first basement in the league. Dunn? He was a -4 uzr/150 in 2010 for the Nats and hasn’t played 1st enough to get a rating so far in 2011. I always thought Dunn was more agile than people gave him credit for, but that he really struggled on grounders and throws from his middle infielders. (Boswell more or less agrees).
Q: With Morse playing 1st so well and hitting even better, is he the future first baseman? What do we do with LaRoche?
A: A very good question. If LaRoche is healthy, I think he’s your first baseman. He’s signed for 2012 with a decent 2013 option. Meanwhile, Morse clearly needs to be in the lineup. I think the answer may be to flip Nix for a prospect and put Morse back in left when the time comes. Its nice to have positional flexibility with your hitters. I think you wait til next spring training and see just how LaRoche is hitting post surgery before making this determination. (Boswell rambled about how Morse may be hitting what we can expect from Harper).
Q: What are the odds of a Beltway World Series? Which franchise makes the playoffs first?
A: Slim to none on the first question; I can’t see Baltimore beating out its AL east rivals until they get a new ownership group and embrace the approach the Tampa Bay Rays have taken. So therefore the immediate answer to the 2nd question is the Nats. I personally feel that we may reasonably expect a playoff run in 2013. Philadelphia will be aging and saddled with several major contracts (they have $86M committed to just FOUR guys for 2013 right now, and those four guys will be 36, 33, 34 and 34. ouch) and could be caught at the top of the division. Atlanta will still be strong, but the Nats seem to be built to peak starting in 2013. (Boswell says the Nats have a higher ceiling and then goes on a tangent about the fan base and attendance).
Q: Would the Nats be doing themselves a disservice by trading Marquis, Livan and Gorzelanny and replacing them with lesser AAA pitchers? Why trade veterans if they’re winning?
A: (before starting, lets discuss. Livan is an absolute steal at $1M/year and Gorzelanny is under arbitration control for 2 more seasons. I seriously doubt either is traded). So lets talk about Marquis. Yes you should absolutely trade Marquis. Several reasons:
- He’s in a contract year and is pitching better than he would be once he gets paid.
- He’s on the wrong side of 30 and has value now.
- Did everyone forget how bad he was in 2010?
- Any contract he signs will be difficult to reap the value of as it plays out.
- He’s not an Elias typeA or typeB pitcher, so if we lose him to free agency we’ll get zero compensation.
- We’re not winning the world series this year, therefore….
- All losing teams trade off veterans at the trade deadline for prospects. And we should too.
(Boswell thinks the 7/31 trade market is softening and that the Nats won’t take any offers, and everyone stays. I doubt that, based on what we were getting last year for the likes of Cristian Guzman).
Q: Are the Nats (especially Desmond and Werth) taking too many first pitch fastballs?
A: Hard to answer this without empirical evidence. Boswell thinks the team should have altered its approach against a weak starting pitcher and not let him get into so many pitcher’s counts. Fair enough.
Q: What’s the longest someone has employed this pitcher-batting-8th lineup?
A: It has to be the Cardinals, who ran it for nearly an entire season. Who else uses it? (Boswell went off on Werth’s splits since going to leadoff).