Nationals Arm Race

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

My answers to Boswell’s questions 6/20/11


Werth is catching a lot of criticism for his performance lately. photo: Mitchell Layton/Getty Images NA

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 East Boston NY Baltimore Toronto
AL South Tampa Bay Texas Kansas City San Antonio
AL Central Cleveland Detroit Chicago Minnesota
AL West Seattle Los Angeles Oakland Portland
NL East Philadelphia Atlanta NY Mets Washington
NL South Florida Houston St. Louis Colorado
NL Central Milwaukee Cincinnati Pittsburgh Chicago
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 Central Milwaukee Cincinnati Colorado Chicago
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).

Written by Todd Boss

June 21st, 2011 at 9:45 am

3 Responses to 'My answers to Boswell’s questions 6/20/11'

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  1. Todd – my only quibble is with this line to the Marquis question “We’re not winning the world series this year, therefore….”

    I agree that wins have less marginal value to us than a clear contender, but that doesn’t mean they have zero value. Also, I think Boz said that he thought Rizzo would get low balled on offers, not refuse to take them?

    My two cents is trade Marquis (or anyone other than the Zims, Stras and Harper) if you feel like you are getting more than you are giving up. For some guys like Espy and Ramos, you should really feel confident that you are getting more than than you give. For others, you can take more risk.

    So, it depends on what we are offered for Marquis before I am in favor of a trade. A pitchability guy from low A with a limited ceiling? Probably not. Ben revere or Dexter Fowler? Probably yes. My hunch is that Boz is right and we will not be offered what we think he is worth, so I would be fine taking the wins now.


    21 Jun 11 at 12:16 pm

  2. My thought process (and it may be Rizzo’s too) is that we’re building towards playoff expectations over a number of years. We won 69 games last year for a 10 game improvement, and without significant investment and while losing Strasburg for 2011, you had to think the tempered expectations were a 5 game improvement to around 75 wins. The team is drafting better, drafting strategically for guys to essentially be MLB ready for 2013 or right around there.

    Right this second, I just cannot see this team beating out Philadelphia and Atlanta in the division. They have better pitching, better hitting across the board. It doesnt’ mean we should give up, but it does mean you don’t break the bank this year. You progress.

    Guys are going to either be part of the future or not. Guys who are young, arbitration controlled or signed long term obviously are. Anyone who is middle aged, clearly a one-year stop gap, or movable is not. I think you move Marquis even if you don’t really think you’re getting that much in return. Why? Because honestly i’d rather use September to test what a guy like Detwiler, Maya, or even better Meyers or Milone can really do against MLB hitting instead of giving Marquis a few more shots at getting Wins to pad his next FA contract. Because honestly, that’s what he’ll be doing in September when the team is 10 games under .500 or so. Soriano and Dunn you could argue were worth keeping b/c we knew we were getting valuable draft picks. Marquis? nope.

    Who else falls into this category? Ankiel, Hairston, Cora, Coffey, Gaudin (more likely to get cut), . Pudge to a certain extent, except that its more important to get Flores playing full time in AAA than having him sit in MLB. Livan is on such a good contract it’d be difficult to move him. You have to keep Nix at this point, since he’s starting in LF and there’s literally nobody to take his place. The nats face an interesting choice in the off season if LaRoche looks set to come back. Nix may be a valuable trade piece, makign way to allow Morse to move back to LF.

    Todd Boss

    21 Jun 11 at 12:33 pm

  3. […] if some of this looks familiar, it is because I started this post in a long-winded answer in a recent “My answers to Boswell’s chat” […]

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