Nationals Arm Race

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

Bill Ladson’s 7/21/11 inbox; my answers to his questions

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Is this your 2011 NL Rookie of the Year? Photo: AP via silive.com

MLB Nationals beat reporter Bill Ladson doesn’t do mailboxes that frequently, but when he does I’m sometimes intrigued by his answers.  Lets see how i’d have answered the questions he took in his latest mailbag.  As always, I read the question and answer it myself prior to reading his answer.

Q: Don’t get me wrong, I love Danny Espinosa. But how can you say he’s the “most complete player I’ve covered since Vladimir Guerrero”
A: I like Danny Espinosa and was a fan of his even before he started his 2011 rookie-of-the-year campaign.  A question though: does Espinosa even feature as a typical 5-tool player? Power (yes), Average? (not yet … despite his BABIP being a bit low he’s only hitting in the .240s), but perhaps in the future.  Speed?  12 Stolen bases on pace for about 20.  Defense?  by all accounts yes.  Arm?  Definitely.  So, he’s pretty durn complete.  But, he’s got exactly 3/4 of one pro season under his belt.  A lot has to happen before we start comparing him to one of the better players in the last 20 years (Vladimir Guerrero).  Ladson says he IS a 5-tool player, and that he’s the best defensive 2nd baseman in baseball right now.  Heady statements.  Here’s a list of Uzr/150 ratings for 2nd basemen right now; Espinosa is 5th behind some pretty good defensive players.  Will he stay at 2nd base long enough to gain consideration or take over at short?  See below.

Q: With Mike Cameron traded to the Marlins, do you see the Nationals making a move to get someone like Cameron before the non-waiver Trade Deadline?
A: Mike Rizzo keeps talking about how he wants a center fielder.  BJ Upton and Michael Bourn are names that keep popping up.  But at what point does the team realize it may have a great future center fielder in Bryce Harper and just wait it out?  I wouldn’t want Cameron, an aging player living on his defensive reputation of yesteryear.   Ladson specifically mentions both Upton and Bourn, stating that the Nats are not interested in aging vets.

Q: What is Ian Desmond’s future with the team? Steve Lombardozzi seems like he could be a fit as a leadoff hitter sooner rather than later. Problem is, he plays second base. Could Desi move to left field, or is it more likely he goes to another ballclub? His numbers offensively have not been good.
A: Great question. Ian Desmond has clearly taken a step backwards offensively just at the same time that he’s finally taken a step forward defensively. What should the team do? Live with a plus defender (Desmond believe it or not has a positive Uzr/150 this year, putting him in the upper half of defensive short stops) and his crummy bat?  Or try to improve?  I think the answer may eventually be to transition Desmond to a different role if he can’t be more consistent at the plate.  I’m not sure Steve Lombardozzi is the answer (he very well may be; i’ve advocated in the past for this exact same move) until he proves he can hit at AAA and proves he can hit in the majors.  But we also have Anthony Rendon in the wings and may have to find a position for him as well.  Its a good problem to have; too many good players and not enough spots.  Ladson thinks Desmond is trade bait and is coveted by several teams; we may get our answer in the off-season.

Q: With Michael Morse doing so well at first base, is there any chance they might try and use LaRoche as trade bait?
A: Another great question.  The Nats do have some interesting story lines facing them as they go into 2011. Morse has been a revelation and will be a key part of the team in 2012. LaRoche is signed and is a 25 homer/100rbi guy with plus defense at first, so its hard to believe we’ll sell low on him and dump him this off season.  What would he bring in trade return?  Almost nothing.  My guess is that Morse moves back to left, we flip Nix into a reliever or something, and re-install LaRoche at first. Ladson Agrees.

Q: I saw recently that Chad Cordero retired. I know he left Washington with some resentment toward the front office, but is there any chance the two sides can bury the hatchet and honor Chad with some sort of ceremony thanking him for his contributions? He was a fan favorite who gave everything he had while wearing the curly W. He certainly deserves it.
A: Any resentment Cordero had towards this franchise should have died the day Bowden was fired. But, who knows, he could have blamed the owners for the actions of its employees. Without dishonoring the guy too much, how much of an impact did he really have here? You can argue that Cordero was a flash in the pan, an over-rated player in a position (closer) that is fungible and more or less replaceable with most any bullpen arm. He had a fantastic season the year the team moved here in 2005, and never came close to replicating it before getting hurt.  We spent most of the 2007 season talking about trading the guy.  It’d be like honoring Vinny Castillo in some ways.  Ladson agrees, and says we should think about honoring Frank Robinson first.  Fair enough, but why exactly does this team “need” to honor anybody from the past few years?  What did Frank Robinson do for this team except guide it to consecutive last place finishes?

Q: Do you see the Nationals moving Jayson Werth to the cleanup spot? We know how good Morse and Laynce Nix are, but chances are opposing teams will walk Ryan Zimmerman if those two are behind him.
A: I’m not sure what games this questioner is watching this year, but perhaps this guy has not seen that a) Werth is struggling mightily, b) Morse is hitting the ball lights out, and c) Nix is hitting a heck of a lot better than the average guy. You set your lineup so that you’re not batting 5 right-handed guys in a row but also with a mind towards the roles and capabilities of the players. Werth, Morse and Zimmerman are all right handed guys and should only be put together if you’re facing a lefty. Nix is a great way to break that up but his lefty-lefty splits aren’t that great.  What would be really great is if LaRoche was healthy and producing and in the mix for 3-4-5-6 as well, or if Espinosa becomes the power hitting force that he could be and continues to be a basher in the 2-hole.  Ladson says Werth may move back to #5 but he’s no cleanup hitter.

Q: When will Bryce Harper get promoted to the big leagues?
A: Target Mid June 2012. I think maybe the team gets a wild hair and calls him up this september for some cheap box office gate days. And you can’t blame them; he’s already on the 40-man roster after all. But any days he plays here in september delay the days he needs to sit in the minors so as to avoid super-2 status. Besides, Rizzo has repeatedly said he’s not coming up in 2011. Btw, I don’t believe Harper’s current struggles once promoted to AA mean much. He should have gone to high-a but understand why he skipped Potomac’s ridiculously bad field. He’ll pick it back up and he’ll hit .300 his final month of AA.  Ladson didn’t really answer, just saying that Harper won’t make it up this year.

4 Responses to 'Bill Ladson’s 7/21/11 inbox; my answers to his questions'

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  1. Great responses! Thanks!

    I’m a big Mickey Morse fan, and always have been. But I don’t think that he can do much in the OF. He’s more suited to 1B with the ground balls, liners, and popups.

    Soriano has never adjusted to the OF.

    Doc

    22 Jul 11 at 5:14 pm

  2. can’t imagine they will not have both Morse and LaRoche in the lineup together and LaRoche is going to play firstbase. That leaves LF for Morse and he will do every bit as well as Willingham. I would love an outfield of Morse, Harper and Werth .

    sjm308

    22 Jul 11 at 8:16 pm

  3. I don’t disagree; Morse is better suited to play 1B. I didn’t think he was *that* bad in the OF until I looked up his uzr stats. http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=3035&position=1B/OF#fielding . However, Rizzo isn’t going to just let LaRoche and his $8M salary just waste away. And trading LaRoche right now would get back pennies on the dollar for what he’s worth.

    Todd Boss

    23 Jul 11 at 4:42 pm

  4. Wouldn’t that lineup be fantastic to see? Assuming Harper continues to produce as he has done thus far, imagine having Espinosa, Zimmerman, Werth, LaRoche, Morse and Harper all in the same lineup? That’s 6 guys with 25homer capability. Throw in Ramos and his bat in the #7 hole plus a capable leadoff hitter and this instantly becomes a rather fearsome offense.

    At least, in theory anyway :-) Lots of “ifs” there. LaRoche coming back healthy. Werth learning how to hit again. Harper rising up and continuing to produce. Morse not coming back down to earth. Espinosa not suffering a sophomore slump as pitchers adjust to him. And lets not forget Zimmerman. He’s not exactly lighting the world on fire since returning from his abdominal injury, putting up just a 103 ops+ thus far.

    Todd Boss

    23 Jul 11 at 4:45 pm

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