Nationals Arm Race

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

My Answers to Boswell’s Chat Questions 8/22/11 edition

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Everyone's excited for the return of Strasburg. Photo via

Boswell’s weekly chat had more Redskins questions than normal, but there was a slew of baseball questions in there as well.  As always, questions are edited for levity/clarity and I write my answer before reading his.

Q: When is Strasburg coming back?

A: Per Mark Zuckerman’s csnwashington article, based on his regular 5-day rest and build up of innings, we should expect Stephen Strasburg back in the majors around September 6th or 7th, right in the middle of the mid-week LA Dodgers series.  Wow imagine if he went up against Clayton KershawBoswell guesses 9/6/11 but repeats over and again these are guesses, since rainouts have a funny way of ruining best laid plans for advance ticket buyers.

Q: Will the Nats go after Prince Fielder, as is being mentioned in the national press?

A: I don’t think so; he doesn’t really fit the mold of the track-star/plus-defender mentality that Mike Rizzo wants in his players.  Plus, signing Fielder basically light’s Adam LaRoche‘s $8M 2012 salary on fire.  And I don’t think the owners would take lightly to 1/8th of their payroll being so blatantly wasted.  I don’t think 2012 is the year that this team makes its big FA splash; I still see 2012 as an incremental building year, with 2013 the year to make a run.  Boswell Agrees.

Q: Do you agree with Kasten’s plan to fill the stadium with Phillies fans?

A: Absolutely not.  I don’t care how much money a sold out weekend series full of drunken low-lifes from Philadelphia generates for your team; its not worth the clear damage done to the psyche of the paying Nats fans who DO show up only to be treated like interlopers in their own stadium.  Philly fans show up for one game and spend a few hundred dollars.  Nats season ticket holders spend THOUSANDS of dollars and finance the team’s payroll.  Which customer do you think is more important to keep happy?  Boswell prints a letter describing what most of us went through opening day 2010, the first time the Philadelphia hordes descended en masse on Nats stadium.

Q: Does Jayson Werth check his swing too much?

A: Not that i’ve noticed, but i’m not exactly glued to the television every time he gets to the plate.  I will say that at sunday’s game he was clearly the victim of a horrible 3rd strike call, and then guessed wrong on another versus Halladay.  No shame in that.  He got enough clutch at-bats and hits this weekend to get an awful lot of good grace from fans.  Boswell says its his natural swing.

Q: Who will be here next year of this list?  Desmond. Gomes. Livo. Wang. Gorzelanny. Pudge.

A: Definitely here: Desmond.  Hopefully here: Wang.  Probably here: Gomes.  Likely gone: Gorzelanny.  Most certainly gone: Livo and Pudge.

The team isn’t ready to give up on Desmond; they like him as a leader and he’s turned into a pretty good fielder.  Wang remains to be seen; has he pitched well enough so far to earn a 2012 contract?  Probably not quite yet … but he also isn’t under a club option for 2012 either (a topic for a future post).  Gomes’ acquisition was a mystery; he’s a lower-performing right-handed version of Laynce Nix but without the left handedness.  He’s making $1.75M this year and certainly wouldn’t get that on the open market, so he’d likely accept arbitration from the team if it was offered (which should have been the primary reason we traded for him, to get his compensation pick).  Gorzelanny seems destined for a non-tender; he didn’t get used for 13 straight days and clearly isn’t getting back into the bullpen.  He probably looks for a rotation spot elsewhere in the league.  Livan looks to be closer to retirement than another contract offer, as he’s regressed badly this season.  Finally Pudge; If I were Ivan Rodriguez i’d go looking for one last shot with a winner.  He’s likely to get a 2-year deal as a backup but his days of starting are probably over.  Boswell agrees with me on most of these opinions.

Q: Are any of the prospects they drafted in 2011 considered top 10 in their farm system?

A: Absolutely!  In fact the 2011 draft may go down as the day this franchise turned.  Rendon shoots up to probably be the #2 in our system behind Harper.  Meyer and Goodwin are top 10 right out of the gate.  And Purke, if he turns out to be healthy, is a 1-1 talent (i.e., #1 draft pick in the 1st Round) who may be right up there with Harper and Rendon.  Someone asked what the Nats top 10 looks like in Jim Callis’ latest Baseball America chat and he said, “Off the top of my head, I’d start their Top 10 like this: Harper, Rendon, Peacock, Cole, Meyer, Goodwin, Purke (move him up if he proves to be healthy). Looks like a possible top-five system, definite top-10.”  Boswell says the top 4 guys are all top-12 prospects right now.

Q: Should Clippard replace Storen as the closer?

A: No.  For two reasons: Clippard is a better arm and therefore gets used in more high leverage situations.  The fact that the Nats can do this with their best reliever is fantastic.  Second; the 8-9 guys are used to their roles, are pretty successful in those roles, so why mess with it?  Boswell says they’re both excellent.

Q: Do you see the Nats as NL East contenders in three years?

A: Absolutely.  I see it even before then; we’re slightly below a .500 team this year w/o our Ace starter and with huge chunks of the season missed by our supposed #3 and #4 hitters.  A full season with Strasburg at the helm plus replacing Livan’s poor starts and Zimmermann’s continued improvement should see this team easily move above .500.  Then you spend money in the FA-rich 2012 off season and prepare for a playoff run in 2013.  Boswell’s succinct answer: Yes.

Q: What “letter grade” do you give Harper on the year?

A: A+.  He was the 2nd youngest player in low-A and owned it as if he was playing against the JV team.  He then was (easily) the youngest player in AA and held his own.  Its a common mistake to remember that if he was playing by the rules, he’d have been a high school senior in April instead of playing ball in Hagerstown, and that he wouldn’t have even signed til 8/15 instead of having hundreds of at bats.  How can you not say he’s met all expectations and exceeded them?  Boswell takes a rather nit-picky view and says he’s a year further away than what he thought.

Q: Should the Nats management take a page from Leonsis’ playbook and actively discourage Phillies fans from coming to games?

A: Tough call; clearly they enjoy the revenue bump as discussed above, but the Nationals fan experience is beyond awful.  Maybe wait until you’re a good enough team to draw on your own and then start discriminating against the 215 area code.

Q: Is Adam Dunn finished?

A: No, but he really needs to re-think his approach to the game.  Why he has fallen off a cliff is probably a combination of factors; new league and new pitchers, pressure of the contract, pressure of being the “savior” of a big-market team, new ballpark, new city and moving your family, but most of all a new position (DH) that may leave him “bored” and “unfocused” during games.  But he’s always relied on his talent and physical abilities in the off season to bring him around and at his age perhaps its time for him to work harder in the off-season.  Boswell didn’t really answer this question, just noted that Dunn’s plight is unprecedented.

Q: What would you say if you were the Nats owners/management to Bud Selig’s “singling out” the team for going over-slot to sign its draftees?

A: I would have told Bud Selig to f*ck off.  Boswell was more diplomatic.

Q: How hard is Jordan Zimmermann’s innings limit?

A: I’d say its pretty solid.  Why possibly jeopardize him in 2011, even if you don’t believe in innings limits or think that its bunk science.  Besides, we really need to give starts to Strasburg and possibly to one from Meyers, Milone or Peacock.  Shut him down, tell him to take an early vacation and see you in February.  Boswell points out a great point: at 162 innings Zimmermann qualifies for year-end award lists and top 10s, which he’s currently on.  He’ll get it and then be pulled.

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