Nationals Arm Race

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

Boswell Chat 10/3/11: My answers to his Baseball questions


The Nats season may be over, and the Redskins may be 3-1 (thus implying that 98% of local sports radio be devoted to the minutae of the team), but i’m hoping Tom Boswell takes some baseball questions still during his normal monday morning chat.

Questions are edited for clarity and space, and I write my answer before reading Boswell’s.  We’ll only address baseball-related questions.

Q: Was the last day of the 2011 baseball season the greatest day in baseball history?

A: Well, considering that baseball’s been played for 150+ years, and we’ve only lived to see and judge 25-30 years of it, and we’ve only had baseball readily available on TV to the extent where we could truly appreciate a night like what happened … its tough to say its the best ever.  Yes absolutely though it was the best in recent memory.  Boswell agrees.

Q: Thoughts on the Red Sox’s parting ways with Franconia and possibly Epstein?

A: The Red Sox spent an awful lot of money … and ended up with an awful lot of injuries to those well-paid players, especially in the rotation.  In September they were basically without 3/5ths at one point of the opening day roster.  No team can survive that, especially one that has traded so many of its prospects lately to acquire the hitting talent it has.  Terry Franconia has been there a while and, while its probably not his fault the team plummeted as it did, he’ll take the fall.  Theo Epstein: I’d think he’d want to stay and try to get one more WS win out of this team.  Unfortunately it probably isn’t happening any time soon: his team still has a bunch of under-performers under contract for 2012 and looks to be stuck with a bloated payroll without many impact players, again.  Boswell thinks Franconia got the short end of the stick, and that any firing of Epstein would be a major over-reaction.  Agreed.

Q: Did the Orioles “over-celebrate” by beating the Red Sox on the last day?

A: Maybe so.  But its hard to fault the team for playing and winning a playoff-caliber game.  Boswell didn’t answer this part, but did talk about Matt Moore and how good he’s looked.  Moore was the subject of an analysis post I did over the weekend.  He looked fantastic and could be a secret weapon for Tampa Bay this playoffs.

Q: Will the Red Sox find someone to manage their club as good as Franconia?

A: Probably not; there’s a ton of good candidates out there but in all likelihood we won’t see a major discipline guy taking over.  Odds are that we’ll see a bench coach or someone within the organization.  Boswell says if Valentine goes, expect even more drama.

Q: (Great Question): should a team’s success factor into the Cy Young and MVP voting?

A: Cy Young: no.  It shouldn’t matter how the team does.  If a guy is the best pitcher in the league, he’s the best pitcher.  Yes “Wins” are a flawed statistic, giving credit to a pitcher for only half the battle in winning a ball game.  But mostly pitching is an individual, mano-y-mano embarkment.   MVP?  Yes I believe the team’s position in the standings has an effect.  Simple question; how can you be the Most Valuable Player in the league for a team that is 20 games under .500?  I just don’t think you can be.  If you’re not leading a team to the playoffs, or playing meaningful games 100% of the time, then it doesn’t matter how valuable you are to your own team, let alone the rest of the league.  Boswell posits an argument i’ve never heard; batters get 650-700 plate appearances but starting pitchers face > 1000 batters.  Good argument; still not enough to get me to consider pitchers for MVP awards.

Q: How did a supposedly great analysis team like the Red Sox err so badly in the Carl Crawford contract?

A: Carl Crawford was a nice player in Tampa, but it was always going to be a risk putting someone who wasn’t used to the pressure cooker of baseball in Boston or New York who wasn’t used to it.  The Red Sox vastly overpaid for Crawford, feeling as if they had to pay him more than the Jayson Werth contract, and they ended up with a lesser player.  Boswell points out some interesting observations; Crawford’s power is to right, he never pulls the ball and his asset in defense is speed.  All three of those points are completely negated by playing in Fenway.  Could get ugly in Boston.

Q: When are the Nats going to re-sign Ryan Zimmerman?

A: I’d guess after NEXT season.  Despite the supposed pressure to get him re-upped on a big contract, he already IS on a big contract.  And that contract runs through 2013.  So he’s still got two years on it, so no point in talking about it or worrying about it.   Boswell says the team should push this, but guesses Zimmerman waits until he has a good start to 2012 to negotiate from strength, not from the weakness following a sub-par year as he had in 2011.

Q: Did Davey Johnson have a bad road split?  Is he going to be the 2012 manager?

A: Just did some quick analysis: the team had 38 road games after Johnson took over and went 18-20 in them.  That’s actually better than their overall 36-45 record on the road all season.  I don’t know why there’s stories about a manager search; why wouldn’t he come back to manage in 2012?  Boswell notes he went 40-40 after the initial 3-game series loss to the Angels.

Q: Thoughts on Jose Reyes’ sitting down to protect his average?

A: Bush league.  Ted Williams, he is not.  If your manager takes you out to give the home crowd a chance to give you one last cheer, that’s acceptable.  To ask out of a game after bunting for a hit is akin to an NBA player purposely missing a shot to get an extra rebound so as to get a triple-double.  Boswell agrees.

Q: Do the Nats need to get a high priced FA starting pitcher?

A: Well.  Lets answer the question this way.  Yes, they need another FA pitcher, but there’s not one available this year that will be worth the money.  This season’s crop of FA starters is weak and the two big money teams both desperately need starting pitching and will be driving prices WAY up on guys like CJ Wilson and Edwin Jackson, far over what they’re worth.  I think the team needs to stay out of these feeding frenzies.  2013’s crop is far better, and we also have enough pitching depth to possibly work a trade.  Boswell says its a tough call then reminds everyone we went after Greinke hard and couldn’t believe the deal was turned down.

Q: What do the Nats do with the leadoff position for 2012?

A: Amazingly, they go into this off-season with pretty much the same issue they had LAST off season.  They need a reliable lead-off hitter, and they need a reliable center fielder.  They’d love to get one guy who can do both jobs.  Personally, I think a trade is happening this off season, with the team going after BJ Upton again, pitching Tampa Bay to save the $6-$7M they’re going to have to pay him in his last arbitration year.  There’s a couple of FA center fielders of note, but they’re under performers or injury risks (David DeJesus, Grady Sizemore being the two names i’d think about).  Might as well roll the dice with one more year of Rick Ankiel. Boswell notes that Goodwin and Rendon could be hitting 1-2 in a couple years.  Not exactly the question that was asked.

Q: Have the Nats considered moving Desmond to CF, and sliding Espinosa to SS and playing Lombardozzi at 2B?

A: Hmmmm.  I havn’t seen this particular formation postulated.  I’d say this is a no-go because Lombardozzi looked 110% overmatched in his September call-up and may have a ceiling of utility guy.   But its an interesting question.  What about Lombardozzi in center?  The question is; can he hit leadoff?  Boswell doesn’t think Desmond can ever be a good enough leadoff hitter.

Q: Do the Nats make a run at Terry Franconia?

A: No way.  Johnson is just as good a manager.  You stick with what you have.  Boswell agrees.

Q: Is CJ Wilson worth giving up our first round pick in free agency?  What about Pujols or Fielder?

A: Yes …. but he’s not going to be worth the sky-high salary that he’ll be offered by the Yankees to come in and help restore their pitching staff.  Both Pujols/Fielder would be great in the short term but would likely be albatross contracts before they’re said and done (as A-Rod’s already looks, and as Ryan Howards looks like it will be).  Boswell says he likes our current arms more than Wilson, and says Morse at $4M is better value than Pujols at $25M.  True.

Q:  What do you make of the way the Nats finished the season?

A: Very promising … with some caution.  Beware September success, since your young guys often times are playing other team’s younger guys.   The only meaningful games we really played in September were against teams in playoff races (Atlanta).  I will say that the big take away from this finish was just how poorly the team fared by giving starts to Livan Hernandez and Jason Marquis.  Once those guys were removed from the rotation and replaced with our upper end prospects, the team won and won frequently.  Boswell agrees, pointing out that this team got to 80 wins, only one of which was by Strasburg!

Q: Were the 80 wins ahead of your expectations?

A: Absolutely.  I can’t find any proof of this, but I think 72-75 wins was considered a great goal for 2011.  80 wins, a 10 game improvement over 2010 (itself a 10 game improvement over 2009) is a huge win for this team.  Another 10-game improvement suddenly puts this team squarely into Wild Card competition, and another 10-game improvement in 2013 puts us as World Series contenders.  I think this is a great path and a great goal.    Boswell predicted 72 at start, bumped to 77 mid-season.

Q: What does the Nats focus on in the offseason? SP or CF/Leadoff guy?

A: I always classify off-season priorities as follows: Fantasy, Reality and Less Likely.  I’ll post a more detailed post about this after the WS is over, but Fantasy for me is Pujols or a frontline Starter, Reality includes attempting to find a center fielder and then filling in some holes in the bullpen and on the bench.  Boswell didn’t address.

Q: Who do you think is on the trading block for the Nats? Lannan has been getting a lot of play lately? Would BJ Upton be the best option for us?

A: The Nats clearly have pitching depth, and have more major league ready starters than they have spots for.  Lannan is an underrated starter and could be a good #3 or #4 starter for a contender.  Problem is, the Rays have zero need for a starter like John Lannan and it would probably cost the Nats a much better prospect to pry loose someone like BJ Upton.  I’d like to have Upton but don’t want to burn a high-end prospect like Norris or Rendon to get him.  Boswell correctly points out that Lannan is undervalued by other teams besides us, who don’t see his improvements and every day accomplishments.  Upton is a wild card for sure.

Q: Could the Nats go after an “Impact” bat, like Michael Cuddyer?

A:  Cuddyer isn’t really an impact bat in the same vein as Pujols or Fielder.  I don’t see a spot for Cuddyer, who can play a bunch of positions but everything he can play is a position we’re ably filling right now (RF, 2B, 3B, 1B).   Boswell thinks our hitters are scheduled for a rebound.

Q: Are the Phillies vulnerable?  Can the Brewers make a run?

A: Phillies don’t *seem* vulnerable, not with 3 shutdown arms and a 4th who would be most team’s best hurler.  The Brewers look like they could go far, with a good balance of pitching and hitting.  Boswell says that the Card’s 3 potent hitters could make things dicey for Philly.

Q: What is the best WS match up for TV?  What’s the best matchup for the true fan?

A: TV: the two biggest markest clearly (NYY vs Philly).   For the fans?  It’d be nice to see two long-suffering franchises go at it (Detroit-Milwaukee).  I’d like to see big money versus little money (Philly-Tampa), which would also match the two best pitching staffs.  For offense-minded teams it’d probably be Texas (or NY) versus St. Louis.  NYY-St. Louis is great for traditionalists; these are the two teams with the most WS victories.  Boswell likes it when non-traditional powers get into the series.

Wow, that was a lot of baseball talk.

15 Responses to 'Boswell Chat 10/3/11: My answers to his Baseball questions'

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  1. What would your thoughts be on the team going after Dejesus or Crisp to fill the CF gap next year? I don’t see Upton as being much better than either of them and you wouldn’t have to give up a prospect for either.

    Dejesus is quite intriguing to me as he seems to be a guy who plays the game similar to Espinosa. A guy who gives it 110% when on the field.

    Another guy I would check in on is Angel Pagan if the Mets are willing to move him. He rebounded some in the 2nd half.

    Then there is the scenario that we end up trading Desmond in a deal for Upton. If that is the case would you go after a guy like Clint Barmes to play 2nd for a year and have Espinosa at SS?

    Oh the intrigue of the offseason.


    5 Oct 11 at 10:46 am

  2. Dejesus isn’t a center fielder! Check out his innings played per position: 62 innings in CF this year but nearly 1000 in right. Yeah he’s a plus defender in RF … but we already have RF covered. Crisp was their primary CF’er this year and his uzr/150 numbers weren’t great either. At least Crisp doesn’t strike out a ton. Pagan? eh. Doesn’t excite me either.

    Honestly i think the move is to re-sign Ankiel for one year; he was a plus defender in center and had his days at the plate. Werth provides some cover and get someone like Nix as your 4th outfielder for lefty righty balance in the outfield. Bring up harper and groom him to play center (he certainly has the speed and athleticism).

    Upton is only under contract for one more year; is losing Desmond worth a year of Upton? I don’t think so. But if you did make that move you’d go Espinosa SS, Lombardozzi 2nd and just live with that until Rendon proved he was ready to move up. Remember we also have Kobernus who had a pretty good 2011.

    Tampa doesn’t need pitching and would want a positional player in trade. Meanwhile, our depth in the minors is mostly pitching. So it’s a tough decision; do we give up one of our positional players to get Upton? Upton’s numbers werne’t THAT great. Not sure i like that deal.

    yeah, should be interesting to see what this team does.

    Todd Boss

    5 Oct 11 at 11:12 am

  3. I meant play Dejesus in RF with Werth covering CF next year but forgot to put that in there. Not saying it is by any means the best situation but I think Werth can handle CF at an average rate while adding plus D in RF. Not to mention even in Dejesus’ worst season he still got on base at a .323 clip and I feel like he is a solid candidate to bounce back with an OBP around .345. Another plus on him is he has never struck out over 100 times in a season. That is something the Nats desperately need to incorporate because they strike out WAY too much.

    I think the key to the whole thing is whether they feel they should do something short term this offseason and wait til the much better FA class after next year. At that point you will be able to move Morse back to 1B because LaRoche will be gone as well.


    5 Oct 11 at 12:52 pm

  4. Oh. 🙂 That may make more sense. I do agree with you re: Werth; it seems that he can play a serviecable CF when called upon. But i’d rather not depend on that config. I’d honestly rather do what they did this year which was to depend on Ankiel (definitely a plus defender in CF) with Werth full time in RF, then moving Werth to center if they wanted to (say) get one more lefty bat into the lineup and put Nix in Right and Ankiel in left.

    You raise a good question; just how patient is the front offense? If they look at this 80 win team, accomplished with just ONE starter win from their ace Strasburg, you have to think, geeze just how good could this team be in 2012? Strasburg should be worth several wins just by himself, and clearly replacing the below mediocre Livan and Marquis starts with anything of value (as demonstrated in September with plus starts from our kids) and suddenly you’re looking at nearly a 90 win team. And that’s before all your #1 draft picks come into play.

    Personally, I think the team should not sacrifice anything of value for Upton and either wait it out or push Harper into play early. Harper can play centerfield just fine. Resign Ankiel for 2012, run Desmond-Espinosa 1-2 for a while and see what happens. A middle-of-the-order of Zim-Morse-LaRoche-Werth (or put Werth 2 and Espinosa 6) isn’t half bad.

    Todd Boss

    5 Oct 11 at 1:04 pm

  5. Rendon’s not going anywhere. MLB rules prohibit trading players until one year after their draft date.

    Rest Easy

    5 Oct 11 at 1:40 pm

  6. True true. Bad example. Norris probably a better example of an upper-end hitting prospect in our minors.

    Todd Boss

    5 Oct 11 at 2:05 pm

  7. I would say you are correct about Ankiel. I would be content with him or Dejesus, unless they can stumble across Upton for cheaper than we are thinking. I would say a lineup like the one below would be solid.




    I would be very happy if they were able to go land Mark Buerhle on a 2 year deal. I think having a starter with consistent innings and numbers over his career along with a playoff experienced arm would benefit the team greatly. I would also look at Oswalt if the Phils cut him loose and he is available for a one year deal. I think that is one thing this team could use. A guy who pitches well who has also been through a playoff push.


    5 Oct 11 at 2:45 pm

  8. I can’t see Rizzo going for Buehrle. He is all about power arms, high k/9 potential. Buehrle is a soft tossing lefty, just an older more expensive version of Lannan and Milone. He’s effective in the AL though. Oswalt injury worries me. Decent enough numbers this year for sure … worth the money he’s gonna want? I dunno.

    Todd Boss

    5 Oct 11 at 2:58 pm

  9. Considering they were paying Marquis $7.5m for mediocrity, would $10-11m for Oswalt be that bad? Not sure what it will cost to get him, but even if he only makes about 25 starts I think Strasburg and Zimmermann could learn a lot from him being on the staff, similar to what Pudge has done for Ramos.

    I really brought up Buehrle because he has had success in the AL going against the DH instead of the opposing pitcher for a couple of at bats per game. I agree he is a soft tosser similar to Lannan but I think Lannan would get lit up in the AL. I also like him simply because he is a lefty. Although Detwiler and Milone might be able to similar things.

    I definitely agree with you on Wilson and Jackson both getting priced over what the Nats should pay them. Maybe the best thing is to go into the season with a rotation of Stras, Zmnn, Lannan, Wang and Detwiler. Then if one struggles call on Peacock or Milone and then around the trade deadline (if still in contention) aquire a Buerhle or Oswalt type to help negate the loss of Strasburg


    5 Oct 11 at 3:14 pm

  10. After looking at the free agents at the end of next year I would definitely think a couple of solid starters will be available mid season ie. If Rizzo can’t pull the trigger when the upcoming free agent class is this big something is wrong. I know there is a strong possibility for Cain, Greinke, Haren, Shields and Hamels to sign extensions but that still leaves some solid mid season addition candidates.

    Matt Cain
    Dan Haren (club option)
    James Shields (club option)
    Jorge de la Rosa (club option)
    Ervin Santana (club option)
    Zack Greinke
    Gavin Floyd (club option)
    Cole Hamels
    Scott Baker (club option)
    John Danks
    Jeremy Guthrie
    Shaun Marcum
    Jonathan Sanchez
    Randy Wolf (club option)
    Joe Saunders
    Jake Westbrook (club option)
    Colby Lewis
    Francisco Liriano


    5 Oct 11 at 3:22 pm

  11. I havn’t done the detailed salary analysis, but you have to figure the team is going to stay right around where they are payroll wise. shows that they have roughly $20M coming off the books in FAs that for the most part aren’t coming back. Combine that with $6M in payroll increases for Zim and Werth, and probably a significant amount for some of their arb-eligible guys (Morse in particular) they’ll definitely have a bit of cash to spend. $10M for Oswalt would be good and absolutely better than $7.5 for Marquis; is that enough? Oswalt has a 2012 option for $16M and has been at 15-16M for the past few years. Would he take a pay cut to 10-11? Are there enough FA pitching suitors out there to bid him above that? Yeah i think so; after watching what NYY and Boston went through this post season you bet they both want to upgrade their starters.

    I have a hard time believing Buehrle leaves Chicago. If he did? $14M/year is probably baseline. Would you pay that for a 33yr old?

    Rizzo always coveted Jackson; i’d guess he makes a run there frankly and not with the others. Boras client, hard thrower, expressed interest in the past. I could see a 3yr $28M deal for Jackson on the table (he’s coming offf 2yrs $13.35M or so). Of course, if you sign both Wang and Jackson then suddenly you have to trade Detwiler, who is out of options…. and we’d be dealing him from a position of weakness.

    Todd Boss

    5 Oct 11 at 3:29 pm

  12. I believe the Nats will go after Carlos Quentin in a trade with the White Sox during the offseason. He has a connection with Rizzo from their Arizona days, and is in his final year of arbitration. The WSox is in a position to make some drastic changes to their lineup and Quentin could provide the power the Nats need in the corner outfield position for the short term.


    5 Oct 11 at 3:51 pm

  13. December 12 will be a big day for the Nationals, because that’s when teams must tender arbitration-eligible players. And I’m not just talking about non-tendering Gomes (too much risk that he accepts – I can’t believe they traded Manno for that guy). It will be interesting to see what players hit the market at that point. Grady Sizemore and B.J. Upton, among others, may find themselves non-tendered.

    Another free agent possibility for a short-term contract would be Michael Cuddyer (to play RF, with Werth in CF). And the big free agent wild card, of course, is Yu Darvish.

    John C.

    6 Oct 11 at 5:58 pm

  14. I dunno if Quentin makes sense for this team. Where does he play? He’s either a left fielder or a right fielder. If you put him in left, where do you put Morse? If you put him in right, where do you put Werth?

    Morse can play first of course … but we’ve got LaRoche set to come back, a better defender and a guy who has put up 25hr/100rbi seasons. If you put Werth in center to put Quentin in right … you give up a LOT of defense on a day to day basis.

    On the plus side, Quentin is definitely a plus defender in RF. He’s in 3rd year of arbitration and probably gets an affordable 7-8M/year. But he can’t stay healthy; he’s never come close to playing a full season. He’s a right handed hitter in a righty-heavy lineup (werth, zimm, morse all R-only in the middle of the order) so we wouldn’t have the greatest lineup balance.

    Interesting theory though.. The team definitely needs some pop added to the lineup.

    Todd Boss

    8 Oct 11 at 11:50 am

  15. I think the Manno/Rhinehart for Gomes deal was all about appeasing Davey Johnson, who looked at his bench and said to himself “christ I have nobody here that can actually pinch hit.” Soon after Bernadina was demoted, Stairs was cut and Gomes was added. Rhinehart was probably limited, and I wonder if we all are overvaluing Manno a bit; a college senior in a young league getting a ton of Ks isn’t that impressive … scouts would ask; if he was that good why didn’t he come out after his Jr year? Anyway.

    Gomes non-tendered else you’re stuck with him, and i’d rather have Nix and his lefty bat as a 4th outfielder. Slaten clearly non-tendered. The other question mark may be Gorzelanny; do you sign him up and guarantee $3M to a middle reliever? He was inarguably good in the pen, but that’s a pricey reliever.

    I’m sure to post thoughts as we get closer to that deadline. Lots of interesting topics to post on in this offseason.

    Todd Boss

    8 Oct 11 at 11:56 am

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