With the announcement that all 8 of our eligible free agents filed as soon as the FA filing period opened (as reported by Adam Kilgore), its time to talk about what the team could or should do with each of the 8 players.
Here’s a quick table showing our 8 free agents, their latest contract and their pay for 2011.
|Player||Current or 2011 Contract||2011 Salary|
|Gomes, Jonny||2yr/$2.55M (10-11)||$1,750,000|
|Rodriguez, Ivan||2 yr/$6M (10-11)||$3,000,000|
|Wang, Chien-Ming||1 yr/$1M plus bonuses||$1,000,000|
So, what should the team do with these guys? In order (alphabetically):
- Rick Ankiel could be an interesting decision for this team. His 2011 line was bad (.239/.296/.363), and he really wasn’t any better down the stretch than he was at the beginning of the season. Ankiel tempts and entices you with periodic flashes of power but generally had really poor batting stats. On the plus side, he’s a lefty in a Right-handed heavy lineup. He also plays a fantastic Center Field (11.6 uzr/150 on the year in center) and has one of the best outfield arms in the game. All this screams 4th outfielder at best, and Ankiel may struggle to match his $1.5M salary in 2012. The Nats may view him as a decent 4th outfielder option, but may not be willing to guarantee him money. I’m guessing he goes elsewhere looking for a starting job or a guaranteed major league contract.
- Todd Coffey, by the end of the season, seemed to be a reliable right handed option out of the bullpen for this team. He had a 3.62 era on the season and a decent whip of 1.2. His splits on the year show a different story; he was lights out in May, god-awful in June and July before regaining his consistency in the end of the season. For me, he’s a replace-able asset that should be available in spades on the FA market or from within the farm system. I’m guessing the team rolls the dice on another one of the middle-relief right handers on the market. Had Cole Kimball not gone down with injury, the question would be completely moot for 2012.
- Alex Cora probably will find work on a minor league free agent deal somewhere for 2012; he has that “backup middle infielder” skill set that gives him a good shot of finding work in 2012 despite his horrible batting line in 2011 (a 51 ops+ hitting .224 in 156 ABs for the Nats). For the Nats, we saw that up and coming prospect Steve Lombardozzi can play both 2nd and SS in a backup role in September and I’m guessing we use a combination of him and Brian Bixler off the bench in 2012 as cheaper alternatives to the FAs Cora and Jerry Hairston that the team used in 2011.
- Jonny Gomes was acquired mid-season in a questionable trade that sent blocked 1B prospect Bill Rhinehart and blogger favorite Christopher Manno to the Reds. At first glance the trade seemed to be about acquiring the compensation pick that Gomes would fetch (who at the time had type-B FA status). After listening to management interviews though the trade seemed to be more about Johnson replacing the impotent Matt Stairs as his primary pinch hitter on the bench. It became clear that Gomes’ skills not only were not worth the 1.75M contract he was on, but that he was barely worth a 25-man roster spot. Gomes hit .204 for the team in the 2nd half, mostly as a right-handed power option off the bench and lost his type-B status by years end. Despite clearly being a good teammate and free-spirit in the clubhouse, Gomes seems destined for a non-guaranteed contract elsewhere for 2012.
- Livan Hernandez is hitting the FA market despite being our opening day starter and perhaps the most iconic player of this team’s tenure in Washington (with apologies to Ryan Zimmerman, of course). Hernandez just finished a very up-and-down season, culminating with his being “shut-down” in September (ostensibly to allow rookies to play, but it may have also been somewhat of a mercy-killing after a slew of abysmal performances). One need only look at his 2011 splits to see the problem with Livan: when he won he was very, very good (8-0, 1.26era in his 8 victories). But when he lost he gave the offensively-meager team almost no chance to win (a 6.05 ERA in 13 losses) and was nearly as bad in his 8 no-decisions (5.93 era). I’m sorry, but when you make 29 starts and have an era in the 6’s for 21 of them, you no longer merit a starting spot. The team will swallow its heart and allow Livan to leave in free agency. Just a couple months ago I was advocating to keep him, thinking he’d be a great backup plan and a good influence on the pitching corps. Those points both may be true, but his declining performance coupled with his extraordinarily long warm-up routine pretty much precludes effective use out of the bullpen (where guys need to be warm in 10-15 pitches). I’ll bet Livan finds a 5th starter job somewhere though; perhaps a sentimental return to Florida, a stop-gap one-year contract for the pitching-poor Mets, or elsewhere.
- Laynce Nix was hot in Spring Training, and equally as hot in April and May, but tailed off badly and ended the year with a relatively MLB-average 103 ops+ and a slash line of .250/.299/.451. He did have 16 homers in just 351 plate appearances, nearly a 30homer pace for a full season. Of course, he’d never get a full season of At bats since his lefty-righty splits are so bad (.263 versus .111 … he was 3 for 27 against lefties this year with 4 walks). What should the team do? Nix could be a nice part of a platoon in right field with a good right-handed hitter like Chris Marrero … except we’re pretty sure that we’d take a severe dip in defense if we did such a thing. Of course, nobody told the Cardinals they couldn’t put Lance Berkman in the outfield, and he promptly put in a -14.4 uzr/150 rating in right while bashing his way to a .547 slugging percentage and a 166 ops+. Not that Nix is capable of Berkman’s level of productivity, but I still think he could have value as a 4th out-fielder/Davey Johnson prototypical power guy off the bench. Not to mention a lefty on a team whose primary power guys (Werth, Zimmerman and Morse) are all righty. I predict he resigns on a one year deal.
- Ivan Rodriguez really wants to get to 3,000 hits, but man he looked old this year. He only managed 27 hits in 124 at bats while ceding the starting job to the more capable Wilson Ramos. Clearly Pudge isn’t coming back to the Nats; the better question is whether there’s a backup job for him anywhere in the league. Probably so, but he’ll struggle to ever reach 3,000.
- Chien-Ming Wang, as we already know, is negotiating to stay with the team. And despite this blogger’s opinion that the team erred in setting up Wang’s 2011 contract, it seems like he probably is coming back. I’m guessing he signs a moderate 2-year deal with somewhere in the range of $6-8M in guaranteed money.
So, in the end I’m guessing we re-sign one (and perhaps two) of our 8 free agents. This means we’ll be somewhat active on the FA market looking to back-fill some of the positions these guys filled this year. But not totally so; players coming back from injury and players rising from the minor league ranks are expected to take the place of players that we had to buy on the FA market in the past. That’s great news for the team in general; lowered payroll and further proof that our farm system is developing real talent.