Nationals Arm Race

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

Nats FA Decisions…


Is Wang the only FA we resign? Photo courtesy of Nats320 blog/Jeff Saffelle

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
Ankiel, Rick 1yr/$1.5M $1,500,000
Coffey, Todd 1yr/$1.35M $1,350,000
Cora, Alex 1yr/$900k $900,000
Gomes, Jonny 2yr/$2.55M (10-11) $1,750,000
Hernandez, Livan 1yr/$850K $850,000
Nix, Laynce 1yr/$700k $700,000
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.

Consider re-upping for OF cover
Let him go. Replaceable commodity.
Non-type A/B FA: let him walk
Decline arbitration b/c he’d likely take it. Missed type-B status
Non-type A/B FA: let him walk despite his offer to be a pullpen guy
Consider re-signing for 2012
Non-type A/B FA: let him walk
Re-sign to a 2-year deal; seems healthy, get some ROI

8 Responses to 'Nats FA Decisions…'

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  1. Totally agree – I don’t really get how much love there is in the Natmosphere for signing Ankiel, Coffey and Livo. OK, with Livo, I sort of get it – that’s fan’s hearts talking. But realistically, there are really only 3-4 spots open on the 25-man. So if you sign Ankiel, Livo, Wang and Coffey, then you need to be getting rid of someone younger and possibly more talented (Detwiler, Lannan, Bernadina) to make room for them.

    Nix and Wang are the only two that make sense to me. Gomes, though I love the ‘tude, isn’t really good enough. I love Pudge as a player-coach and would bring him back in a heartbeat if Flores gets traded, but otherwise, it’s time for Ramos to take over as the clear leader back there.

    I think Lombardozzi is your Cora replacement; Ankiel just can’t hit anymore; Coffey, meh – a fungible player at a fungible position.

    All that leaves Livo – I only think he works if he’s willing to be the rubber-armed RH long-man. If he is, I’m ok keeping him so long as the FBI is done with him. But that’s forcing you to make a decision on Balester and Stammen, too. Again, if we’re willing to move some of these aging low-ceiling “prospects” then I’m ok bringing Livo back, but I also wouldn’t mind seeing Balester be the rubber pen righty.

    How great that the team is finally got enough talent that we can let real major leaguers go, content knowing that we’ve got people who are better.


    1 Nov 11 at 9:57 am

  2. I’ve changed my tune on Livo since Sept 1 (when I posted here that the team should keep him). My thinking at the time was that he would be a relatively cheap (probably would sign for $1-$1.5M) insurance option for our starting rotation, would be a good bullpen/clubhouse presence, and could be long-man spot starter. Now I think this: his performance this year mostly guaranteed losses for the team and his 2010 guile and success seems to be now lost. Plus his intricate and long warm up period probably precludes his realistic use out of the bullpen. He’s a starter and has always prepared like a starter (see the complaints he had when his warm up routine was cut short by the rain delay and then sudden announcement that the game was starting earlier this year).

    Rizzo (and modern baseball in general) has become about power arms. Instead of letting Livo fling the ball in the low 80s, Rizzo wants to see Peacock hurl it in the mid 90s (even if he only has 2 pitches).

    Ramos-Flores sticks up until that point where either Flores proves that he can be a starting catcher again and we trade him, or Norris finally is ready to come up and get some spot starts. Scouts still love Norris.

    The way I have it sketched out right now, here’s your 2012 bullpen: Storen, Clippard, Burnett, Mattheus, HRodriguez, Gorzelanny, Balester. Gorz and Balester serve as Davey Johnson’s lefty/righty longer-men, Burnett is your loogy but also gets longer looks, and everyone else looks like they’re good to go. This leaves (among others) Stammen and Severino in AAA. Kimball starts on DL and waits for either ineptitude or injury to return.

    That the Nats can realistically look to have a 2012 starting rotation of entirely home grown players is a major major step forward for the team, absolutely.

    Todd Boss

    1 Nov 11 at 10:20 am

  3. I whole heartedly agree with what you said above. I expect Wang on a similar contract to what you said and I do think either Ankiel or Nix will be back as the 4th outfielder/lhed pinch hitter.

    As far as your bullpen predictions in the comment section I think you pretty much nailed that except maybe switching Balester and Stammen. Stammen was very solid in relief in September and Balester continues to be eratic. But then again, if that is our only real decision about the bullpen that is a great thing. I’d almost like it to line up with Gorzelanny being more of a 2nd lefty than a long man. He was good in relief and strikes out batters from the left side which is something a bullpen could use. Stammen could more than hold down the long man/spot starter role. I do believe Gorzelanny himself said that if he was going to be a reliever he would like a chance at transitioning into a late inning guy.


    1 Nov 11 at 1:57 pm

  4. Ankiel/Nix may depend on whether they find a real starting CF. If they get Crisp or Upton or Sizemore to start in CF, they would lean towards Nix as the 4th OF (using Werth to cover in CF). But if they are depending on Werth to play CF predominantly, then i’d go with Ankiel as the 4th OF to be better defensively.

    I really like Stammen, but Balester’s got the better arm. Balester was great in that relief role in 2010 but was erratic in 2011. However here’s another thought; it may not be either. Peacock could be in the mix as a bullpen guy in 2011 as well. My personal belief is that he needs another pitch but has a good enough arm not to waste it in AAA. So he works middle relief in the majors, where he can consistently bring it 95 while working w/ McCatty on his secondary pitches and developing a 4th pitch (which he doesn’t have right now).

    I don’t remember seeing that statement out of Gorzelanny; i do remember seeing him state that “if i’m going to be a reliever, then use me” to Johnson. And he did use him. And he had great reliever splits. But he’s arb-eligible and probably is too expensive for a reliever, so I wonder if the team will non-tender him but immediately re-sign him to a two year deal at affordable/reliever prices.

    Todd Boss

    1 Nov 11 at 2:10 pm

  5. I agree on the Nix/Ankiel thing. Definitely hinges on CF.

    I guess that is what Spring training is for, concerning Stammen/Balester. I disagree on Peacock though. I don’t see them turning him into a reliever with only a short stint in AAA last season. I see him destined to land in Syracuse for next season or possibly in a trade for front end pitching.

    From what I saw out of Peacock he does actually throw 4 pitches. I didn’t see him use them all in his MLB appearances but I watched him twice this season and he throws a 4 seam FB, another fastball that comes in about 92 with a bit of movement so it is probably a 2 seamer. He has a slider and a curve. Obviously the 4 seam and the slider are his best pitches but his Curve was definitely baffling AA batters when used sparingly. It would drop in around 78 with his slider in the 82 – 84 range. He definitely needs more polish on the curve but the two games I saw him he pitched in a combined 13 1/3 innings and I saw about 10 curves in that span.

    The article was a Kilgore piece where Gorzelanny was talking about being a reliever. He said if he was going to be a releiver he wanted to be able to focus on that instead of being pulled back and forth and the he was fully willing to be a reliever he just wanted to know one way or the other.

    I here what you are saying about him possibly being too expensive for a reliever but have you seen the ridiculous contracts relievers get these days?

    Javier Lopez resigned for $4.5m and Jeremy Affeldt is getting $5m this year and those are just off the top of my head. I agree though if you can buy out his arbitration by offering him a 2 year $6m contract I think that might be the way to go.


    1 Nov 11 at 2:57 pm

  6. Peacock: I tried and tried to see what the heck he was throwing and came to the conclusion that he throws 95 4-seamers if he’s either pitching in relief or if he’s humping it up, but sits closer to 92 on the 4-seamer. I never saw a 2-seamer or anything with a ton of movement. here’s the pitch f/x of his NY Mets start 9/14/11.

    Peaked a few times at 95, but mostly 92. Lots of his FBs were in the 3″ range of horizontal movement, as compared to someone with a ton of horizontal movement like Roy Halladay, who generally gets between 5-6″ inches of movement on his fastball (looking at for Halladay’s 9/14 start). Maybe its semantics. From observation I didn’t ever really see Peacock getting movement like you see other pitchers getting movement.

    And all the movement talk above is horizontal movement. A 2-seamer should drop down significantly and I just dont’ remember seeing his pitches die down like you would expect from a 2-seamer. Eh anyway.

    Gorzelanny on a $3M AAV contract. I dunno. Burnett’s on 2yrs/$4M for a guy who clearly is nothing more than a 1-inning guy. Gorzelanny at $3M per with the capability to do spot starts could be a good value. I just remember seeing some of the reliever contracts out there from last year’s FA market being more in the 1.5-2M range.

    Todd Boss

    1 Nov 11 at 3:49 pm

  7. Not exactly sure what he throws but he was averaging (according to the stadium gun) about 94/95 the 2 games I saw him. These were both earlier in the season. He was definitely still sitting right at 94 in the 7th inning of both games. I guess the pitch that he was throwing at 92 could have just been eratic 4 seamers. I didn’t have a great vantage point in one game to see side to side movement, just more of the up and down.

    Heck by the time he made it to the majors he could have been fatigued from a higher innings total. He very well may end up in the pen but I don’t see the Nats moving him there yet since he hasn’t even had a full season at AAA.


    1 Nov 11 at 4:31 pm

  8. That’s good to hear; when I watched his two late-season starts for the Nats I was really concerned by the lack of velocity compared to advertised. If you’ve seen him closer to 95 deep into games versus what we saw in the majors (95 in the first inning but then more in the 92 range later on), perhaps it is indeed due to fatigue. I noted it here in this post on his first MLB start:

    That’d probably change my opinion of the guy completely. A right hander who sits 94-95 is obviously far more valuable than someone who sits 92

    Todd Boss

    1 Nov 11 at 4:42 pm

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