Another edition of mlb.com beat reporter Bill Ladson’s inbox, dated 1/4/12. As always, I write my response before reading his, and sometimes edit questions for clarity.
Q: How many wins do you expect the Nationals to have this year? Will a full season of pitchers Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez translate into a spot in the playoffs?
A: Tough question; If you believe the statistical measurement Wins Above Replacement (WAR), then Mark Zuckerman made a very convincing argument that this team is already 11.7 wins better than 2011 without adding anyone else. However; even best laid plans don’t pan out. There are always regressions, injuries and setbacks that you can count on. So to say that the Nats will win 90 games is probably incredibly optimistic. However; if this team is really an 85 win team, then they’re going to be in the Wild Card race and may be buyers instead of sellers, and could get pushed over the top. I’ll say, right now pre Prince Fielder nonsense this is an 88 win team. Ladson says 85 wins but Fielder would turn them into a competitor for the NL East title.
Q: How do you think the bullpen is shaping up? Will Se an Burnett stay or should we be looking for another lefty? Will Tyler Clippard earn closing opportunities in 2012?
A: Our 2011 bullpen was the strength of the team and it comes back mostly in tact. We have yet to replace Todd Coffey, who was serviceable in 2011, but we look to be stronger in the “long man/spot starter” role. Kimball is hurt but Mattheus was pretty good in 2011. Burnett is signed through 2012 so he’s not going anywhere; do we need another lefty if we have both Gorzelanny and Detwiler projected in the bullpen? I’m sure either one could prepare on a rotating basis for a one-out role. Clippard is the set-up guy; he and Storen seem set in their roles and that’s great, since I think Clippard is a better pitcher and is getting the more high-leverage appearances. Not much to add from Ladson.
Q: What is the situation with Rick Ankiel? Will he be coming back to the Nationals?
A: Ankiel’s not coming back; if the team wanted a plus defender who couldn’t hit, they can find him much cheaper. Kinda like Mike Cameron. Its too bad; he was so good in CF but so bad at the plate. Ladson thinks the team could still be interested in Ankiel as a 4th outfielder.
Q: There is no doubt the Gonzalez deal helps the Nationals right now. But do you think they should have dealt their prospects for a center fielder?
A: It seems like Mike Rizzo cashed in his prospects on a deal he couldn’t turn down, taking advantage of Billy Beane’s firesale in Oakland to get a pretty good pitcher. Did he *need* another starter? Maybe, maybe not. Does he *need* a center fielder? Yeah he does. He also needs a lead-off hitter. And a better short-stop. But you can’t solve all your problems at once. I like Gonzalez; like what we got and think it was a good return on the prospects we gave up. I’m ok living with Werth for a year in CF and buying someone on the open market next off-season. Ladson agrees.
Q: Are there any potential trade suitors for Jesus Flores? He shouldn’t be the Nationals’ backup catcher.
A: Well, the second we traded Derek Norris, Flores became that much more important to this team. Yes he’s our backup, and yes we think he could start elsewhere, so perhaps at some point (if we feel confident that Ramos look strong) we can flip Flores and use Solano for backup purposes at the MLB level. But suddenly we may be looking at needing to develop more catcher depth. Ladson is right in saying that Flores is a project, and that we’d be selling low by trading him now considering his injury past.
Q: With the bench still something of a question mark, will Stephen Lombardozzi be given a shot to crack the roster? If he plays well, what chance is there that he will start playing every day?
A: I suppose; I wasn’t incredibly impressed with Lombardozzi’s Sept 2011 call-up. I thought he looked beyond over-matched at the plate. I’d like to see if he could actually be a good middle infielder and not top-out as a Brian Bixler utility infielder. The team needs a 2nd utility infielder after DeRosa and Lombardozzi could fit the bill. Start? Hmm; Desmond isn’t going to be allowed to hit .220 forever, so yes its conceivable that at some point if Desmond doesn’t start hitting he’ll get replaced in the field, and it’d be great if the team had someone like Lombardozzi to step up. Ladson says its a long-shot.
Q: Why is right-hander Yuniesky Maya still with the Nationals?
A: Two words: guaranteed contract. Clearly he’s not the guy that the team thought he was; we have two more years for him to toil in AAA and serve as a spot starter/emergency backup. Its too bad; he has the arsenal and the moxie but not the stuff to survive. Ladson calls him a disappointment. Clearly.