Another edition of mlb.com beat reporter Bill Ladson‘s inbox, dated 1/9/12.
As always, I write my response before reading his, and sometimes edit questions for clarity.
Q: Will I be able to watch Bryce Harper in Syracuse this year, or will I have to drive to D.C.?
A: I think Harper starts in AA, moves up to AAA if (as we hope and expect) he starts the year hitting AA pitching well, and then debuts in Washington somewhere in the mid-late June time frame, so as to avoid hitting the dreaded Super-2 status in two year’s time. Ladson points out what we all keep hearing; that Davey Johnson likes younger players and has a history of going with them early. However, I don’t think he had to deal with arbitration issues and Super-2 implications back in the early 80s, so at some point the team management has to lay out the financial implications of calling him up too early and say, “Sorry he’s staying in the minors til he clears this hurdle.”
Q: Will there be a battle for the fifth spot now that Brad Peacock and Tom Milone are gone, or is the job Ross Detwiler’s to lose?
A: This is another question that keeps getting asked that I don’t get: John Lannan has been an underrated innings eater for this team for years and was tendered a contract for 2012. He’s GOING to be in the rotation. People who think for some reason there’s a rotation competition brewing in spring training are foolish; this team has 5 starters under contract, some for significant dollars or investment, and there’s just no room (barring injury) for anyone else. Detwiler was the 5th starter favorite until the moment we acquired Gonzalez. Now he’s clearly either trade bait or a long-man out of the pen. Ladson still thinks there’s a rotation competition in spring training. I think he’s nuts. Technically Lannan has an option and could go down to make room for Detwiler … but do you want to have a $4.9M (his arbitration estimate at mlbtraderumors.com) pitcher in Syracuse??
Q: I’m not sure how you came up with [only] 85 [projected] wins [for the team in 2012] without Prince Fielder. The Nationals won 80 games last year and will have Strasburg for almost a full season, Zimmermann and adding Gio Gonzalez helps. Looking at last year’s rotation, how does that not add up to a 90-plus-win season and a Wild Card birth?
A: I think my initial win guess for 2012 was in the 85-88 games category. On the face of it, this team should be 10 games improved easily. But something always happens; you lose a key player to injury, someone under performs, etc. So you can’t take the best case scenario all the time. Ladson says the offense needs to improve to get > 85 wins. Clearly.
Q: I like Prince Fielder, but he doesn’t seem right for the Nats. He can’t be a designated hitter in the National League, and tying up first base interferes with long-term plans for Michael Morse and perhaps even Zimmerman. Why is Fielder being linked to the Nats?
A: Its like deja vu; we’re answering the same questions over and over. Small sentence answers: You don’t need to have a plus-plus defender at 1B; you need a hitter. Why are we worried about where our gold-glove Third Baseman will be playing in 10 years time when he’s finally moving away from 3b? Brooks Robinson played 144 games and won a gold glove (the last of his 16 consecutive awards) when he was 38. Morse? Lets find out if he’s more than a one-year wonder before talking about needing to clear room for him to play for the next 5 years as well. Ladson points out that the rumors fly because Boras works well with the Nats. Lots will clear up in the next couple of weeks.
Q: How about Raul Ibanez coming off the bench on a one-year deal? He can play one of the corner outfield spots, be a big bat off the bench and help Jayson Werth teach the game to Washington’s young outfielders.
A: Ibanez was washed up last year, both offensively and defensively. There are better alternatives. Ladson agrees, but notes he’s been wrong before about the capabilities of bats off the bench.