Nationals Arm Race

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

Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 1/22/12 edition


Gonzalez signs a long term deal; we're committed now. Photo Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images via

This is your semi-weekly/periodic wrap-up of Nats and other baseball news that caught my eye.  Apologies for the delay in posting; new rules on laptop usage at work have thwarted my typical read-sports-news-at-lunch habits.  I’ll have to get creative.

Nationals In General

  • Nats extend Gio Gonzalez for 5 years.  Terms: 5yrs, $42M with two more club options.  A little more than $8m AAV, or in other words what we were paying Jason Marquis.  I’m sure its backloaded somewhat, but I like the deal for two main reasons.  First, we buy out all the arbitration years ahead of time and avoid the arbitration process altogether (which does nothing but serve to bruise the fragile egos of professional athletes over a few hundred thousand dollars of salary).  Secondly, it locks up the player for the longer term and gives the team some stability for the next few years.
  • Jim Callis at BaseballAmerica answered a question about what an updated Nats top 10 prospect list would look like post trade: he’d promote up Destin Hood, Chris Marrero, and Michael Taylor.  Considering what Marrero’s prospect status is now, considering how long it has taken Hood to get the hang of playing baseball, and how far away Taylor is from the majors, I think its safe to say our farm system is officially “thin.”
  • Nice little piece on Bryce Harper from Buster Olney, who relays the well known opinion that Davey Johnson really likes young superstars and predicts that Harper may break camp with the team.  Why doesn’t anyone relay all the facts in this case?  Like the fact that there wasn’t a concept of “Super-2” when Johnson promoted Gooden and Strawberry and there wasn’t a punitive financial issue lurking by doing so.
  • Great news to see so many of our arbitration eligible guys settled well ahead of going in front of the arbitrator.  These cases don’t help anyone in the long run and end up arguing semantics over a few hundred thousand dollars that the team can clearly pay.
  • Though I havn’t seen any confirmation of this elsewhere, Bill Ladson reports that the Nats are engaged in extension talks with Ryan Zimmerman.  If so, this comes at a relatively good time for the team to be doing the negotiating; Zimmerman’s value is as low now as it has been since before his rookie season, on account of multiple injuries and a lack of overall production.   Which is exactly why I don’t think any long term deal is going to be struck this off-season frankly; Zimmerman would expect a Troy Tulowitzki like deal and I don’t think he’s done enough to earn it.

Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • The arbitration case to watch this coming off-season will be Tim Lincecum; he is asking for $21.5M for 2012, with the Giants offering $17M.  Wow.  There’s really no case like his out there to use as a precedent; if you think he should earn roughly 80% of his FA value, then $21.5M equates with an annual salary of $26.875/year AAV.  That’s more than Cliff Lee, CC Sabathia or Johan Santana (the three highest paid pitchers at current).  So I guess you have to ask yourself; is Lincecum the best pitcher in the league?  Because he’s about to be paid in line with that title.

Hall of Fame items

  • Not HoF specific, but inspired by it.  David Shoenfield compiles a list of the best players by running 5-year WAR figures to show some enlightening information.  WAR has some limitations over longer terms but I like what it shows for season-to-season value for players.  His point was that some relatively unsupported hall of fame claims appear on these lists.  For me the last couple periods showing guys like Chase Utley and Matt Holliday were kind of eye opening.

General Baseball News

  • Phillies sign Joel Pineiro to a minor league deal.   I know he struggled in LA last season, but at one point this guy was pretty decent.  If he can regain his health and his St. Louis form, suddenly the Phillies might have themselves a pretty good 5th starter option to take mediocre innings away from Joe Blanton.  I’m surprised they were able to get him on a minor league contract.
  • I’ve read bits and pieces about the fall of Puerto Rican baseball before; but this is the first article i’ve seen that really delves into it deeply.  Rob Neyer lists the cause and effect; baseball subjected Puerto Rican’s to the normal draft and almost immediately killed baseball in the country.  This is the lesson/concern about going to an international draft; individual teams won’t cultivate and build off-site academies if they serve to build players who can be drafted by other teams.  This is what happened in Puerto Rico and its probably what would happen in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and other developing countries.  Its a scary thought.
  • Related to the above Puerto Rican story is this: Cleveland pitcher Fausto Carmona arrested in the Dominican Republic for falsifying his name and age ahead of his big signing.  For all the lamenting of the above Puerto Rican situation … this is yet another example (see Gonzalez, Smiley for Nats fans) of the flip side of the lack of an international draft.  Draft experts and scouting mavens lament the loss of Puerto Rican development and think that the exact same thing would happen in the D.R. if they were included in the draft, and yes its hard to argue differently.  But the down side of having such a “lottery” for 15-16 yr old players in the impoverished D.R. is the continued fraud among players growing up there related to age falsification.
  • Sabre-nerds may decry the lack of statistical science behind it, but Tom Verducci‘s annual “Year After” effect (which has come to be known as the Verducci-effect by others) has had an 84% success factor in predicting either injury or distinct decline in performance for his named pitchers.  The most interesting names on the list are newly traded Michael Pineda, Jeremy Hellickson, and both Texas mid-rotation starters Matt Harrison and Derek Holland.  Holland in particular threw a whopping 77 more innings this year over last.

General News; other

  • Not that any of us needed to read any more about the Jerry Sandusky/Penn State Scandal, but reading Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins‘ front page story with Joe Paterno‘s first interview post-scandal was an interesting read.  Frankly, I don’t buy some of the way the story reads (intimating that Paterno had “little to do” with Sandusky by the time the 2002 allegations came around, for example).  It doesn’t seem like Paterno was really challenged in the interview.  Gene Wojciechowski echos some of these sentiments in this analysis piece here, criticizing Paterno’s convenient stance on the scandal and on the multitude of other stories that have come out about his manipulation of the system and real influence at the university. The real problem is just the nature of dealing with a legend; he worked for Penn State for 61 years and made the university what it is; how do you possibly deal with such a figure, who clearly was larger than the university?  Update: just prior to publishing this, Paterno lost his battle with lung cancer, a quick and unfortunate end to his legendary career.  Its amazing to consider that just 3 months ago, Paterno was still the larger than life legend and nothing bad had ever happened on the campus.
  • I’m sure the real story is somewhere in-between the original story and the “Update” at the end, but there seems to be enough truth in the former to not necessarily believe the latter.  A new Utah high school’s board decided that the student-voted mascot name “Cougars” can’t be used because the name is derogatory towards middle-aged women who hook up with younger men.  Seriously.

6 Responses to 'Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 1/22/12 edition'

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  1. I agree with you on Gio’s exstension; now that you’ve given up a ton to get him, the Nats put their money where their mouth is. Good move.
    As this site is dedicated to pitchers, it’s okay that you’re not that fluent on the hitters down on the farm. This is where things stand with 28 days to spring training…..
    Before the big trade, the Nats system ranking would have been between 6-8, depending on criteria. I saw that now they were ranked #14 last week by one of the pundits and I thought “that’s about right”.
    Destin Hodd & Michael Taylor are two of the brightest lights in the system. This could be Hood’s breakthrough year at Harrisburg, he was pretty raw when signed out of High School but has made remarkable progress. Potentially a big time star!

    Michael Taylor is 1 level behind, as he will start this year at Potomac. He’s been developing pretty fast, learned a brand new position last year, so everything took awhile.
    Agree with you 100% on Harper, he still doesn’t know how to run the bases and is still learning to play the outfield. Let’s hope someone can control Johnson on this one.

    Mark L

    23 Jan 12 at 10:29 am

  2. I’d guess that prior to the big trade the Nats system may have been top 5 in some circles; Baseball America absolutely loves Rendon and Purke and probably gave us more credit for those two than others. But either way its a huge step up from just a few years ago. Hood: lets hope so; he’s been a long time growing. Taylor; can’t wait to see what he does. I always find it curious that nobody really talks about Tyler Moore. 30 homers two seasons running in two of the more advanced leagues in the system. Maybe he’s a 4th outfielder for the big club, this year.

    I’m trying to figure out when Super 2 status began but google research has been fruitless. I’m willing to bet 100% though that Dwight Gooden and Daryl Strawberry weren’t subject to it. In modern baseball, the salary difference compounded over several years of arbitration hearings for a premium player is at least $10-$13M, sometimes more (in the case of Lincecum). You just cannot ignore that amount of money and thus have to keep Harper in the minors til late june. Have to.

    Todd Boss

    23 Jan 12 at 1:50 pm

  3. Your Super 2 argument is very valid, and reason enough alone to keep Harper down for awhile. He’s also not a mature 19, either, and bringing him up early would probably exacerbate everything.
    I’m excited to see what Tyler Moore has to show in AAA this year, his ceiling seems much higher than Marrero at this point.
    With Destin Hood, his rawness was well known before being drafted, had an Alabama football scholarship in his back pocket, but wanted to play baseball.
    Still think there’s a chance (it’s never 100%)he becomes a big time star. He’s also still only 21!

    Mark L

    23 Jan 12 at 5:56 pm

  4. I just read a report from that Prince Fielder signed with the Detroit Tigers for 9 years, $214M. If accurate, then I’m THRILLED that that Nats didn’t get him. I think Rizzo played this right. For a team without a DH, that contract would have been a nightmare in 4-5 years, and we already have a contract like that. A good non-signing.


    24 Jan 12 at 3:24 pm

  5. I second Clark’s emotion!

    Mark L

    24 Jan 12 at 8:11 pm

  6. My jaw dropped at the size and length of the deal. And the team in question, which has Miguel Cabrera entrenched at 1B. I had them 100% crossed off my list in my analysis done earlier on the market for Fielder. go figure. Completely agree that Detroit has signed a deathly bad contract and thank god it wasn’t us to contribute to the narrative that we’re Boras’ bitches and sign nothing but bad contracts (like Werth).

    Look for the team to extend Zimmerman to a big money deal soon. I also predict we’ll sign a 1yr RF to hold the line until Harper is ready and try to slot in and fill an offensive need. I vote for JD Drew frankly; he’s a plus plus defender, plays RF, bats left in a R-heavy lineup and could fit in perfectly in the 6 hole if your lineup was something like Desmond-Espinosa-Zimmerman-LaRoche-Morse-Drew-Ramos-Cameron-Pitcher (good lefty-righty alternating from 1 through 9).

    Todd Boss

    24 Jan 12 at 8:47 pm

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