Nationals Arm Race

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

Ladson’s inbox: 1/16/12 edition


Lest anyone forget, Zimmerman is under contract for not one, but TWO more seasons! Photo unknown via

Another edition of beat reporter Bill Ladson’s inbox, dated 1/16/12. Man you know I’ve been busy at work if I’ve had this canned and ready to publish for more than a week but couldn’t get online to do so.

As always, I write my response before reading his, and sometimes edit questions for clarity.

Q: Why are the Nationals wasting time talking to Prince Fielder when they should be signing Ryan Zimmerman to a long-term contract before it is too late?

A: *sigh*  Why, why, why is it going to be “too late” to sign Ryan Zimmerman to a long term contract if it doesn’t happen right now?  Someone please check Cot’s before asking this question.   He’s signed through 2013!  I don’t believe Prince Fielder has anything to do with Zimmerman; we’re talking about a franchise that has been underspending on payroll by $35-$40 MILLION dollars the past few seasons.  People who claim that the Nationals “can’t afford both” Fielder and Zimmerman are expressing unsubstantiated opinions.  Ladson thankfully notes the fact that Zimmerman is signed through 2013.

Q: What role will Roger Bernadina play on this year’s team? I love the kid’s heart, but the people in power don’t seem so encouraged.

A: Hopefully none.  Nothing personal against Bernadina, but what more can we learn about the guy at this point?  1000 major league plate appearances, an 81 OPS+.  About the only thing he has going for him is that he’s pre-arbitration and is cheap.  This team is offensively challenged and needs outfielders who can slug something higher than .350.   Ladson thinks he’ll be the 4th outfielder, competing with Mike Cameron for center field.  I hope not; can’t we sign a stop-gap right fielder??

Q: Have the Nationals thought about moving Danny Espinosa or Ian Desmond to center field?

A: I doubt it.  What would that solve?  As soon as we moved one to CF, we’ve lost a plus defender in the middle infield with no assurance that they’d be any good in center, and we’d still need to find a solution for whatever position they’ve vacated.  We need to find an outfielder who can hit and put him in play.  Its that simple.  Ladson says nope.

Q: I am still a believer in Desmond although his batting average and power numbers declined last year. He is a big, strong kid who can hit 15 home runs and steal 30 bases if he can be more selective at the plate and figure out how opposing pitchers are trying to attack him. What do you see for Desmond in 2012?

A: 2012 is make it or break it season for Desmond.  Two full time seasons at the plate and he’s regressed each time.  You just cannot put a guy out there who’s 20% worse than the MLB average (i.e., an 80 ops+, his figure for the 2011 season) and be successful in the modern game.  What do I predict?  I think he’ll be similarly poor, will feature 7th or 8th in the order most of the year, and will force the team to look at replacement options starting in the trade season.  Ladson thinks Desmond’s late season surge bodes well for 2012; indeed he was great in the last two months of the season.  Lets hope he’s right.

Q: Assuming the Nats will not sign Fielder, would it be a good idea to sign an outfielder like Johnny Damon? Can you see him as a fit in Johnson’s lineup?

A: No; Damon is limited to playing LF in an easy-to-defend ball park (like Fenway) or a DH at this point.  His outfield arm is beyond weak.  He can hit though; but he has no position on this team.  If we’re going to go with Jayson Werth in CF, I think we should sign one of the good hitters still available in the RF marketLadson agrees with me that Damon is an AL-only player now.

Q: If the Nats acquire Fielder, would it be best for Adam LaRoche to be traded for a bench player who might start once a week?

A: Sure, if they could trade him.  Problem is, if LaRoche needs to be traded there’s not an awful lot of teams that would be interested.  See my post about the Prince Fielder market; maybe we could trade him to a team like Baltimore or Houston, but they’re not going to give us much in return, and we’ll be forced to pay most of his salary in make-weight.  If we sign Fielder, you might as well just release him.  Ladson points out that we’re not even sure LaRoche is healthy at this point.

Q: In all the talk about 2012, I haven’t heard a word about the status of catcher Ivan Rodriguez and right-hander Livan Hernandez. What are the Nats’ plans for those two fan favorites?

A: The wise fan would correctly assume that the lack of discussion about both Hernandez and Rodriguez would indicate that they are no longer in the team’s plans.  Because they’re not.  Both guys are probably out of baseball after 2011, given the calibre of players that remain unsigned so far this off season.  I’m sorry to say: Livan’s precipitous decline in performance in the latter half of 2011 eliminated his candidacy for the 2012 rotation.  And Rodriguez may be a great historical player and first rounder, but he hit .218 last season.  Ladson thankfully agrees.

17 Responses to 'Ladson’s inbox: 1/16/12 edition'

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  1. I loved watching Livo pitch, but his tank was empty by August 1st. I sure hope the Nats find a place for him on their draft/development side and as a Cuban liason.
    Surprised by the lack of interest in Pudge; he’s your classic good glove/no hit backup at this point.
    Also a future coach.

    I’m convinced Ian Desmond has compromising photos of Mike Rizzo somewhere. Would explain everything.

    Mark L

    27 Jan 12 at 7:31 pm

  2. I don’t get the Desmond love, either. As Bill Parcells famously said “you are what your record says your are,” and Desmond’s records says that he is a below-replacement level SS. His glove is eratic enough that you can even console yourself with the illusion that his defense makes up for his terrible offense.

    Yet, even my best friend section 139 buddy can convince himself on occasion to give Desmond yet another chance.

    I have no idea of how good or not Lombardozzi is but he can’t be worse than Desmond offensively, can he? He can’t be so bad that moving Espinosa to his natural position and playing him at second is out of the question, can he?

    If I believed Bill James’ projected .268/.317/.394 and Desmond batted eighth, okay, maybe.


    27 Jan 12 at 8:13 pm

  3. Am I crazy for suggesting Ankiel as a 4th OF? He’s a plus defender and a replacement-level bat with a little pop. He’s no magic bullet, but the current bench has real defensive problems, and Davey likes a deep threat, which he is.

    Also, in the NL, I think an overlooked talent in a starter is his ability to pinch-run and bunt on his off-days. Shoot, if Jason Marquis wants to join the bullpen and bat in the 9-hole from time to time, I’d welcome him with open arms.

    kevin r

    27 Jan 12 at 10:14 pm

  4. I’ll second the bringing back of Ankiel. He’s your perfect 4th outfielder, better defender than anybody the Nats have now & some pop in his bat. The best outfield arm in all of baseball!

    It’s really a no-brainer.

    Mark L

    28 Jan 12 at 9:35 am

  5. I’ve learned to believe less and less in James’ predictions. How can he possibly support any of those three slash numbers for Desmond based on what we’ve seen? Desmond has 3 pro seasons and his numbers have fallen in all three categories, all three seasons. He now has 1300 plate appearances. Its not like he’s still a rookie.

    I’m not convinced either though about Lombardozzi. To me he was 110% overmatched in every plate appearance last september. He’s too close to the plate, got eaten up on the inside corner over and over, and it seemed to me every at-bat resulted in a weak ground ball to 2nd base.

    The natural expectation for me is thus; Rendon tears up the minors, forces a sept call up, Espinosa slides to SS and Rendon slots in at 2b. Lombardozzi has to show me more before i can think about him as a lead-off/2b. His OBP is great in every minor league season running so i’m probably being premature in judgement. If he can play 2b though … maybe he can play CF too.

    Todd Boss

    28 Jan 12 at 9:45 am

  6. I’m pretty sure Marquis signed somewhere already. Mets? Twins? I’d have to look it up.

    Todd Boss

    28 Jan 12 at 9:50 am

  7. Thing is about Ankiel; we already have a “Rick Ankiel” under contract in Mike Cameron. Cameron’s great defensively and awful at the plate. So is Ankiel. Cameron’s signed to a non-guaranteed minor league contract while Ankiel made $1.5M on a guaranteed deal last year. I’m guessing there’s a bit less risk on Cameron versus Ankiel. You are right though that Ankiel has a ton more power than Cameron, and is lefty (I don’t have a good feel for the lefty/righty situation on the bench as its shaping up).

    But hey, there’s plenty of big time former Bats still on the FA market. Drew, Ordonez, Nady, Burrell, Guillen, Fukodome. How about a 1yr reclamation deal for any of these guys?

    Todd Boss

    28 Jan 12 at 9:50 am

  8. But I agree with your point. Here’s a story about local boy Pete Schourek that I’ve heard through the grapevine from his dad (a friend of my dad’s): when Pete was in HS, he was clearly a grade-A arm but he could also hit with 70 power from the left side, so teams were considering him both as a pitcher and as a hitter. So he gets drafted as a pitcher but one of his first times in camp he jumped into the batting cages with the hitters and started blasting balls out…. only to have a pitching coach tear him a new one, telling him to get out of the cage and stop showing up the hitters.

    It does make you wonder; every stud pitcher growing up was also a stud hitter. I can’t think of a single dominant pitcher that I knew of who wasn’t also routinely your clean-up hitter on any youth team. So how do these guys “forget” how to hit? Its because the minors are littered with old-school, grizzled veterans who teach the way they were taught and don’t allow pitchers the equal time to hone their hitting craft.

    Todd Boss

    28 Jan 12 at 9:55 am

  9. Last year Craig Stamman was a better hitter than anyone on the Nats bench! The bad news is with all the pitching upgrades, he’ll probably spend 2012 in AAA.
    He has 1 option year left.

    Mark L

    28 Jan 12 at 10:10 am

  10. I think Stammen spends most of the year in AAA absolutely. Unless ….. our starters just get decimated by injury. Gorzelanny and Detwiler are your #6 and #7 starters clearly. Stammen probably #8 and Maya #9. If we have to go deeper than that? We’re in big trouble 🙂

    Todd Boss

    28 Jan 12 at 10:14 am

  11. Best rumor ever: A report was posted yesterday at @mlbdailydish that the Nats were offering Drew Storen to the White Sox to get Adam Dunn back! The writer backed off 90 minutes later when it was debunked, but how did that ever get posted in the first place?! This is everything that’s wrong with offseason reporting. After Dunn hit 38 HR, the Nats didn’t even offer him a contract, and then someone actually believes they’d offer to trade a great young pitcher for him after he bats .159 in Chicago?!

    Seriously, do these guys THINK before they post? Or do they just post anything they hear from any random guy on the street? The dude admitted he didn’t confirm it before he posted it, and when he backed away from it 90 minutes later he tried to justify by claiming he writes for a “rumor site”. Brilliant defense, amigo! Hey, I heard a rumor that Rizzo’s building time machine to bring young Junior Griffey back from 1991 to be the Nats’ CF in 2012! POST IT!!!

    (Thanks for letting me get that off my chest. BTW, if the Dunn rumor actually comes true, I’ll be jumping out my office window later.)

    Since the Nats likely aren’t playoff contenders just yet, I’m willing to give Desmond another full season. I admit, though, that his declining numbers are troubling. Over the weekend, I was thinking about the 2013 infield tandem of Zimm, Espi, Rendon, and Morse, and it’s not an unpleasant prospect. We may come to regret not trading Desmond when his stock was higher. I used to think he’d be part of a package (along with Derek Norris) to Tampa Bay for BJ Upton. Not anymore, obviously.


    30 Jan 12 at 1:43 pm

  12. Yeah, it got so bad Jim Bowden(!!!) actually asked Mike Rizzo about that in an interview. Dumb.
    I’ll give Desmond until June 1st. After a point, you are what your numbers are.
    I still think he has compromising photos of Rizzo somewhere.

    Mark L

    30 Jan 12 at 8:34 pm

  13. I see where you’re coming from, Mark, but I still think Desmond should get a full season for a few reasons: (1) He always had promise, and this is going to be the last shot he gets in DC, so they should take a final, long look at him to see if he can turn it around; (2) Playoffs are a nice thought for ’12, but not an expectation until ’13, when Stras is back full-time, Harper is up, and we have a CF, so there’s still time to evaluate the SS position for one more year; and (3) As far as depth, there’s nobody behind Desmond to immediately plug in at SS—as Todd said, Lombardozzi looked badly overmatched during his September call-up last year, and I don’t see Rendon coming up until September at the earliest, due to his injury rehab and the fact that I’m sure they’ll want to give him at least some seasoning in the minors before calling him up. For those reasons, I think they should give Desmond one last complete season to prove he deserves to be a part of this team when their playoff window opens in ’13.


    31 Jan 12 at 9:50 am

  14. Clark, you make very good points here, they’re all valid. Despite the wishful thinking, I also expect 2012 to still be a transition year for the Nats.
    Desmond will probably be someone like Justin Maxwell, who everyone wanted to be a local star and turned out to be a AAAA player.
    Espinosa is already a gold glove SS, and it’s so much easier to find a 2nd baseman than a SS out there.

    Mark L

    31 Jan 12 at 10:57 am

  15. Read a story about a guy on twitter who constantly posts things like, “Confirmed playerA traded for playerB” ahead of official announcement, and then takes credit for ‘breaking the story.” If it turns out not to happen, he takes down the tweet. After a couple times of doing this, he was outed for what he was doing.

    But Dunn for Storen is pretty amazing.

    Todd Boss

    31 Jan 12 at 9:42 pm

  16. (Man, miss a couple days online and miss good comments). My thoughts on Desmond are like this: he’s had > 1000 plate appearances and keeps getting worse. The team seems to more or less have given up on Bernadina with fewer ABs despite desperately needing a center fielder. Perhaps Desmond gets a half season but if he’s hitting .220 at the all-star break i wouldn’t be surprised to see Espinosa moved to short, Lombardozzi installed at 2b/leadoff and Desmond moved for a middle reliever. Not saying that’s the right thing to do, but sometimes you gotta cut bait and move on.

    Unless…… he’s really the clubhouse all-star that we keep hearing about. Then you sacrifice his offense for the #8 hitter and live with it i guess.

    Todd Boss

    31 Jan 12 at 9:45 pm

  17. That’s a great point, Todd. I have to think that Desmond’s supposedly strong clubhouse presence is a major factor for the front office, because nothing else explains how patient they’ve been with him. Compare that to Roger Bernadina. Nothing against him, but I haven’t read anything about Bernadina being a natural clubhouse leader, etc. (In fact, I’ve never read anything about him outside his stat line.) To me, that means his contribution is on the field only, where he’s been inconsistent at best. But because Desmond’s contribution is apparently both on the field (where he’s also been inconsistent) and in the clubhouse (where he’s a popular and positive influence), the team is giving him every chance to prove himself because they really want him to make it. However, as Mark L astutely noted earlier, Justin Maxwell was also given every chance to succeed for the same reasons, but ultimately it was plain to everyone that he wouldn’t succeed at the major league level.

    For the front office and fans alike, guys like Desmond and Maxwell are easy to root for and hard to let go, but hope and good will just aren’t enough if they can’t hit. All that said, though, I still have enough hope left for Desmond to give him one more year, especially since I don’t think Lombardozzi has as high a ceiling and because Rendon won’t be ready yet.


    1 Feb 12 at 12:19 pm

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