Another edition of mlb.com 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 market. Ladson 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.