Welcome to another edition of MLB.com Nationals Beat reporter Bill Ladson‘s inbox, posted 11/5/12. As always, I answer in this blog before reading his answer and sometimes edit the questions for clarity.
Q: Could the Nationals put a package of players together to pry away left-hander David Price from the Rays?
A: Unlike last off-season, when the Nats sent a bevy of top-end prospects to Oakland for Gio Gonzalez, I don’t perceive that the Nats have the depth of prospects nor the will to trade their biggest prospect names (Rendon, Meyer, Goodwin) in order to acquire David Price. Tampa would likely want a combination of both prospects and MLB players, and you have to wonder if the Nats would be willing to ship so many pieces for Price (no matter how good a pitcher he is). Now having said that about this theoretical trade, why do people think Tampa is actually LOOKING to move Price? Yes they’ve been said to be looking to trade arms for bats this off-season, but they are far more likely to move James Shields if they’re looking to save money. Shields has two more options at somewhat reasonable money ($9M for 2013, $12M for 2014) while Price is more than likely to only rise a few million above his 2012 salary of $4.35M. Ladson says the Nats would have to deal a lot to Tampa to get Price and are more likely to go after Grienke.
Q: Do you expect Nationals to go after outfielder Josh Hamilton, who is a free agent?
A: I do not. Josh Hamilton is injury prone (in his 5 seasons in Texas he’s only played more than 150 games once), is on the wrong side of 30, is prone to disappear at the plate for weeks on end, is going to command far more money than the team should be spending, and of course has the well-documented past daemon issues to constantly contend with. I think Hamilton needs to stay with an AL team so that he can DH and continue to bat while he saves his body from the field.
Just see Philadelphia and New York Yankees rosters for prime examples of what happens when you guarantee $20M/year to guys in their 30s. You end up with an expensive, aging and inflexible roster. The Nats should do their best to avoid these kinds of contracts. And I think Hamilton is going to age badly and be the kind of slugger who suddenly “loses it” once they hit their mid 30s. Ladson essentially agrees.
Q: If the Nationals stay healthy, do you think they could win the World Series for the next several years?
A: “For the next several years?” That’s a heady prediction; teams that win 3 World Series in short-orders are considered dynasties in the history of the sport. Now, had this question been phrased, “do you think they could win the World Series within the next several years?” I’d unequivocably say Yes. They have a young talented core of starters all locked up for several years, they have a solid backbone of guys up the middle, they don’t really have any major trouble spots on the roster, and they have the payroll flexibility to adjust.
The real issue with guaranteeing World Series victories is the following (borrowing from Billy Beane); baseball playoffs are really such a crapshoot. Anything can happen in a short series; how do the Tigers go from sweeping the Yankees to being swept them selves by the Giants? I think Nats fans should hope for a continued streak of playoff appearances with the hopes that one of these years they put it together consistently through several short series and win a title. Ladson also thinks they’re destined to win a title.
Q: Why are so many fans intent on trading Michael Morse? I don’t get it. He is one year removed from being team’s MVP in 2011.
A: I don’t know if fans WANT to trade Michael Morse as much as they’re resigned to the understanding that Morse represents a deviation from the way that Mike Rizzo wants to put teams together. He’s clearly a defensive liability in left field, but the only other spot he can play (1B) is presumably being offered right now to Adam LaRoche for the next few years. Therefore, I think the team looks to move Morse while he still has some value so they can put a better defender in left.
Now, is this what I’d do? No not really; I’d probably let LaRoche walk, install Tyler Moore at first full time and leave Morse in left. That takes away a huge middle-of-the-order lefty bat and leaves the team very right-handed (Zimmerman, Werth, Moore, and Morse are all RH), meaning Bryce Harper probably moves from #2 to #5 in the order to balance. I’ve said it a million times; you can “hide” poorer defensive players in left field in this league, and in fact you have to in order to get enough bats in the lineup.
There’s no reason to think there’s any antipathy towards Morse; he’s clearly a clubhouse positive, he’s bright and cheery and seems to be a great teammate, and of course he’s got the best walk-on music (and subsequent crowd sing-along) on the team. How can we want to get rid of that?
Ladson seems to think that fans were angry with Morse because of some extra bases taken by the Cards on hits down the line. I don’t see that at all; yes he was slow to getting to those balls, but if you look at replays of all the doubles down the LF line you’d be hard pressed to find a ball that you’d immediately say, “See a better fielder throws the guy out at 2nd.”
Q: Has the organization soured on Danny Espinosa? And do you see Anthony Rendon on a fast track?
A: Two parter. I don’t think the organization has “soured” on Danny Espinosa, no. Why else would he get 160 games last year? He’s a fantastic defensive player, covered more than ably at Short for Desmond and has 20-20 capabilities. Now, that being said he’s a massive strike-out liability and really disappointed in the post season. I think the organization, much as they did with Desmond, is showing some patience with their young middle infielder. Desmond broke-out in his 3rd full pro season and perhaps so will Espinosa. But, he needs to make some adjustments. Perhaps its time to abandon switch hitting? And his K rate must drop.
There are possible moves to be made though involving Espinosa, if it came to it. He’s a natural short-stop, and his batting would be far more acceptable were he playing short. We could move Espinosa to a team looking for a SS, install Lombardozzi at 2nd base and hope that he improves on his .317 OBP enough to be a decent lead-off options in the years to come.
Anthony Rendon should be on the fast track, absolutely. The interesting question will be “where will he play” if he does push through to the majors? Can’t play 3rd, could play 2nd but that leads to issues with Espinosa. Could play LF, but see the previous Morse question. Honestly, we should probably just wait to deal with this particular issue for that time at which Rendon is actually pushing for a MLB job. This, by the way, is also another reason why I think re-signing LaRoche is foolish; I think the team needs to plan for the inevitable move of Ryan Zimmerman off of 3rd and to 1st Base, where his scatter-arm is no longer the major liability it is becoming. Rendon makes for a natural 3rd replacement for Zimmerman, who can move to 1st and probably own the gold glove there for the next 5 years.
Ladson says the team hasn’t yet soured on Espinosa, and implies that something is afoot with either Espinosa or Lombardozzi this coming off-season.
Q: Why are you for keeping Davey Johnson around? Do you think that it’s smart to have your closer pitch the ninth inning of a game your team is losing by eight runs?
A: Wow, a shot across the bow of Davey Johnson for the little-mentioned usage questions surrounding Drew Storen in the NLDS. Storen threw a meaningless inning in the game 3 blowout, meaning that he ended up pitching in three straight games. My dad in particular believes this is the primary reason Storen was so wild in the game 5 meltdown, and puts the usage question directly on Johnson. And I tend to agree.
That being said, Johnson is still a manager worth keeping around. I just think he needs to learn from his mistakes in terms of bullpen usage in the coming seasons.
Ladson says he does not question Storen’s usage in game 3, but does question two critical non-moves in game 5 that many have mentioned; not using Mattheus and not walking Kozma. Both are very fair points.