Nationals Arm Race

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

Ladson’s inbox 12/11/12


LaRoche; Staying or going? Photo Rob Carr/Getty Images via

Hey, everybody’s doing inbox responses this week.  Here’s Bill Ladson‘s latest inbox column, dated 12/11/12.

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

Q: Are you pleased with the Denard Span trade? Or do you think the Nats should have tried to sign Michael Bourn?

A: My thoughts are pretty clear on the Denard Span trade; in a sentence, I didn’t think we needed to make the trade, but the deal we struck was fair.  If it comes down to Span versus Michael Bourn, there’s no question in my mind you go with Span; Bourn wants too much money, is older, they’re roughly equivalent in terms of UZR/150, and Bourn has lesser career batting stats (104 OPS+ career for Span versus 90 for Bourn).  I think there’s a reason that BJ Upton signed and most teams with CF needs/wants have solved them (Phillies and Ben Revere, Giants and re-signing Angel Pagan, Braves and Upton, Nats and Span, etc) and Bourn still sits unsigned; he and his super-agent Scott Boras are over-valuing his services.  Ladson says he likes Span for his contract and his age versus Bourn.

Q: Why are the Nats thinking about getting rid of a 30-homer, 100-RBI guy in Adam LaRoche?

A: First, lets be fair; the Nats are “not getting rid” of the Free Agent Adam LaRoche; he’s a free agent and can sign anywhere he chooses.  Maybe LaRoche is tired of the humidity in Washington and wants to find a team closer to home.  Maybe his wife really likes the Pacific Northwest and he’s looking to move to Seattle.  Ok seriously; the problem with LaRoche is simply his age; yes he was 30/100 THIS year; what will he do next year?  More importantly, what would he do 3 years from now when he’s 35 and earning $15M/year or so?  That’s the risk in any FA contract for someone in his 30s, and these types of contracts have a tendency to add up and really hamstring your budgets.  Just look at the Yankees and Phillies right now; think the Phillies wish they had about $50M in payroll flexibility to improve their .500 team?  The team really doesn’t want to commit more than a couple years, but at LaRoche’s age this is really his last shot at a big-time, life altering guaranteed contract.  He really needs to get as much guaranteed money as he can.  If the Red Sox give him a 3year guaranteed contract, he really needs to take it.  Ladson states the obvious; Nats offering 2 years, LaRoche wants 3.

Q: Who will be the Nats’ second baseman in 2013 — Danny Espinosa or Steve Lombardozzi?

A: Danny Espinosa.  The team showed patience waiting for Ian Desmond to turn it around and seem likely to do the same with Espinosa.  Now, if it were me, I wouldn’t mind cashing in Espinosa’s defensive stature and 20-home run prowness and shed his 190Ks/season to obtain some farm system depth and just live with Steve Lombardozzi playing 2nd and batting 8th, but there’s really no reason to do that right now.  Espinosa is at MLB minimum and may make the leap; and Lombardozzi may really just be a utility/backup infielder type.  Ladson predicts a gold glove and an All-Star appearance for Espinosa.  That made me chuckle.  He’s very optimistic.

Q: What does the Span trade mean for the future of Tyler Moore? Moore has good pop and belongs in the everyday lineup.

A: Well, clearly the Span acquisition means that Tyler Moore is at best looking at another season of backup at-bats.  What is more important to Moore is what happens with LaRoche/Michael Morse.  Because those are the blockers to Moore getting actual playing time right now.  Moore’s production last season was great for a first  year guy; .840 OPS, 124 OPS+, a 22 home run full season pace.  He hit righties better than lefties, which fares well for his maturation as a hitter.  But there’s just no room for him right now.  I suspect he may be trade bait if the team signs LaRoche to a 3year deal, just as Morse will be.  Ladson states the obvious; Moore will come off the bench this year.

Q: Who will be the Nationals’ starting catcher on Opening Day?

A: Great question.  I’d go with Kurt Suzuki for now, until hearing how Wilson Ramos‘ recovery is going.  Remember, Ramos had to have two knee surgeries last summer; I don’t think its a guarantee that he’s ready opening day.  Ladson agrees, saying the team is taking it slow w/ Ramos.

Q: Do you think Michael Morse is a defensive liability in the outfield? If LaRoche signs with the Nats, what impact will that have on Morse?

A: Yes he’s a defensive liability in LF.  But I don’t mind having a 30 homer defensive liability in left.  But I’m not the GM of the Nationals who seems dead set on replacing all sub-par defenders on his roster.  If LaRoche signs, it pretty clearly means an imminent trade of Morse, since it makes little sense to have his bat sitting in a backup capacity.   Ladson doesn’t think he’s as big of a liability in LF as I do, pointing out that Morse seemed like he was playing hurt at the end of the season.

Q: What will the Nats do with Chien-Ming Wang?

A: Nothing.  Chien-Ming Wang is a free agent and can sign anywhere he wants.  If the Nats give him another dollar of guaranteed money I’ll be furious.  Ladson says he’s not coming back and may not sign til mid-season, ala Roy Oswalt.

6 Responses to 'Ladson’s inbox 12/11/12'

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  1. Todd, I agree with your analysis of the Span deal–not necessary, but well-delegated in any event.

    The discussion of Espi vs. Lombo is tedious. Even with all his K’s, Espi is clearly the guy on both offense and defense. Really no comparison, which makes you think what people who put Lombo in the discussion really know about baseball.

    Discussion of MMorse always leaves out the fact that up until mid-season last year the guy had played errorless ball in his MLB career. Morse is not a great OF, but he’s above average at 1B–give him a full year there and we’ll all see the results.

    Besides, as the noted baseball philosopher, Dick Allen’s reply, when asked about how you judge a First baseman’s fielding, “…with his bat…”!!!

    Brandon Davis

    12 Dec 12 at 1:08 pm

  2. Fair points all. Lombardozzi’s defense rates above average, even in small samples sizes, but not nearly as good as Espinosa’s. Meanwhile I’m pretty sure Lombardozzi is never going to be a 20homer threat, while Espinosa has already shown that capacity and should only get better. For me, the “Trade Espinosa” theory goes like this: he’s a short stop stuck at 2nd, has value as a shortstop elsewhere (a 20-homer capable SS with plus defense? very valuable), and thus we could get more value from him by moving him and getting a return based on that assessment of him. Put Lombardozzi as a stop gap at 2nd, and then you have a place for Rendon when he’s ready.

    Of course, this plan has many assumptions. 1. The Nats can move Espinosa and get value back. He is after all pre-arb and under team control for at least 4 more years. 2. Lombardozzi can improve on his meager hitting and can prove to be as capable a defender (very important in the Rizzo regime). 3. Rendon stays healthy. 4. Rendon stays healthy AND rises to the Majors AND shows that he’s an above average MLB hitter. This 4th point is clearly the vast unknown; a prospect is just a prospect (even if you’re Wil Myers) until they show they can hit at the MLB level. Recent history shows plenty of A++ hitting prospects who have disappointed at the MLB level. Ackley. Smoak. LaPorta. Hosmer and Moustoukas to a certain extent. So while I like Rendon and assume that he’s going to be a good MLB hitter (based on his 1-1 pedigree all through college), until he gets here and starts hitting at a 125 OPS+ pace, I think you have to stick with the known quantity.

    Todd Boss

    12 Dec 12 at 1:52 pm

  3. I’ve been all over the place on LaRoche vs. Morse, but I think I’ve reached my final decision, which also happened to be my original decision: Let LaRoche walk, play Morse at 1B. While not as good as ALR in the field, I agree that Morse is a better fielding first baseman than he gets credit for, and he has a higher ceiling offensively, for half the cost.


    12 Dec 12 at 4:29 pm

  4. Plus LaRoche walking nets us draft picks! Top 10 protected but at worst case we get a supp-first and a high 2nd rounder. More likely a mid-to-late first and a supp-1st. Don’t sleep on the need to replace high end drafted players in our system (which I’m guessing is going to rank in the mid 20s in terms of depth when the system rankings start coming out).

    Thing is. Do we care about the cost? Do we care that we “save” $15M/year by not signing LaRoche? Are we a better team with Morse at first and LaRoche elsewhere versus with LaRoche at first and Morse converted into prospect depth?

    Todd Boss

    12 Dec 12 at 4:48 pm

  5. Under the new CBA, the Nats would only get a supplemental pick. The signing team loses their first round pick (unless it’s in the top 10, in which case the team loses its second round pick) but that pick doesn’t go to the Nats. It just vanishes.

    So the Nat would get the supplemental pick (for Adam Dunn, the one used to pick up Brian Goodwin) but not the first round pick (for Adam Dunn, the one used to pick up Alex Meyer).

    John C.

    14 Dec 12 at 5:27 pm

  6. My bad; misread that portion of the CBA. Its on pages 86-90 or there abouts, for those interested.

    I still wonder why the smaller market teams signed off on this CBA. It seems to me that in exchange for the 189M salary level at which a dollar-for-dollar penalty applies, they gave up free agent draft pick compensation and they gave up amateur bonus flexibility, basically the two best ways that a small market team can compete in modern baseball.

    Todd Boss

    17 Dec 12 at 12:03 pm

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