Nationals Arm Race

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

Ladson’s inbox 1/22/13

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Does Boras run the Nats? The national narrative certainly seems to think so. Photo Ezra Shaw/Getty images via espn.com

I love a diversion.  Bill Ladson’s inbox is always a diversion.  Here’s 1/22/13′s edition.

Q: Why do the Nationals need another closer in Rafael Soriano?

A: My posted opinion about the deal from 1/15/13.  Did they “need” another closer?  Probably not.  But, innings sent to Rafael Soriano cascades downwards and means that innings that would be given to lesser relievers will now be pitched by Clippard and Storen (assuming one of them isn’t moved of course), and overall the bullpen is improved.  I wonder if Ted Lerner didn’t pull a George Steinbrenner/Dan Snyder-esque move and force a player signing as a reaction to a singular event (aka Storen’s NLDS game 5 meltdown).  Its possible I suppose.  If so, you hate to see moves like this, because it undermines the GM and leads to poorly constructed rosters.  Ladson belives this is a reactionary move to the NLDS bullpen meltdown in total, not just Storen’s misfortunes.

Q: It seems like Washington takes all of Scott Boras’ clients and puts them on its roster.

A: I hate this Urban Myth that now pervades anyone’s analysis every time the Nats sign a Scott Boras client.  Check the proof: MLBtraderumors keeps a player agent database and guess what?  The Nats don’t even have the most clients of Boras.   The Nats have 7 Boras clients but Boston has 8.  Plus, three of the 7 Boras clients the Nats have were no-brainer 1st round draft picks (Harper, Strasburg and Rendon, and you could even argue a 4th such Boras pick in Goodwin that the team would have taken at that point in the draft irrespective of his representation) that the team was likely going to draft and sign no matter who represented them.  The fact is this: the Nats have become a premier FA destination, Boras represents a lot of good players on the FA, and the Nats have hired some of his players.  When Boston or Texas hires a Boras client, you don’t suddenly hear people sarcastically asking, “Does Boras run the Red Sox?” now do you?  I think its great that Rizzo and Boras have a good working relationship, because other teams/GMs do not, and it affects the quality of their teams as a result.  Ladson defends my point as well, saying similar things to what I’ve pointed out.

Q: Does the Nationals’ front office regret not making Edwin Jackson a qualifying offer? It seems he would have signed elsewhere and the Nats would have received a compensation pick that would help the farm system.

A: Great Question!  One I asked in this space myself on 11/5/12.  I honestly think the team believed that Edwin Jackson, who had a history of signing one year deals, would have taken the contract.  Either that or there was a hand-shake deal in place stating that the team wouldn’t extend the offer.  I don’t truly believe the latter part of this, because (as others have pointed out) it’d be illegal as per the latest CBA.  Either way, I thought it was a mistake at the time and the Nats indeed missed the opportunity to gain an extra pick.  Ladson believes point #1; he thinks the team was afraid that Jackson would take the deal.

Q: If there was one thing that could hold the Nationals back from winning the World Series this year, what would it be?

A: I’ll give you two things that could prevent the team from winning.  1) Injuries in our Rotation and 2) bad luck.  We’re very thin in terms of starters and a season-ending injury to one of our big names would be a bad impediment.  And, the playoffs are crap-shoots; 83 win teams (St. Louis in 2006) can get hot and win it all while 116 win teams (Seattle in 2001) get beat easily before ever getting to the World Series.   That being said, even a starter injury probably wouldn’t be fatal to this team’s chances of making the playoffs; the Mets and Marlins are moving backwards, the Braves seem to be treading water, and the Phillies are getting older by the day.  The division is there for the taking even without winning 98 games again.  Ladson says injuries.

Q: Is it true that the Nationals are interested in Kyle Lohse and plan to put Ross Detwiler in the bullpen?

A: Man, I hope not.  I like Kyle Lohse but there’s a reason he’s still on the FA market despite a TON of teams needing pitching help (and it isn’t just because of the lost draft pick).  He’s really not THAT good.  He had (easily) his best season last year, the definition of a contract year if there ever was one.  Career 98 ERA+.  I think he’s a good fit for a team that needs a 3rd starter, but the Nats aren’t that team.  I made my arguments for keeping Ross Detwiler in the rotation on 1/16/13, when rumors swirled about the team looking at Javier Vazquez.  Who would you rather roll the dice with?  A young, up and coming power lefty or a soft-tossing righty who’ll be 34 next year?  I think buying another $12M/year starter and pushing Detwiler to the bullpen just for the reason of “needing another lefty” in the bullpen is arbitrary and would be a waste of Detwiler’s promising 2012.  Ladson agrees, saying that Davey Johnson likes Detwiler in the rotation.

Q: Would Mark DeRosa be a viable managerial candidate for the Nationals in 2014?

A: Random question.  What makes you think Mark DeRosa won’t still be playing in 2014?  Plus, what ties does he have to this organization that would make you think that the Nats think he’s the heir apparent?  I mean, if we’re talking about former players who have put in the time with this organization, look no further than Matt LeCroy, who played for the team and has been managing in our minor league system for years.  Personally, I think the team will go with a “celebrity manager” when the time comes.  Ladson expresses some surprise at the question as well.

Q: After he was acquired from the Athletics for Michael Morse, where does A.J. Cole fall on the Nationals’ list of prospects?

A: I’d say he’s probably 3rd in line, after Rendon and Goodwin.  That’s about where he was when he was still in the system, and despite his rough 2012 in the California league he’s still very promising.  Ladson says 3rd, as does mlb.com’s rankings for the team.

Q: What did you think of what the Nationals received for Morse? Could they have gotten more — a Major League lefty reliever in addition to a starting prospect? Is the problem that Morse only had a total of two good seasons?

A: I think the Nats got what they could for Morse, frankly.  I would have liked to have seen a MLB lefty and a starting pitcher prospect in the lower-to mid minors.  Lots of people were using the Josh Willingham trade as a comp; both players are similar (both are good offense, no defense type guys in the last year of an affordable contract).  Willingham netted us a mlb reliever and a high-minors OF prospect.  However Morse’s defensive inabilities preceed him reputationally, and many scouts perceive his 2011 as a one-off instead of a ceiling of potential.  Ladson says they made a great deal.

7 Responses to 'Ladson’s inbox 1/22/13'

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  1. The Boras nonsense is no doubt driven by jealously among other MLB executives that the Nats, perceived as bunglers in the wake of the Aaron Crow debacle, were able to step up to the plate and get the deals done for once-in-generation talents Strasburg and Harper. One can only imagine how much consternation there must have been in other front offices that the Nats not only lucked out by getting the top draft pick twice when two such incredible talents were available but then had the audacity not to screw it up and make those two players available to somebody else the following year. Then the Werth deal came along right afterwards and fit the convenient narrative that the Nats are “Boras’s team.”

    Unfortunately, most reporters are lazy and tend to emphasize those stories that fit their readers/viewers stereotypes, which is why they conveniently ignore counterfactuals like the Nats passing on Bourn to instead make a much more sensible move in trading for Span. But ultimately, who cares what the dolts say as long as we win a championship?

    bdrube

    24 Jan 13 at 1:24 pm

  2. Great analysis. Couldn’t agree more. Werth signs for 7/126, Crawford then signs for 7/144. But the howling in the industry was entirely about the Werth deal. Crawford accounted for exactly 0.4 bWAR over two seasons for Boston before he was shipped out. Werth hasn’t been much better (1.6 bWAR in the same time) but plays a more premium position and is perceived to provide more clubhouse value. I still get irritated over the way those two signing were handled, mostly because one was Washington and the other was Boston.

    Double “hear hear” about the “reporters are lazy” comment. Here’s some other lazy narratives for you that I wish would get retired: “Ted Lerner is cheap.” or, “Bryce Harper has an attitude problem.”

    Todd Boss

    24 Jan 13 at 1:59 pm

  3. Apparently, the Braves are no longer treading water.

    I’m not sure the Upton trade helps them this year, actually – losing Bourn, Chipper & Prado for Upton, Upton & Chris Johnson is likely a push. But it’s three years of Upton for one year of Prado, and the Braves OF is now young (the elder Upton is 28, the younger 25, and Freeman 23) with a very impressive upside. Of course, as Linus once said: “there’s no heavier burden than a great potential!”

    An aphorism that applies equally to the Nats, of course. The next 3-5 years in the NL East should be a lot of fun :)

    John C.

    24 Jan 13 at 4:34 pm

  4. Was just emailing with a couple buddies (one of whom is a massive Philly fan) and he’s despondent about the moves his team has made versus what Atl and Wash are doing. And I just laugh, because i’ve been telling him for years that the spending was going to catch up to them. And now it has; their best off-season acquisition may very well be John Lannan for the #5 rotation spot vacated by Joe Blanton.

    As for Atlanta; that’s a scary good offense now. McCann, BJ Upton, Freeman easily 20-homer guys, Uggla, Justin Upton and Heyward all 30-homer capable guys. Simmons at short looks quality, and whoever they can find to play third is their weak link. But thats a good lineup no doubt.

    Good question; are they improved for 2013? I guess it depends on how much you like the Upton brothers. Were they both in bad situations that kept their production down in 2012? I know their potential is fantastic … but Prado was a stud in 2012. Probably a wash for 2012. Take this core group, add a 3rd baseman and that’s a darn good young team. Yes indeed, Nats have their hands full.

    Todd Boss

    24 Jan 13 at 5:18 pm

  5. I’m really tired of hearing about BJ upton’s potential. We have been hearing it for 6(!!!) years now. He had one really good season in 2007 which was drive by a highly inflated BABIP (.393, .71 points above his career avg.)

    After 4,000 plate appearances I don’t understand why people don’t just accept him for what he is: a low contact guy who strikes out a lot but hits for some power, steals bases, can draw a walk at an ok clip and plays a little above average defense. He is a nice complimentary player but the guy just isn’t a superstar.

    I’ve read and heard things for years about the attitude issues of both of the Uptons. I remember BJ being a egotistical person when I was playing ball. They are replacing 2 very respected players in Prado and Jones. I am a firm believer in team chemistry after seeing the Giants and Nationals last season.

    Yes the Braves have the potential to have huge offensive numbers in their lineup but Uggla is trending downwards fast, the 3rd base platoon is questionable, Justin Upton could be following his brother in terms of not being a superstar or he could have another 2011. Heyward could continue on his really good 2012 or he could also repeat 2011. They will strike out a TON and the defense will be a negative for the Braves this year.

    Yes they are a good team but they have more question marks than the Nationals in my eyes.

    PDowdy

    25 Jan 13 at 10:49 am

  6. I do agree with your sentiment on BJ Upton and his “potential.” I didn’t mean to extend the narrative here; i should have written that sentence a bit more carefully. Something along the lines of, “If you still believe in the potential” of BJ. Because I agree with you 100%; at some point prospects go from having unrealized potential to just being who they are.

    I believe that it takes about 1,000-1,500 MLB plate appearances to really kinda figure out who a hitter is. Roughly 3 full seasons of hitting. If you’ve stabilized at that point, I don’t see you getting a ton better. We see this evidence locally by seeing a) how Desmond and Bernadina seem to have “figured it out” in 2012 right in this threshold of PAs, and perhaps moreso with Espinosa who now sits at nearly 1500 PAs and is about to have a very telling 2013. If Espinosa strikes out 180 times while hitting .240 again … well that’s who he is, and there won’t be any more potential.

    Todd Boss

    25 Jan 13 at 11:02 am

  7. I definitely wasn’t meaning that as a rant against you on the Upton thing. I just keep seeing article after article about talking how much “potential” he has and I don’t get it.

    Justin Upton is a different animal. His numbers fluctuate wildly from year to year and are not driven by a BABIP spike like BJ’s was. I don’t know what happened with him in 2010 but it seems like some of his issues last season were injury related. His home/road splits are crazy big which also makes me wonder how he will hold up outside of Arizona. Upton has hit .307/.389/.584 with 67 HR and an 11% walk rate with a 21.8% K rate in 1496 home plate appearances. In 1534 road plate appearances he has hit .250/.325/.406 with only 41 HRshis walk rate drops to 9.3% and his K rate goes up to 24%.

    Dave Cameron did an analysis on not judging him based on those noting that he plays a lot of road games in San Fran, LA and San Diego. His point is all schedules aren’t completely equal with the number of games played in pitcher vs hitters parks. That doesn’t completely add up considering he hits .291/.354/.547 in Petco park. This makes me wonder if he is an extreme creature of habit and his home routine is different than the road or if Arizona really has padded his numbers greatly.

    pdowdy83

    25 Jan 13 at 6:14 pm

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