Nationals Arm Race

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

Ladson’s Inbox 2/5/13


Lots of questions about Gonzalez and Garcia this week. Photo unknown credit.

Hey, what great timing for another Bill Ladson inbox (posted 2/5/13).  Baseball news is light, pitchers and catchers report in a week or so, and I’m not quite ready to continue my Stats series.

As always, I write my answer before reading his, and sometimes edit questions for clarity:

Q: Do you think general manager Mike Rizzo will add starting pitching depth before Opening Day? Does the lingering possibility of a Gio Gonzalez suspension change whom the Nationals would consider acquiring?

A: In Ladson’s 1/22/13 mailbag, some one asked what could prevent the Nats as constructed from winning the World Series in 2013.  I answered Rotation Injuries and Luck.  Well, in the wake of the Miami PED scandal, I guess the third answer may be “PED scandal.”

This is a tough question to answer; Gio Gonzalez has denied the rumors, but the newspaper in question (the Miami New Times) clearly only named Gonzalez because they felt like the evidence they had in hand was irrefutable.  Many other players have not been named.  So as a GM; how do you go about preparing for 2013 at this point?   If Mike Rizzo knows that Gonzalez is getting suspended, you have to think he’s on the horn to his buddy Scott Boras about possibly buying Kyle Lohse, which is clearly the best remaining FA starter.  But Lohse isn’t coming cheap, and likely isn’t coming on a one year deal, and would cost another draft pick (I believe).  The Nats are already topping $120M in payroll; would they go to $135M?

If we think Gio at least gets a pass and the suspension is put off, maybe Rizzo’s recent activities of signing random starters to minor league contracts is going to be sufficient.

Ladson mentions Javier Vazquez and the ever-present rumors of Christian Garcia going to the rotation as possible Gonzalez replacements if he gets suspended quickly.  Probably fair; Vazquez may be a great, cheap alternative.

Q: Everyone is saying that it’s going to be a two-team race in the National League East between the Nationals and Braves. Do you think the Phillies have a shot to contend with both these teams, or is their time done?

A: Boy, its hard to look at the aging, expensive Phillies lineup they had in place in 2012, which suffered injuries and setbacks and creaked their way to a .500 record, and then look at the highly questionable slew of acquisitions and signings this off season (Ben Revere, John Lannan, Michael YoungDelmon Young and everyone’s favorite anti-gay advocate Yuniesky Betancourt) and not, well, giggle at where this team is going.  My favorite baseball joke from the off-season goes like this: “The Phillies wanted to get Younger this off-season, so they signed Michael Young and Delmon Young.”

The two Youngs were both negative WAR players last year, Lannan is a 5th starter, Revere was a backup centerfielder who the Phillies traded some decent assets for, and Betancourt is who he is (though admittedly he’s on a minor league deal and seems at best set to be a utility infielder behind starters Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley).  I see the Phillies being a very bad defensive team with the two Youngs in the starting lineup, I see some serious questions in the back side of the rotation, and I see continued regression and louder complaints about Ryan Howard‘s contract.  Fun times a-coming in Philadelphia.  Ladson actually says that the Phillies will “be improved with Michael Young.”  Bill!  Have you seen Young’s WAR figures from 2012??  He was a NEGATIVE WAR player at both major War sites.  That means he makes your team worse!    Now, he was completely servicable in 2011 … so if you want to make the argument to me that 2012 was an aberration for an aging hitter playing in a hitter’s park, well I guess that’s a stance you can take.  But pretty much every other pundit in the blogosphere has loudly criticized the Philadelphia moves this off-season.

Q: What is the status of Lucas Giolito? When do you see him pitching in D.C.?

A: Tommy John surgery in Late August (I can’t remember the exact date; it was 8/24/12 when I posted this highly-critical article about Lucas Giolito and the situation), so figuring a typical 12-month rehab session before he’s actively throwing again in pro-games basically puts him at the end of the 2013 minor league season.  Which means he’ll be 20 before he really is ready to start his pro career in the spring of 2014.  Figure 4-5 years average case for typical high schoolers to work their way up the systems (perhaps fewer years given his talents and pedigree, as we’ve seen with someone like Dylan Bundy in 2012, who made his way from low-A to AA in his first pro season out of HS and got a late Sept callup to the majors) and we’re probably looking at 2016-2017 before seeing him in the majors.  If, of course, he recovers from surgery, hasn’t destroyed his mechanics, is effective, matures, doesn’t get re-injured, or any of the million other pitfalls that typically befall high school arms drafted in the upper rounds.  Ladson thinks he’s pitching pro games “after the all-star break” and is in the majors in 3 years.  Wow.  That is optimistic.

Q: How do you think Henry Rodriguez will do? And what do you think his role in the bullpen will be?

A: I am, and always have been, pessimistic on Henry Rodriguez.  I hated the Willingham trade that got him here.  He’s forced the team to invent injuries to stash him on the DL coming out of spring training b/c he has no options.  He led the league in wild pitches in 2011 in just 65 innings.  He had a 69 ERA+ in 2012.  At some point when does the team say, “OK, its nice that he throws 100mph.  But enough is enough; we need a reliable pitcher who can deliver when called upon.”  Perhaps Spring Training 2013 is that time.

What do I think his role will be?  I’m sure he’ll look great in Spring Training again, will break camp with the team, and very well may look halfway decent for a while.  But just like every other season, he’s going to have those 3-walk outings where he pitches a 1/3 of an inning and gives up 4 runs, and then the manager will be afraid to use him unless the team has a 5-run lead.  And eventually we’ll call up Garcia to replace him and move on.  That’s my prediction for Rodriguez.  Ladson says the team should “attempt to trade him if he is not impressive this spring.”  Wow, that’s sage advice; if only every team could trade its under-performing players and actually get value back whenever it wanted.

Q: Can you predict Washington’s Opening Day lineup if all available players are healthy?

A: Easy.  I’ll even predict the batting order.  Span-Werth-Harper-Zimmerman-LaRoche-Desmond-Espinosa-Suzuki-Strasburg.  Ladson predicts the same names but in a lineup order that makes no sense from a lefty-righty balance perspective.

Q: After announcing his retirement, do you think Brian Schneider is a possible candidate to replace Johnson as manager of the Nationals?

A: Wow, yet another speculative question about the future Nationals Manager.   He took a question about the manager on 1/28/13, and on 1/22/13.  And on 1/14/13.   I guess people like speculating on the Nats next manager.  Not repeating what i’ve said on the topic before, is Brian Schneider a candidate?  Why would he possibly be a candidate to manage the major league team of a system he left 5 years ago?  Why would the Nats pick a manager who’s never managed a day in his life?   Ladson breathes some common sense on this one.

Q: I think Garcia has to be on the Opening Day roster, so is he in the bullpen or someplace else? Can the 25-man roster accommodate him and all the other pitchers?

A: “Someplace else?”  Like where?  In the outfield?   I like Garcia too, but the team has a numbers problem in the bullpen.  Storen, Clippard, Mattheus, and Stammen have all more than earned their spots.  Soriano is being paid a ton of money.  Duke is guaranteed a spot (he’s the only lefty and he’s got enough service time to refuse a demotion).  Oh, and Rodriguez has no options.  So there’s your 7-man bullpen.  Notice there’s only one left-hander out there; if you believe that you need left-handers to get left-handed batters out, then the bullpen needs to sacrifice one of the righties in order to have a second lefty (Bill Bray?) in there.

The only way I see Garcia making this bullpen is if the team runs out of patience with Rodriguez and DFAs/DLs him, or if the team trades away one of their closer-quality surplus guys, or if maybe someone like Mattheus/Stammen (both of whom do have options) struggles or gets hurt.  Otherwise look for Garcia to get stretched out and get looks as a starter in AAA.  Ladson says he’s confident Garcia is on the 25-man roster …. ok explain it to me then based on the above paragraph.  Who is he replacing?

16 Responses to 'Ladson’s Inbox 2/5/13'

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  1. I agree with your proposed line-up and batting order. I’d like to see Harper batting 3rd with more guys on base. But he’s made statements that indicate he wants to stay in the 2 spot. And Zim has almost always batted 3rd. Other than Werth, it seems like guys get attached to their spot in the line-up and are tempermental about changing. If people don’t want to move, that would mean Span, Harper, Zim, LaR, Werth, etc. Do you think they’d use this order when facing righties to get two lefties up right off the bat? Or do players get even more tempermental if their spot in the order moves day over day?


    6 Feb 13 at 12:48 pm

  2. I think absolutely guys get attached to certain lineup spots. I think Desmond has shown he hits better out of the #6 than the #2 hole. I like Werth at the #2, but know that he’s got production history/is being paid like a 4-5 guy. But, there’s only so many guys you can hit in the glamor spots.

    The problem with “sticking” guys to these spots (historically Zim at #3, LaRoche at #4) is that it forces other hitters into less-than-optimal spots. I absolutely believe Harper needs to be hitting 3rd or 4th. But do you want two lefties in a row in the heart of your order? That just makes loogy matchups too easy for the opposing team (and so far Harper’s BA drops about 40 points against lefties, including some terrible outings like versus Pettitte, Andy last year).

    I honestly have no problem with Span-Harper-Zim-LaRoche-Werth-Desmond-Espinosa-Suzuki; that still gives you the lefty-righty combination. But is Harper’s power wasted at the #2 spot? Arguable; most stat guys say that your just want your best hitters at the top of the order so they get more ABs per game on average than your lesser hitters. So its like a fight between traditionalism and analysis. Span and LaRoche had nearly identical OBP numbers in 2012 (.342 and .343): does that mean they’re both ideal for the leadoff spot. Well, no obviously, since LaRoche isn’t a speed candidate. So you still need some sort of “older school” mindset when setting the lineup.

    Manipulating the lineup versus righties or lefties: hmm. A good question; I would tweak things if I was the manager. Espinosa as a switch hitter *could* be a valuable guy at the top of the order too … if he earned it. But he seems stuck at the #7 hole for now.

    Todd Boss

    6 Feb 13 at 1:27 pm

  3. (on Gio)… the newspaper in question (the Miami New Times) clearly only named Gonzalez because they felt like the evidence they had in hand was irrefutable. Many other players have not been named.

    Horse nostrils. They named Gonzalez because the evidence was sufficient that they weren’t going to get sued. There is a HUGE difference. The article itself generally links Gio to PEDs, but doesn’t say that the records prove he took PEDs. Even the places where Gio’s name is listed is less definitive than for some of the other players. Unless there’s more information to come, Gio is not going to get suspended because there is no failed test and no documentation (signed invoice, cancelled check, etc) that directly ties him to PEDs.

    On the rotation, I would be shocked if the Nats picked up Vazquez or Lohse. I don’t think either signs for a minor league or bullpen spot, which means that unless Gio is suspended there is no opening at all. And even if Gio is suspended: (1) unless someone is injured, who is going get dropped for the other 112 games to make room for Lohsquez? A lot of people want to jettison Detwiler to shore up the bullpen. I think making your rotation worse to shore up the bullpen is nuts. And spending a lot, in the form of money and/or draft picks, to do that is even more nuts. The upside of Detwiler is tremendous, and he’s under team control for years. Let’s not jerk him around the way the Yankees did with Chamberlain, mmkay?

    Oh, and (2) even if Gio is suspended, the Nationals only need a #5 starter six times in the first 50 games. Is it really worth the massive expense and disruption to get Lohsquez on board for six starts that could go to Garcia, Stammen, Duke, etc?

    (on HRod)He’s forced the team to invent injuries to stash him on the DL coming out of spring training b/c he has no options.

    When did that happen? It wasn’t 2012. He was awesome in Viera, and was lights out through the first few weeks of the season. And since he had surgery on the elbow, it’s pretty rough to say they invented the injury that stashed him on the DL. All this is waived if you are talking about before 2012.

    (on Garcia)I am in complete agreement here. I don’t even think that he’s the first person brought in if HRod pitches his way off of the team – I think Bray or Abad would fill the second LHP spot. The team has such a need for starting

    John C.

    6 Feb 13 at 1:31 pm

  4. Ladson’s dream trade package: Marrero and HRod for another team’s #1 prospect. It’s gonna happen, I can feel it.


    6 Feb 13 at 2:11 pm

  5. On the Gio sentence; i wrote it more quickly than it probably deserved; irrefutable I absolutely meant as you meant; enough proof that they couldn’t be sued. I completely agree that circumstantial evidence against him and others shouldn’t be enough to suspend him and have said that in other forums … but the powers of the Commissioner’s office are overly broad and don’t necessarily require such a test. If Selig wanted to make a statement, he certainly could.

    Fair points on disrupting the rotation. The team survived with Lannan picking up a few #5 starts in 2012. I guess the team could make the argument that they’re buying rotation insurance in general; even if Gio isn’t suspended we could very well have DL issues with one of our guys that we didn’t have to deal with in 2012. But … a veteran without ML optionability (is that a word?) isn’t as good as having a good quality AAA starter who you could yank up and down all year as needed. If only we had starter prospect depth in AAA.

    H-Rod; was referring to 2011. See his 15-day DL trip on 3/28/11. I posted about this topic twice in March of 2011, on 3/23/11 when he got “shelved” to work on his mechanics and then again on 3/28/11 when his official DL-trip reason was “neck spasms.”

    Todd Boss

    6 Feb 13 at 2:17 pm

  6. Hahaha. Made me laugh there. Lets call up Philadelphia; they could use some more marginal acquisitions.

    Todd Boss

    6 Feb 13 at 2:17 pm

  7. You’re dead on with the Willingham trade. He’s still bashing and we’ve got nothing significant to show for it.
    Does anyone really think Henry will be on the big club Opening Day? Didn’t think so.

    Mark L

    7 Feb 13 at 8:57 am

  8. Mark L: I know you felt at the time that the Willingham trade was a “salary dump.” Seeing our payroll now at the $120M mark do you still feel that way?

    Todd Boss

    7 Feb 13 at 9:28 am

  9. I tend to agree with Tom Boswell that the Lerners took a long time, and a lot of frequent reminders, that running the baseball team was different than a real estate business.
    The good news is they’re ‘all in’ now. Thankfully.

    Todd, did you see your ‘shoutout’ on Byrun Kerr’s blog. The writer infers that you’re a full blown expert. Congrats.

    Mark L

    7 Feb 13 at 10:36 am

  10. I think I agree too. I wish I could find the infamous Ken Rosenthal story about the early days of the Lerner tenure, replete with micromanagement and cheapness and penny pinching as contrast to what we see now. Bowden must kick himself when he sees the budget that Rizzo has to work with compared to what he was trying to do. I’m almost (almost!) ready to cut Bowden some slack.

    No I didn’t see the reference in Kerr’s blog. I’ll go find it 🙂 Whatever he thinks i’m an expert in (unless its something along the lines of what I do for a living, for which I think i’m pretty good at), he’s probably wrong 🙂 Thanks for the heads up.

    Todd Boss

    7 Feb 13 at 10:45 am

  11. I was watching a video of Ted Lerner at NatsFest and it hardly seemed the same guy who was, as you rightly put it,a world class penny pincher.

    You, Todd, are apparently THE expert on options in Nats Land.

    Mark L

    7 Feb 13 at 11:11 am

  12. I’m apparently the only one who cares about player options.

    Todd Boss

    7 Feb 13 at 11:38 am

  13. Love the HRod comment, both yours and Ladson’s. I didn’t hate the Willingham trade, though it clearly didn’t work out. But I think that the counter to it has to be ‘keep him’, not ‘trade him for something better’. He has never been traded for something good, and at some point, we have to accept that his trade value is not high.

    Btw, is it crazy to be a Nats fan these days, or what? At least for those of us who have been through it from the beginning. Within the last day or two, we have gotten the ‘top offseason acquisition’ from Dave Cameron @ Fangraphs, almost embarrassing praise from Dan Symborski @ ESPN, and even Keith Law in his prospects write up was pretty complementary about the team (even though rating us at 21, which is about right to me). Generally consensus ‘best team in baseball’ from pundits.

    I dunno, I kind of miss ‘Natinals’ … Nah.


    7 Feb 13 at 2:55 pm

  14. The one thing I don’t like about the way Rizzo assembles teams is the whole “everyone has to be a plus defender” mentality. That’s entirely why Willingham was traded (well, most of it anyway; he also is/was injury prone). I don’t have a problem keeping a plus-plus bat and sticking him in left field. Ahem, Michael Morse. But, the trades are done, we’ve moved on.

    The three Minor league system org rankings i’ve seen so far have the Nats at 16 (BA), 25 (Sickels) and 21 (Law). They each use slightly different criteria to rate, so the variances aren’t too surprising. Of course, all three had the same system #1 (St. Louis) and for the most part agree on at least the top 5 or so. Ironically Law had us #21 last year as well. It is really scary though that St. Louis is a perennial playoff team AND has the consensus best farm system. In that respect they and Tampa Bay are the class of baseball, putting it all together. Law’s writeup of the system (as predicted) doesn’t like Skole that much but says that Solis if he’s healthy in 2013 could be a top 100 guy next year.

    Todd Boss

    7 Feb 13 at 3:51 pm

  15. He is even lightening up on Skole, since it used to be ‘org guy’ and ‘non prospect’. I thought that it was interesting that Rivero was 8, and Solis wasn’t even top 10, yet might be overall top 100 next year.

    Anyway, agree, the Cards are definitely set up for a while. Cincy isn’t in bad shape either, and neither are we, frankly. I’ll be surprised if some combination of those three don’t make half the WS for the next several years.


    7 Feb 13 at 8:03 pm

  16. I think its an indictment on the system as a whole right now that Rivero, career minor leaguer and now facing an options squeeze despite having not one day of MLB service, is listed as our #8 prospect. Maybe i’m just jaded on him, because I know that others are higher on him and think that he could even contribute in 2013. But I view him as a career minor leaguer/org guy.

    Other teams have low-A/recent draft picks as their #6-#10 prospects. Where’s ours? Where are our 2nd/3rd/4th round draft picks of recent years? Mooneyham, Renda, Miller from 2012, Turnbull from 2011, Hague in 2010, Kobernus/Holder in 2009. Yes i’m cherry picking a bit, since some of our 2/3/4th rounders are mentioned (Purke, Solis), but some of these names have never come close to impressing.

    Todd Boss

    8 Feb 13 at 2:14 pm

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