Nationals Arm Race

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

Ask Boswell 6/24/13

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Lots of grief for Espinosa and Haren this week.  Photo Nats official.

Lots of grief for Espinosa and Haren this week. Photo Nats official.

We’re now almost 3 months in, the team is still stuck at .500 and the natives are getting restless (see Haren, Dan‘s forced D/L trip as penance for his performance lately and Danny Espinosa‘s forced demotion to work on his batting).  I wonder what the tone of Tom Boswell‘s weekly chat questions on 6/24/13 will be?

As always, I answer here before reading Boswell’s answers and edit questions for clarity.

Q: Should the Nats move Ian Desmond up in the order?

A: Ian Desmond has mostly been batting 5th or 6th (depending on injuries to the 3-4-5 guys).   Frankly there’s no place else to put him.  They bought Denard Span so he could bat lead-off, and now suddenly Anthony Rendon is the prototypical #2 hitter; hits to all fields, good bat control, high average and some pop.  3-4-5 are set in stone when they’re healthy.   The only question is whether Desmond merits batting before or after Jayson Werth.  I’d say he will stay in the #6 hole.  Boswell says #6 is the best spot for him and he’ll stay there until Adam LaRoche‘s contract is up.

Q: Why do fans boo home-town players who are struggling?

A: The genesis of this question is the cascade of Boos rained down on Dan Haren after his latest meltdown.   I think fans are fans: they pay good money and expect this team to be successful.  When a guy lets in 7 runs in 3 and a third innings … well that’s a game spoiled.  Are they booing the player or the team, really?  Should they boo?  Eh; you certainly hear “good baseball town” crowds booing players.  Boswell says he’d have booed Haren too, but also notes what a class act and competitor he is.

Q: Where do we go with Dan Haren now?/Will Ohlendorf get the spot start?/Is Haren getting DFA’d?

A: Just answered a lot of this myself in a post yesterday.  Short answer; spot start from someone, extended rehab assignment for Haren, and probably a long-man role in the bullpen if we find a competent starter replacement.   I don’t think he’s getting DFA’d because any one of a number of pitching poor teams would snap him up in a heartbeat despite his crummy numbers.  Boswell thinks the team is going out on the open market to replace Haren and notes he’s hearing Taylor Jordan is getting a shot this weekend, and thinks that summarily demanding that a struggling player be released is cruel.

Q: Is Ian Desmond a flawed player?

A: The question arises because of Desmond’s small delta between his BA and his OBP (.280 and .318) and his approach in clutch situations.  I think Desmond has taken a small step back from last year’s break out season but otherwise all three of his slash line numbers are right where they were last year and in the same relative ratio as last year. His 2012 OBP was about 40 points higher than his average (same as this year), and his slugging is about at the same slightly lower figure.  He’s on pace to hit the same number of homers and actually increase his total extra base hits.  I see no issues here.  I’ll take a 120 OPS+ shortstop who plays plus defense anyday.  Boswell agrees, saying Desmond is a complete player and an all-star.  Nuff said.

Q: Is Werth’s groin strain another example of a Nats player coming back too soon?

A: It doesn’t seem so.  Different injury, and one that does tend to bedevil older players like Werth.  Lets just hope it isn’t too long.  Boswell does kind of scoff at Werth’s excuse of “playing dehydrated.”  As if there wasn’t enough ways for a professional athlete to hydrate themselves during the day.

Q: Will either Haren or Espinosa get another start in 2013?

A: I think the answer is likely yes.  This team has shown itself to be incredibly brittle so far (Saw a stat that the opening day lineup hasn’t played together since the 2nd week of April).  The odds of another guy going down with injury and requiring the return of either guy seems high.  The better question is likely what happens after 2013.  Haren’s one year deal is clearly over, and the Nats can’t possibly offer him a Qualifying Offer.  Danny Espinosa will be sans position and will be traded (even more proof of this?  The fact that Espinosa is playing SS in Syracuse).  Boswell interpreted the question more of a “rest of their career question” and said that Espinosa clearly has more career but Haren, maybe not unless he adjusts his approach.

Q: Why is there a disagreement between Harper and Johnson on his rehab?

A: Much to-do about nothing?  Either way, it doesn’t sound good when you have media members scurrying from one guy to another to play “he said, she said” in the papers.  Those two need to get on the same page, whether Bryce Harper is going on a rehab assignment Tuesday, Wednesday or three Fridays from now.  turns out: he’s going out on rehab tonight.  Boswell thinks its just Davey Johnson being too positive on how long it takes guys to come back.

Q: Why hasn’t Espinosa gotten surgery, if it has so clearly impacted his performance?

A: Probably two words: “Anthony” and “Rendon.”  I think Espinosa’s been reading the tea leaves and knew that his spot was the most likely destination for Rendon, and that Rendon (once arriving) likely wouldn’t give it up.  So far, that scenario is playing pretty much exactly as in Espinosa’s worst fears.  Boswell talks about how the Nats evaluated Espinosa’s injuries now and at the time.

Q: If the Nats were to pursue someone like Lee or Gallardo in the trade market, what would it cost them?  And who is untouchable?

A: Cliff Lee is owed so much money that it may not take as much in prospects as one would think.  But, the Philles have to declare that they’re out of it first … and they’ve got basically the same record as the Nats right now.  Gallardo is signed through 2014 with a 2015 option for about the same money we’re paying Haren right now .. and he has limited no-trade.  The thing is; is he worth trading for?  He’s only so-so this year, better the last two years.  I think Yovani Gallardo probably rates a bit below Gio Gonzalez on the trade market b/c of his salary  and being slightly less on the field, so perhaps two good prospects plus a young guy.

Who is untouchable at this point?  Rendon, Karns (they like him too much), Jordan (gotta see what they have now).  Brian Goodwin (he’s Span’s replacement in two years).  A.J. Cole (they worked pretty hard to get him back).  I don’t think they want to part with Matt Skole either.  But that’s not leaving a lot to work with in terms of prospects.

Boswell doesn’t really talk much about these guys or who the Nats are keeping … but fantasizes about getting David Price.  Dream on; the Tampa Bay Rays don’t trade unless they know they’re winning the deal.


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