Nationals Arm Race

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

Ask Boswell 7/8/13 Edition


Your Nats are on a little roll; they swept the Padres and have clawed their way to a mighty 4 games above .500 before looking downright weak so far in Philly. What’s the temperature of Tom Boswell‘s chat this week?  Lets find out?

As always, I write the answer here before reading Boswell’s, and edit questions for clarity/conciseness.

Q: Is this the turnaround we’ve all been waiting for?

A: Well, at the risk of being a complete hypocrite (as a couple of my friends accuse me of doing, after basically writing off the team when they were still mired at .500 at the end of June), I’ll stick with “we’re not out of the woods yet.”   After winning 4 straight and sweeping the hapless Padres in Washington, we travel to Philadelphia for a mid-week 4-game set where I only give the Nats the clear starting pitcher advantage in one of the four games.

And sure enough, Dan Haren gave up 2 early runs to set the tone and the Nats were efficiently shut down by former Ace John Lannan in dropping the first game 3-2 while getting just one run in 8 innings against Cole Hamels in last night’s loss.  It would not surprise me in the least to see the Nats lose 3 of 4 in Philly (the mano-y-mano Cliff Lee-Gio Gonzalez showdown tonight favors the Phillies, then the Jordan ZimmermanKyle Kendrick matchup that favors Washington on paper .. but Zimmermann has been leaking runs lately and only has 4 quality starts in his last 8 outings).  Boswell says that “baseball hates a straight line,” I suppose implying that the Nats can get a winning streak together and get back in.

Q: Why are the Nats ownership pushing out Johnson?

A: Asked and Answered in a previous chat.  See the Davey Johnson question from the 7/1/13 version of this post.  Boswell indeed repeats his 7/1 answer today.

Q: Who gets demoted to make way for Scott Hairston?

A: The obvious and easy answer is (and was) Tyler Moore, the only real expendable hitter left on the active roster.  Expendible meaning he wasn’t a vet, wasn’t out of options, and isn’t hitting .300 playing every day.  (This move has already happened by the publication of this post, so it isn’t very timely).  Boswell points out that not only is Moore going to AAA, but there’s literally no room for him NEXT year since Scott Hairston is signed through 2014.  Oops.  Moore is now officially trade bait.

Q: Why do Baseball fields continue to be irregularly shaped?

A: Anachronism.  Its the only thing I can think of.   Boswell sort of agrees.

Q: Why havn’t we pulled the plug on Dan Haren?

A: I’ll give you $13M reasons why.  But, we’re getting close.  If the Nats are really going after Matt Garza then Haren’s days are numbered.  Thank baseball for guaranteed contracts, eh?   Boswell proposes a crazy trade proposal: Detwiler, Espinosa, Moore and Giolito for David Price, who he constantly mentions as being a guy he’d love to see acquired.  I don’t see it; Tampa Bay is notoriously difficult to deal with on the trade market and this trade offer basically collects three under-performing MLBers and an injured rookie for one of the 15 best arms in the game.  As David Schoenfield put it in his ESPN chat yesterday, this is a ridiculous trade offer from a homer-fan in Boswell.  

For what its worth, later on in the chat someone also pokes disbelief at this trade proposal.  Boswell defends the trade more on the years-of-control and by comparing Price to the Gio Gonzalez deal.

Q: Why did the Nats acquire Hairston in the first place?

A: Clearly, they felt like they needed better bench hitters.  And, they got him.  Boswell notes his great lefty splits.

Q: Will the Nats re-align their rotation post All-Star Break?

A: Probably; they did minor tweaks last year.  Unless it results in some ridiculous layoff, you’d have to think they’re going back to the opening day 1-2-3-4-5.  Boswell says nobody knows.

Q: According to high placed sources, Cliff Lee has informed the Phillies he’ll waive his no trade clause for the Nationals. Will the price be to high?

A: Ugh.  Just go look at Cliff Lee‘s contract.  He’s owed more than $75M AFTER this season (I’m counting the 2016 option that seems very likely to vest).  He turns 35 in August.  That’s an awful lot of money to be going to a 38 year old guy.  And it’d take a massive haul of our thinned farm system to get him, since the Phillies would be full bore into rebuilding mode if they moved Lee.  Just don’t see it.   Yes Lee has been great this year, but the fall-off for guys in their mid 30s can be steep.  Boswell points out similar facts.

Q: MLB seems to be making a special effort to promote Puig for the final spot, three tweets about him yesterday; none about the other four NL candidates. If they want him that badly why not institute a next-to-last spot for whoever they want to pick for marketing purposes?

A: Others have proposed reserving an all-star spot for an “Up and coming” player who isn’t on the ballot and thus has little chance of making it.  That makes sense to me.  MLB is doing their best to capture the Yasiel Puig-mania, and good for them to finally do some aggressive marketing of their marketable stars.  Boswell says Puig is awesome and then goes off on a tangent.

Q: Is Rafael Soriano turning into Don “fullpack” Stanhouse for Davey Johnson?

A: Rafael Soriano‘s numbers are fine; 2.19 ERA, converted 21 of 24 save opportunities.  He gives up a hit an inning; not ideal for a closer but not out of the realm of crazy.    I don’t get THAT nervous when he comes into games.   Boswell says Soriano is underrated.

Q: Alex Rodriguez is playing single A ball. Are the Yankees sending him a message?

A: Did the Nats “send a message” to Bryce Harper by sending him to Potomac (A-Ball) to rehab?   MLBers have to play re-hab ball somewhere;  dumb question inspired by the media sensationalism that perpetually surrounds Alex Rodriguez.  Boswell pokes fun at the Yankees, Brian Cashman‘s STFU tweet and the whole situation with A-Rod in general.

Q: Do the Nationals over-play music and promotions at games?

A: The question comes from someone who clearly comes across as a whiny “I liked it in the old days when we just had an organ at baseball games” type.  I’ve never gotten that impression at Nats games.  If you want to *really* see what a fan experience is like with near perpetual distractions and music, just head on over to the Verizon Center and take in a Wizards games.  They play 95 decibel music DURING PLAY.  Its just crazy.  Boswell says that while the PA is too loud, the Nats park is relatively devoid of ads and clutter.  

Q: Trade proposal: Clippard and Storen for Cliff Lee

A: Two non-closers for a MLB Ace.  And one (Drew Storen) who is really struggling this year.  Yea right.   If you’re going to propose trades, make them at least believable.   boswell falls back on intra-division, CYA blocking reasons for not considering this trade.

Q: Should we prevent Harper from participating in the Home-Run Derby due to injury concerns?

A: Should we block Harper from taking batting practice due to injury concerns?  Another ridiculous question.  The Home Run Derby is just BP with the cameras on.   Boswell says its more likely to mess up h is stroke; whatever.  Everything I’ve read about Harper’s BP sessions show that he’s basically trying to hit it to the beer stands on every pitch.

Q: Does Storen need a change of scenery?

A: Great question; the full text of the question answers things pretty well; Storen has gone from closer to 7th inning Ryan Mattheus replacement in less than a half a season.  If traded and given another shot, you have to think he’d re-flourish as a closer.  Mike Rizzo has traded closer-quality guys to teams that covet them (see the Matt Capps deal) so maybe this could be in the cards.  I’d always trade in a closer for a position player, since you can “make” closers so easily.  Look at what Ian Krol is doing; all he’s done since arriving as an unheralded AA-reliever is just shut people down; I’ll bet he would make an excellent closer.    Boswell says the team wants Storen around for the long haul.

Q: Trade idea: Danny Espinosa for Ervin Santana?

A: Hmm.  #2 starter with a 2.93 ERA for a team trying to make the playoffs for …. an AAA infielder who hit .158 this year.  AND the questioner thinks the Royals would throw in a prospect to make it work!  Talk about over-valuing your own assets.  There’s a difference between potential talent and realized talent; Espinosa completely encapsulates the difference.  Yes we know that he’s a plus-plus defender who can hit 20 bombs from the shortstop position.  But he has regressed year to year at the plate and now will be lucky to play in the majors again before the Sept 1st callup.  Why would the Royals possibly do this deal?   Thank god this is just a local chat and not one of these national ESPN chats where Nats fans in general would be lampooned for trade ideas like this.  Boswell doesn’t really even give an opinion on this one.


12 Responses to 'Ask Boswell 7/8/13 Edition'

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  1. Glad to see Boz has gotten a LITTLE more realistic. His original trade idea was Detwiler, Espinosa, Moore and COLE for Price. He ought to lose his creds as a supposed baseball expert just for saying that out loud.

    I think the quality of the questions reflects a lot of newer Nats fans impressed by Boz’s credentials who don’t realize he should have been put out to pasture years ago. They don’t really understand the real value of players and he spends most of his time kissing up to management. It makes for a pretty unreadable combination–thanks for doing it so the rest of us don’t have to. 🙂


    10 Jul 13 at 9:11 am

  2. On Boswell’s trade, was that really such a bad package? I mean, I agree that Tampa probably doesn’t do it, but I don’t think it is so ridiculous as to get completely laughed off. Espinosa put up two straight years of 3+WAR, which would have been higher in all likelihood at SS. And Detwiler, even with his recent struggles, is actually on a better pace than last year, at least according to WAR. And either Cole or Giolito is a top #100 prospect. In return, Price is admittedly a top 15 SP or so, but he is getting pricey too, so you are paying close to market value for his performance. Would you be shocked if he got $15m next year, followed by $20m?

    So it is highly possible to evaluate Det and Espy and conclude that their recent performance is small sample noise, not their true talent level. And then throw in Boz’s mostly correct point that years of control are a big deal these days, and I don’t think it is a crazy offer. I think Tampa holds out for more, and I don’t even think Rizzo does it right now either, but I don’t think it is so bad.


    10 Jul 13 at 7:03 pm

  3. Boswell’s Trade: If you had offered this trade LAST year, perhaps. Last year Moore was a 125 OPS+ bench slugger on a 30homer pace, Detwiler had a league top 10 ERA+ and looked like a 3rd starter, Espinosa was still a 240 hitter with 20 bomb power, and Giolito hadn’t had tommy john surgery yet.

    Now? Dewiler on his 2nd DL stint and struggling, Espinosa hitting .150, Moore demoted to AAA and Giolito in rehab.

    Why would the Rays possibly want this collection of players right now? Yeah I think it was a ridiculous offer in 2013. One team’s collection of junk never fetches a top arm.

    Todd Boss

    11 Jul 13 at 7:06 am

  4. Well, if you are saying that because the Rays are in a pennant race, they wouldn’t want players that are currently struggling or injured, ok. I didn’t look at it that way, I just looked at value for value. Which is maybe why you, like the ESPN guy, said that last year maybe this works. That struck me as putting too much weight on a few months of performance, which could easily be seen as injury related (and was only being applied one way).

    Look, I don’t think this is a great trade for the rays or that they would do it. But it is not in the category of ‘let’s trade Corey Brown for Mike Trout’ either. And just saying that if we are going to say ‘Espy is hitting .150’, then let’s also say that Price makes big dollars, and is the 82nd most valuable pitcher in baseball with an ERA over 4.00 (higher than Detwiler) in exactly the same innings. To be clear, I don’t think that is the way to look at them in either case, just making it consistent. I am not saying to ignore this year, just that you have to take their entire body of work into account, including their age, salary and years of control left, when evaluating them. Btw, I didn’t mention Moore, he would just be a throw in and at most a platoon player, if that.

    I think Detwiler and Espy have more value around the league than we think they do, especially Espy, because we get frustrated watching them and then feel worse towards them than they deserve. The opposite of the ‘homer’ syndrome.


    11 Jul 13 at 8:30 am

  5. To know whether or not that trade offer would get it done all you have to do is look what the Rays got for James Shields. Wil Myers was the #3 prospect in the game, Jake Odorizzi was #38 (and Royals MiLB pitcher of the year) and the other 2 pieces weren’t just throw ins. Leonard ranked as the #20 prospect in the Tampa system and just a year ago Mike Montgomery entered the season as the #31 prospect in baseball.

    In comparison AJ Cole was ranked #75 and is having another up and down year. Giolito was ranked #60 and has pitched in one game. David Price is controllable until 2016 which gives any team that snags him 3 1/2 seasons of control vs the 2 years of Shields. Detwiler is already making close to $2.5m this year in his first season of arbitration with 3 more years to follow so he may be more money than the Rays would want to commit to. Not to mention they have Archer, Odorizzi, Taylor Guierrier and other arms coming up the pipeline. Yes Espinosa and Moore could very well rebound but it isn’t enough to pry a legitimate ace away.

    I think you would have to part with Brian Goodwin, Giolito, Karns or Jordan, Moore and Espinosa to get it done and that still might not work. The fact of the matter is the Nats farm system is still a bit thin even with the growth from the pitching prospects.


    11 Jul 13 at 9:37 am

  6. Oh and I forgot to mention that I think Espinosa still has more value to the Nats if he gets himself right. If you put him in Lombardozzi’s spot on the bench we have a legitimate backup middle infielder. He could be a late inning replacement for Rendon if need be. He can be a lethal bench bat against left handed relievers and he can be a pinch runner since he has above average speed. He is currently on quite a hot streak in AAA which is good. His last 10 games he is hitting .371/.436/.600 with a homer, a triple and 3 doubles. Over those 39 plate appearances he also only has 7 strike outs and has drawn 4 walks. Obviously small sample size but if he can extend the hot streak for awhile he would be worthy of a bench spot IMO.


    11 Jul 13 at 9:44 am

  7. And most everyone in the industry thought that the Rays absolutely fleeced the Royals in that trade.

    Rizzo isn’t going to make a trade with Tampa. Tampa is notorious for:
    1. not taking money back
    2. Only wanting controllable prospects
    3. wanting to clearly “win” the trade with their aggresive GM and ownership group.

    Rizzo would have to empty the farm system to get Price. And that’s if our prospects are even tempting to a team like Tampa. Look at our top 10 prospects still in the minors. Giolito, Goodwin, Cole, Karns, Garcia, Skole, Purke, Solis, Perez and then probably. Of that group of 10:
    – 2 injured right now (Garcia, Skole)
    – 3 first seasons back from injury (Giolito, Purke, Solis) limiting value
    – 1 features as a backup outfielder frankly (Perez)
    – 1 has yet to succeed for a full season above low-A (Cole)
    – 1 looks promising but got blasted in 3 MLB starts (Karns)

    That leaves just Goodwin and Walters as relatively “unscathed” prospects. Is there enough solid prospect depth there to pull of any trade?

    Todd Boss

    11 Jul 13 at 9:47 am

  8. Perhaps I’m being unfair by focusing on the down years of all the Nats proposed parts in that trade and not admitting that Price has had a down year as well.

    But we’re talking about a frigging Cy Young award winner. A guy who is on anyone’s list of the top 15-20 pitchers in the game. I just do not see how Tampa accepts a bunch of struggling MLB/AAA players for him. As Mr. Dowdy pointed out, look no further at the ridiculous haul that Tampa got for James Shields, who is by no means in the same class as Price. Sheilds was a good pitcher no doubt … i have him as a MLB-wide #3 starter frankly. Certainly not in the same class as Price.

    Todd Boss

    11 Jul 13 at 9:49 am

  9. Again, I wasn’t saying that I thought the deal gets done. To be clear, I do not think it is enough value for Tampa, primarily because Detwiler has only pitched 1 season above 100 innings, so I am not sure how to value him. I was just trying to point out that it wasn’t as ridiculous in terms of value as it looked like people felt at first

    But as to the comments:
    – generally speaking, I think that a young player who has proven themselves at the major league level is more valuable than a prospect. So when you look at what the Royals gave up, I think to actually compare it to this proposal, you’d have to ask what the overall package would have been if Moustakas and/or Hosmer were in there. They gave up numerous top 100 prospects precisely because they didn’t offer anyone with proven major league value. So it had to have a bunch of them. Assuming Myers stays in, how many come out if Hosmer was put in there? Said differently, I doubt that KC trades Hosmer and Myers for Shields straight up. Plus, although I am not a prospect guy, I think many of the ones that the Royals gave up had downturns in performance before even hitting the majors.

    – I thought that Price was only controlled for two more years after this one? If I am wrong about that, it makes a big difference.

    – Espy’s value has to be higher to a team that views him as a starter v. one that wants him as a back up infielder (especially if that was as a starting SS). I am not saying that he wouldn’t have value as a back up, but I think that is just logic. See Mike Morse, 2013. He had value to us as a back up, but SEA bought him with a top 100 prospect because they saw him as a starter.

    – Price – I know he is a friggin’ Cy Young winner; really, I do. I wasn’t suggesting that Detwiler is his equal, I was just trying to use the same logic back. He is much better than Det, and his peripherals are still pretty good this year.

    Here is another way to look at it (not the right way, necessarily, just another way): let’s say Price has two years left and puts up two 5 WAR seasons. That is pretty good, equaled only once in Nats history (Gio last year). And I have suggested that he might get $35m over those two years.

    IF you think Espy is the 2011 and 2012 version (a 3.5 WAR player) and Det is a 2 WAR pitcher (that is what his rate stats suggest, although he has never logged the innings to get there). For salary, let’s say Espy goes $2m, $4m and $8m for his three arb years, and Det goes $4m, $7m and $9m for his years. Here is a comparison:
    Price: 10 WAR for $35m
    Det/Espy: 16.5 WAR for $34m.

    Moore is a replacement player, and whichever prospect gets included is an upside play. That is the theory anyway. The reason that I don’t think it works for Tampa is what you guys are focusing on: their recent struggles bring into doubt their value, causing a discount. But again, my point was that I didn’t think Boz was crazy with his proposal.


    11 Jul 13 at 11:39 am

  10. It is also hard to call Walters unscathed because he doesn’t walk and makes a ton of errors. Obviously both areas can improve but he is still a flawed prospect. A very nice piece considering what we have up for him but I don’t see him as a star.

    Wally, I used Baseball-reference and it said Price was a free agent in 2016. I think I interpreted it wrong and he is only under control for ’14 and ’15.

    I don’t dispute that some teams would value Espinosa higher than us Nats fans may but I also agree with Todd that in order to trade with the Rays a team has to be desperate. I don’t think Rizzo is.


    11 Jul 13 at 3:55 pm

  11. I think I (and plenty of others, once the National baseball writers got wind of the trade proposal) scoffed so loudly simply because it was a classic “hey we can trade this collection of guys we don’t want anymore for something good” rumor that smacks of a total homer proposal.

    Price: under control through 2015 per cots.

    Prospect vs MLB player; i totally agree with you that a “proven” MLBer is better than a prospect. However, do you think right now that Espinosa, Moore, Detwiler have really “proven” themselves yet? Which is better? a 4-A player or a prospect? Because right now both Moore and Espinosa are in AAA, having failed this year despite prior year successes. So a rival talent evaluator probably has no idea what they are right now.

    Todd Boss

    12 Jul 13 at 10:08 am

  12. I agree with your points, and the inability of an evaluator to decide what they are is what makes this trade not happen.

    But I think that each of them has proven something different.
    Detwiler: I think that he has proven that he is a 4th/5th starter in terms of stuff, which while under team control, can be a valuable commodity to have. His questions are durability, but I think an evaluator would at least look at his floor as a very effective LH reliever. Their value is spotty but not zero (see the multi year contracts that Sean Marshall and Glen Perkins got; I think Det is in that class of reliever at worst. he might touch 97 as a reliever).
    Espinosa – I think that his floor is a Brendan Ryan/pete Kozma good D SS, but he has a non-zero upside of Desi-lite (I think Desi, after the last two years, is one of the top ten SS in baseball). I just don’t think that you can ignore that he played plus defense with almost 60 XBH for each of the last two years because he sucked so badly this year. And that his entire decline dates to a serious shoulder injury that still hasn’t been surgically addressed. I think that we might be surprised how ‘fixable’ he is viewed by other teams who need a SS.
    Moore – he is just a AAAA guy. His pedigree and performance do not suggest otherwise, so I see no value given to him. Although I have wondered if he might be a decent gamble for a team looking to dump a salary in terms of an SP in his walk year. Is he better than the three prospects the Marlins got for Nolasco? I don’t know, probably not.

    So if an evaluator valued Det and Espy at their high end, they could hold real value and I think Rizzo would be convinced to do something. This is how Boz looked at it, I think. At the low end of their range, I don’t think Rizzo does anything because the package would be too low. He’d just keep them on the chance they hit their upside for us. I think that you guys are saying the same when you say that the Tampa deal would never happen (who would likely insist on them being valued at the low end)

    Ok,I’ll stop now. If I haven’t made any worthwhile points by now, I am genetically unable to do it!


    12 Jul 13 at 1:18 pm

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