Hey, its been a while since MLB Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson did an inbox. With the Nats season now relegated to “playing for pride,” I’m guessing this inbox is going to be chock full of questions about the future. Lets dive in.
As always, I write my response to each question before reading his, and edit questions for clarity/conciseness. All stats mentioned are as of 8/13/13.
Q: Do you think the Nationals could trade Adam LaRoche, move Ryan Zimmerman to first base, Anthony Rendon to third base and sign a free-agent second baseman like Robinson Cano?
A: Wow, that’s a lot of moving parts. Lets take this wish list of proposed personnel moves one by one:
- Trade Adam LaRoche: we’d likely not get a whole heck of a lot for a 33 turning 34 year old first baseman who clearly took a step back in 2013. LaRoche currently ranks 22nd among league-wide first basemen in wRC+, barely above the league average. By way of comparison, Mark Reynolds is ranked 25th and was just flat-out released after passing through waivers. So, no I don’t think there are a lot of teams out there willing to pony up the $14M he’s owed next year ($12M in salary, $2m of a buyout of his 2015 option). This signing has really set the team back offensively. Though to be fair, Michael Morse (who would have slotted in at 1B had the team not been able to re-sign LaRoche) is also posting about the same wRC+ numbers and has missed half the season with yet another injury.
- Move Ryan Zimmerman to first base: yes I think this is going to happen eventually, but not this off-season. I think you handle the transition of a gold-glove winning player off his chosen position carefully and with consideration to the clubhouse ramifications. I don’t think it played well in Texas’ clubhouse when a former gold-glove winning shortstop Michael Young was moved to third against his wishes, and he made way for a superb defender in Elvis Andrus. Zimmerman would be making way for a relative unknown (though presumed gifted) defensive replacement. I think the Nats brass is chalking up 2013’s subpar defensive season to Zimmerman’s lingering shoulder issue, which has exacerbated his already problematic throwing motion and associated mental issues. I see Zimmerman giving it a fresh start in 2014, and if it becomes clear it isn’t working out we look at spring training 2015 as a position transfer.
- Move Anthony Rendon to third: it likely happens eventually. But him moving to third has to wait for the first two bullet points to happen, so again I’m predicting perhaps 2015. I think more time at 2B will give him more confidence and his errors will subside. So far his range at 2B is passable (UZR/150 of 0.5 in 448 innings), but that’s a far cry from what Danny Espinosa was offering there (UZR/150 of 12.0 this year, which would have been good for 2nd in the league. He posted a 9.9 in a full-season last year). But, by the time Rendon is set to move to 3rd he may very well just stay at 2nd. He seems like he’s the right size and shape to play 2nd.
- Sign Robinson Cano. There’s no question Cano will be the marquee FA this coming off-season, but I don’t think he signs with Washington for two main reasons. First, the Yankees just cannot let the one remaining good offensive player they have leave, and I believe they’ll over-pay him to stay. Secondly, whoever signs Cano is making a potentially classic free agency mistake; overpaying a guy in his down years. Look at the 9 figure deals signed lately for position players, and look at how many of them are almost immediately regrettable. Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard, Josh Hamilton, Carl Crawford and our own Jayson Werth. All of those deals routinely listed as the worst contracts in the game. I believe Mike Rizzo is smart enough and forward thinking enough not to hamstring the team with another contract.
So, my answer to this scenario is “not going to happen.” Ladson says “call me in the off-season.”
Q: How do you defend your previous support of Danny Espinosa?
A: Um, you can’t. Espinosa has now had nearly 1600 major league plate appearances and has a career slash line of .230/.303/.396. He just cannot hit batting left handed (career splits: he’s 40 batting points and 75 slugging points lower batting left-handed). He’s hitting .219 in AAA since being demoted. He faces serious concerns about where his career is going right now. Yes he’s a great defensive player, but that only gets you halfway to a MLB job these days. Ladson says Espinosa has been hurt this whole time and when he’s healthy he’s good. But he also admits that Espinosa’s time playing full-time for the Nats is probably at an end.
Q: Is Denard Span a bust? He has a low on-base percentage and he hasn’t been stealing many bases.
A: Yes, I think its safe to say that Denard Span has been a bust. He never really stole that many bases (17 last year, career high of 26), but certainly he has posted much better OBP numbers (.342 last year, .350 career). What has happened to him in 2013? Who knows. He has stated that he likens this year to his rookie year, having to learn a whole new league of pitchers. That could be fair; and could lead to a rebound in 2014. I do know this; .313 OBP from the lead-off spot just doesn’t cut it. To make matters worse, his defensive stats have dropped off too; his UZR is down, his DRS is down. That’s really not a good sign; you can put up with a #8 hitter batting .260 with no power if he provides great value in the field. If not, then you’re better off bringing up a minor leaguer to see what he can do. This is another concern for Rizzo heading into the off-season; is this a one-off, an adjustment season for Span, or is this the start of his decline phase? Ladson extolls Span’s defense, admits he’s not getting on base and postulates the Nats could go after Shin-Soo Choo in the off-season to replace him. I think Ladson needs to look at the defensive numbers on Choo before advocating that; he’s dead last in UZR/150 for center-fielders right now, by a significant margin. Now, if you got Choo and moved Bryce Harper back to center? I’d be for that 100%. Make Span your 4th OF, wave good-bye to Roger Bernadina and move on.
Q: Do you think Drew Storen will be traded? His relationship with the Nationals doesn’t seem the same since he blew the save last year against the Cardinals during the National League Division Series.
A: Traded? No. Re-called and put into a lesser bullpen role? Absolutely. I think once Drew Storen fixes whatever mechanics issue that has been plaguing him, he comes right back to a Ryan Mattheus type role in the pen. Storen’s ERA in Syracuse is unsightly so far (unlucky small sample size; he’s given up 4 runs on just 7 hits), but he’s got 11 k’s to 0 walks in 6 innings. AAA hitters aren’t exactly challenging him, if he’s struck out half the guys he’s faced. If the team was considering him in trade … you’d have to think they would want to get him back up to the majors to regain value anyway. Ladson thinks he can regain value and can be a MLB closer again.
Q: Will the Nationals consider going after Michael Morse when he becomes a free agent at the end of the year? He would have helped the Nats’ offense this year, splitting time between the outfield and first base. What do you think?
A: As much as I like Morse and have complained about losing him … you have to realize who he is. He’s an oft-injured slugger who has no position on an NL team. If we signed Morse, where exactly does he play? I guess you could platoon him with LaRoche at first or with Span in the outfield … but as a righty he’d play bat twice a week. I think Morse signs on as a DH with an AL team for surprisingly low money. If Seattle offers him a Q.O. I’d be shocked. Ladson doesn’t think he would have helped the team, nor does he see any way he gets signed.