Nationals Arm Race

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

Ladson’s Inbox 8/26/13


Tyler Clippard has been one of the few bright spots for the 2013 Nats; why isn’t he closing? Photo Masn.

Excellent, I was just thinking that I had nothing to write about and MLB Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson posted a mailbox.  Honestly, if I had a steady stream of people emailing me questions I’d have a field day.  I’d post so much content my hands would melt from carpal tunnel syndrome.  I’d post 8,000 word columsn like what Bill Simmons used to do.  Anyway.

Here’s how I’d have responded to the questions Ladson took.  As always, I write my answer here before reading his and edit questions for clarity/conciseness.

Q: Given the way Dan Haren has pitched since being activated from the disabled list, do you see any chance the Nationals re-signing him?

A: Nope.  Zero.  Zilch.  They’re not going to make another $13M mistake in 2014, not with the way that Taylor Jordan has pitched.  The Nats little splurge last off-season pushed their payroll into unknown territory, and I’ll bet they bring it back (especially since that pocketbook hit brought nothing but a .500 record).  Dan Haren is more likely to get flipped to a pitching starved contender in the next week (unless the Nats stupidly hold out for too many prospects, as seems to be the case) and will be plying his trade elsewhere next season.  Ladson says no as well but then completely hedges his answer, saying that “things could change” and “we should have more information in the off-season.”   Well, can’t that be the answer to every question?  

Q: Why isn’t Tyler Clippard closing? 

A: Because the Nats stupidly gave Rafael Soriano a $30M deal, and he’s a “big name closer” that someone in this team’s executive heirarchy was convinced that we needed.  I don’t think it was Mike Rizzo; this moves smelled like a fan-boy ownership panic move in reaction to Drew Storen‘s NLCS Game 5 meltdown.  The problem with Soriano, as has been well established in his prior stints, is that he’s a whiner, a clubhouse cancer, and a problem child when he’s not used in save situations.  His track record speaks for itself: look at his seasonal performances when he’s a closer versus when he’s not.  He wore out his welcome in Tampa Bay with probably the most easy-going manager in the game Joe Maddon.  We’ve already learned this year he doesn’t work out with his fellow relievers, sits off to himself, isn’t a part of the team.  Great acquisition guys!

We played in the Diamond Dream Foundation golf tournament yesterday and had the opportunity to play alongside former Baltimore Oriole pitcher Dave Johnson, who now does radio work for the Orioles on MASN.  This same topic came up; why isn’t Clippard closing but more importantly; what are the Nats going to do with Tyler Clippard in this coming arbitration hearing?   Johnson said that the save statistic is what the players wanted to be judged on for arbitration hearings, and now they’re slaves to it.  Clippard is having a fantastic season, but isn’t the closer, and he belives that management isn’t going to want to pay him $5-$6M to be a “middle reliever.”  I’m guessing the Nats try to sign Clippard to a 2-year deal this off-season, buying out his arbitration years.

They’ll never do this, but another option for the team is this; trade Clippard to a team looking for a closer, get prospects back, and then his pay becomes commensurate with his role.  But this would significantly weaken the bullpen going into next year needlessly.  Its only money; if the Nats didn’t learn this from last year’s transactions (letting Tom Gorzelanny walk over a couple of million dollars?  Non-tendering John Lannan to save $5m?) then that’s unfortunate.  I’d rather have had a couple of guys getting a ton of money as insurance policies than a $30M closer for a .500 team.

Ladson pointed out curious reliever usage in the last series and postulates that Davey Johnson may have had enough of Soriano himself.  We’ll see if Clippard closes the rest of the way and how Soriano handles it.

Q: Do you think Mike Rizzo would consider hiring Mike Scioscia as the Nationals’ next manager? Looks like his time in Anaheim may be ending.

A: Absolutely.  If the Angels are dumb enough to let Mike Scioscia go, then I agree with Buster Olney and Jayson Stark, who talked about this same issue on the Baseball Tonight Podcast late last week.  They said that if Scioscia is fired, “he’ll have a new job in 0.2 seconds.”   The Angels aren’t losing because of Scioscia; they’re losing because the GM wanted to spend $400M on aging FA bats in Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton while spending about $5 on starting pitching this year.  (I STILL cannot believe the Joe Blanton contract; how does he get a 2yr/$15M contract after the way he pitched in 2012??).  Ladson agrees.

Q: Considering how well Werth has played this year, are we giving up on Span too soon?

A: Possibly.  Or possibly we were just expressing irritation that Denard Span is playing exactly as we feared he would; posting a 91 OPS+ which is nearly identical to his production in 2010 and 2011.   I’m tired of repeating my own opinion on the matter (we didn’t need Span, we could have kept Harper in center, you’re wasting Harper’s defense in left, we could have used Morse’s power, we didn’t need to give up our best starting pitching prospect, defense in LF and 1B is overrated, blah blah blah).   Ladson says that Span has a “friendly contract” and can be dealt.  Sorry; don’t see that.  Rizzo’s way too egotistical to admit a mistake and deal Span now.

Q: Looking to next year, doesn’t Steve Lombardozzi remind you of Chase Utley at second? And what happens with Tyler Moore as either an outfielder or first baseman? Both of these young guys are too good not to get a real chance at starting for the Nats.

A: Steve Lombardozzi as Chase Utley?  Uh; Utley averaged 30 homers in his peak years and has more than 200 for his career.  Lombardozzi has four.  4 homers in his life.  Lombardozzi is a slap hitter, Utley is a middle of the order power hitter.  Other than that, yeah I guess they’re similar.   As for Tyler Moore I guess the questioner either a) hasn’t seen his seasonal numbers or b) has forgotten that the Nats have guys locked up through 2014 at every position that Moore can play.  Unless there’s an injury, the guy is a backup in 2014.  Ladson agrees with me on Lombardozzi.  As for Moore, Ladson seems to think that the Nats might trade LaRoche.  Really??  Who is going to take LaRoche for 2014?  He’s hitting .238 with barely any power for a first baseman.  Who’s taking that contract and giving us anything of value coming back?  Wishful thinking.

Q: Would the Nationals have interest in signing outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who is a free agent after this season?

A: I would think not; Jacoby Ellsbury is going to want too much money, we have no place to play him, and I don’t think he’s worth the money.  He had one great season, a couple of decent ones and otherwise is a below-average offensive outfielder.    I think he’s a lock to stay in Boston.  Ladson notes that Ellsbury is a Scott Boras client so you never know what’ll happen.

4 Responses to 'Ladson’s Inbox 8/26/13'

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  1. That second-to-last question has to qualify as one of the dumbest Ladson haas ever bothered to answer–and that is saying something.

    As much as we may gripe about Span, I think the bigger mistake in retrospect was resigning LaRoche. Moore proved again during his second stint at AAA that he can really hit when he plays regularly. His BA was .367 and his OPS in his was 1.106 and he actually drew a decent number of walks (18) and kept his Ks reasonable (24) to go along with 8 HRs in 33 games. In other words, he looked like a guy who at age 26 is really ready to show what he is capable of if given a chance to start in the majors.

    My guess is he could be about a .250 hitter with around 35 HRs, in other words a great guy to have batting fifth or so in the order to protect Zin-Harper-Werth in the lineup above him. Unfortunately, he isn’t getting any younger, and if he stays hot through September would probably be more valueable to the Nats as potential trade bait this off season rather than as a backup again next year.

    On Clippard: he is really in the driver’s seat in any contract extension negotiations given that right now he is the ONLY guy in the bullpen who can be completely trusted with the game on the line. Trading him would really hurt the team’s chances of competing for the playoffs next year, and I’m sure he knows that.


    27 Aug 13 at 11:14 am

  2. I dunno; he’s answered some dumb ones in the past 🙂

    Moore: I’d also like to see what he can do, but the team isn’t *quite* to the point of “playing the young guys yet.” Maybe if they’re still 10 games out Sept15th we’ll see some new faces in the starting lineup. It still seems like they’re in denial about their playoff chances and their seasonal results. At least we’re seeing some managerial concessions to his lack of hitting, dropping him to 6th and putting Desmond up there.

    Speaking of Desmond. .. i had a post asking whether in the wake of Andrus’ $100m extension if Desmond was also going to be worth that much … so far he’s trending towards it. 20/20 guy, great defense, middle of the order bat playing SS … very rare. Another tough decision coming for the Nats.

    Clippard: i wonder if he’d sign like a 2yr/$12M deal (say, $5M and $7M) to buy out his remaining arb years. That seems like a good deal, gives him guaranteed money, gives us some stability and lack of an arbitration fight for two years running with a guy who is honestly goign to be hard to value in arbitration…

    Todd Boss

    27 Aug 13 at 12:35 pm

  3. I think Clip signs that in a heart beat, and the Nats would never offer it. Would he really get much more than that in arbitration? I have a hard time seeing it, not being the closer. I think if you want to sign him, and I am not sure that I would, it would look more like 3/$13 or so. I still think Clip jumps at that kind of guaranteed deal. These guys know that one pitch shatters their career, and the relievers have such a small sample size each year that one bad year can also wreck earnings.

    Btw, to me, The problem with Soriano is that his stuff has deteriorated to just average and if he doesn’t hit his spots perfectly, he gets hit hard. The fact that he is an ass is irrelevant to the team if he is good, which he isn’t. I think I agree that it wasn’t Rizzo’s choice here, since I doubt that he would have been blinded to the fall off in his stuff.

    Love the Lombo = Utley comment.


    27 Aug 13 at 2:19 pm

  4. What would Clippard get in arbitration? He’s gone from min to 1.65M to 4M and has two more years to go. My general rule of thumb on 3-year arb guys is that they get 40%/60%/80% of their full market value in each hearing. 4th year guys its tougher; i guess you go 40/60/80/100%. So if he’s at 4M now and that’s 60% of his market value, that puts him roughly 6M and 7.5M in his next two arb sessions. So that’s close to what I guessed in the article. 3/$13 may be undervaluing him frankly and doesn’t give him much of a raise over what he’d expect to get (but it would give him guaranteed money, so there’s a discount there).

    I think a-holes still figure in to a team’s issues, even if the team is good. But yeah he’s not what he used to. Great signing.

    Todd Boss

    27 Aug 13 at 4:09 pm

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