Nationals Arm Race

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

Ladson’s inbox 12/2/13 edition



The drumbeat to have Morse back continues.  Photo

The drumbeat to have Morse back continues. Photo

Happy Thanksgiving!  Apparently I didn’t realize how long between posts it had been (nearly 2 weeks).    I didn’t go anywhere or anything; just hunkered down for the holidays, entertained the in-laws, and found myself with very little non-work computer time to delve into hot-stove season issues.

Thankfully, we have a Bill Ladson inbox to get us going this week!  Dated 12/2/13.

(Note: I was mid-way typing this post when the Doug Fister news broke … so its a day later than I wanted it to be, and I edited this to be relevant).

As always, I write my response here before reading his and edit questions for clarity/conciseness.

Q: I’ve heard about so many big-market teams being out of the Robinson Cano sweepstakes. What about the Nats? They did swing a shocker of a deal in Jayson Werth, and Cano could be the signing that brings the World Series trophy back to the beltway.

A: Several national writers (including this latest, most comprehensive viewpoint from Paul Swydan on ESPN insider just this week) are making the same point.  In simple terms, sign Robinson Cano, move Anthony Rendon to third, move Ryan Zimmerman and his scatter-arm to first, and put Adam LaRoche out to pasture (or, more likely, a trade for 20 cents on the dollar).   I’d love the move in the short-term but would absolutely hate it in the long term.   Its really simple: the guy’s 30.  He wants to be paid for the next decade as if he’ll never age.   His anticipated 10 year $200-and something million dollar contract will immediately be at the top of the list of albatross contracts in the league.  You just can’t do it, not if you want to maintain finacial flexibility to extend the core of this team (Strasburg, HarperDesmond to name three) and maintain some sort of a budget.  (Oh, by the way, I have always maintained the Jayson Werth contract was a “statement contract” to the league, an overpay that legitimized this franchise as a FA player after years of being a laughingstock in the league under Jim Bowden and inept league ownership.  So, i’m not entirely sure I’d use Werth’s deal as any sort of predictor of Mike Rizzo‘s intentions).

Hey, it isn’t my  money.  If Ted Lerner‘s ok with spending $150M or more a  year … maybe i’d be on board.  But man, 3 or 4 years from now when Jayson Werth is hobbling around the outfield earning $20M plus, Zimmerman’s at $15M/year and possibly clogging a 1st base spot, each of Desmond, Gonzalez, Harper, Strasburg and Zimmermann earning 8 figure deals, a Cano $25M/year albatross is clogging your payroll, and the team starts telling its fans that they’re standing pat or depending on signing middling free agents to try to “win” next year (you know, like the Phillies), I think you’ll regret this contract.

Ladson thinks the team could be in on Cano, and could use Rendon as trade bait for a pitcher.  *sigh* well, we’ll see what happens.

Q: Do the Nats have any interest in a guy like Raul Ibanez to fill the fourth outfielder/power-left-handed-bat-off-the-bench role? He’s over 40, but a veteran with outstanding work ethic. His 2013 season’s numbers suggest that it might be worthwhile to take a gamble on him for one year, if he’s willing to accept a reasonable salary and less playing time. Your thoughts?

A: I just do not see it.  Would you trust a guy who suddenly spikes his performance at age 41?  Rizzo needs to go younger, not ancient.  Raul Ibanez makes sense to sign a series of one year deals with AL teams that can DH  him as long as he proves his worth until he’s retired.  Ladson says the nats need a 4th OF who can man center; a good point.

Q: With the way that Ryan Mattheus hurt his hand last year and then struggled mightily after being activated from the disabled list, is he in the Nats’ bullpen plans for 2014?

A: I think Ryan Mattheus may be on the outside looking in come April 1, 2014 after his performance and injury in 2013.  Without any other moves, you have to think right now the Nats bullpen has 4 locks (Soriano, Clippard, Storen and Stammen), one loogy (from within or outside), one long man (Ohlendorf or a 5th starter competition loser) and one spot up for grabs.  Mattheus is the current leader in the clubhouse for that spot .. but he’ll face competition.  Right now, if Christian Garcia is healthy he’s proven to be more effective than Mattheus.  If Garcia can’t go, then Mattheus probably has the spot locked up barring any more signings.  He could face some competition from guys in the minors like Nathan Karns (if the team decides he can’t find a 3rd pitch and converts him to a reliever… though this probably doesn’t happen until 2015 at the earliest), or possibly from new 40-man addition Aaron Barrett.  For right now i’d say he’s the 7th guy but he needs to produce at 2012 levels to keep his job over Garcia.  Ladson agrees with me, I guess.

Q: Just wondering, do you think No. 2 prospect Lucas Giolito will get an invitation to Spring Training with the big club?

A: Nope, not this year.  No point.  He’s yet to play a day in full-season ball; he needs to stay in the minor league section and get his full work, not languish on the MLB spring training bench getting an inning every other day.  Now, if he shoots up the system in 2014 and ends in AA, then yeah a spring training invite for 2015 could be in the works.  Ladson agrees.

Q: After reading all these trade rumors, I feel like the Nationals are going to make a huge move this offseason. Do you feel it would come as a bat or as a pitcher?

A: Even before the Fister deal, I still would have said a Pitcher.  Even though I don’t think pitching was our problem in 2013 (a tease for a draft blog post with some interesting stats that I have in progress).  The problem with trading for a Bat is this: there’s just no obvious place to upgrade.   Not unless you move a guy like LaRoche or Span (our two least productive bats last season) and make a hole for someone coming in.  Ladson really goes out on a limb and says ‘it could be both.’

Q: Why not bring back Michael Morse for the extra power on the bench and replacement forAdam LaRoche from time to time?

A: I think the book on Michael Morse has been written by now: he can’t stay healthy, he’s a liability in the field, and he needs to be able to DH.  He’s just not an NL player anymore.  A quick look at the depth charts in the AL shows a couple of teams that could take a flier on Morse.  The problem is that two of the teams with the most need for a DH (Seattle and Baltimore) both had Morse last year and he washed out.  Maybe his last shot could be with a team like Oakland or Houston, teams with limited budgets willing to give last-chances to guys like Morse to resurrect their careers.  Ladson repeats his last Morse answer; Morse wants to be an every-day player and at Washington he’d be  a bench player.

Q: With Stephen Drew being a Scott Boras client, could you see the Nationals signing him, having him or Ian Desmond transition to second base? It could solidify the middle infield with veteran stability, couldn’t it?

A: Why in the h*ll would you purposely take a plus defender shortstop (whether it be Stephen Drew or Desmond)  and waste him at second base?   That’d be dumb.  That’d kind of be like what Texas is doing to Jurickson Profar.  Despite the oft-repeated mantra that the “Nats are Scott Boras‘ b*tch” if you check the records we’re not even the team with the most Boras clients.   And most of our Boras clients were guys we drafted irrespective of who represented them.  I’m really tired of reading the cliche that any and all Boras clients are Nats targets because we for some reason feel obliged to deal with him.  I’ll tell you this; I’d rather be friendly with Boras than unfriendly; he represents serious talent in this game and if we can get access to his players more easily than an antagonistic GM, we’re in a better positions.  Ladson doesn’t think Drew would want to switch positions either.

19 Responses to 'Ladson’s inbox 12/2/13 edition'

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  1. Some people have a hard time letting things go. The Boras narrative and the cries for Morse’s return are as dumb as the people saying Lombardozzi will be hard to replace. It is probably the same people who kept asking Ladson about who the next manager would be in the middle of the season.

    I know it didn’t seem like pitching was the problem last year but the swing from Haren to Fister would have put the Nats much closer to the wild card. And as you’ve stated it would not be easy to plug a bat into the lineup.


    4 Dec 13 at 11:03 am

  2. Even with Haren the Nats rotation was generally in the top 5-6 in the league by most statistical measures. So, while yes its great to get Fister … that wasn’t the reason the team lost 12 games in the Win column last year. I think work still needs to be done on the bullpen, the offense, and especially the bench (which by one measure I read this week was the 2nd worst only to Houston in the whole game; that’s saying something).

    Based on who we traded, Fister is found gold. So I won’t complain about that deal at all. Still some work to do though…

    Todd Boss

    4 Dec 13 at 11:24 am

  3. I’ll still beat a drum for Morse. When healthy he was and would probably still be our best hitter. If he’d come cheap enough I’d take him to platoon with Laroche and play a little outfield. If he gets hurt again, so what if he comes cheap? and he probably will come cheap. As you’ve alluded to, offense is our problem. What better options do you suggest to upgrade the bench offense and provide some insurance for another Laroche disaster or Moore not improving? Lots of people talking about Espi being a bench guy now and that scares the crap out of me. I don’t care what defense he brings, that’s no way to fix a bench offense that was historically bad. One thing about Morse’s injuries…. at least they are bad enough that he sits. We usually have guys like Laroche, Espi, Zimm, Harper play through injuries for months at a time with disasterous results at the plate.

    Marty C

    4 Dec 13 at 2:03 pm

  4. So the argument against Morse is less about what he could bring to the Nats bench and more about how he presumably still perceives himself. Does the think he’s still a starter? Would he take a bench role? Is he basically the same thing right now as Tyler Moore, aka a hulking RH-power hitting bench option who can barely play LF/1B? I think what the team needs to do from a bench perspective is find a lefty bat to replace what Tracy didn’t give them last season first.

    Playing through injury: great point. Would Harper’s season have turned out differently if he had just sat after his first wall collission? maybe. Why has Espinosa *still* not had surgery to repair his shoulder?

    Todd Boss

    4 Dec 13 at 2:51 pm

  5. I don’t think Espi can hit even with a perfect shoulder. He had one or two hot months his whole career and many atrocious months at the plate even before the injuries. I would take Morse over Moore. if they aren’t planning a full time gig for Moore in the very near future he is a very risky bench solution at this point. Hopefully Skole can prove his way as the future answer at first base. And given Laroche’s defensive decline last year i wouldn’t be that scared to have Morse play first quite regularly. Todd aren’t you tired of seeing Laroche just flailing against left handers? The problem with a team constructed like the Nats is all these guys make so much money or special status like Harper that they will not sit them no matter how badly they are slumpling or struggling from one side. The only position they could play musucal chairs was 2nd base where everyone was cheap enough to rotate. I like Morse because our bench needs some impact bats from both sides even if there are defensive liabilities. Who do you think is on the bench? Moore and Hairston are not a great start. I’m hoping Moore is not as bad as he looked last year, but you have to plan that he might be. Does Walters make it? Does Corey Brown?

    Marty C

    4 Dec 13 at 3:18 pm

  6. I think Brown is DFAed well before spring training.

    I would let Walters, Kobernus and Espinosa plus a minor league free agent battle for the utility spot. This spot does not have to hit a ton they just need to be better than Lombardozzi was last season.

    I feel like Moore should either be platooned at 1st base with LaRoche some so he gets relatively regular at bats or he should spend time at AAA again. If he is being platooned Hairston should be traded/cut loose because they are redundant.

    I think Hairston can still be used in some capacity against left handed pitching if Moore is optioned. In August and September he finished with a .269 average to go along with a pair of homers and 3 doubles in 41 at bats. Thats good for a .488 slugging percentage over those 2 months. He also hit 3 pinch hit homers last season. Hairston was not the real issue on the bench. I would be perfectly happy if Rizzo replaces him but I could live with him as long as he has a shorter leash once the season starts.

    This leaves a spot for a backup catcher, a left handed bat at any position and a true 4th outfielder who can hold his own a bit on the defensive end.

    Backup Catcher
    4th Outfielder (Sam Fuld, Grady Sizemore, Andres Torres)
    Left Handed bat (Eric Chavez, Tyler Colvin, Garret Jones)


    4 Dec 13 at 4:08 pm

  7. I think the Nats should grab Andrew Werner who the A’s just DFAed if they can. He is a lefty who has started his whole career. He got rocked in the Pacific Coast league the last 2 seasons but that is a notoriously hitter friendly league and he was very solid as a starter pre PCL. He screams LOOGY to me now that his value as a starter has taken a hit.


    4 Dec 13 at 4:13 pm

  8. Love Skole; i want to see what he can do. But, in all honesty Skole could turn out to be Moore v2.0. The problem with Morse is his 2013: how do you explain how god-awful he was all of last year?

    LaRoche: yes I am tired of watching him suck but what exactly can we do? He was awful last year so any trade would be pennies on the dollar. I’d have to think that its almost better to just hope that last year was an anomoly, becasue of his weight issue, whatever, and hope he rebounds in what could be his last contract year.

    Bench to me right now (w/ no acquisitions) looks like Hairston, Espinosa, Moore, Walters and Leon/Solano. That’s not *too* bad; couple of switch hitters, two guys who can play middle infield, a power RH bat in Moore. Weak on the lefty bat, and it is problematic in that Walters has like 5 mlb at-bats and Espinosa still is the same guy who hit .150 last year. So upgrades are needed.

    Brown, as I just discovered doing some options analysis, is out of them. Meaning he either makes the team (incredibly doubtful) or he’s waived. He’s cleared waivers before so we may very well get to keep him. But i’m just not sure how useful he is to us at this point. I know there’s others who read here who love Brown and think he deserves a shot; i see a career 4-A guy who just can’t help this team.

    Todd Boss

    4 Dec 13 at 4:46 pm

  9. All look like sound analysis/sound moves to me.

    Todd Boss

    4 Dec 13 at 4:47 pm

  10. Bench to me right now (w/ no acquisitions) looks like Hairston, Espinosa, Moore, Walters and Leon/Solano
    I really hope two of those are wrong (at least). Would like a quality LH OF instead of Moore, so that if/when someone goes down, they can platoon with Hairston, and a better catcher than Leon/Solano. I am ok with Espy at utility (assuming he accepts the role) and Walters playing super sub (I assume he could handle LF in a pinch, like Lombo learned).


    4 Dec 13 at 5:04 pm

  11. The one thing Skole has that Moore doesn’t is the left handed bat. Also Skole can be a fill in at 3rd if needed. Not saying you would want him to be there a lot but it is more flexibility than Moore offers. He also has errrr plate discipline. I guess that was more than one thing.


    4 Dec 13 at 6:11 pm

  12. Well that’s what I was talking about. ALL you guys are penciling in Espinosa. I find that incredible. He was the worst hitter in MLB last year. And by no means great the other years.

    This for a very offensivly challenged team? Walters should take his place 100%. You can always find a good glove no hit player to pick up in emergency like a Isturis type I would think. If you go Espi, Moore, Hairston, + catcher that is the makings of the worst bench again in both leagues unless something crazy happens with Moore’s production.

    Moore might turn it around and Espi has a 1% chance at a miracle turnaround, but do you really want to count on those things happening? I would not sacrafice any offense on the bench positions except for catcher. And the main reason is our regular lineup is not like the Cardinals. They are for the most part a collection of streak hitters that don’t like to sit when slumping or against bad matchups for them And when they are going cold as they often did last year you can’t compliment that with a punchless pathetic bench.

    And any player who starts the season in a terrible month long or more slump needs to get platooned or benched no matter how much they are making.

    Otherwise I’m pretty excited to see how Zimm does being completely healthy and recouperated for the first time in a few years. And will be awesome if Werth can keep up his excellence from last year. And will be interesting to see is Stras is better and gets a couple MPH back with the chips out if his elbow. Or conversely if it takes him a while to bounce back from that procedure like it did Storen.

    Marty C

    4 Dec 13 at 7:57 pm

  13. Zach Walters is a terrible defensive infielder who has had one good year at AAA. Good, not great – although he suddenly developed power (29 HRs), I can’t help but notice that in his previous three seasons he hit a total of 25 HRs. Which season is the outlier, and which season the true talent? Further, his plate discipline sucks. His OBP was .286 – a respectable batting average, but a lousy OBP. He whiffed once per game in AAA. Do you really think he’s going to do better against big league pitching? For comparison, two players that you write off in Corey Brown and Tyler Moore had much better seasons at AAA (.285/.365/.523 for Brown in 2012, .314/.387/.609 for Moore in 2012-3, about one full AAA season’s worth of games).

    Pencilling in Walters as the utility guy is at least as foolish as pencilling in Espinosa. Neither is really a good candidate to hit much, and at least Espinosa packs a glove.

    John C.

    5 Dec 13 at 12:01 am

  14. That said, Walters strong season in 2013 has put him back on the radar screen (he was desperately close to being written off as organizational depth). One mark about the Nationals’ progress as an organization is that their pitching rotation in AAA is likely to be quite strong, likely led by Tanner Roark and Tyler Jordan with Ohlendorf in the swing starter/long man role in the bullpen. This is a better use of the kids’ talent, because they should be kept stretched out as starters in case of injury in the Nats’ rotation. The OF will likely be Souza, Perez and Kobernus. Unless Kobernus wins the utility role in DC; I think he’s a better candidate than Walters because he’s better defensively, can play IF or OF and can run like the wind. Walters will be in the infield, possibly with Matt Skole off of his AFL performance. Skole probably starts in AA though.

    John C.

    5 Dec 13 at 12:06 am

  15. Is it clear that Kobernus is better defensively? I have heard less than glowing results. He is a better base runner, certainly, and that has value. If they added a good hitting LH OF, and perhaps a more offensive minded back up C, then I would be fine with a top glove at MI back up, and Espy would top the list, assuming attitude is positive. He also makes the minimum.


    5 Dec 13 at 6:32 am

  16. Wally; yeah totally agree. Looking at the projected bench w/o any additional acquisitions i’d be worried. Clearly some work needs to be done; you have to think the team is looking for some help here. You just aren’t goign to be able to depend on two completely untested players (Walters and Leon/Solano) and two guys who hit as badly as Espinosa/Moore did last year.

    Todd Boss

    5 Dec 13 at 8:03 am

  17. Espinosa: I’m of the belief that Espinosa was playing through both a hand injury and his shoulder injury under the fears of losing his job. I don’t think he’s as bad a hitter as he was in 2013. We may have seen what his peak is in 2011; 20 homers but a .240 bat. Honestly, I think Espinosa needs to do two things: have surgery and stop switch hitting. He’s a .262 career hitter right handed; not great but certainly better than his lefty-only split and his career splits.

    We’ll know soon enough about Espinosa; honestly I do not see him on this team on 4/1/14; i see him in AAA rebuilding trade value and/or earning his way back. He’s either going to see the light and change or be stubborn and play his way out of the game.

    Everyone talks about bench and lefty hitting but the Cardinals made the world series with a worse lefty-hitting split than the Nats and a bench that (aside from Adams) wasn’t that great either. Plus Kozma’s unbelievably bad 52 OPS+ at short. They won 97 games! So you dont have to have a perfect team to win.

    Todd Boss

    5 Dec 13 at 8:09 am

  18. Walters: John if you were responding to me saying that the bench looks like it includes Walters and Espinosa … yeah, thats why I said “without any acquisitions.” I think a bench that is comprised of Moore, Espinosa, Walters and a rookie catcher to go with veteran Hairston is crazy. Incredibly risky. Were it me i’d stick at least Espinosa and Walters back in AAA to see if (in Walters case) 2013 was a fluke power year and to tell him to get some plate discipline, and in Espinosa’s case maybe stop swith hitting or prove you belong in the majors. Moore? Which is the real Moore? 2012 (good), first half 2013 (awful) or 2nd half of 2013 (back to good again)? I don’t know. If he’s the good Moore in spring he’s the 4th outfielder/righty pop off the bench and I’m fine with that.

    Kobernus absolutely could be the Lombardozzi replacement. 42 sbs in 90 AAA games; like that. Can theoretically play 6 positions or so. But, same argument as with Walters; does he have enough experience in the majors?

    Todd Boss

    5 Dec 13 at 8:15 am

  19. Seems like Moore and Hairston can’t be on the same bench, doesn’t it? Don’t they offer essentially the same thing? If that is the best that we can do, I think Corey Brown has the advantage over Moore, just given his lefty bat and better OF defense. And I am not particularly high on Brown, either.

    There isn’t a great fit on the FA market, so Rizzo may need to look for an under the radar guy in trade. Maybe a Ryan Sweeney, Corey Dickerson, Cole Calhoun type. Or Jarrod Dyson or David Lough from the Royals, especially if they get Beltran.


    5 Dec 13 at 1:14 pm

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