Nationals Arm Race

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

Ladson’s inbox 12/19/13

9 comments

Harper behind the plate?  Photo GQ magazine Mar 2012

Harper behind the plate? Photo GQ magazine Mar 2012

Well, it isn’t like I didn’t have enough content to publish this week (with 7 seasonal reviews coming out, each of them between 1500 and 3000 words).  But Nats mlb.com beat reporter Bill Ladson had to come out with an inbox on 12/19/13, so lets do some rare weekend posting so we can talk about the system-wide pitching staff projections on monday.

As always, these are real questions from (presumably) real people.  I write my response here before reading his to avoid bias, and edit questions for clarity.  Here we go:

Q: Are the Nationals done as far as improving the team for next year?

A: I don’t think so: I still see a veteran catcher, a better backup infielder, and another lefty in the pen as possible acqusitions.  On my little “off-season Nats todo-list” the only one of these that I think *must* happen is the backup catcher.  Per mlbtraderumors.com 2014 FA Tracker I see some names still out there that could work: John Buck i’ve heard in rumors somewhere, and someone like Kelly Stoppach could work.  Honestly I havn’t done a ton of research on veteran backup catchers, so these may be awful suggestions.

Right now whose your backup infielders?  Are you ready to go to war with either Zach Walters or Danny Espinosa in that role?  Steve Lombardozzi got 300+ plate appearances in 2013, more the year before.  Jerry Hairston got 238 PAs in 2011 while Alex Cora ot 172.  Basically the point is this: your backup infielder is going to get a LOT of at-bats.  You need to have someone reliable.  I would not entirely call either Walters (lack of experience) or Espinosa (apparent lack of capability) proven right now.

I don’t see the need to go all out for another lefty reliever, but i’m also not Mike Rizzo.  We have some options internally that we could use.

Ladson mentions middle infield and a backup catcher as well, and then surprises me with his mention of Shin-Soo Choo, a personal favorite of mine who I’d love to see here hitting lead-off and playing LF in the short-term.  But not in center, where he proved he was awful last year, and not for 7 years and 9-figures like he seems to be set to get.  I’d be absolutely shocked if the Nats committed those kind of dollars for Choo, given his age and likely fall-off.

Q: With MLB looking to ban home-plate collisions, could you see the Nats giving Bryce Harper a chance behind the plate if Wilson Ramos can’t stay healthy? 

A: No way.  It isn’t just about collisions; its the wear and tear, its taking a guy’s bat out of the lineup once or twice a week.  Harper was never going to be a full time catcher, not with his once-in-a-generation premium bat.  Ladson agrees.

Q: Do you think pitchers Nathan Karns, Lucas Giolito and A.J. Cole will be used in spot starts this season?

A: Karns yes, Cole doubtful and Giolito no way.   It all comes down to 40-man roster manipulations.  Right now Karns is on the roster so he can get called up and down every week and it has no effect on anything but his service time accumulation (which teams have shown lately that they’re less and less concerned about).  Cole, if he dominates in AA could see a similar call-up to what Taylor Jordan and Karns got last year … except that the team has significantly more starter depth this year.  Maybe Cole can be a 9/1/13 call-up; he is rule-5 eligible after the 2014 season and will have to be added to the 40-man roster anyway.  As for Giolito, there’s just no way he’s sniffing the majors until he’s ready.  Right now he’s the prize asset in the farm system and he needs to develop so that he can arrive in the majors right as the team needs to make some key decisions on personnel.   Ladson agrees.

Q: Could you please explain to me why Zach Walters is only No. 11 on the list of the Nats’ top prospects? The numbers he put up last season are pretty amazing.

A: Mostly people seem to be concerned about his OBP, which has dropped at every level and was only .286 in Syracuse last  year.  He has always struck out a ton; 134 in 134 games last year, more or less averaging a K/game for his ML career.  That being said … you don’t find guys who can hit 29 homers and play Shortstop on trees.  And last I checked, you trade off some OBP and some excessive K’s for guys who can hit a ton of bombs.  Maybe scouts are just in denial.  Lots of people think the team should flip him now based on his 2013 season, but if he can do anything close to those numbers in the majors he’s doubly-valuable.  Ladson thinks he’ll be ranked much higher in the 2014 rankings.

Q: Who do you think will win the fifth spot in the Nationals’ rotation?

A: That’s the question of the off-season.  We’ve argued about it over and again here, and will again next week when I post system-wide predictions.  We’ll save the arguments for then.  Ladson says Tanner Roark, which surprises me frankly.  Lets save arguments on this for my big prediction piece next week.

Q: Do you think Espinosa will be a valuable backup for the Nats?

A: Boy I hope so.  But something holds me back; what has changed from the point he was demoted til now?  He hasn’t gotten his shoulder fixed.  He hasn’t stopped switch hitting.  All he did was go to Syracuse and continue to hit poorly.  Why at this point would we think he’s going to do anything better than what he’s already shown us he can do?  Ladson expresses some doubts too.

 

9 Responses to 'Ladson’s inbox 12/19/13'

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  1. Wow, quite a prolific week, Todd.

    I am not sure that they will add a back up catcher, although like you, I think it is an important add. They just signed Snyder to a minor league deal, but I don’t see him as the answer.

    I would like to see another bat for the bench. Preferably a LH, in case McLouth regresses to 2011 levels, but at least Baker or someone like that. I think the odds are low that TMo will perform well in that kind of role, and would like to see an upgrade.

    As for backup IF, I think Espy is fine, and I am assuming that his bat doesn’t bounce back (If Espy is hitting again, he is a starter. Somewhere.) Really, what do backup IFs provide other than good D and positional flexibility? I think as is he is better than Lombo, because he can play SS. If they hit a bit too, then they are in the top 5 back ups in the league. But how many of them can you name? I’d leave Walters at AAA to play every day. His power was flukey last year, and it wouldn’t hurt to see him repeat it. and if Desi goes down, they can give him an everyday shot and leave Espy at back up.

    Wally

    21 Dec 13 at 1:27 pm

  2. Yeah, I think I outdid myself this week. Thousands of words all so I could write a staff projection. But it was worth it; otherwise there’s no reason to dig into the season accomplishments of low A pitchers who may never rise above that level.

    Catcher: Yeah I don’t think Snyder is the answer either. I think another signing is coming. We may not see a catcher signing for a while as these guys try to find starting jobs. Its only going to be closer to 2/1/14 when it becomes clear they have to take what they can get that we’ll get the right guy.

    Backup INF: something tells me there’s another move out there. Or maybe not; we know Espinosa can play both 2nd and short … if they need a 3B backup they have Rendon. Maybe he’s ok. Agree on Walters in AAA; lets see if he can do 15 homers in the first half … maybe he’s the real thing.

    Todd Boss

    21 Dec 13 at 7:02 pm

  3. Pretty ambitious week, Todd. Good work!
    Thankfully, the Choo question has been answered by somebody else. $130 million for a guy who can’t hit lefthanders. Go figure.

    Mark L

    22 Dec 13 at 6:31 am

  4. I still would have taken Choo in a heartbeat (though not for 7 years and $130M …). His OBP against lefties despite his poor batting average was still TWENTY points higher than Denard Span’s overall OBP. Check it out: Choo’s 2013 splits versus lefties (.215/.347/.265) and Span’s 2013 stats in total (.279/.327/.380). Considering that you generally get more than twice the ABs against righties than lefties …. i think Choo’s difficulties against lefties are over-stated. Tell me you wouldn’t want a guy with a .400 OBP and 20 homer power hitting leadoff and playing a corner OF for you?

    Todd Boss

    22 Dec 13 at 9:28 am

  5. If Choo got Hunter Pence’s contract it would have even worth it but not for an additional 2 years and an extra $40mm. Way to steep for an NL team.

    I agree another catcher will be coming in on top of Snyder and Mitch Canham. Todd is right though. It will probably be late January once the starting jobs are all gone. A guy like Teagarden or McKenry would be fine. I especially like McKenry. He is young for a free agent catcher at 28, has a solid, slightly above average defensive game and has pop. He also has control via arbitration so a 1 year deal would be fine.

    I think we are going to see several more moves like the Emmanuel Butris signing to compete as utility guys in spring training. Burris is very Lombo like with more speed. He isn’t a guy I want to give a lot of at bats though. Maybe a guy like Jayson Nix who proved he could play SS adequately last year or Justin Turner with Espinosa only a call away at Syracuse if they need to call up a SS.

    Pdowdy

    22 Dec 13 at 12:18 pm

  6. I guess the good thing is we are basically only discussing the 24th and 25th man and it isn’t even Christmas yet. The team is in the driver seat for the rest of the offseason. The free agent market is thin but Rizzo also has a propensity for the unexpected trade so who knows what he will do to finalize the roster.

    Pdowdy

    22 Dec 13 at 12:20 pm

  7. I wonder what it would take to get Jose Lobaton? He seems intriguing, although I can’t understand why the Rays would have signed Molina and traded for Hanigan.

    Wally

    22 Dec 13 at 6:56 pm

  8. Wally I’m not sure why the Rays, a budget conscious team, would trade for Hanigan who was coming off a career worst season and already 33 years old and then extend him on top of it when Lobaton was perfectly adequateandcost effective.

    I would be happy with him if we could land him. He seems like a luxury for the Rays now and they don’t have the budget to have to many luxury pieces. He is arbitration eligible this year and will probably make about $750k – $1mm. He may have one option remaining but I can’t tell for certain. Either him or Michael McKenry would be fine with me if the Nats go the lower cost route.

    Also wondering if Nick Hundley would be available from San Diego. Or Lavarnway from Boston and Vogt from Oakland.

    Pdowdy

    22 Dec 13 at 7:46 pm

  9. Maybe the Rays got him solely to dangle him to Rizzo, to make up for the Dejesus fleecing last September :-)

    Todd Boss

    23 Dec 13 at 7:20 am

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