Nationals Arm Race

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

When Zimmerman comes back …


Zimmerman the outfielder?  Photo unknown via

Zimmerman the outfielder? Photo unknown via

… do you just go ahead and start fielding the lineup that we’ll be trotting out in 2015 anyway?

Leave Rendon at 3rd, leave Espinosa at 2nd, install Zimmerman at 1st and trade Adam LaRoche to a team that needs a first baseman?

Perhaps a couple weeks into the season you could have made that argument.  But there’s a few problems with this scenario:

  1. LaRoche is easily the team’s best hitter right now with a slash line better than the coveted .300/.400/.500.  You don’t trade the best hitter off of your offensively struggling team.
  2. Nobody makes trades 8 weeks into the season.  And most of the possible trade candidates for LaRoche (Baltimore, New York, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh) don’t make as much sense now as they may have a few weeks ago.
  3. Espinosa is starting to remind the team again why they demoted him last year, with his average now slipping towards Mendoza line territory.
  4. Despite the Nats awful stretch, they’re only 2.5 games out of first in the NL East, and that’s during a stretch when the meat of their order has been missing.  Its far too early to wave any white flags and/or start dismantling the team.

I’m sure part of LaRoche would love to get traded; it frees him of any qualifying offer complication this coming off-season, where at age 34 he’s likely looking at his last final grasp at a multi-year deal.  But the other part of LaRoche wants to stick with a winner, a team that gives him the best shot at getting back to the post-season (he’s only got a handful of games in his 11 year career playing in October).  On the other hand … the Nats would be crazy to give LaRoche a Q.O., so maybe the team is thinking, “hey, we need to move LaRoche and get *something* for him before we let him walk and get nothing for him.”

More likely the team is actually thinking this: “We were good enough to win last year, we’re good enough to win this year … so we’re keeping the band together until the bitter end, division title or not.”

Or, do you take interest in the fact that Zimmerman has been taking a ton of fly-balls and stick him in left?  I like this move: Zimmerman comes back, and you leave the infield as-is, stick him in left field and you’re a stronger lineup.  Zimmerman’s “yips” will disappear in Left Field; every throw he’ll make will either be a lob back into the infield after a single, or a max-effort peg to either 2nd or home that won’t allow him time to “think” about the throw.  Jon Heyman is now reporting that Zimmerman is being set-up to be a multi-positional player and his fly ball workouts were not (as Zimmerman claimed multiple times) just a “workout” routine.

(side note: I now exactly what Zimmerman is going through; as a 15-yr old middle infielder I tore my rotator cuff.  After rehab, I returned and found that I struggled to make simple throws from second base or short stop.  I had the yips myself.  I eventually moved into the outfield to finish off my career in a rather frustrating fashion.  After years of playing softball in my 20s, where nearly every infield throw is max-effort, I had regained a ton of my confidence and could return to playing middle infield on the diamond … but I still struggle on specific plays.  When I first came back I caught … and (like Sasser) struggled making the throw back to the pitcher sometimes.  Making a double-play turning toss from ss->2nd?  I sieze up every time and have resorted to flipping the ball under-handed.  It is a very frustrating situation to deal with.  Zimmerman acknowleding his issue and trying to do what’s best for the team by limiting his arm exposure shows great character).

Of course, then, when Harper comes back … what do you do?

Maybe you frigging finally sit Denard Span and his middling OBP (which was raised 40 points by his recent outburst and 4-4 game) and stick Harper in center.   I’ve had it with our lead-off hitter making outs nearly 8 out of 10 times up.  Yes Span is a plus defender in center and inarguably saves runs.  No, Harper would not be as good as Span in the field.   But at this point, replacing Harper’s production for Span’s in the lineup makes this a better team.

In reality, if Espinosa is still hitting in the low .200s and everyone’s coming back, then he’ll be the one that makes way.  I don’t think I like Zimmerman for 2nd base like other pundits do. For one, the guy’s too big for 2nd and I don’t think he’s mobile enough to play that position at this point in his career.  But mainly, if he’s got a hitch in his throw from 3rd, he’ll have it even worse from 2nd, where a ton of throws are very casual/toss it over throws and you can go completely mental.   There’s a reason that the famous cases of “baseball yips” are either 2nd basemen (Steve SaxChuck Knoblock) and catchers (Mackey Sasser).  These two positions make a lot of unpressured throws, and guys can get “yippy.”

So that means Rendon back to 2nd, Zimmerman back to 3rd, and the fanbase back to holding its collective breath everytime he gets a grounder.  At least until spring training 2015, when this all goes away by itself when LaRoche hits free agency and Zimmerman permanently attaches a 1st basemen’s glove to his left hand.

I’ll give credit where credit is due though on Zimmerman taking fly-balls and apparently being amenable to trying out the outfield: seeing a gold-glove winning veteran on a 9-figure deal trying a new position mid-career, perhaps acknowledging that he has a problem is refreshing.  Remember the nightmare we had with Alfonso Soriano moving to left field?  And word came out recently that Rickie Weeksrefused to consider” a position switch from 2nd to left, a rather disappointing turn of events for his team, who are paying the underperforming infielder $11M to ride the pine this year.  Instead Zimmerman looks to be doing the team-first thing, working out at a new position where he can get back into the lineup AND not hurt the team anymore.  It isn’t unheard of for hall-of-fame calibre players to move positions (see Yount, Robin), nor is it unheard of to see plus-defenders try alternate positions for the betterment of the team (see the likes of Manny Machado and Jurickson Profar, both fantastic fielding shortstops who are playing other positions to allow entrenched veterans who may not necessarily be better fielders stay at short).  Heck, look at what Rendon did; he was a third baseman all the way … and he made the move to 2nd and has done reasonably well there.

We’ll see what happens when Zimmerman gets off the d/l.



16 Responses to 'When Zimmerman comes back …'

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  1. I think that they should keep Laroche through the year. They should try to win this year, (without mortgaging the future through a trade). Might even make sense to bring him back next year. But I say ‘without mortgaging the future through a trade’ because I am not sure that this core is good enough to win with, whether for health or talent reasons. I think that they have to see what happens this year and then decide whether to keep it together, restructure or even a quasi-rebuld. But I’d give them this year.

    As for Zim, I think OF may be better for him than 1B, since he is a pretty good athlete and his running skills aren’t too bad. Werth looks terrible out there, and I might lean towards him finishing out his contract at 1B rather than Zim, at least until the last year or two, where he might just be a 4th OF.

    But one minor quibble: I agree that Zim appears to be a good character guy, BUT he is open to this move after he signed his big deal. Soriano and Weeks, for instance, were/are entering their walk years, and being asked to move to a position that has the perception of being easier to fill, and consequently lowering their value. Didn’t prove to be the case for Sori (he also went 40/40, which helps quite a bit), but I think it is a slightly different dynamic for them. Would Zim be this open to it if he was hitting FA next year? Hard to say.


    30 May 14 at 10:25 am

  2. Something is going to come to a head with Zimmerman and his arm. Werth definitely showing negative range in RF … but I feel he’d make more sense in left than first. But that doesn’t help this team figure out a future rotation. If i was in charge i’d go Werth in left, CF to be named (Taylor? Goodwin? someone else?), Harper and his cannon arm in RF, Zim and first for the longer term.

    Fair point on Soriano and Weeks and their refusals to move. But Weeks is curious; he’s riding the bench and apparently refused to try left … does he think his value is higher by being on the bench versus actually playing? I think teams/GMs are smarter these days and value positional flexibility versus thinking that “Joe moved to left so now he can’t play 2nd anymore.”

    Todd Boss

    30 May 14 at 11:22 am

  3. I like the reminder of Zim doing what is best for the team despite his stature. It brought to mind again why I’ve always loved the guy even though he isn’t quite good enough to be out first HOF’er.


    31 May 14 at 9:51 am

  4. This talk of trading LaRouche is sheer nonsense.
    Espinosa has had 1 good month hitting in 18 months and people forgot how bad his numbers are. He hits almost good enough for shortstop, Detroit could use him, but 2nd base is an offensive position, and his hitting is offensive, only in the wrong way.
    Zach Walters is hitting 1.000 OPS in Syracuse and he would be a big improvement over Danny.

    Mark L

    1 Jun 14 at 9:11 pm

  5. What about trading Span? He has some value, a reasonable contract for next year, and we have a bunch of young guys knocking on the door to replace him? Maybe we can trade him for a second basemen and solve two problems?

    I’d be happy to trade ALR also – his hitting is fine this year, but he seems like he is getting old fast in the field and I’m concerned about him being injured again soon.

    Andrew R

    2 Jun 14 at 1:36 pm

  6. FWIW ESPN’s Paul Swydan harshly criticized the Zimmerman-to-left-field move (, though he mostly bitched about it because of Espinosa being so bad.

    I never though we needed span, never liked the deal, have never been that shy in expressing my opinoin … so yeah lets trade span! 🙂 Except honestly there’s really nobody to replace span right now. Yeah we have a couple of guys in the minors who may eventually make sense … Hood’s finally hitting in AAA but he’s not on the 40-man. Goodwin and Perez struggling in Syracuse. Meanwhile Tayler’s been absolutely on fire in AA (hitting .325 AND with power … 15 homers already, wow). But is it too early for him?

    I just don’t see this team dumping assets. They’re stuck in the middle thanks to the 2nd wild card.

    Todd Boss

    2 Jun 14 at 1:56 pm

  7. It’s not dumping if you get something you need in return. 10 years ago, the RedSox traded Garciaparra in the middle of a pennant race and they ended up winning the WS. Harper will be back in a month and we have Souza, Taylor, Goodwin and Perez on the 40 man who can all take his place until then.

    We need a 2nd baseman and have excess assets for 1B and OF. I’d like to think Rizzo can be aggressive and make a good baseball trade happen.

    Andrew R

    2 Jun 14 at 2:02 pm

  8. Let me clarify what I meant by “dumping.” If the nats move Span, LaRoche, any veteran this year then its a clear message that they’re giving up on the season. In that respect, yeah they’re “dumping” current assets for future prospects and waving the white flag on 2014.

    Even the Garciaparra deal has a caveat; the Red Sox got a like-for-like veteran player back who immediately plugged in at Short (Orlando Cabrera) in addition to catching depth. If we move LaRoche, are we getting back a replacement 1st baseman?

    I don’t see this team doing that. Not given what happened in 2012 and then in 2013, not given the amount of payroll and not given the current makeup of the team.

    Souza <> a center fielder. Perez is a 4th OF/pinch runner and is hitting .220 in syracuse. Goodwin is hitting worse than that. Taylor’s been awesome; is he ready to come up to the majors? I dunno. But do you want to risk this season by taking a way a veteran leadoff/CF (even if his obp is barely .300) and replace him like for like with a guy who only has 150 ABs above A-Ball?

    Maybe if Harper was healthy and could show he has the range for center. But his off-season regiment was all about turning himself into a power hitting corner OF, not remaining fleet of foot. I used to be convinced he was a power hitting CF in the mold of Mantle … now I don’t think so.

    Todd Boss

    2 Jun 14 at 2:21 pm

  9. I’m looking at Zobrist as a main target with Phillips, Prado, and Mookie Betts as the next 3. I’d gladly trade LaRoche (or Span) and Espy to the Rays for Zobrist and a prospect. Either Moore or Zimm would take over 1B and Zobrist would be 2B.

    I’m of the opposite mindset about Harper – I think he belongs in CF like Trout and Mantle – and at least worth a try for the rest of ’14. I also think Souza is a good enough athlete to handle it for the rest of this year. Then next year I’m hoping Taylor is our CF if it’s not Harper.

    Andrew R

    2 Jun 14 at 2:31 pm

  10. Just read trade analysis of Zobrist (assuming that the Rays punt on the season and start trading) … the opinion was that Zobrist’s value to Tampa versus his salary ($7M for 2014 with a club option next year at about the same rate) makes him the kind of player who doesn’t get moved. Arizona has their own issues: I think their GM is too worried about getting canned right now to be looking at trades (given the sudden hiring of Tony LaRussa). I wonder what, if anything happens in Arizona; if they start trading vets (especially Prado, who was the cornerstone player in the jettising of their best player Upton) … that’s gotta be the end of the line for the GM.

    I wonder what the Red Sox will do with Betts. That’s a good question.

    Why would Tampa take on LaRoche’s salary, or LaRoche in general? They have a 1st baseman already (Loney) and they have a DH (DeJesus) both of whom are basically their best hitters. If they’re trading, they’re restocking for the future.

    Todd Boss

    2 Jun 14 at 3:20 pm

  11. The AL east is weak, so the Rays aren’t out of it. We can pick up part of ALR’s salary, but the Rays have no OF, so DeJesus can go to the OF and ALR or Loney can be DH.

    Arizona’s GM is done. LaRussa is in charge there. Not sure who they’d want from the Nats, but we have plenty of pieces to trade.

    The Sox need a 1B and a CF.

    Andrew R

    2 Jun 14 at 3:32 pm

  12. If the Rays aren’t contending, and are perenially cash strapped … why on Earth would they trade for Span or (as Todd pointed out earlier) LaRoche? And give up Zobrist in the process? It certainly works for the Nationals, but I just don’t see the Rays going for it. It makes no sense.

    Eury Perez is still on the 60 day DL.

    One potential market for Tyler Moore just vanished; the Astros not only brought up 1b prospect Jon Singleton, they signed him to a long term contract before he has played a big league game.

    As long as he keeps raking, LaRoche isn’t going anywhere. The only consistent impact bat in the lineup, on an offense challenged team, and some want to trade him? Wha?

    I don’t see the Nationals making a major move before Independence Day; they are still focused on getting players back.

    John C.

    2 Jun 14 at 7:55 pm

  13. I don’t see the Rays giving up now with such weak teams in the division.

    Andrew R

    2 Jun 14 at 10:35 pm

  14. History is against the Rays: can’t find the link but read that historically teams that are as far under .500 as they are right now have made the playoffs just once in the history of the game.

    Toronto looks legit. Baltimore probably trades for a starter and will make noise. Maybe boston and NY are packing it in, but there’s also very good teams in the Central and West that will snap up the extra wild cards.

    Todd Boss

    3 Jun 14 at 9:41 am

  15. Just saw someone propose this trade on David Schoenfield’s chat:

    Detwiler, Espinosa, and Brian Goodwin to TB for Zobrist…..who says no?

    Rephrasing that trade proposition: Nats get rid of three under performing players (the last guy in their bullpen, a .200 hitting middle infielder who was banished to AAA last year, and an outfielder who is hitting .220 in AAA) for possibly the most flexible positional player in the majors who had two 5+ win seasons in the last three years.

    Yeah. If that had been propoposed in a less cordial chat room it’d have been laughed out of the room.

    Todd Boss

    5 Jun 14 at 9:52 am

  16. Same guy then attempted this propsed trade offer:

    Detwiler, AJ Cole, and Michael Taylor for Zobrist. Who says No?

    Now that’s overpaying. You honestly could probably get away with Detwiler and one of Cole/Taylor for Zobrist. But paying the price with Cole (best arm prospect) and Taylor (who at this point is probably our best hitting prospect given his performance thsi year) is waaaay too much for a guy whose 32 this year.

    Todd Boss

    5 Jun 14 at 10:07 am

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