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Nats Rule-5 Draft History; updated for 2015

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Jesus Flores remains our most successful Rule 5 Draftee. Photo Toni Sandys/Washington Post

Jesus Flores remains our most successful (only successful) Rule 5 Draftee. Photo Toni Sandys/Washington Post

The Nats for years were heavy participants in the Rule-5 draft, thanks to some pretty awful teams and some shrewd scouting.  I first did this history post in November 2011, updating in in January of 2014 and here I update it for the last couple of draft results and drafted player disposition updated for the latest season.

Borrowing a chunk of the text for the previous years from the previous post, here’s a list of the Rule 5 drafts since 2005, with our players taken/received noted and with some thoughts on how the player turned out for either side.  Even though there wasn’t much 2015 Rule 5 action for the team, I’ve added a bunch of updates for all the recently involved players, updating their career dispositions.

Note: this post used to be to pass judgement on our Rule-5 picks, so when you see “Verdict: Failure” that’s what it means.  Its been so long since we tried to draft someone that I forgot what it was like.


2015 Rule 5 Draft (ahead of the 2016 season)

What just occurred on 12/10/15.  The Nationals did not take anyone in the major league phase, nor did they have anyone taken.

In the minor league phase, the Nationals selected 3B Zack Cox from the Miami organization.  He’s entering his age 27 season, is a former 1st round pick and has bounced around AA and AAA the last four seasons.  I’m calling him “Anthony Rendon” insurance for 2016.

These minor league acquisitions are essentially $12,000 purchases and the Nats now own these contract; I’m not entirely clear on the rules that drive them, nor how the players are determined to be eligible.


2014 Rule 5 Draft (ahead of the 2015 season)

For the first time since their arrival in DC, the Washington Nationals neither took a player in Rule-5 nor had one taken.


2013 Rule 5 Draft (ahead of the 2014 season)

The team did not select anyone in the major league phase.  We did lose one player in the MLB phase:

  • Adrian Nieto was the 2nd overall pick in the major league phase, by the Chicago White Sox.  As commenters at the time noted, it seemed like an odd pick for the White Sox, who had a couple of younger developing catchers in their system.  Meanwhile Nieto had never played above A-ball but did hit .285/.373/.449 prior to the 2014 season.  Those are pretty good numbers for a catcher … even if he’s an old 24 in A-Ball.  I didn’t even mention him in my own pre-Rule5 analysis piece at the time, but amazingly he stuck on the White Sox roster for the entire 2014 season, hitting .236/.296/.340.  The White Sox sent him to AA for 2015, he elected FA (presumably after being DFA’d) and signed as a MLFA with Miami for 2016.  Given the struggles of Jose Lobaton this past year, I’m slightly surprised he didn’t consider coming back to his original franchise.  Or, perhaps more to the point, knowing what I know about his dealings with the Nats front office over the years … perhaps I’m not (his agent Joshua Kusnick is a frequent guest on the NatsGM podcast, hosted by Ryan Sullivan).

In the minor league phase, the Nats took a couple of players for organizational depth: Theo Bowe, a AA outfielder from Cincinnati and Martires Arias, a low-A right-hander from the New York Mets.  Neither player really panned out: Bowe was left in XST the entire year and Arias was released before the season started.


2012 Rule 5 Draft

Again, the team did not select anyone but got poached for four players in the major and minor phase.

  • LHP Danny Rosenbaum was drafted by Colorado to take part in their unique rotation experiment (where guys work up to a certain pitch count each night).  Rosenbaum didn’t make the Rockie’s pitching staff out of spring training (somewhat an indictment of Rosenbaum’s skills; Colorado’s rotation was one of the worst in the majors in 2013) and he was returned to Nats.  Rosenbaum toiled in AAA for the Nats for the 2013 full season.  He was the AAA opening day starter in 2014 but blew his UCL and had TJ Surgery.  In Jan 2015 the team flipped him to Boston for Dan Butler, and he got roughed up in Boston’s system (0-8, 5.81 ERA).  As far as I can tell he’s still in the Boston organization, perhaps for one more year to see if he pans out.
  • Utility player Jeff Kobernus was drafted by the Boston Red Sox, traded to Tigers and then eventually returned to Nats.  Kobernus turned out to be quite the speedster, stealing nearly a base every other game in the minors and earned a call-up to the big team in 2013.  He struggled with injury, spending a chunk of 2014 on the 60 day D/L and had just a handful of MLB atbats.  The team released him mid spring training 2015, he picked up with the San Francisco organization and played near his home town in San Jose in 2015, struggling in High-A ball.
  • In the minor league phase, Nats draft bust Jack McGeary was taken by the Red Sox.  He threw 21 ineffective innings in short-A and low-A for Boston in 2013.  He’s from Boston, so it was a nice gesture, but it just doesn’t look like he’s ever going to recover from his arm issues.  Hey, at least he got his Stanford education and his bonus money.  He signed as a MLFA with the Los Angeles Dodgers organization for 2014, struggled again in A-ball, and did not sign for 2015.
  • The Dodgers poached Hector Nelo from the Nats AA team and stuck him on their own AA team … where he promptly made the all-star game again and had another excellent season.  I’ll be honest; I do not know the minor league rule-5 protection rules, but I wonder why an all-star player was exposed, no matter what his age.  Nelo struggled in 2014, was released and looks like he’s out of affiliated ball.  So perhaps the team was a year early but still right in exposing him to Rule 5.

2011 Rule 5 Draft

The Nats did not take anyone for the first time in years, but had two players themselves taken.  Neither player drafted was a surprise; I posted at the time that I thought both these players should have been protected.

  • Brad Meyers (RH starting pitcher) was drafted by the New York Yankees, but he suffered an injury in spring training and was DL’d all year.  He was returned to the Nats and subsequently missed all of 2013 too.  I listed him as a “release candidate” in my 2014 rotation projections, not knowing if he was healthy or if he could win a AAA rotation spot that year; he ended up making 6 starts in AA and was released.  He’s now out of baseball.
  • Erik Komatsu was drafted by St. Louis (in retaliation for our taking Broderick the previous year?), made their 2012 opening day roster, played for a while before being waived, got picked up by Minnesota, and by Memorial Day was returned to Washington in a whirlwind set of transactions.  He got hurt in 2013 and played just a few games for the Nats AA and AAA teams, then was released on 5/9/14.  He signed immediately with the Angels, bounced to Milwaukee, was a MLFA after the season and did not play in organized ball in 2015.

2010 Rule 5 Draft

  • Elvin Ramirez, RH reliever, drafted from the New York Mets: he was injured in spring training and spent the entirety of the season on the DL.  Interestingly, the team returned him to New York in October, long before they needed to, and with New York in 2012 he made his way to the majors for some appearances.  The Mets eventually sold him to the Angels, then he bounced around in MLFA to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, and in 2015 was playing in the Mexican league.  Verdict: impatience leading to failure.
  • Brian Broderick, RH Starting Pitcher, Drafted from St. Louis and stuck into the 2011′s bullpen as the long-man/mop-up guy.  He was awful, he was costing the team wins, and was eventually returned to St. Louis before May was out.   However, St. Louis waived him towards the end of 2012 and we picked him back up.  I projected him to be one of our AAA starters in 2013 but he struggled and ended the season in AA and was cut loose.  He pitched in Indy ball in 2014, well enough to get a MLFA contract in 2015, spending the whole year in the Royal’s AAA team.  He’s still hanging in there.  Verdict: failure for the Nats, jury still out for the player.

The team lost one player in the 2010 draft:

  • The Phillies drafted Michael Martinez away from the Nats, and he stuck on their roster as a backup middle infielder.  His batting lines were awful though, and the Nats clearly had depth at middle infield at the time, so losing this player was not that big of a deal.  Martinez has continued to hit sub .200 but has bounced from Philly to Pittsburgh to Cleveland, splitting time between AAA and the major league rosters providing MIF cover.

 

2009 Rule 5 Draft

  • Jamie Hoffman; OF, Drafted with the #1 pick in the Rule 5 draft from Los Angeles Dodgers and immediately traded for Brian Bruney in a pre-arranged deal.  NY returned him to the Dodgers later that spring.   Bruney, meanwhile, immediately went to arbitration and lost with the team in the spring of 2010, was awful out of the gate, and the team outright released him before the end of May.   Verdict: failure, all the way around this transaction.

The team lost one player in this draft:

  • Zech Zinicola was drafted away from us by Toronto, who eventually returned him to the Nats without any Toronto appearances.  His selection was probably due to Dana Brown‘s hiring in Toronto, going from Washington’s Scouting Director to being a special assistant to the GM in Toronto.  Zinicola remained in our farm system until 2013, when he was released.

 

2008 Rule 5 Draft

  • Terrell Young: Drafted with the #1 pick in the Rule 5 draft from Cincinnati.  He got hurt, never played for us, and was eventually returned to the Reds.   His injury was severe enough that he was out of baseball after being drafted; he has no professional games after 2008.  Verdict: failure.
  • Ricardo Nanita, selected in the minor league phase, played most of 2009, then went to the Mexican league, then got picked up by Toronto in minor league free agency and has been there ever since, playing all of 2013 in Buffalo.   Verdict: failure.

The team lost two players in the minor league phase:


 

2007 Rule 5 Draft

  • Matt Whitney: 1B/3B, Drafted and then eventually returned back to Cleveland, who eventually made the former 1st rounder a ML free agent and we signed him after the 2008 season.   We cut him after the 2009 season and he retired after 2010.  Verdict: failure.
  • Garrett Guzman: LF/RF: after Rule-5 selecting him, the team eventually traded a PTBNL for him to Minnesota, then we cut him outright and nobody picked him up.  He played two years of Independent ball and was out of baseball after 2010.  Guzman is more infamously known as the player who was caught having sex with an underage girl while playing for our AA team in Harrisburg in 2008, likely the reason why nobody picked him up after his DFA.  Verdict: embarrassing failure.

The Nats lost one player of note in the minor league phase in this draft:

  • Brett Campbell was drafted by Milwaukee in the AAA phase of the rule-5 draft.  Milwaukee released him in spring training of the subsequent 2008 season and Campbell never played another inning of pro baseball.  This seems especially odd to me: he was drafted in 2004 and rose all the way through the Nats system to debut in the majors by Sept of 2006.  He pitched in just two games in 2006, and returned to the minors in 2007.  Was he hurt?  He was only 26 when he apparently hung them up.  Oddity.

 

2006 Rule 5 Draft

  • Jesus Flores, C, drafted from the New York Mets, stuck with the team all year despite having only played high-A ball in the minors.  Despite his eventual injury issues that plagued him for the better part of 3 seasons, Flores remains the best example of a “found gold” prospect that can be had in the Rule 5 draft.   After the Nats DFA’d him last off-season, he bounced around both LA and Tampa’s AAA teams in 2013 but did not appear in the majors. Verdict: success.
  • Levale Speigner RHP (a closer) was drafted from Minnesota and, as with Booker above, eventually was traded for by the Nats so they could keep him and stash him in the minors.  After some awful outings for the big team, he passed through waivers mid 2008 and was released from AAA in 2008, bounced around a couple other organizations, and retired after 2010.  Verdict: failure.

The Nats lost one player in this draft:

  • Alejandro Machada was drafted by Minnesota just a month after the Nats had re-signed him to a minor league contract.  So Machada didn’t have to stay on their active roster.  And indeed he didn’t; he was injured all of 2007 and stayed with Minnesota’s AAA team until 2009, never again broaching the majors.

 

2005 Rule 5 Draft

The Nats did not draft anyone, but had a player taken who went on a whirlwind tour of MLB organizations before getting returned mid 2006.

  • Chris Booker was rule-5 drafted by Detroit, who immediately sold him to Philadelphia, who then waived him in May of 2006 with the intent of returning him … except that Kansas City picked him up, hung onto him for a couple months and eventually returned him to Washington.  The Nats eventually called him up but he was relatively ineffective and he washed out of the game (seemingly due to injuries) after 2008.

 

2004 Rule 5 Draft (ahead of the 2005 season)

  • Tony Blanco: 1B; drafted from Cincinnati.  He batted .177 as a 1st baseman backup while eating a roster spot all season, then we cut him from AAA after 2007.  He kicked around Colorado’s system for a year and has been playing in Japan ever since.  Verdict: failure.
  • Tyrell Godwin: CF, drafted from Toronto.  Prior to the 2005 season, the team traded another minor leaguer to keep his rights, so this really played out less like a Rule-5 pickup in that Godwin didn’t have to stick on the 25-man roster all year.  He played a grand total of 3 games for the Nats, kicked around AAA for a while an hung them up in 2007.  Verdict: failure.

 


Summary: we’ve drafted 11 guys in the MLB phase Rule 5 draft since 2005, and I’d classify 10 of the 11 draftees as eventual failures.  Not a great track record.  Plus its safe to say that most every player drafted FROM us has been a failure for the drafting team.  Clearly the Rule 5 draft isn’t a great way to reliably find players.  Why do we do so much analysis on it?  I dunno, because its fun?  Because its December and we’re desperate for Baseball news?  Fair enough :-)

Harrisburg/AA Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2012

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Danny Rosenbaum led the Senators staff in 2012. Photo via wn.com

Click here for the 2011 version of this post, for a look at how things were last year.

Here’s the AA version of the 2012 season pitching staff review.  I’m going down the line from top to bottom; AAA is here.  As with the other reviews, we’ll look at the main rotation, the substitute and spot starters, then focus on key relievers.  Rehab appearances are not discussed.

Harrisburg starters.  The rotation started the season with Gilliam, Demny, Mandel, Rosenbaum and Ballard.  Lets see how the original rotation and other primary starters fared.

  • Robert Gilliam, the “forgotten man” in the mega Gio Gonalez trade in December, made the opening day start for Harrisburg but didn’t live up to his billing.  He got 13 starts before going to the bullpen, and then eventually getting demoted to Potomac.  Season AA numbers: 3-7, 6.38 ERAOutlook for next season: The team likes him as a starter; i’m guessing they give him another whirl in the AA rotation.
  • Paul Demny took a step back in his progressive career with the Nats, going 6-8 with a 5.43 ERA in 23 starts before moving primarily to the bullpen at the end of the season.  He’s still very young (just turned 23) but he’s finishing his 5th pro season and 2013 will be his “walk year.”  Interestingly, the Nats named Demny one of their AFL participants, an odd selection based on his performance this season. Outlook for next season: as with Gilliam, I’d be surprised if Demny remains a starter.  AA bullpen as a swingman unless the team needs a 5th starter.
  • Jeff Mandel started the year in the Harrisburg rotation and put in 11 middling starts before getting moved to AAA to replace an equally ineffective Mitch Atkins.  This marked the third straight season he had started in AA and moved to AAA, a sure sign of an organizational arm who filled in where needed.  Outlook for next season: see AAA post.
  • Danny Rosenbaum was supposed to be the Ace, the Star of this rotation.  He was the highest-ranked prospect and was the Organization’s best starting pitching prospects.  He didn’t really live up to his billing, going 8-10 with a 3.94 ERA and a 1.31 whip in 26 starts.  He looked great his first 10 starts and then struggled the rest of the season.  He turns 25 in the off-season and is Rule-5 Eligible.  I think the team has to protect him.  Outlook for next season: Added to 40-man roster ahead of the Rule-5 draft but back in AA to start 2013, with an eye on a mid-season promotion to AAA.
  • Mike Ballard was a Minor League Free Agent signed from Baltimore (after failing to make it in the Houston organization after 5 minor league seasons).  You would have thought he’d have been in AAA but started the season in the AA rotation.  After 12 up-and-down starts he got absolutely pounded on June 13th, hit the DL with “elbow discomfort” and has been there ever since.   Final season stats: 1-5, 4.31 ERAOutlook for next season: released.  You hate to cut a guy with a season-ending injury, but business is business.
  • Ryan Perry, astutely acquired for Collin Balester (who failed to impress in Detroit and was DFA’d earlier this year) in spring training and he competed for the MLB bullpen.  He featured briefly, was ineffective and was optioned to AAA.  The team took a look at his repertoire and decided to try to convert him to a starter in AA.  The results?  Pretty good; a 2.84 ERA and 1.11 whip in 13 AA starts.  Outlook for next season: here’s the problem with Perry; he’s out of options for 2013.  He was added to a 40-man roster in April 2009, and burned options in 2009, 2011 and this year.   So he has to either make the MLB club or be DFA’d at the end of spring training.  So look for Perry to compete for the #5 starter job or be considered trade bait in the off-season.
  • Kevin Pucetas is another Minor League Free Agent who probably was too experienced for AA (as with Ballard); he spent the previous 3 seasons in the Pacific Coast League.  For Harrisburg in 2012 he was excellent out of the pen early (posting a 1.59 era in 34 relief innings) and then was relatively mediocre in 12 starts (5-5 with a 4.81 ERA).  You have to think he was merely filler for a gap in pitcher development in this system and will be looking for work elsewhere for 2013.  Outlook for next season: with another organization.
  • Trevor Holder finally looked like he was putting things together early in Potomac, earned a mid-season promotion to Harrisburg and put up a 3.78 ERA in 10 starts (9 actual starts plus a 10th game where the “starter” went one inning on a rehab assignment).  The knock on Holder was that he was a total signability pick in 2009 after the team spent big on Strasburg and Storen.  It is good to see him putting some things together.  Outlook for next season: AA rotation.
  • Ryan Tatusko got 8 starts in 27 appearances in a long-man/spot-starter/swingman role for the team.  He was slightly better as a reliever versus a starter (his splits showing a 2.72 ERA with greater than a k/inning as a reliever, a 4.50 ERA in his 8 starts).  I have always liked Tatusko (not the least reason of which is that he writes a blog) and was eager to see him contributed after he came over (with Tanner Roark) in the Cristian Guzman trade.  But his time with the organization may be at an end; he just finished his 6th minor league season and he took a step back with the organization.  Outlook for next season: I thought he’d have been in AAA by now; perhaps 2013 is the year.  AAA swingman.
  • Other guys who got spot starts here and there (non-rehab):
    • Brian Broderick: the team’s former rule-5 pick never made it with St. Louis, and when he was released the Nats picked him up.  He got a handful of appearances down the stretch and finished the season with 3 starts.  The team clearly likes the guy and seems willing to give him a chance.  Outlook for next season: AAA rotation.
    • Austin Bibens-Dirkx, he had a couple starts early before getting promoted up to AAA, where he probably should have started the season based on his experience.   Outlook for next season: (as copied from the AAA post): with another organization.
    • Adam Olbrychowski got called up to make the last start of the season.  Outlook for next season: see High-A post.
    • Of note: Chien-Ming Wang made no less than NINE rehab starts in AA (and fifteen overall minor league rehab starts).  You can argue whether or not the organization was “bending” the DL/service time rules or not; either way I can’t see how Wang stays with this team for 2013 and beyond.

Harrisburg Relievers: taking a look at the relief corps at the end of the season.  They used an awful lot of them.

  • Marcos Frias finishes his 6th pro season taking a step back from his 2011 numbers in high-A.  On the year, a 4.82 ERA in 65 1/3 relief innings.   He’s still very young, being a DSL graduate and yet to turn 24.  Technically he’s rule-5 eligible but its hard to see a team taking a flier on a RH reliever without knock-out stuff.  Outlook for next season: back in AA bullpen.
  • Erik Davis was generally excellent all season for Harrisburg, posting a 2.52 ERA in 64 1/3 relief innings.  He earned a late season promotion to AAA.  The former starter and trade bounty for Alberto Gonzalez technically is rule-5 eligible but the risk of losing him seems slight.  Outlook for next season: AAA bullpen, looking to become the next Christian Garcia.
  • Patrick McCoy had a pretty good season out of the pen in Harrisburg; 7-3 with a 3.70 era in 58 1/3 innings.  He was rule-5 eligible in 2011 but didn’t get picked up.  Now he’s one year from being a Minor League Free Agent.  Outlook for next season: AA or perhaps AAA bullpen, whoever needs a left hander.
  • Hector Nelo, who was released by Texas in April of 2011, finished the year with strong numbers as the team’s primary closer.  He had a 2.73 era and 16 saves in 52 2/3s innings over 47 appearances.  More importantly his K/9 rates really jumped from 2011.   He’s the kind of big-time arm that Mike Rizzo loves (he can reportedly hit 100mph) and should get some looks going foward.  He’s tied to the organization for one more season.  Outlook for next season: the closer in AAA.
  • Rafael Martin was as unbelievably bad statistically in 2012 as he was good in 2011.  How do you go from a 1.65 ERA across 2 organizations in 2011 to a 6.69 ERA in 2012?  Perhaps the answer is either a late-season injury or fatigue; in his last four appearances in AA this season he gave up 11 earned runs; the 6 appearances before that just one.  He’s no spring chicken though; he’s already 28 and is far far too old for AA at this point.  Outlook for next season: bullpen in AAA and hoping for a rebound to 2011’s numbers.
  • Cameron Selik pitched 1/3 of an inning in AA before a season-ending injury.  Outlook for next season: See High-A writeup.
  • Pat Lehman got promoted to AAA.  Joe Testa got demoted to High-A.  See those write-ups for outlooks.
  • Other Relievers who appeared in AA of note (not including Rehabbing MLBers): Outlook for next season for all of these guys seems the same: either continued “org guy” middle reliever or minor league FA in another organization.
    • Zech Zinicola came back to the team after being rule-5 drafted in late 2009, and remains an organizational arm.
    • Jimmy Barthmaier split time between AA and high-A.  Org arm.
    • Corey VanAllen was demoted down from AAA and then got hurt in July.   Org arm, maybe a loogy in AA again.

Summary

Harrisburg struggled to find a good consistent group of starters.  My guesses on what role these guys will play next season list too many guys getting dumped into the bullpen, so it may be interesting to see who gets another shot at starting in 2013.  Unfortunately these injuries and inconsistencies cost the team a near-certain 2nd half playoff spot.

My Answers to Boswell’s Chat Questions 7/5/11 edition

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Here’s Boswell’s 7/5/11 chat.  As always, I read the question, write my own answer then interpret Boswell’s answer.  All questions are paraphrased from the chatroom for clarity here.

Q: Should the Nats move Espinosa to Short, making room for Rendon?

A: I believe the Nats may eventually consider moving Danny Espinosa to shortstop to make way for either Anthony Rendon but perhaps Steve Lombardozzi in the near future.  For the beginning of 2012 season?  I doubt it.  Yes, Ian Desmond has been hitting ridiculously badly, but he’s a plus defender at Short with an absolute gun of an arm.  He’s cut way down on errors and mental mistakes.  We all believe Espinosa can handle the position (he was a grade-A short stop at Long Beach State), but the right answer may be to give Desmond one more full season before pulling the trigger.  Any move would be done in a spring training presumably.  (Boswell more or less agrees, saying Lombardozzi will be a full time MLBer, Desmond moves too much in the box, and that Espinosa has better hands but not as much range).

Q: Did Harper skip high-A because of Potomac’s field situation?

A: Great question.  Personally I believe Potomac’s field disaster factored into the situation.  Perhaps part protection of Bryce Harper (who was promoted to AA over the weekend and went 2/3 in his AA debut), part penalization of the ownership/management of the  Potomac franchise (which they must believe has botched this badly, to be giving away home dates).  Of course there is the plain fact that Harper, despite his young age, held his own against AA-calibre talent and higher in 2010’s Arizona Fall League and he may just be ready for AA.  (Boswell punts on the question, quoting Rizzo who said “the field is fine, it had nothing to do with it.”  A non-answer.)

Q: What are the chances Michael Morse wins the “last man standing” all-star vote?

A: I’ll say slim, based on who he’s up against (here’s a link to the voting).  Ethier, Helton, Victorino, and Ian Kennedy are the candidates.  I’d guess that either Victorino or Helton wins, though Ethier is a deserving candidate.  Nobody’s heard of Michael Morse unfortunately.  (Boswell thinks Philly fans will vote in Victorino).

Q: Is Ryan Zimmerman’s new throwing motion working?

A: It seems not; if anything its causing even more problems.  Zimmerman used to make most of his errors on relatively routine throws over to first; if he’s making a throw under duress it is usually spot on.  So the new motion is designed to remove the scatter-arm throws.  But now, instead of making a routine throw and it getting into his head, he’s got this new motion into his head.  I can’t see how its an improvement.  For me when playing the answer was always to go to a side arm motion to gain accuracy but I was playing from middle-infield positions that didn’t require long, overhand throws like what the third baseman has to do.  (Boswell thinks it is working and that Zimmerman needs a bit longer to get comfortable with it).

Q: Was it too early, too late or the right time to promote Harper?

A: From a productivity standpoint it was probably too late; he clearly owned how-A pitching after just a few weeks.  But, from a “learning how to be a baseball player” standpoint its just right.  Finish out a half, a playoff-run, get a bunch of road trips in and get used to playing day after day.  Now he can move up and get challenged by better pitching.  Personally I would have put him in high-A for an incremental improvement.  Run him up to AA if he dominated in Potomac, else start him at AA next year with an eye to move him quickly to AAA.  I think there’s value in growing into your role.  (Boswell says it was the right time to promote, but not to which level, and then compares Harper’s minor league splits to A-Rods and Ken Griffey Jr’s).

Q: How much credit should we give Rizzo the GM for 4 specific moves that paid off (Ramos-Capps, Willingham trade, letting Dunn walk and failing to get Greinke)?

A: I give Rizzo some good, some bad for his moves over the past year or so.  The Ramos for Capps trade was spectacular.  The Guzman trade (something for nothing) was quality.  His purchase of Bixler has turned out well.  I think we got fleeced on the Willingham deal frankly and think this team could have used the offense.  Dunn was never going to stay here so I don’t know how much credit you can give Rizzo for purposely picking up the draft picks.  He overpaid badly for Werth (for reasons that have been discussed ad-naseum here and were bigger than just the player).  I liked the acquisition of Gorzelanny for what we gave up.  His two rule5 draft picks were garbage.  Cora and Nix on minor league contracts has turned out great.  He got a decent AA starter for Gonzalez but a middling low-A infielder for Morgan.  He wanted and was going to pay for Greinke, who i think is vastly over-rated, had one good season and is by no means an “ace” in this league.  He’s a solid guy but not a $100m pitcher.  (Boswell points out the Hanrahan-Burnett deal is looking bad for the Nats; I’ll defend the Nats there since Hanrahan was SO bad for us.  Boswell also mentions Aaron Crow for some reason; that non-signing was 110% on Bowden, not Rizzo).

Q: Are Nats buyers or sellers at the trade deadline?

A: This answer will vary day by day between now and 7/31 honestly.  If the Nats go on a 5 game losing streak they’re selling like mad. Right this moment, they’re probably doing nothing, stuck into inactivity by virtue of their .500 record and proximity to the wild card race.  (Boswell agrees, saying the team’s record on July 28th is what matters).

Q: Will the Nats over pay and sign Marquis and Livan for next season?

A: God I hope not.  Marquis should be jettisoned to make way for Strasburg’s return.  Livan is worth 1.5-2m/per, but not much more.  If he demands more cut him loose.  Livan at this point is merely a holding over pitcher until our farm system prospects pan out.  (Boswell seems to think that Detwiler could make an able replacement for Marquis, either this August/September or later on).

Q: Is Werth unable to get around on fastballs?

A: I don’t have enough video evidence to offer an opinion.  Boswell says he’s just trying too hard, his mechanics are out of whack.

Q: Thoughts on the all-star rosters?

A: Havn’t even looked at them.  Looking them up to comment here.  Don’t care really; the all-star rosters will always have too many Red Sox, too many Yankees and too many Asians from ballot-box stuffing.  I can’t stand the “every team must be represented” issue, which dilites the team and gives players cheap all star appearances.  I think the fact that the world series home field advantage depends on this exhibition is beyond ridiculous.  So doing a 2500 word column nit picking the all-star selections is just July column filler for most baseball writers.  For me its like complaining about the BCS: its never going to change.  Let other people bitch about the fact that Derek Jeter has basically been awful this year, not the best.

I will say that the manager’s selecting the pitchers is ridiculous.  Yes Vogelsong has had a great season but he’s not who the fans want to see in the all star game, nor is he one of the best 15 pitchers in the league.  Picking middle relievers?  Ridiculous as well.

(Boswell says he likes the rosters and won’t waste an answer on what could give him an easy column!)

Q: How much money is Pujols’ injury- and poor-performance season costing him?  Would he take a 1-year deal to regain value?
A: Great question.  I think Pujols poor season has already cost him a shot at a 10-yr/$300M contract that many spoke of.  He’s clearly going to lose years and value.  I think he deserves a 7yr deal that pays him more per-annum than A-rod, and it may be what he’s shooting for.  I do not think he’ll take a one-year deal.  Too much can go wrong, too risky.  Even if he doesn’t get the years and money he seeks, you cannot blow the opportunity to guarantee hundreds of millions of dollars.  (Boswell wouldn’t even give him 7 years right now).

Q: Could Lombardozzi come up and force a replacement of Desmond in 2011?

A: No way.  There’s little value in yanking Desmond in mid-august, forcing Espinosa to move to shortstop with no work all year and possibly disrupt a Rookie-of-the-Year season AND do the 40-man move to add Lombardozzi just for a few games in the bigs.   (Boswell answered by defending Desmond, calling him a 10-year career shortstop.  He needs to start hitting though).

Q: Comments on the Soriano “hit” that scored 2 runs?

A: An official scorer just can’t give Bernadina an error on a ball that drops in front of him, despite it clearly being a fielding mistake.  Its one more piece of evidence showing how inaccurate ERAs are for pitchers.  Zimmermann had Soriano popped up and was out of the inning; suddenly he’s given up 2 earned runs that he didn’t deserve.  To me, it looked like Bernadina lost the ball in the over-cast sky.  (Boswell points out that the play perfectly encapsulates why the team doesn’t think Bernadina is the long term answer in center.  Well, duh, I could have told you that was the case long before this play!)

Q: Why aren’t the Nats hitting?/How much accountability does Rick Eckstein have in this situation?

A: Honestly, I’ve never thought that a hitting coach really could impact what a major leaguer could do.  Be it out of respect, or lack thereof.  If everyone thinks Werth’s mechanics are out of whack, why hasn’t he fixed them?  Its an easy video fix right?

Werth is trying too hard.  Espinosa’s babip is awful.  Desmond just isn’t that good.  Morse is good but has holes that pundits/scouts like Keith Law think are going to get exposed.  Zimmerman is just getting back in the saddle.  Willingham and Dunn (despite what they’re doing in 2010) were stable, high OBP forces in this lineup and when they left, there was major disruption.  LaRoche has always been a slow starter, complicated (as we eventually found out) by a bad shoulder injury.  (Boswell ducked the question as I have, but gives some interesting analysis of just how not-so-bad the team really is offensively right now).

Q: Why is Nyjer Morgan suddenly good again?  Same question for Kearns, Felipe Lopez and (possibly) Werth?

A: Morgan needed a change of scenery, and has taken advantage of it.  Same goes for Hanrahan, and in that respect that trade has worked out well for Pittsburgh.  Kearns never wanted to be traded here; he is from Kentucky and liked it in Cincinnati.  Once he got his balloon payment here he never earned the contract.  Lopez is a special case; a good player with an awful attitude, and he’s earned a one-way ticket out of several towns by now.  I wouldn’t put Werth in any of these classes; he’s hard-nosed, plays hard, doesn’t play dirty, doesn’t show-boat, and takes his craft seriously.  (Boswell just says that change of scenery is sometimes good, without throwing (especially) Lopez under the bus).

Q: Why is Sean Burnett still on the roster?

A: True, his 2011 numbers have been pretty bad.  But one really bad game can make 3 weeks worth of good look awful.  Look at his game logs; he’s been pretty good lately except for one or two blow ups.  The team needs a loogy, Burnett actually gives them more than just a one-out guy, and he was pretty good last year.  Way too early to give up on him, to say nothing of the fact that there’s very little in AAA or even AA to replace him.  We’re still trying to replace our actual LOOGY Slaten, signing JC Romero and possibly looking at Severino or even Chico at some point.  (Boswell agrees).

Q: What are we going to do with Rendon?

A: Wait for him to prove he belongs, then find a spot.  He hasn’t signed yet, could get injured again and be a total bust, or he could hit like the 2nd coming of Alex Rodriguez in the minors and shoot up to earn MLB at bats inside a year.  If he forces his way onto the roster then you make room for him.  Install him at 2nd, move Espinosa to short.  Or, put Rendon in left and keep your current MI.  Maybe Zimmerman wants out of town after 2013 and Rendon naturally moves to third.  Maybe the entire team gets hit by a bus and we start over from scratch.  Way too much can happen with minor league prospects to make intelligent predictions til they get to AAA.  (Boswell’s answer rambled on about the state of the team … saying we’re much further along than intimated in the question).

Q: Why are the crowds booing Jayson Werth?

A: Probably because he’s in an extended slump, combined with a massive paycheck that most of us now have been told is vastly over-paying him.  Nobody likes it when an overpaid co-worker struggles with his assignments; it makes you really question why you’re working at that job in the first place.  Trust me, if he starts hitting the boo-ing will stop.   (Boswell kinda understands the crowd’s displeasure with Werth right now).

Q: Is Werth miscast as a team leader?

A: Perhaps.  I think clearly in Philadelphia he was one of many hitting cogs in a powerful lineup and they covered for each other.  Now, he’s much more in focus (especially with LaRoche’s issues and Zimmerman’s absence).  However, does he HAVE to be a leader by virtue of his contract?  No.  Zimmerman is a natural leader, as is Desmond.  We have veteran pitching that can take the media brunt.  But lets be honest; we don’t live in NYC with a 24-hour yankees news cycle.  There’s, what, 5 beat reporters in total for this team (Ladson, Goessling, Kilgore, Zuckerman and Comack), so that’s not a ton of people asking you questions night after night.  (Boswell agrees, Werth doesn’t have good media presence).

Q: Did the Lerner’s err in naming Davey Johnson as the new manager?

A: Can’t say just quite yet.  Johnson was clearly an excellent manager in his time.  Has the game passed him by?  Unlike in professional football, where clearly Joe Gibbs was exposed as being too old and too out of touch with the modern game during his return to the sidelines for the Washington Redskins, Baseball strategy and management moves at a slower pace.  Since Johnson last managed, there are no major changes in the rules of the game or the basic strategy.  If anything, the major change in the game lies in the renewed emphasis on defense and pitching in the steroid-less game.  Statistics and analysis has vastly increased in importance, but Johnson was already ahead of the curve in those departments when he was managing (and he was a Math major to boot, meaning he should not be wary of such heavy numerical analysis in the sport).  That all being said, only time will tell.  What was the team lacking under Riggleman that Johnson can bring to the table?  Perhaps the answer is basic; accomplishment and veteran respect.  (Boswell ridiculed the question and picked at its points, as opposed to talking about what Johnson may bring to the table).

Q: Do the Nationals ushers need to do more to enforce fan etiquette at the stadium?

A: Probably.  The questioner complains about people being allowed to move freely mid-inning.  I don’t notice a ton while I go to games, because our season tickets are relatively close to the field and the movement here and there isn’t too bad to notice.  We did experience a rather concerning issue on 7/4; we apparently had duplicate tickets to others that we found sitting in our seats.  We never really asked to see the tickets in question (not wanting to irk the woman sitting in our seats, who was clearly combative).  But the usher mentioned that the day before he saw no less than FOUR tickets issued for the same seat.  That doesn’t make any sense to me really; the seats are all season ticket-owned seats in the 100 sections.  Something weird is going on.  (Boswell says the questioner makes good sense).

Ladson’s Inbox 4/1/11 edition

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Is Ankiel the solution for the Nats in center field? Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images via federalbaseball.com

Editors note: I was out of town last weekend and had this queued up but never hit publish :-).

MLB’s Nationals beat writer Bill Ladson hasn’t done an inbox for a few weeks, probably because he’s been busy at spring training.  Now that the regular season has started and we’ve had some debatable 25-man roster decisions made, he has published another edition of his Inbox column.  Here’s how i’d answer the questions he selects…

Q: What are you most worried about with the Nationals in 2011?

A: I’d say, in order, offense, the starting rotation, center field, and the back end of the bullpen.  I feel like we took a step backwards in terms of offense, we have improved the rotation over last year but still would probably rank this rotation 28th or 29th in the league, that Rick Ankiel in center field doesn’t really help us a ton, and that Drew Storen had such a rough spring that our end-of-game scenarios may be challenging.

Q: How do you think the Nationals will fare this season in the National League East with their off-season signings?

A: Probably the same as last year; last place.  Philadelphia and Atlanta are probably playoff bound no matter how many injuries the Phillies sustain.  Florida is probably taking a step side ways, having lost Uggla but picked up Vazquez (honestly, I don’t see how their fans don’t revolt at their perennial 87 win team doesn’t spend the $10 needed to improve themselves to be a 92 win team and challenge for the wild card).  The Nats may finish above the Mets, if only because that franchise is in such disarray right now.  They’re eating more than $20M in salary for players they’ve already released, they made no significant off-season moves and there’s serious injury question marks around 4 of their 5 best paid players (Santana, Beltran, Bay and Francisco Rodriguz).  I can see that time imploding badly and the Nats sneaking ahead of them for 4th place, maybe.

Q: If Bryce Harper has an amazing year in the Minors, is there a chance he will get a Major League callup?

A: They shouldn’t … but they may.  I would not be surprised to see the kid rocket through low-A and high-A ball.  It would be purely a late-season revenue grab to call him up, but they need to be careful on his service time accrual.  If he plays 30 days in September we’d have to keep him down an extra 30 days in 2012 to ensure he doesn’t become a super-2.  For those not clear on the implications of super-2 screwup, read this bit about the mistake the Giants made with Tim Lincecum.

That being said, i’d love to see him playing in the bigs before his 19th birthday.  That’d be fantastic.  And he may very well earn it.  His weakness in the AFL and in spring training was offspeed pitches, but its hard to fault the kid for wanting to swing and make something happen in the limited time he’s seen.  Once a full season gets going and he’s getting 4 ABs every night, he will learn patience, he will earn walks as pitchers work around him, and he’ll pick his spots.  This, more than anything else, is the lesson he needs to learn to advance in the minors.

Q: Do we see a parallel developing between Roger Bernadina and Justin Maxwell? How long do we have to wait?

A: It isn’t a bad parallel to note.  Bernadina lost the LF job, then the CF job, then the 4th outfielder job to a non-roster invitee.  He’s burning his last option as we speak.  He has a career 80 OPS+.  I openly questioned in this space why he was the presumed starter in LF all off-season, and as it turned out I was right about Morse being the better player.  I think he’ll play out the string in AAA this year and get traded for a low-level minor leaguer at the end of spring training 2012, just as we did with Morgan and Gonzalez this week.

Q: What do you think of the job general manager Mike Rizzo and manager Jim Riggleman have done since they took over in 2009?

A: I think Rizzo has done a decent job with the major league team and a pretty good job with the farm system.  I feel like he’s tried a little TOO hard to rid the team of the non-defensive hitters Willingham and Dunn, and could have gotten more for them.  I understand the Werth signing but think (like the rest of baseball) that he overpaid and strangely backloaded the contract (why back load instead of front load?  We’re actually at LESS payroll this year than last, so we could be paying him $20M this year instead of $10M and still look like we’re treading water).  He’s definitely assembled a team in his vision; defensively gifted, a bullpen full of power arms.  Next step; power rotation.

Riggleman is doing the best with what he has; I don’t believe other managers could do much better.  Most people believe we have probably the 28th or 29th best collection of talent in the majors, but we’re achieving better than 29th place.

Q: Besides Harper, which rookie impressed you during Spring Training?

A: I cannot disagree with Ladson’s selection of Cole Kimball as “most impressive rookie.”  I would not be surprised to see him called up in 2011 and to start getting high-leverage appearances.

25-man roster finalization; Don’t like it but understand it.

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Did we really need a .232 pinch hitter who can't play the field? Photo Carlson/AP via nydailynews.com

As the Nats are breaking camp, they’ve announced a flurry of roster moves that are setting up the team for its opening day.  And, in a series of moves reminiscent to 2009’s opening day roster, we’re breaking camp not necessarily with the best guys on our 25-man roster, but with the best team option status (or lack of them) can assemble.

As the title of this post suggests, I understand the logic of these decisions but don’t necessarily like what it means for the team.  I think we’re weaker than we could be, and we’re keeping around veterans with no long term place for this team instead of playing guys who deserve to be on the MLB squad.  I think it sends a bad message to guys who deserve to be playing but who will be heading to Syracuse.

Both Collin Balester and Roger Bernadina seem to have missed out on roster spots so that the team would not lose players who may have trade value in Chad Gaudin and Laynce Nix respectively.

For some reason, we’re keeping Matt Stairs instead of a player who can actually help off the bench.  As pointed out by Ben Goessling, this also means that our bench is incredibly lefty-heavy and we’ll struggle with matchups later in games. Isn’t Rizzo obsessed with defense?  How does Stair’s lack of *any* discernable defensive capability fit in with his overall vision for this team?  Another Natsmosphere twitter-er asked this good question; if Adam LaRoche‘s shoulder puts him on the DL; who exactly is the backup first baseman out of this group of bench players?

So, for our final 25-man roster we’re using 4 non-roster invitees.  Gaudin makes the team and probably deserved it.  Nix makes the team and seems to be trade bait.  Stairs makes the team for some reason or another.  And Alex Cora probably (deservedly) makes the team as Alberto Gonzalez‘s replacement (who we’ve traded to San Diego for a pretty good prospect considering we would have DFA’d him in 3 days…).

I guess if we obtain prospects for Gaudin or Nix in a trade later on this season, then it would be worth the options burn on Balester and Bernadina.  I hope so; along with Detwiler and Mock, 2011 represents their final option year.

Written by Todd Boss

March 29th, 2011 at 9:28 am

What would the Nats look like without FA signings?

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Commenter Mark L, in response to my statement that (paraphrased) the 2011 Nationals cannot afford to keep rule 5 picks on this team, pointed out that the team really has little chance of competing in 2011 and thus it is really the perfect time to be keeping and testing rule5 guys.

In theory I agree with this premise w.r.t. keeping rule 5 guys.  We’re not going to win the pennant in 2011.

I think in reality though the team has gone mostly backwards since arriving here in 2005 and cannot afford to ever seem as if they’re not trying to make progress.  I blame a lot of that on Bowden’s obsession with former Reds and tools-y players who became such a nightmare to integrate as a team that Acta had to be scuttled as a manager in favor of the more old-school Riggleman. The team lost the entirety of good will and excitement that came with a new stadium and the Lerners as owners had to be shocked at how quickly they destroyed their season ticket base (most observers believe they’ve lost more than half their season ticket holders just from 2009!). So the team is just not in a position to play for the future any more; they have to appear to be improving the team even marginally for the next few years to put themselves in a better position financially.

If the team was really playing for 2013 (as, say, the KC Royals clearly are), they’d never have even brought in the likes of Ankiel, Coffey, Hairston, basically every mid-career veteran and go completely with a lineup of prospects and these rule5 guys.   Arguably they wouldn’t have spent the money on Werth either.  What would the 25-man roster really look like without any FA signings?  Lets take a look:

  • Catchers: Pudge, Ramos (remember, they *had* to get Pudge b/c of the state of their catcher depth pre 2010).  If you like, you can replace Pudge with someone like Flores or even Maldonado, since Norris is not ready for the majors in 2011.
  • Infield: Marrero, Espinosa, Desmond, Zimmerman backed up by Gonzalez and Lombardozzi.  This would have required a serious leap of faith on the readiness of Marrero for 2011, and we’d be rushing Lombardozzi to the majors.  Perhaps we would have replaced Lombardozzi with Bixler.
  • Outfield: Bernadina, Morgan, Burgess, Morse and CBrown.  I know Burgess was traded, but perhaps the team keeps him and installs him in right field knowing they wouldn’t have Werth.  Perhaps Burgess and Morse compete for right field and we bring up newly acquired CBrown as the 5th outfielder.
  • Starters: Maya, Detwiler, Livan, Lannan, Zimmermann.  I leave Livan in here if only because we signed him to such a sweetheart deal.  If we don’t count Livan, we’re looking at someone like Stammen, Mock, Detwiler or Chico in that 5th spot.  Or perhaps we use Broderick as the 5th starter instead of putting him in long relief.
  • Relievers: Storen, Clippard, Burnett, Slaten, Broderick, HRodriguez and Carr/Kimball (with ERodriguez on DL).  Our bullpen would have hard throwers at the back end and we’d immediately give AFL hero Kimball or Carr a shot.

Of this active roster, 17-18 would be on pre-arbitration salaries and the total payroll would probably be in the $28-30M range for the entire team. It’d be the “right” thing to do but the town would absolutely howl in protest.

I dunno. I go back and forth as a fan. Part of me says screw 2011, play the kids, see what they can do this year and regroup for 2012 when you can have a very good Strasburg-Zimmermann 1-2 punch to go along with general improvement across the rest of our younger guys.  The other part of me says that incremental growth in terms of wins and respectability for this team is just as important in terms of attracting free agents and enabling the team to make a quick leap in a couple years. If this team can win 75 games this year, Strasburg comes back and probably improves the team 5 wins just by himself, we acquire an incrementally better #3 pitcher and hope that Maya, Detwiler and our rising AAA guys become real major league options. If you’re a 81 win team a couple of key free agent signings coupled with the natural rise of our core up and coming players can improve the team 10-12 wins very quickly. Suddenly we’re a 90 win team and still have a manageable payroll to augment and take the next steps to rise above Atlanta and Philadelphia in the division.

That’s “the plan,” right?

Rizzo’s off-season todo list: where do we stand?

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Mike Rizzo answering the latest question about where the money is coming from for the Werth contract. Photo: centerfieldgate.com

Each year heading into the off-season, I make up a transactional “to-do” list for the team (as if I were the GM).  Essentially you look at the roster and kind of work backwards.  Based on the way things looked at the end of 2010, the Nationals seemed set on:

  • C (Pudge, Ramos)
  • most of the infield: 2b (Espinosa), SS (Desmond), 3B (Zimmerman)
  • LF (Willingham)
  • 3-4 starters (Lannan, Marquis, LHernandez, Zimmermann), and
  • several relievers (Clippard, Burnett, Storen)

So, given this, here’s what I listed as off season priorities and where we stand post the Winter Meetings (and counting all the rumors and scuttlebutt we’ve been hearing):

Fantasy

  • Power hitting reliable RF
  • Top-of-the-rotation Starting Pitcher
  • Better Centerfielder/Leadoff Hitter

1. In what was easily the most surprising move this team has done since relocating from Montreal, we acquired a front-line marquee FA in Jayson Werth, satisfying the “power hitting RF” fantasy requirement.  Yes there are concerns about the contract’s length and value, but hey, we’re a better team for getting him.

2. Rizzo has definitely made mention of wanting to acquire a “top of the rotation” starter but they are hard to come by this off season.  Cliff Lee is the target, and from there the list dwindled quickly to include guys who were middle of the road veterans with question marks (Vazquez, Pavano), FA starters that weren’t exactly planning on going anywhere (Lilly, Kuroda, de La Rosa, Arroyo, Garland, Padilla) and incredibly risky alternatives (Webb, Darvish, Francis).

3. Lastly, despite my desire to upgrade from Nyjer Morgan in center and leadoff (for reasons that include discipline, chemistry and performance), Rizzo seems set on the guy for the time being.  I would not be surprised to see no more movement in this area.  I advocated trading Willingham to Boston for possible spare-part outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury in a previous post, but despite Willingham’s offensive capabilities Boston may also value defense and may not really be interested in acquiring more bats this off season.

Reality

  • First Baseman
  • 1-2 Veteran FA pitchers
  • Utility Middle Infielder

1. Acquiring a first baseman included the possibility of re-signing Adam Dunn, despite all indications that it was never to happen.  Rizzo clearly will take less power for more defense at first, and we seem destined to sign Adam LaRoche (after missing out on Carlos Pena, the player I was absolutely sure we’d get).  Frankly, for my money I’d rather have LaRoche.  He’ll sign a 2 year deal for less than any of Dunn, Pena, Konerko or Huff would have signed for, he hits for power and he is a plus defender.  I think he’s perfect until we figure out if Chris Marrero or someone even more remote (like high-A stud hitter and Nats minor leaguer of the year in 2010 Tyler Moore) becomes a possibility.  A final thought; I do NOT want to be left with Derrek Lee as the solution.  He’s a right handed hitter on a team that is now full of them.  Zimmerman, Willingham, Werth all righties; we need a lefty slugger to break up the middle of our batting order.

2. I still see the acquisition of one or two veteran FA pitchers on the horizon.  I can see us (unless someone foolishly offers him $10M) signing Brandon Webb on a one year flier.  I can see us re-signing Wang to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training.

3. The backup middle infielder is a lower priority but still important.  If Desmond/Espinosa are holding down the starting spots and Alberto Gonzalez is begrudingly serving as the primary glove-man backup, we still need a second player that can do middle infield.  Willie Harris has been that player but he really tailed off last season.  Adam Kennedy served as the backup for the right side of the infield but he clearly wants to start.  I was lobbying for Pete Orr as a nice cheap candidate; he had always produced for us when called up, could play 2nd, 3rd or even outfield.  But he signed elsewhere as a minor league FA.  Perhaps the answer is a prospect to be named (Lombardozzi?) or a FA signing.  I like David Eckstein to team him up with his hitting-coach brother but he probably wants a starting job too.  And Eckstein wouldn’t make sense unless we traded one of Desmond/Espinosa (still a possibility; see later).

Less Likely

  • FA Closer
  • Trade for a Veteran pitcher
  • 1 veteran bullpen presence

1. There are a couple closer-types on the FA market and I can now see the Nats picking one up ala their deal with Matt Capps to cover for Storen as he grows into the spot.  Jenks, Dotel,Gregg, Hoffman, Soriano, Wood all available (Soriano a type-A though, so we wont’ get him).  I think this would make for a good piece of business and could serve as a useful trade chip mid season.

2. I can see us working out a trade with Tampa Bay to acquire Matt Garza.  Tampa wants to get rid of payroll, not add it, but perhaps we can pre-arrange a one-year deal with Willingham and flip him to Tampa.  Washington could eat some of the salary and Willingham would slot nicely into the left field spot recently vacated by Carl Crawford.  Tampa may like this deal since Willingham projects to be a type-A free agent and would net them 2 picks when he leaves (you have to think Willingham wants to get at least a 3-year deal when he hits the FA market based on his age and his proclivities for injuries).  Of course, getting rid of Willingham also puts a hole into OUR lineup, one that looks pretty promising when we get a power hitting lefty first baseman.  And we certainly would like to get some compensation picks to continue to rebuild the farm system.  More likely Tampa would ask for someone like Desmond, which would be a tough trade to swallow for a team that hasn’t really developed that many marquee players in the last 5 years.  We could trade Desmond, acquire Garza, move Espinosa to short (where he’s a better fielder anyway) then sign a short term 2nd baseman like David Eckstein or Orlando Hudson until one of our high-end 2nd base prospects (Lobardozzi, Rick Hague or Jeff Kobernus) is ready to go.

3. Lastly, with not one but TWO arms picked up in the rule5 draft, the likelihood of us acquiring any veteran bullpen arms seems nil.  Perhaps we re-sign Peralta as a long man, but we have plenty of cover there in Balester and Stammen.  We have all the arms we could want coming up (Kimball, Carr, Wilkie all project as mid-bullpen arms, and the AA team is filled with good arms with no place to move up to with so many AAA starters on the 40-man) and we have three great live arms in Storen, Clippard and Burnett already in place.

It has been a pretty fun offseason to track thus far for Nats fans.  I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Nats GM for a day Part 1: the Arbitration cases

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Photo Courtesy of Jeff Saffelle/Nats320 Blog

MLB’s beat writer Bill Ladson kicked off the National’s offseason with a post summarizing the Nat’s major off season personnel decisions (free agents to be and Arbitration candidates).  The Nats have a relatively large number of arbitration decisions to make, as well as a few free agents.

Next up, the Arbitration cases.  We have a number of them.  In relative order of salary expectations:

Player What Should Washington Do?/What WILL We do?
Willingham, Josh Tender; valuable trade chip in 2011.
Wang, Chien-Ming Non-tender and negotiate one year deal (ala Olsen in 2010).  Can’t pay arb raise for zero production in 2010, despite what he’s capable of.
Olsen, Scott Non-Tender; usefulness to the team in terms of production and character at an end.
Burnett, Sean Tender: and please don’t fight him for a few dollars after his great 2010
Flores, Jesus Tender: may end up being trade bait to a needy team since we have Ramos and Pudge plus Norris coming up.
Nieves, Wil Non-Tender; we’re finally after 2 years in a decent catcher position in the franchise.
Walker, Tyler Non-Tender; perhaps offer ML deal with ST invite.  Other arms that can do what he did in the system for less.  11/4/10 update: Nats have flat out released him.
Lannan, John Tender: Nats #2 starter in 2011.
Gonzalez, Alberto Tender: Achieved super2 status.  Tough call though since he wants to leave and get a starting opportunity.  Nats need him as a backup for at least one more season though til guys like Lombardozzi are ready.
Slaten, Doug Tender: great job in 2010 as loogy.
Peralta, Joel Tender: Despite being FA, only has 4+ yrs of MLB service.   Was fantastic for us in 2010 and need to keep

Amazingly Ladson thinks Willingham is a non-tender candidate.  Uh, why would we possibly do that?  He was as solid a #5 hitter as there was when he was healthy, he’s a great clubhouse guy and contributes well above his salary.  Other clear tenders include Burnett, Flores and Lannan.

Olsen, Nieves and Walker are clearly guys that we do NOT tender contracts to.  Each for different but well documented reasons.  11/6/10 Update: Olsen assigned to AAA and refused the assignment, becoming a FA.

The difficult decisions lay with the other arbitration candidates.  With Wang i’d try to appeal to his (agent’s) sense of fairness and pre-negotiate an incentive laden contract, based on the lack of a single game played for his $2M in salary last year.  Perhaps a contract of $1M plus incentives based on number of starts that push the total value to $3M if he makes more than 25 starts.  Alberto Gonzalez has apparently reached Super2 Status and we a may have an arbitration case coming, if only because Gonzalez has stated he wants a chance to start.  The problem Alberto doesn’t seem to realize is that he’s an awful hitter, putting up a 57 ops+ in about 200 ABs last year.  He’s a classic good field-no hit dominican middle infielder and I doubt he finds many suitors on the trade market.  Lastly we come to Slaten and Peralta.  Both guys were minor league FAs for us in 2010 and both pitched lights out after getting called up to fill in for injuries and poor performers (basically replacing English and Bergmann).  Are they worth tendering and paying more money or do you cut them loose and take your chances with the next crop of minor leaguers coming up?  I say stick with the known (i.e., a fantastic bullpen last year) and bring them back.

Next up, two guys who may or may not have achieved Arbitration status.  Cots and baseball-america don’t necessarily agree.

Chico, Matt Not sure if he’s truly achieved Arbitration status yet.  Cots says yes.  If Arb eligible, Tender a contract.  AAA rotation
Morse, Michael May not have achieved Arbitration yet.  If Arb eligible, absolutely Tender.  MLB utility infielder.

Even though Chico seems like he’s buried in AAA, he’s still a lefty starter with a somewhat decent track record who gave us one decent spot-start this year.  Morse I’m more excited for.  I believe that Morse could be a hidden gem of a starter for us if given the time.  He hit 15 homers in 293 ABs, which projects to 30 homers over a full season.  He’s athletic (played shortstop in HS and in his MLB debut season) and can clearly play all around the diamond.  Clearly he can play first base since he’s 6’5″ and is a reformed middle infielder.  If Dunn walks, I can easily see Morse playing 1st and Bernadina playing RF (barring no FA pickups).

Next up; the Free Agents…

4 Starts but 1 area of concern for Maya

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When the Nationals signed Cuban defector Yunesky Maya in July, we thought we were getting a seasoned international competitor, a professional pitcher who would be the next in a good line of comrades who have made an impact in the majors.

After watching and commenting on  his MLB debut, I was impressed.  Maya wasn’t overpowering but showed a great variety of pitches and a fearlessness on the mound.

However, his fourth start yesterday (box/gamer) demonstrated the same issue that plagued him in his first three starts; the big inning.  In each start now, he’s had one bad inning amongst several good ones.  Yesterday he was unlucky to give up an unearned run in the 3rd, but then gave up 4 runs in the 6th and was yanked.  The crushing blow was a no-doubter homer from Atlanta’s shortstop Alex Gonzalez on a first pitch hanging curveball.  Suddenly the Nats are down 5-0 and have given up 4 runs in an inning, a relatively insurmountable score because of the “big bang” theory of baseball scores (see this Boswell chat for more details, but analysis of box scores over the years shows that in more than half of baseball games, the winning team scores more runs in ONE inning than the losers score the entire game).

This is why these big innings are troubling.  You give up 3 or 4 runs in an inning with an offensively challenged team like the Nats (playing yesterday without Espinosa, Zimmerman, and without original #5 hitter Willingham) are almost always going to lose.  Sure enough, Derek Lowe shut them down for 6 relatively innocuous innings and the Nats never scored at all.

I was at the game yesterday, which makes analysis of Maya’s stuff rather difficult.  All we can see is the mph on the pitch to guess whether it was a fastball, curve or change.  Maya didn’t seem to be throwing hard (averaging 88-89, maxing out 91 or so per yesterday’s pitch f/x data), and certainly wasn’t getting strikeouts (1 K in 25 batters faced, not even getting his counterpart on strikes).  His pitching coach was interviewed though and commented that Maya has found MLB hitters to be far more patient than in Cuba or International competitions, and that MLB umpires are not giving him pitches on the corners.  He seems to be nibbling, not throwing strikes or trusting his stuff.  It also goes without saying that he is still in early season/spring training mode, having only made his professional debut for us on August 13th.  Still, it is hard not to be concerned about his performance thus far.  Did we waste $6M on him?

Side note about the unearned run in the 3rd: Gonzalez made a fantastic diving stop with guys on 1st and 2nd and 2 outs, only to see Kennedy failing to cover 2nd base for the easy force out.  Possibly a mental error but more likely a result of the exaggerated pull shift the Nats employed on Atlanta’s catcher McCann.  So he forced a throw to first from his knees that short-hopped Dunn.  Dunn ineptly missed the throw, it got by him and a run scored. This error was then attributed to Gonzalez, who gets penalized AFTER making a great play and to try to make up for his teammate’s mental error.  A better first baseman makes that play easily.  This is just another example of how unfair our basic fielding stats are these days and how you just can’t measure some things in a box score.

On the same play, as the ball was getting past Dunn, the Atlanta runner running from first (Heyward) blew through the stop sign and was thrown out by 20 feet …. so he did what came naturally to major leaguer,s recently; he tried to bowl over our catcher (Ramos) instead of sliding or giving himself up.  Ramos pulled an “ole” move, kinda dodging the collision attempt and getting the tag in.  I realize that in some cases a catcher blocking the plate gives the runner little choice but to try to dislodge the ball by barreling into the opposing player.  But on a play like this I think the choice to try to deliberately harm the catcher needs some league retribution.  Heyward, to his credit immediately apologized to Ramos for his decision, which probably prevented further retribution.

Lastly, read this nugget in Nats News Network, where Riggleman has said that Olsen takes too long to warm up and thus can’t really be used out of the bullpen.  In other words, be prepared for a non-tender on December 1st.