Nationals Arm Race

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Wagner’s Q&A: how I’d have answered the questions he took

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Zimmermann's status is on everyone's mind.  Photo Unk.

Zimmermann’s status is on everyone’s mind. Photo Unk.

I used to love answering the questions that MLB.com beat writer Bill Ladson would post.  But Ladson hasn’t done such a column in months, and the other outlet for such a post (Tom Boswell) usually is populated with too many non-baseball questions to be worth addressing.  So today WP beat reporter James Wagner took a crack at a Q&A session and I thought it’d be fun to do a version of his Q& (my) A.

As with previous posts, I write my response before reading his and edit the questions for clarity/conciseness.

Q: What was the Nats’ final record against winning teams & how did it compare to the other playoff teams?

A: Wagner summarized the answer well; the Nats ended up 23-23 against winning teams.  To show you how useless this stat is in predicting the playoffs, the team with the best record (the Orioles) was swept and the WS matchup features the Giants, who had a losing record against winning teams.  Once again we learn that the post-season is about getting hot (or in the Nat’s case, disappearing) at the right time.  Wagner did the same analysis.

Q: Will the Nats turn to Tyler Clippard as the 2015 closer?

A: Doubtful.  Despite Drew Storen‘s second playoff meltdown, he’s likely the closer in 2015 on the strength of his excellent 2014 season.  Tyler Clippard‘s of more use in generally higher-leverage 8th inning situations, and likely continues in that role.  This has to be a bummer for Clippard, who enters his last arbitration argument without the benefit of the lucrative saves, but who is also just as likely to cash in when he hits free agency with a team looking for a reasonably priced closer.  I’ll bet he can get a 3yr/$24M deal as someone’s closer.  He is a fly-ball guy (not optimal as a 9th inning solution) but fly-ball pitchers definitely play well in pitcher parks.  He’d make an excellent closer for most any team on the west coast.  Wagner agrees.

Q: Why not keep both LaRoche and Zimmerman and platoon them at first base?

A: Because that’s an awful lot of payroll to dedicate to a platoon.  LaRoche likely gets $15M/year, Zimmerman is set to earn $14M next year.  Both are middle-of-the-order bats who need to play every day.  Unfortunately we don’t have a DH, else you’d re-sign LaRoche immediately and they’d split time at 1B/DH like most every other DH in the AL.  LaRoche is getting one last crack at free agency and could get another 2 year deal (rumors have him as a great fit in Milwaukee).  I think sticking Zimmerman at 1B makes the most sense considering the description of his shoulder at this point (he used the phrase “bone on bone” to describe the state of his arm at this point).  In fact, I think Zimmerman makes a great first baseman, immediately becomes a Gold Glove candidate, and (hopefully) stays healthy.  Wagner makes the same points.

Q: How about Steven Souza as our 2B solution?

A: Souza started his pro career as a third baseman … and was moved to the outfield by the time he was 22.  I’m guessing there’s a reason for that.  I don’t see him coming back to the infield, either at 3b or 2B.  He’s way too big to play second base effectively (he’s 6’4″ 225); if I was forced to play him in the infield, i’d suffer with him at 3B and stick Rendon back at second.  But that’d be a waste of Rendon’s defensive talents at the hot corner; we’re much better off installing him at his natural position and finding another 2B alternative.  None of this really talks about what the team *should* do with Souza; he’s more or less blocked for 2015 (as we’ve discussed to death) but has nothing left to prove in AAA.  His best case scenario is an injury in the Nats 2015 outfield, which gives him playing time.  Wagner  points out Souza’s poor defensive record in his time at third.

Q: Should we care about the MASN outcome?

A: Uh, yes.  The Nats could easily expand payroll with a decision and a guaranteed income stream, and we’d not be hearing about how they “have to” let some of their core players walk because they can’t afford them.  The MASN issue has gone on way too long, and it seems like it is getting ready to affect both the Nats and the Oriole’s business operations soon.  Wagner agrees.

Q: Do players and broadcasters read blogs and the press?

A: I hope not.  We’re not professionals; we don’t have day in-day out access, intimate knowledge of the team’s comings and goings, nor insight into reasons that may be behind a player’s cold streak (does he have the flu?  Is he nursing a slight sprain that nobody knows about?)  I don’t think any good comes of professional players reading about themselves.  If a player called out something I wrote derogatory i’d probably profusely apologize and retract it.  Wagner says players sometimes read about themselves in the press … but that if they don’t, they’re likely to hear about it from family/friends/agents anyway.

Q: Which of the bench players (Frandsen, Hairston, Schierholz, McLouth) will be back and who will most likely leave?

A: Well, McLouth is still under contract for 2015, so he’ll at least start the  year with the team (whether he finishes depends on whether he can regain some value).  I’d guess that the other three are gone.  None of the three hit particularly well for us, and all three are replaceable by internal promising candidates.  Frandsen probably has the best chance of sticking around since he’ll be so cheap (he made $900k last year and is arb-eligible); he’ll be an interesting tender-deadline candidate.

Your 5-man bench needs a catcher (Lobaton), a guy who can play both 2b and SS (Espinosa, if he’s not the 2B starter), an outfielder who can cover center (McLouth), a utility guy who can play multiple positions (Frandsen fits  here), and then a big bopper who can pinch hit.  This last spot has been held by the likes of Tyler Moore, Chad Tracy, Matt Stairs, Jonny Gomes in the past few years.  In 2015 it makes more sense to have Souza in this spot.  Only problem is that it helps if this last bench spot is a lefty.  We’ll see how the transactions play out this off-season.

Q: If you must chose between Zimmermann and Desmond, whom do you chose?

A: Desmond.  Harder position to fill, less in the minor league pipeline, probably cheaper too thanks to Desmond’s sub-par (for him) 2014 season.  Zimmermann seems likely to earn nearly $20M/year at this point, which is going to be too rich for this team, and there’s ready-made replacements in the upper minors (A.J. Cole, Blake Treinen, Taylor Jordan) ready to step in immediately after he departs.  A better question might be this: do the Nats flip Zimmermann this off-season for something better than a compensation pick, admitting to themselves they won’t be able to extend him?  It makes 2015 team weaker obviously, but also could ease the transition to the next “phase” of this team that starts in 2016-2017.  Wagner agrees, but also mentions that Doug Fister plays into this decision too.

Q: If the Nats make it back to the postseason next year, can you envision them carrying a speed first guy like Rafael Batista or Wilmer Difo on their roster a la the Kansas City Royals?

A: No.  Williams is old-school and made it pretty clear that he was managing  his post-season team the same way he managed his regular-season team.  For better or worse.  The makeup of this team isn’t the same as the Royals, who have focused on speed, defense and bullpen strength to power their way through the post-season.  The Nats are a starter-first, adequate but fragile offense second.  Wagner isn’t as dismissive as I am.

Q: Why not find a FA third baseman and move Rendon to second?

A: A completely logical idea that we’ve talked to death.  Definitely on the table.  Wagner puts out some names that likely are going to be too expensive for the Nats to really consider.

Q: If the Nats offered Zimmermann a big extension and he declined it, could you see the Nats trading him?

A: If I were the GM, I’d consider it yeah.  You take a step back in 2015 to set yourself up for 2016 and 2017 with the right deal.  Maybe you flip Zimmermann for the 2b/3b player you need and a prospect or two further away, save some payroll and provide more continuity.  My reading the tea leaves though?  I don’t see this team doing it; they’ll “keep the band together” for one more run with this crew in 2015, and then make adjustments for 2016 depending on who they can sign and who walks.  Wagner thinks its possible, but also cautions that the 2015 salary ($16.5M) and just one year of control will limit what the Nats get back.  A very fair point.

Are the Nats going to be able to sign these guys?

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Draft signing deadline day is 7/18/14.  Photo via chicagonow.com

Draft signing deadline day is 7/18/14. Photo via chicagonow.com

I smell whiffs from 2008′s Aaron Crow debacle.

(Which, just to head off hindsight is 20/20 arguments, did result in a comp pick that turned into Drew Storen … but Storen was a huge overdraft at the 10th overall pick in 2009, a college reliever who was a quick sign.  The Nats left a lot on the table in the Crow non-signing, as discussed in this space recently).

Right now, as of the morning of the 2014 Rule 4 signing deadline day, there exists just a small handful of players from the first 10 rounds of the draft who have not signed.  According to MLB.com’s great draft bonus tracker, just NINE players out of the first 315 players drafted remain unsigned as of the moment of this posting.

Three of them are Washington Nationals draft picks.  And they include the two most important picks of the draft; i.e. our first two picks Erick Fedde and Andrew Suarez.

What is going on??   We havn’t seen these kinds of difficulties in signing guys since before the slot bonus system went into place.  What is Mike Rizzo doing?

According to reports (this Bill Ladson report quoting Jim Callis and Adam Kilgore), Fedde got a “$3M offer” from another team he he dropped to them in the 2nd round and (with notoriously difficult negotiator agent Scott Boras in charge) is holding out for more than the assigned slot bonus to his pick ($2,145,600).   The Nats can go a bit above the $2.1M figure without incurring penalties … but it depends on what happens with their other two marquee picks.  Media pundits (unnamed of course) are predicting a stalemate here.

Meanwhile, the general sense from reading the tea leaves is that Suarez will sign at or near slot (which makes you wonder what the heck is taking so long?), while unsigned 8th rounder Austin Byler seems to be unsignable at his slot figure ($145k) and will be returning to school.  Byler’s non-signing isn’t too much of a surprise; he was a 3rd round projected guy who slipped to the 8th round, and the Nats didn’t really free up that much cash in its other first-10-rounds of picks in order to get Byler the $600k it likely would have needed to sign him.

Aside: speaking of lack of signing bonus money for Byler; is overpaying its college senior signs?  They drafted four college seniors in the first 10 rounds (Carey, Gardner, Van Orden and Page) and gave them combined more than $200k.  Could that 200k have been better allocated?  Did those seniors need to be offered that much money?

It makes zero sense to me for Fedde not to sign frankly, even if he’s offered less money; by the time he rehabs his TJ surgery, it’ll be nearly the end of next year’s college season.  There’s just little chance of him going higher than he did this year, nor getting as much bonus money offered.  And if he has the slightest setback in his recovery, he’ll be lucky to be drafted in the first 5 rounds next year and will be looking at a tenth of the signing bonus offers.  And, if he doesn’t sign, he’s rehabbing under the care of his personal physician instead of an experienced professional major league team that has rehabbed probably a dozen TJ surgeries in the last few years, including some pretty significant and nationally renound names.  Why this is taking so long is just beyond me.

If the Nats fail to sign all three guys, they’ll have compensation picks in the form of the 19th overall pick in the 2015 draft for Fedde and the 58th pick for Suarez (if i’m reading the rules correctly that is; you’re supposed to get compensation for unsigned first, second and any supplemental round picks at your unsigned slot +1 in the following draft, irrespective of how many comp picks get stuffed inbetween rounds the next year).  I guess that’d make 2015′s draft pretty good.  But they’ll lose the Byler pick altogether.

Are you worried?

Written by Todd Boss

July 18th, 2014 at 7:52 am

First Look: Nats top 10 draftees from 2014 Rule-4 Draft

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Suarez is the Nats 2nd round pick.  Photo via 247sports.com

Suarez is the Nats 2nd round pick. Photo via 247sports.com

As we did last year, here’s a quick introduction to the Nats top 10 picks for 2014.

A quick glance on our high-end draftees from 2014 draft.  I’ll put in the rankings from several prospect ranking shops (Keith LawBaseball America, MLB.com and MinorLeagueBall).  overall player ranking after the player name where appropriate (though as we’ll see, Keith’s top 100 quickly runs out of names).  Here’s a link to the draft order, and here’s a link to MLB.com’s fantastic draft tracker database for reference.

As he did last year, NatsGM.com‘s Ryan Sullivan is live-blogging and does a great job of pulling up stats on each of our picks.  I depend on his reports as well as those from the four links above to give a quick overview of our draftees.

Note: I wrote most of this over the weekend as the guys were picked; we’re already hearing plenty of rumors about signings.  I havn’t updated this post with such intel but I’m sure its readily available from Ladson and Kilgore and the like.

1st round/#18 overallErick Fedde, UNLV RHP (Law #27/BA #24/MLB #33/MinorLeagueBall #70).  Most of the credible mock drafts had the Nats drafting Fedde here, and that’s exactly what happened.  In my quickie preview post, I thought Fedde would be an overdraft and hoped that either Tyler Beede or Brandon Finnegan would drop.  Well, Beede went 14th and Finnegan went 17th.  I liked Touki Toussant as well as a prep HS that may drop to the Nats, but he went 16th.   I’m not sure I agree with pundits who say that Fedde was a “top 10 talent” prior to his injury; I still think this is an overdraft on Fedde given the fact that he’s rehabbing a blown UCL.  Look at the placement of Fedde on the four prospect ranking shops; that’s an awful lot of trust being placed into the hands of the surgeon, the rehab process, and the recovery.  That being said, looking at the next several players picked, there wasn’t a name that really stood out as someone that I would have rather had who at the same time was a prototypical Mike Rizzo pick  Maybe Connor Gillaspie would have worked (he went #20).  Ryan Sullivan thinks we got a steal here; i’m not so sure.  I think the Nats were looking at their board while the Giants were picking at #14, and then had their next best three names get snatched out from under them, leaving them taking a gamble on Fedde.

On the player himself; Fedde is tall (6’4″) but *skinny* (listed at between 165 and 180), sits 91-93 and touched 95 with excellent movement.  Secondary pitches can flatten out because of his lower arm slot, but he’s listed with a decent slider and decent change.   ESPN thinks he projects a 65 fastball and a 60 slider but needs to work on his command.  Very preliminary ceiling/projection is as a mid-rotation starter.   The thought is that he can fill out his frame and add velocity, though he’s done neither in his three college years.

He’s a Scott Boras client, he was a HS teammate of Bryce Harper, and he’s rehabbing a torn UCL, so he fits in nicely with the Nats on several levels.  It was easy to see why the mock drafts were all over the Nats taking Fedde.  In reality, I’ll bet the war room was rather dejected watching the three a-forementioned pitchers drop off the board in the 4 preceding picks to #18.

2nd round/#57 overall: Andrew Suarez, LHP from U-Miami (Law out of top 100/BA #75/MLB #86/MinorLeagueBall #103).   A re-draft (he was picked in the 9th round out of HS but chose to go to school), he suffered a torn labrum early in his college career but reportedly picked up velocity this past season and held it through most of the year.   Law alludes to other medical issues that clearly had him down on Suarez (Law ranked him lowest of my 4 resources).  He spent the year as Miami’s saturday starter (aka, their #2 starter).  BA mentioned him in their draft preview specifically because of his fantastic control; he had just a 1.34 BB/9 rate despite throwing a low 90s fastball that can reach 95.  He pitched a shut-out in game 1 of the Coral Gables regional, a 7-hit, 10K, 0 walk outing that matched his career high; nice way to finish off your college career (Miami was elminated from CWS play before Suarez could throw again).   Scouting reports say he profiles as a 4th starter.  (Note: my fingers just automatically typed Luis Suarez, aka Liverpool and Uruguay’s striker.  Part of me is in World Cup mode already).

3rd round/#93 overallJakson Reetz, prep Catcher from Nebraska (#38/#62/#40/#36).   A prep catcher isn’t who you normally expect to see this high on the National’s draft results, but his pre-draft rankings show that he’s clearly a steal at the mid-3rd round.  The question is; is he signable here?  $567k is his bonus slot figure; he might be a tough sign unless the Nats have a pre-draft deal with Fedde to save some money for a guy like Reetz.   His pedigree is good: MVP of the PG all-american game, member of the same world champion U-18 team that #1 overall pick Brady Aiken was on.   In prep games he was showing 91 from the mound and reportedly has a great arm, but some scouting reports say he may struggle to stay behind the plate.  As pointed out by NatsGM.com’s Ryan SullivanBA did a “day in the life” piece on Reetz that is worth checking out; once you watch this you’ll really like Reetz.  Last note: Keith Law even likes the pick and says he’ll sign.

4th round/#124 overall: Robbie Dickie, juco RHP from Blinn college in Texas (na/210/179/173).  95-97 on the gun, led his team to the Juco World Series, but he may project as a reliever thanks to questionable mechanics.   Quite a pop-up guy, but an over draft based on the rankings in the major publications.  He’s committed to Texas State if he doesn’t sign, which isn’t exactly a baseball powerhouse, so is this a value/slot saving pick?

5th Round/ #154 overall: Drew Van Orden, a senior RHP from Duke (na/395/na/na).  Good numbers on the year as Duke’s Friday starter (6-5, 3.19 ERA, more than a k/inning).  He finished off his college career with a 5-hit complete game shutout over Georgia Tech in the ACC tournament, Duke’s only win in their post-season tournament.  I like his pedigree despite the fact that he’s a senior 5th round pick with zero leverage.  Who are the Nats saving all this money for?  Update: Van Orden quickly signed, terms undisclosed.

6th Round/#184 overall: Austen Williams, junior RHP from Texas State ( na/#276/na/na).  Nats clearly saw something in Williams that other draft pundits did not; even MinorLeagueBall (who ranked to 350) didn’t have him listed.  Texas State’s friday starter continues a long trend of the Nats plucking talent out of Texas.  Williams posted solid numbers as Texas State’s Friday starter (8-3, 3.65 era, good K/9 rates).  I’m sure he’ll take a bit more than slot to sign, but the Nats should have some pennies saved.

7th Round/#214 overall: Dale (D.K.) Kerry, a senior Center fielder from the U of Miami (na/#332/na/#133).  MLB’s scouting report on him says he’s a great athlete and he has a “4th outfielder” projection.  Sounds like the perfect senior 7th round draft pick to me (sarcasm).  Ryan Sullivan is more bullish on him than I.

8th Round/#244 overall: Jeff Gardner, senior corner OF from Louisville (na/498/na/na).  He may be a senior, but he’s also the clean-up hitter for a CWS-bound team and had great stats on the year (.321/.403/.538 with 9 homers).   Not a bad find for the 8th round.

9th Round/#274 overall: Austin Byler, junior 1B from Nevada (94/123/166/271).  Well, now we see why the Nats are saving their pennies; getting Byler here is a find.  He should have been taken in the 3rd or 4th round if you believe the pundits, and he may take an over-slot deal to buy him out of his senior year.  He’s got serious power (he led his conference in homers and is an offensive threat) and would be a great find if he signs.

10th Round/#304 overallMatthew Page, senior RF from Oklahoma Baptist (na/na/na/na).  A d-2 pick for a team that a) loves guys from the south west already and b) has shown itself more than willing to gamble on non D-I players.  I can’t imagine he’ll be expensive to sign.  He’s also the first player the Nats have picked that didn’t appear anywhere on any of the draft previews.

Summary: Through the first 10 rounds the Nats picked 5 pitchers and 5 hitters for good balance.  Of these 10 players selected, 9 are college.  So, in other words, this is exactly the type of draft we expect to see out of a Rizzo-run organization (with the possible exception of perhaps predicting a few more arms). 

Of these 10 draftees, I’d say that at least 5 are “expected under slot guys” (Dickie, Van Orden, Kerry, Gardner and Page).  You have to think the team may play some slot hardball with Fedde.   Suarez and Williams should sign for about slot.  That leaves two guys who may take over-slot deals to sign; the sole HS draftee in Reetz and the decently ranked Byler.  I’ll bet it works out and all 10 guys sign.


Some useful draft links for you:

Ladson’s Inbox 1/31/14

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Would this guy look good in a Washington uniform?  Photo unknown via ladodgertalk.com

Would this guy look good in a Washington uniform? Photo unknown via ladodgertalk.com

Nothing like a time-waster for the weekend; Bill Ladson‘s latest inbox plopped Friday afternoon 1/31/14.  Here’s how I’d have responded if someone had bothered to as me these questions :-)

Q: Even though the Nationals are confident with Denard Span in center field and they have strong center fielders in the Minors, is it possible that they might try to get Matt Kemp at the Trade Deadline or next offseason?

A: Matt Kemp‘s name has come up in this blog in the discussion spaces once before in an interesting “what-if” game.  The question as it was posed was this: “Would you, straight up and with no salary relief, trade Matt Kemp right now for Anthony Rendon?”  Think about it; Kemp is owed $127.5M over the next six seasons ($21-$21.5M per season).  He put up MVP numbers in 2011 (many thought he should have won instead of Ryan Braun, even more so after Braun’s positive PED tests) but has floundered with injury and sub-par performances (relative to his salary) for the past two years.  Meanwhile Rendon is getting paid a fraction of what Kemp’s salary is, is younger and has room to grow, but so far has been merely a league average player.  Its a good question: do you run the risk of a $20M boat anchor on your roster, taking up 1/7th of  your salary cap, or do you roll the dice that Kemp returns to his former glory and earns his pay?  Or do you bet on Rendon becoming a significant player cost contained and under team control for another 5 years?

For me, I think you stay away from Kemp.  That’s a ton of money with no guarantee that 2014 will be any different from 2013, and the Nats already have enough pending payroll problems without adding one more $20M player.

As for the question at hand, I see no inclination for Mike Rizzo to make such a move, now or ever.  He spent a lot of capital (our best starting pitching prospect at the time in Alex Meyer) to get Denard Span, he sought him out and coveted openly him for years, and now he has him.  Span’s not going anywhere.  As for next year, we’re in a wait and see.  One of our best prospects is a CF candidate in Brian Goodwin, but he took a step back in 2013.  If Goodwin steps back up in 2014 or doesn’t pan out, we can exercise Span’s 2015 option at $9M and wait for the next best CF prospect in our system (Michael Taylor) to grow.  If neither prospect pans out, we don’t have to worry about it for a few years.  But, at some point you hope this team can grow another prospect to replace an aging $9M free agent with a minimum salary guy.

Ladson basically says what I say, but in fewer words.

Q: The Nationals still have bullpen questions that were not addressed during the offseason. Do you think the Nats will sign another lefty for the bullpen? Or will they use Ross Detwilerin relief?

A: Do we have bullpen questions?  Where?  We got a lefty (Jerry Blevins) and we have another decent lefty option who pitched decently for us last year (Xavier Cedeno).  I’m quite pleased with the state of our back-end guys (Soriano and Clippard), our 7th and 8th inning options (Storen and Stammen), and our long-man options (Ohlendorf and Roark).   Remember; Clippard has great lefty splits, always has.  If our loogy doesn’t work out that well, we go back to using Clippard periodically as a match-up guy.  Or we call up Sammy Solis.  Hell, we could even try Matthew Purke as a bullpen option (he’s on the 40-man after all); scouts are souring on him ever being an effective starter, but his weird motion and shorter stints could help him feature as a bullpen guy.   I think you use Ross Detwiler as a starter until he proves otherwise; as mentioned in this space time and again, Detwiler was effective in 2012, started well in 2013 and got hurt; I have no doubt that if healthy he can start 2014 as he started 2013.  Ladson says similar things about our lefty options.

Q: How is Adam LaRoche‘s health going into Spring Training? He looked as if he lost a tremendous amount of weight last year.

A: Adam LaRoche looked healthy enough in all those shots that appeared of him killing things on the internet over the winter.  Seriously; who knows what the answer to this question is.  But we know he’s aware of the situation and should be taking steps to maintain his strength and weight in 2014.  It is a contract year after all, and he’s shown a proclivity towards having career years in contract years when he needs them to secure his next paycheck.  I can’t see  him “platooning” like a lot of bloggers seem to be calling for, but I can see him being told by management that he needs to maintain his production or he may be banished in phantom DL trips.  Ladson reports that LaRoche was taking an ADD medication, believes he has it figured out, and predicts a Gold Glove in 2014.  Random prediction but sounds good.

Q: Any chance Nationals could bring back Jesus Flores as a backup to Wilson Ramos?

A: Well, Jesus Flores is still out there as a MLFA.  What doesn’t speak well of him is the fact that he was released in May of last year by the Dodgers.  Clearly to me, he’s no longer a viable major league backup candidate.  I can still see the Nats giving a non-guaranteed contract to one of the few remaining veteran catchers to see if one of them sticks as Ramos’ backup, but at this point I wouldn’t be surprised to see the winner of a competition between Jhonatan Solano and Sandy Leon sticking as the backup.  That being said, both these guys were awful in 2013 in the minors offensively and I don’t have a good explanation why.  Leon seems like the better bet; better history of batting,  younger.   Chris Snyder has had a rough couple years but is still relatively young and has had stretches of decency, if the team wants to go with a veteran backup instead of a rookie.   I dunno what’s going to happen.  On the bright side, Keith Law‘s just-released top 10 for the system (ESPN Insider only) includes one Pedro Severino, giving him relatively glowing grades for his defense.   He’s a couple years away (born in 1993) but if he succeeds in Potomac this year he could be a ready-made Ramos backup sooner than later.  Ladson says the team had a problem with the way Flores called games … hmm, never heard that before.  Ladson also predicts more signings before Feb 1.

Q: I sense a double standard: why give continued chances to Danny Espinosa but essentially shut out Drew Storen? Am I missing something? Similar struggles, but at least Drew fought his way back to the Majors.

A: I’m not sure what “chances” Danny Espinosa is getting at this point, nor am I sure what Storen has been “shut out” of.  The team bought Rafael Soriano, are paying him a ton of money, and he’s the closer as long as he’s here.  That’s that; both Storen and Clippard got pushed down a peg when he got acquired.  Meanwhile, I think its clear that Anthony Rendon is the starter, and Espinosa is playing for a backup role.  Maybe there were just too many quotes taken out of context from NatsFest.  Ladson re-iterates his believe that Espinosa will be traded.

 

Ladson’s inbox 1/15/14

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Lots of speculation on Zimmerman's near future position. Photo AP via tbd.com

Lots of speculation on Zimmerman’s near future position. Photo AP via tbd.com

Rapid fire!  Nats mlb.com beat reporter Bill Ladson didn’t even wait seven days to release his latest inbox, this one dated 1/15/14.   We just got done arguing about the last one!  He must have a huge backlog of questions from baseball-starved fans who can’t wait for pitchers and catchers to report (we’re less than a month away now; Nats report date is 2/13/14).

Btw; I heard it from a friend of a friend that the Nats may have given extension offers to both Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann this week; havn’t seen that news pop up on any beat reporter RSS feeds or elsewhere yet.  But if true, its good to see the dialog opening up now as opposed to deep into spring training.  Stay tuned and lets see if these rumors turn out to be true!

As always, we write our responses here before reading his and edit questions as needed:

Q: What was the reason behind signing Jamey Carroll and Mike Fontenot to Minor League deals?

A: Because Syracuse loves having old, over the hill veteran guys playing middle infield for them.  No seriously, both Jamey Carroll and Mike Fontenot profile as your typical aging veteran trying to hold on for one last shot, accepting a minor league/non guaranteed contract with an invite to major league spring training so that they can compete for bench spots.  And this team absolutely has a need for middle infield depth after trading away Steve Lombardozzi and given the question marks that come with other middle infield options on our roster Danny Espinosa (has he remembered how to hit again?), Zach Walters (can he actually play shortstop without booting every other ball hit to him?), and Jeff Kobernus (is he even a middle infielder any more after focusing on the OF for so long)?  At this point, I think at least one of them will make the roster unless we make another trade.  Ladson says Mike Rizzo loves depth and the team is looking for a backup to Espinosa.  

Q: At which Minor League level will Lucas Giolito start this coming season after tearing it up with the Gulf Coast Nationals and Class A Auburn?

A: In my big system-wide prediction piece in December 2013, I predicted Lucas Giolito will start in Low-A/Hagerstown.  There’s no reason not to get him going in full-season ball, and low-A makes the most sense given his age.  In a perfect world he’d dominate low-A in the first half and get promoted to high-A/Potomac for the 2nd half.  Ladson also says Hagerstown.

Q: Am I the only one concerned about Bryce Harper‘s weight gain?

A: Bryce Harper is in his low-20s; he was always destined to “fill out” and gain more muscle mass.  It will only mean more ferocious power and hopefully more strength to help him slog through the 162 game schedule.  On the downside, it means less speed on the bases and probably less range in the outfield, neither of which is really too much of a concern for a premium power hitter.   If it means that my dream of Harper playing center field and taking over the reigns from the likes of Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays as premium power-hitting CFers, so be it.  Ladson says there’s no worry.

Q: If the Nationals give Espinosa or Jeff Kobernus a spot on the Opening Day roster, who would be the first player sent to Syracuse?

A: I’d have to think Kobernus would be first expendible player; the team already has too many outfielders (3 starters in Harper, Denard Span and Jayson Werth, a backup in Scott Hairston and a presumed 2nd backup in Tyler Moore).  There’ s just no room for a third extra outfielder on modern teams; you need that 2nd bench spot for a guy who can cover the middle infield.  Ladson didn’t really answer the question, just saying that Espinosa would be “given every chance” to make the team.

Q: Do you think the Nationals would move Ryan Zimmerman to first base and trade Adam LaRoche for a good starter or bullpen pitcher? They could move Anthony Rendon to third base.

A: I do not think the team would move Adam LaRoche at this point.  You’d get almost no value back and would be creating a hole in your lineup that the team can’t easily fix.  If you think a team is going to give up a “good starter” or even a “bullpen pitcher” for a mid-30s guy who underperformed last year, then you’re fooling yourself.  Bill Ladson: stop taking dumb trade questions!

Back to the question though; the team seems convinced that Ryan Zimmerman‘s throwing issues are behind him, since he’s had more than enough time by now to recover from his Oct 2012 shoulder surgery.  Btw, take a look at his baseballprospectus link and look at his unbelievable injury history; I can’t think of another player with such a long list of maladies.  Now, once LaRoche is gone and the team is looking at a hole at first, a premium 3rd base defender wasting his talents at 2nd, and a litany of free agent options to provide cover at 2nd and/or 3rd… yes we may see Zimmerman come back across the diamond.  Lets see what happens in 2014; if Zimmerman returns to gold glove form, we may be having a different conversation next off-season (as in, who are we getting to play 1B).  Ladson talks up LaRoche, calling him one of the best defensive firstbasemen in club history.  If LaRoche is so good, we must have really had a bad run of first basement.  LaRoche posted a -2.0 UZR/150 last year, good for 17th of 19 qualified first basemen in the league … sorry, hard to talk about how great defensively you are one of the WORST first basemen statistically in the league.

Ladson Inbox 1/9/14

14 comments

Is Zimmermann getting a contract extension?.Photo Manuel Balce-Ceneta/AP

Is Zimmermann getting a contract extension?.Photo Manuel Balce-Ceneta/AP

You know spring training is coming close when Bill Ladson does two mailboxes in two weeks.  Here’s 1/9/14′s version.

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

Q: Most of the talk about a middle infielder for the bench is centered on Danny Espinosa. What are your thoughts about Jeff Kobernus? I would play him and trade Espinosa.

A: I think the talk is focused on Danny Espinosa since, right now he seems like the best option thanks to the trade of Steve Lombardozzi and the lack of any other real competitors.  Zach Walters hit 30 homers in AAA … but by some accounts is a very poor defender.  I can’t find his minor league fielding stats but others have pointed out that he made 30 errors last year in AAA.  Jeff Kobernus has been playing outfield lately; he played 2nd in college and earlier in his pro career but can he even play short stop?  New signees Jamey Carroll and Mike Fontenot can both play 2nd and SS … but aren’t exactly MLB quality guys any longer; Fontenot spent the entire year in AAA in 2013 and Carroll is a guy on a minor league contract nearing 40 who hit for a 40-something OPS+ in 2013.

Ask yourself; what do you ideally want out of a backup infielder?  They have to be a plus defender (apparently knocking out Walters), they have to be able to play 2nd and SS (knocking out Kobernus).  Espinosa is a fantastic defender, a short stop in college with a rocket arm who many once upon a time thought was a better short stop than Ian Desmond.  Right now, I want to see if Espinosa can re-gain his former self and use everyone else in this discussion as a fallback plan.

Trade Espinosa?  Can you define the term “selling low?”  That’s the last thing the organization wants to do right now.  That being said, Ladson continues to be insistent that Espinosa will be traded before opening day.  His prediction for the opening day backup infielder is “lets see what happens in spring training.”  Strong stance.

Q: Is Bill Bray still with the Nationals? If I remember, he had health issues. Any chance he could be in the mix for a lefty slot in the bullpen?

A: Bill Bray is a Minor League Free Agent, and according to Baseball America is still unsigned.  Even if he did re-sign with Washington, it’d be on a minor league deal, meaning he’d have to be added to the 40-man to be in the mix for the loogy.  That already puts him behind several guys; Jerry Blevins and Xavier Cedeno for sure, and likely Sammy Solis if the first two guys failed.  Bray also has to show he’s healthy, which he hasn’t really done in quite a while now.  I hate to say it, because i’ve got a soft-spot for him (he’s from Virginia Beach and i’m friends with his cousin), but he may be looking at retirement.  Ladson says he’s not ready until May but wants to stay in the organization; lets hope they throw him a bone and give him a minor league deal.

Q: Are the Nats pursuing any other lefty relievers, or is Jerry Blevins all there is to it?

A: I’d guess the team is pursuing other lefties, but not actively.  I’m sure there will be a couple of MLFA signings here and there to provide some competition in Viera.  Ladson reminds us that they’re thinking about both Solis and Ross Detwiler as lefties out of the pen.

Q: Any word on F. P. Santangelo re-signing for the 2014 season?

A: No idea.  I thought he was a fine broadcaster so I hope he comes back; didn’t realize there was a question.  Ladsons says they’re both back for 2014, after which Santangelo’s contract expires.

Q: Tyler Moore is an enigma. He seems to have all the tools to be a regular .280 hitter with 20 homers. Why does he appear to only be in the Nats’ plans as a bench player?

A: Moore is an enigma; is he the power hitting slugger (one homer every 15.6 ABs) in 2012 who bashed his way to an .840 OPS or is the overmatched, strike-out-one-out-of-every-three times guy we saw in 2013?  I’d hope he’s closer to the former than the latter, and thus can still be a servicable righty power bat off the bench.  Why is he just a bench player?  Because he’s not better than any of the guys ahead of him?  I would have thought this was kind of obvious, looking at Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth and their accomplishments and status on this team.  Ladson assumes Moore is a backup firstbaseman, I guess, but says Moore isn’t going to be platooning with Adam LaRoche either.

Q: Do you think it is likely that the Nationals will sign both Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann to contract extensions this offseason?

A: Likely?  No.  I think at least one (Desmond) gets done, and we may see the other guy (Zimmermann) get moved in a cost-containment move with the team thinking ahead to its rising minor league players and its need to pay both Harper and Strasburg sooner than later.  Ladson sort of agrees.

 

 

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.

 

Ladson’s inbox 12/2/13 edition

19 comments

 

The drumbeat to have Morse back continues.  Photo hardballtalk.nbcsports.com

The drumbeat to have Morse back continues. Photo hardballtalk.nbcsports.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ladson’s inbox 11/13/13

13 comments

I wonder who we can get for Danny Espinosa in trade?   Photo AP via mlb.com

I wonder who we can get for Danny Espinosa in trade? Photo AP via mlb.com

The Hot Stove League is in full effect; Bill Ladson has done two mailbags in two weeks!  Here’s his 11/13/13 edition, hot on the heels of his last one on 11/5/13.  Lets get to it.  Lots of “what-if” scenarios involving Nats players are already being rumored by big-time names in the industry.  Lets get to them.

As always, I answer here before reading his response and edit questions for clarity if needed.

Q: Do you think Anthony Rendon will be in the regular lineup in 2014, or is there a possibility of him being traded?

A: Honestly, despite Anthony Rendon‘s name prominently being mentioned as a centerpiece for rumored deals for the likes of Max Scherzer and/or David Price, I don’t believe these kind of deals are going to really happen.  I can’t see Detroit trading away Scherzer, not in their “win-now” mode.  And I can’t see Mike Rizzo pulling off a deal with the ultra-competitive executives in Tampa Bay, not after he’s done such a good job re-stocking the farm system and getting everyone healthy.  For now I see Rendon right back as the starting 2nd baseman in 2014, with the Nats facing a tougher decision on what to do with deposed starter Danny Espinosa.  Ladson “doesn’t know yet.”  Thanks for the “going-out-on-a-limb” prediction there.

Q: What do you think about Drew Storen‘s future with the Nationals? And with that said, what do you think the Nats could get back in a trade?

A: I think that as long as this team is competitive Drew Storen (and to a lesser extent this also goes for Tyler Clippard at least for one more year) will stay here and hold down their spots in the back-end of the bullpen.  If we suffer another down year (or, more likely, if we suddenly see an influx of home-grown replacements) these guys and their escalating salaries are ripe for trading to contenders with bullpen holes.  They’re both good pitchers, “closer quality” who aren’t being used in that capacity in Washington thanks to the luxury signing of Rafael Soriano and his $11m/year salary.  What can they bring back?  Well if you use the Matt Capps for Wilson Ramos trade as a blueprint, the team should hope for a near-majors prospect.   I don’t think you can always get that; teams now are far more protective of their prospects than they used to be.  But for either player i’d take a top-10 prospect even if he was further down in the minors.  Ladson says he thinks Storen is getting traded … but doesn’t say when.  But he does mention the Scherzer rumors…

Q: Do you think the Nationals will go after free-agent lefty Eric O’Flaherty to improve their bullpen depth?

A: Maybe.  If they can get him on a minor league/cheap deal sure.  The Nats tried this route last year with Bill Bray (taking a formerly effective loogy in FA who was coming off of injury) and Bray finished the year on the AA disabled list.  So that didn’t work out so well.  I’m sure there’s more than a few teams in the lefty reliever market, and if its like 2012 the Nats might shy away from the prices these guys command.  Remember; they’ve got more than a few decent in-house options already, guys who proved they could pitch last year.  I don’t perceive the “need” to get a lefty reliever in free agency to be as critical for this team as others seem to think.  Yes I know the team is already calling guys (as they should), but somehow I think they’re going to end up shying away from the prices they see (much as they did last  year with their trio of lefty FA relievers).   Ladson says the team wants healthy players, not guys coming off of TJ surgery like Chien-Ming Wang.  Fair points.

Q: Wouldn’t a bench of Steve LombardozziTyler MooreZach Walters and Scott Hairston give the Nationals a balance of lefty/righty bats and much more field flexibility than they have had in recent seasons?

A: This bench, comprised entirely of in-house solutions, would give the team this profile:

  • Two righties , two switch hitters
  • Two corner outfielders  but nobody who could really play center
  • Two middle infielders who could cover at least 2nd, SS, 3rd.   Moore could cover 1st if needed.
  • Demonstrated right-handed power off the bench … but not so much lefty power
  • Just one real proven major leaguer (Hairston)

We just don’t know what to make of Moore at this point in his career.  Great in 2012, awful in 2013.  We know he can hit it a mile … can he do it when he gets just a few ABs a week?  I don’t know.  Lombardozzi fills the “utility guy” role who can plug in at 5 positions … so where does that leave Walters?  I know Walters hit 29 homers last year in AAA; if he replicates that in the majors he’s a $100M player.

Where’s the lefty power?  That’s what this bench misses, and that’s why I think the team looks for some lefty pop off the bench.   Ladson repeats the need for bench power.

Q: Reportedly the Nats are looking for an elite starter, and it’s been said that Scherzer is a better fit than Price because of Mike Rizzo’s history with Scherzer. I don’t understand why a relationship with the general manager makes a player or manager the best choice. What does liking him or knowing him have to do with it? Shouldn’t the choice be made by determining who is the best pitcher for the Nats?

A: Good question.  On some levels, GMs seem to fall in love with the guys they drafted, especially guys they scouted.  We saw this with Jim Bowden‘s obsession with his former players from Cincinnati, and we see it with Rizzo and his former players from Arizona on some levels.  Makes sense right?  How many of us have seen executives hired who brought in “their guys” to help out?  You’re comfortable with the known commodity, guys who you feel like you have a relationship with, guys who you know can get the job done as you think it needs to be done.

But that only explains why Rizzo may like Scherzer moreso than Price at a personal history level.   That has nothing to do with a) the ability to actually make a trade for the guy, or b) the fit for the team.  Now, any team in the league would take a healthy Cy Young winning pitcher, and that’s why trading for either guy will take a significant investment in prospects.  In reality any team in the league would love to have either guy at their pre-FA salary levels; they’re steals.  The “value” of a win on the FA market is now estimated to be about $7M or so; even if these guys are paid double that in 2014 they’re going to produce more than 2 wins.  Ladson speculates that because Scherzer’s agent is Scott Boras that the Nats would for some reason have a better shot at signing him long term.  See, I dont’ believe that either.  If the Nats offer the most money, they’ll get the player no matter who his agent may be.  People like to say the Nats are Boras’ “bitch” team because we sign so many of his players … but if you check the Player Agent database, the Nats have as many Boras clients as a few other teams (Kansas City, Detroit, Seattle, Boston, Baltimore) and most of them are draftees, not FAs.  You’re going to draft the best player no matter who his agent may be.

Q: With Adam LaRoche having a bad season at the plate, do you think the Nationals will end up trading him along with possibly Danny Espinosa and others to the Rays for Price?

A: Genesis of a dumb trade proposal; hey, lets see if Tampa, one of the shrewdest and most forward thinking organization in the majors, will not only take on two of our most disappointing players from 2013 (LaRoche and Espinosa) but also will they take on more than $15M in anticipated payroll for a former Cy Young winner and inarguably one of the best 10 arms in baseball?!  Yeah that’s a great trade!  Hey, lets see if we can trade, oh I dunno, Yunesky Maya and a bunch of guys from AAA who hit .220 to the Dodgers for Clayton Kershaw!  Yeah, that’ll work.

I’m sorry for the sarcasm, but this is just such a stupid trade idea given how we *know* the Rays work that it just isn’t worth addressing.  If you proposed this in a chat with a professional talent evaluator they’d ignore it, or post it just to ridicule it.

The Rays want prospects back.  Always.  They don’t want guys with 8 figure salaries who are already on the wrong side of 30.  Espinosa’s trade value is near worthless right now.  Anyone who thinks they’re going to be the centerpieces of a trade with an organization as smart as Tampa is a fool.

Ladson doesn’t even address the proposal, just saying confidently that LaRoche will be back.

Ladson’s Inbox 11/5/13 edition

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Can Roark win a 2014 rotation job? Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

Can Roark win a 2014 rotation job? Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

Well, we finally got a manager, so hopefully MLB.com Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson will stop taking “Who do you think the next Nats Manager” questions.  I’m not ruling it out though :-)  Nonetheless, here’s the latest Ladson inbox, dated 11/5/13.  As always, I write my response before reading his and edit questions for clarity.

Q: Will Davey Johnson still play a role in the organization?

A: Who cares?  Does it matter?  Whatever role Davey Johnson could play would have so little significance on the on-field play of the 2014 team that I find it useless to even speculate.  I’m sure the Nats offered him a limited role out of respect, and I’d assume Johnson accepted it as long as it allowed him to go relax in Florida for a while, hoping another managerial job opens up.  Ladson expects he’ll consult to the team and advise on trades and FA signings because he’s such a great “talent evaluator.”  Hey Bill; if Johnson was such a great talent evaluator why exactly did he run Danny Espinosa out for so many at-bats?  Why didn’t he push to make a change in the rotation when it was clear that Dan Haren wasn’t pitching at even a replacement-level?  How come he didn’t see the rising talent that made such a difference in September?

Q: After Stephen StrasburgGio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann, how do you see the rest of the rotation shaking out?

A: A good question.  After going into the 2013 season with almost no high-minors starting pitching depth, you have to think the team is going to cover themselves for 2014.  So count on there being more seemingly worthy candidates than roles going into spring training 2014.  The answer to this question may depend on payroll issues: right now Cots has the Nats with about $80M committed for 2014 prior to its arbitration cases, which MLBtraderumor’s Matt Swartz is estimating will run the team another $37.3M (which honestly I think is slightly low).  That’s roughly $117M in payroll before even looking at a single FA candidate.   You could save some of this money with non-tenders or trades (Tyler Clippard at $6.2M is a candidate to be moved), but not enough to get an impact player.

Will the ownership group expand the payroll even more for 2014, knowing their “window” with this group of players is shrinking?  Or will they stay the course and know that nearly $30M of mostly underperforming veteran FAs (LaRocheSpanSoriano) come off the books after next season, allowing them to reload in the FA market towards 2015 and beyond?

If ownership frees up some cash, by trade/non-tender or by expansion of the payroll limit, there are FA pitchers to be had.  I’ve seen more than one pundit with the Nats linked to Matt Garza, but I don’t see it; I don’t think he’s worth what people seem to think he’s going to get (4 yrs/$60M).  More likely is the team going with a modification of the Edwin Jackson/Dan Haren plan and getting a reclamation project in the ilk of Josh Johnson on a one-year/low paying contract with big incentives.

Less predictable is the trade acquisition.  Nobody saw the Gio Gonzalez trade coming until it happened, and something similar could happen now.  The team is in the same position generally this off-season as it was in 2011 in terms of having a slight surplus of closer-to-the-majors arms and bats and could put together a similar package.  If we moved Brad PeacockTommy MiloneDerek Norris and A.J. Cole for Gonzalez in 2011 (or in otherwords, a good-looking starter with great initial call-up numbers, a solid lefty starter who dominated AAA, a decent looking catcher prospect and a high-leverage low-minors prospect) would a similar package of something like Tanner RoarkNathan Karns, Eury Perez and Robbie Ray fetch a #2 starter in the trade market?   Oakland isn’t facing the same issue they were in 2011 with any of its pitchers, so the most likely eager-to-make-a-trade GM in Billy Beane is out.  But that being said, they’re paying Brett Anderson a LOT of money for Oakland’s payroll (roughly 1/6th of their payroll for next year), and he could be moved.  Anderson wouldn’t cost nearly this much in prospects, but would be a huge risk; he hasn’t pitched a full season in years.

Meanwhile everyone knows Tampa is looking to move David Price, but any trade for him has to start with your two best prospects and build from there, and the Nats are just back to the point where the farm system is looking respectable again.  I’m not sure the Nats are going to be willing to give up what the Rays will demand.  The Nats have done business lately with the Chicago Cubs, who may look to move the arbitration-eligible Jeff Samardzija, but they’d be selling incredibly low on him after his poor 2013.  Lastly the Tigers reportedly are considering moving Max Scherzer, who enters his last year of arbitration looking for a big pay day and with Ken Rosenthal reporting that the Nats are his best fit, but I just cannot see purposely moving a Cy Young winner and disrupting a team that continues to be one of the best in the AL.

With no FA acquisitions and no trades, I see a competition next spring that likely sees Ross Detwiler in the 4th spot (no options, theoretically healthy again), Tanner Roark in the 5th spot (he keeps his spot until he shows that his remarkable September numbers are human), Ross Ohlendorf as the spot starter/long man in the MLB pen, and Taylor Jordan-Nathan Karns being the #1 and #2 starters in AAA Syracuse.  Some speculate that Detwiler would lose out to both Roark and Jordan and become a lefty out of the pen … but I don’t see that.  I’m not counting it out, but I don’t see that happening if he’s healthy.

With any significant FA acquisition or trade, you line up Stras-Gio-Zimmermann-New Acquisition and Detwiler to start off 2014, just as you did in 2013.   Roark and Ohlendorf likely work out of the MLB pen and Jordan/Karns still in AAA.   Maybe Karns comes up and works the 7th inning as well, while Jordan remains starter insurance plan #1.

Ladson also mentions Price, also mentions what I do about the difficulties lining up, thinks the Nats will acquire someone for #4 spot and then says Roark has the inside edge on #5 spot, even over Detwiler (who he thinks could move to the bullpen). 

Q: What did you think about the Nationals hiring Williams as manager last week?

A: Well, I guess Ladson had to get in one last question about the managerial situation.  My take: I like the move, I think Matt Williams‘ combination of successful playing career and MLB coaching experience will instantly give him the respect of the veterans and the rookies on this team.   He will get this team in line, he will bring some old-school notions to this team and won’t back down in a fight (as Johnson clearly did with Atlanta all year).  I think he will give this team the spine it lacked and will do nothing but help move the team forward.

One other opinion; I do see some critics who say that Williams’ lack of direct managerial experience at any level hurts him.  I say BS; he was a major league coach for four years, working underneath a successful, respected manager.  He presumably contributed to the decision making process, got to witness first hand how decisions worked out, got to decide for himself how he would have handled situations, and in some ways I think this experience supercedes being a manager of a lower-level ball-club where there’s no egos and just a bunch of kids who you can cower into submission.

Ladson says its too early to tell, but that Williams had a great news conference.  Honestly I didn’t really expect much of an answer here from an employee of MLB.

Q: What is Christian Garcia‘s status? Will he join the Nationals in 2014? He was a great late addition to the bullpen in 2012.

A: He’s finally healthy, and pitching in the Mexican Winter League.  I think the team sees the error of its ways in trying to convert the injury-riddled pitcher to being a starter.  He’s working as a reliever in winter ball, and I hope to see him continue to work as a reliever in the spring.  I’d love to see him earn a spot in the bullpen; lord knows the team could use one more reliable arm in the 6th/7th inning (Ryan Mattheus needs to be on guard; your spot is in jeopardy for 2014).  Ladson agrees with everything I’ve said.

Q: Do you think the Nationals will trade Danny EspinosaTyler Moore and Steve Lombardozzithis winter or sign a couple free agents? I believe they need a lefty middle reliever, a left-handed bat coming off the bench and a veteran backup catcher.

A: Trading any of those three guys after the seasons they had at the plate would be selling incredibly low.  So no, I don’t think any of them get moved unless they’re part of a larger deal.  Espinosa needs to get healthy, learn how to hit left handed, and build trade value.  I believe he can be a valuable player for someone, somewhere, just based on his incredible defense.  But he has to hit better than .150.  Moore needs to return to his 2012 power ways, but I still see him as a useful player who we have no reason to trade; he still has options, he’s still pre-arbitration and thus he’s cheap.  Lombardozzi is the quintessential utility guy; he can play 2nd, 3rd, left, right.  You have to have one of these guys around … and if he can’t hit, it is’t going to kill you.  But when this player gets 300 ABs (as Lombardozzi got last year) … then you have a problem.  This is why the team got Scott Hairston and why they’re likely to give some looks to Zach Walters in 2014.   Maybe the team looks for a cheap veteran to replace Chad Tracy but i’d hope for a bit more positional flexibility.

I can also see the team kicking the tires on a veteran lefty but don’t entirely see the need; Ian Krol may have faltered down the stretch but he was mostly good.  Abad was good.  Cedeno was good.  We have all these guys locked up.  You see who wins a competition and switch them out if they’re ineffective.

Ladson thinks Espinosa is getting traded no matter what, and has played his last game as a National.

Q: Are Gold Glove Awards given with consideration to the offensive stats of a player? Otherwise, how could Denard Span miss out on the award this year?

A: They’re not supposed to be … but we all know old habits die hard and bit players who are awful at the plate often times have a hard time getting a Gold Glove.  Span as it turned out led all NL centerfielders in one defensive metric (Total Zone Total Fielding Runs), but I have zero problem with the NL winner Carlos Gomez.  Ladson says he was “shocked” that Span didn’t win, and then used “# of errors” as a metric.  Poor form Ladson; you need to reference some of the advanced stats in question.  Gomez led the NL in Defensive Runs Saved, one of the two major defensive metrics.  So your argument fails.  Span may have great range, but he wasn’t best in the Ultimate Zone Ratings measurement either.  See the Fielding Awards spreadsheet link to the right to see all the leaders in one place.