Nationals Arm Race

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

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Who *really* should be in the HR derby?

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Puig would *make* the home run derby.  photo mlb.com

Puig would *make* the home run derby. photo mlb.com

I have to admit it: the home run derby has probably become my favorite part of the all-star game festivities.  That and the futures game of course.  The all-star game itself has devolved into a farce with a slew of issues (I posted a lot of these criticisms in my 2011 Nats all-star piece, and they remain issues today, so no need to go back into them here).  Lets talk about the Home Run derby.

I kind of like the wrinkle of naming “captains,” which for this year occurred on 6/23/14.  But the captains have to pick the right guys.  I hate the format; when a guy like Josh Hamilton is remembered for his epic performance in an early round moreso than the winner, something’s wrong with the format.   But they’re changing it this year.   And the players take *way* too many pitches.  But whatever.  This year’s captains are Troy Tulowitzki and Jose Bautista.  Fans can vote on who they want to see in the competition.

Here’s my ideal home-run derby slate of participants.  In the interest of keeping the competition “small” i’ve limited this to 5 per league:

National League:

  • Giancarlo Stanton: owner of 3 of the biggest 11 homers on the year, on pace for 45+ homers, leading the NL in home runs.  And he wants in this year.
  • Bryce Harper: last year’s runner-up is one of the few players in the majors scouted with 80 power; despite his injury-plagued season he belongs in this competition.
  • Michael Morse: not too many all-or-nothing hitters like Morse, whose name dots the leader board on hittracker.
  • Evan Gattis: you don’t just turn on chest-high fastballs from Strasburg if you’re a plain ole hitter.
  • Yasiel Puig: just because.  Can he do a bat flip after every homer?

Left out:

  • Troy Tulowitzki: He’s in as a captain, but even despite that selection he’s a decent choice: he’s 5th in the majors in ISO and tied for 6th in Homers.
  • Paul Goldschmidt: has the power capabilities and the overall game.  But he’s not nearly as explosive as the guys above.
  • Ryan Howard: He may not merit inclusion based on his performance, but he’s a classic three-true outcomes hitter.  Lefties get him out with ease; i’m sure batting practice pitchers don’t.
  • Todd Frazier: his power numbers spike thanks to playing in Cincinnati, but he’s still got some serious underrated power.
  • Justin Upton: Owner of the 3rd longest homer on the year.

American League:

  • Yoenis Cespedes: gotta let the man defend his crown.
  • Edwin Encarnacion: MLB leader in Homers as of this writing.  Has to be in this competition.
  • Jose Abreu: MLB leader in ISO and on a 40 homer pace despite hitting the D/L.
  • David Ortiz: Owns the 2nd longest homer hit this season and would make a nice homecoming in Minnesota.
  • Mike Trout: He’s such a good hitter, that he could just sit at the plate and hit homer after homer.  And, he just hit a 489 foot homer to take over the longest homer of the year.

Left Out

  • Jose Bautista: He’s a captain, so we’ll list him here.   Otherwise he’s a stretch to make this list.
  • Victor Martinez: he’s quietly one of the best power hitters in the league right now.
  • Mark Trumbo: too bad he’s hurt; he’s a great power hitter to watch.
  • Nelson Cruz: his homer totals may be augmented by playing in Baltimore, but he’s still putting numbers on the board.
  • Adam Dunn: you know he’d be a favorite to win if he was named to this team, but I could only select 5.  He’d be the 6th man in for the AL.

Are these the best lineups you could possibly ask for in this competition?  Who else would you put on this list of power-crazy players?  Jim Caple posted his own tongue-in-cheek version of this same post, worth a read for a quick giggle.  There’s a handful of other DH-only types in the AL (Billy Butler, Chris Carter, Adam Lind, Juan Francisco, etc) who might make sense.

(I used three resources to name these names: the current major league leaders in Homers, the current major league leaders in Isolated Power, and an eyeballing of the leader board for most astoundingly long homers on the year from Hit Tracker Online.  All stats are as of 6/24/14 and may have changed slightly between then and the publication of this post).

Trevor Bauer Trade; what happened?

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Bauer is traded before the ink is dry on his contract. Why? Photo Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images via bleacherreport.com

It isn’t every day that you see a guy like Trevor Bauer traded.  Why?

  • He was traded less than a year after being drafted in the upper 1st round (3rd overall).
  • He was traded despite signing a Major League deal and getting a $3.4M bonus.  The bonus money isn’t exactly a sunk cost here; we’re not talking about a guy who is 5 years into his minor league career.
  • He was traded despite being the first player from his draft class to matriculate to the majors, appearing at the end of 2012’s season, getting 4 starts in September.
  • He was traded after a minor league season in which (among AA and AAA) he compiled a 12-2 record with a 2.42 ERA with 157 K’s in 130 1/3 innings, including time spent in the hitter-bonanza PCL.  As a 21-year old.
  • He was traded after being named Arizona’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
  • He was traded despite in-arguably being considered an “Ace” pitching prospect.

So, why was Arizona so quick to give up on this guy?   It isn’t like they moved Bauer to get a game-changing set of prospects or impact major league players; the return seems to be a lighter-hitting shortstop (Didi Gregorius), an inconsistent reliever (Tony Sipp) and a first base prospect who is immediately blocked on the Arizona roster by other, better players (Lars Anderson).

The answer seems to be a combination of several factors, none of them flattering to Bauer and his make-up/personality:

  1. Bauer’s refusal to alter his unique warm-up methods.  We saw this coming; he issued a “warning” to drafting teams that he did not want his extreme long-toss warmup method changed or questioned.
  2. Bauer’s refusal to allow his catcher to call the game.  In his four September games, he repeatedly shook off catcher Miguel Montero, a seven year veteran catcher.  And that didn’t seem to go over well with either catcher or coach when asked about it at the time.
  3. Bauer’s approach during his MLB time; he reportedly pitches “backwards,” setting up hitters with off-speed stuff before using his fastball as his  outpitch.  But this approach is counter to most recommended approaches for attacking hitters, especially bottom-of-the-order hitters.  He reportedly nibbled too much, didn’t go after hitters, walked a number of 7-8-9 guys, and then (in a common refrain) refused to alter his approach.
  4. Bauer’s tantrum when removed from the PCL championship game, showing up AAA manager Billy Butler (an accomplished MLB veteran) in the process.
  5. Bauer’s maturity level being questioned in the media by the team’s owner.
  6. Bauer’s clubhouse demeaner reportedly being, shall we say, “less than optimal” for getting along well with others.  I can’t find links off-hand, but I read opinions that describe Bauer variously as being “an Ass,” being cocky, being “prickly,”  being a know-it-all, and already dividing the MLB clubhouse despite his relative short time there.

Ok, that’s a long list of issues, some of them very serious when it comes to a professional ball-player.

Its easy to say, “well the kid is only 21″ and excusing any/all these issues.  But there is something to be said about a 21 year old kid arriving in a Major League ball club, with a manager of the pedigree and career accomplishments of Kirk Gibson and an on-the-field staff of old-school pros (including Don BaylorMatt Williams and pitching coach Charles Nagy), and telling them that he knows better than they do.  Perhaps its that simple; perhaps the management had already essentially given up on Bauer’s ability to be coached, to receive instruction, to even receive recommondations, and GM Josh Towers pulled the plug.

But he’d have to be just incredibly hard headed for the team to have already arrived at the point of no return.  We’re not talking about some random 15th rounder.  We’re talking about a game-changing, significant investment they made in this kid.

Bauer, for his part, clearly has confidence in his approach, studied and crafted his motion based on biomechanical information he had at hand (his major at UCLA?  Biomedical Engineering), and believes that his preparation and his motion are what has enabled him to garner a high 1st round pick, what allowed him to zoom through the minors, and are what will enable him to be a successful professional.  I can understand his viewpoint; why should I change what has gotten me where I am now?   In some ways this reminds me of the whole “old-school/new-school” arguments that we have related to evaluating baseball players; new-school sabrematricians clearly have a dim view of their old-school/veteran sports writer counter parts and often have no issue writing that such-and-such a veteran sportswriter is flat out “an idiot.”  Well; is Bauer the “new school” approach to crafting pitching mechanics and his Arizona coaches are the “old school” approach to teaching pitching?

In some ways, we as fans forget that a clubhouse is rather similar to an office environment; you have “good” and “bad” workers, you have super stars and people just playing out the string.  Imagine if you had a 21-yr old hot-shot rookie just out of school who came in and told you (a seasoned veteran of some accomplish) that he knew how to do his job better than you?  I would imagine that the kid would seem pretty grating in the process.  Is this what happened in Arizona?

Should we be putting any blame on the Organization?  This isn’t the first time we’ve heard “issues” revolving around Arizona, their staff and management, and a player.  In addition to the Bauer situation, the continual Justin Upton trade rumors, persisting on now for a second off-season.  If the guy (Upton) is so good, why has the team been trying to move him for 2 years?  They benched him in 2012 and he got into a public spat with the owner this past season.  Is this a player issue or is there something in the organization that keeps rearing its head?  The situation reminds me somewhat of the Aaron Crow draft situation, where Jim Bowden drafted a kid who apparently had made it known he wanted no part of the organization.  If Arizona knew going in that Bauer was going to be difficult, why draft him at all?

What will Dunn do? (updated)

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Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images North America

As posted by other bloggers today, October 28th 2010, (especially in this post here on the Nationals Enquirer which rather eloquently titles their posting with the obvious consequence of Dunn’s Elias rating), the Nats dodged a huge bullet and will be fully compensated if Adam Dunn decides to leave via free agency (that is well, unless they do the unthinkable and fail to offer him Arbitration).  The official Elias Rankings came out and previous estimates on Dunn were slightly low (resulting in panicked posts by yours truly and others about his being a type B free agent and thus making our entire mis-handling of the contract extension even more egregiously bad).

Now, based on the rules of compensation (as explained in the Kilgore’s Nats Journal blog posting today), the first 18 picks of the 2011 draft are protected (usually first 15 but there’s a few compensation picks in there from failed draft picks in 2010).  So, IF Dunn is leaving (and the prevaling opinion seems to lean that way despite all realistic arguments against it…), what the Nats now root for is a team in the “bottom” half of the first round to be the signing team.  If this happens, we’ll get their 1st rounder AND a supplemental pick.  Otherwise we’re looking at the supplemental pick plus the signing team’s 2nd rounder.  That’s not nearly as nice of a haul frankly.

The first round draft order for 2011 goes like this, thanks to mlbtraderumors.com

Here’s the thing though; if Dunn is going to leave, then he needs to go to a team that:

a) Needs a first baseman and

b) Is REALISTICALLY in the market for Free Agents in general, and

c) Makes more sense for him to leave the Nationals for.  As in, why would he go from one last place team to another, unless the Nats insultingly refuse to offer him anything more than a 2yr deal.

Here’s a quick rundown on NL teams and their 1st basemen situation.  We focus first on the NL because of Dunn’s repeated statements that he’s not interested in becoming a full time DH.

  • Nym: Ike Davis: an up and coming prospect, had a nice 2010.
  • Phi: Ryan Howard: long term contract, anchor of the franchise.
  • Fla: Gaby Sanchez: could be upgraded but it doesn’t matter, they’re not FA buyers.  Never are.
  • Atl: Derrick Lee, who is a FA.  Troy Glaus also a FA but was awful this year. Could be a buyer, looking for a slugger to help them make the leap from WC to divisional champ.  Or they could depend on up and coming prospect Freddie Freeman.  Not listed as players in any of the early Free Agency predictions though.
  • Stl: Albert Pujols; franchise player, obviously.
  • Mil: Prince Fielder.  Milwaukee’s franchise player until his eventual trade/FA saga next season.
  • Cin: Joey Votto; MVP candidate and not yet even to arbitration.  Best bargain in baseball right now.
  • Chi: it was Derrick Lee til they traded him to Atlanta.  Possible FA buyers.  See below.
  • Hou: it was Lance Berkman til they traded him.  But are they FA buyers?  I don’t think so.
  • Pit: Garrett Jones: doesn’t matter, they’re not FA buyers; they’re the reason baseball has revenue sharing.
  • Lad: James Loney: cost contained and home grown.  plus no FA $$ spent until ownership divorce settled.  Some reports seen saying they’ll trade Loney and go after Dunn, but sounds doubtful.
  • Sdp: Adrian Gonzalez; San Diego’s marquee player.
  • Sfg: Aubrey Huff: a FA and SF desperately needs hitters.  BUT Huff may have earned an extension based on his post season exploits both at bat and in the field where he’s a plus defender.  And the Giants (by virtue of a number of awful contracts) are payroll bound for the next few years.  Not major shoppers.
  • Col: Todd Helton; signed through 2011, which will be the last of his 9 year contract.  His production is declining but they’ll want to stay flexible enough to go after the bumper 2011 1st basemen FA crop of Fielder, Gonzalez, and Pujols.  Won’t go after Dunn but will seek a 1-year FA.
  • Ari: Adam LaRoche, who is a FA, but Arizona’s new GM values defense and doesn’t like Dunn.  Plus, they do have a decent 1B prospect in Brandon Allen.  Not buyers.

So, if he goes anywhere in the NL I think it could be either Atlanta, Chicago or (maybe) San Francisco.  Chicago already has some serious payroll issues and an underperforming team but has a ton of cash.  SF may not have the payroll flexibility to buy Dunn despite really needing him.  Atlanta only has $60M committed next year and has a bunch of arbitration cases … but they’ve spent over $100m on payroll as recently as 2 years ago and may expand it out again.

Adding in AL teams, looking at 1B solutions (I can’t see him signing up for a team that will ONLY DH him, so we have to look at teams where he splits time between 1B and DH).

  • Bos: Kevin Youklis/Victor Martinez; but have a serious need for a DH if they don’t resign David Ortiz.  Interesting off season for Boston.  If they cut loose the legendary Ortiz, I can see them letting Beltre go, putting Youklis at 3rd, and then going after Dunn and selling him on splitting time between 1st and DHing when Victor Martinez needs a blow.  That’s an awful lot of “ifs” to work out though.  Update: The RedSox exercised the 2011 option on Ortiz, presumably removing them from the equation.
  • Nyy: Mark Teixeira.  Plus, don’t the 2011 yankees have like 8 guys who might need to DH periodically?  My favorite subplot of the next few years is how the Yankees handle their aging core of players.  Jeter, A-Rod, Rivera, Posada, Pettitte and Rivera are all on the wrong side of 34, all make a ton of money and all need a position to play.  Where exactly does Jeter go when he cannot play SS anymore?
  • Tam: Carlos Pena, a FA who will be allowed to walk.  However, Tampa won’t buy Dunn b/c they’re in massive payroll reduction mode.  I’m sure they’ve got some uber hitting prospect who will contribute an OPS+ of 140 next year.  They do have their 2010 minor league player of the year Dan Johnson, who hit THIRTY homers in AAA in just 98 games but he hasn’t exactly torn it up in his MLB experiences.
  • Tor: Lyle Overbay, a FA who is 34.  Can’t see Toronto buying an aging FA w/ new GM in town who is focused on building the team the right way.
  • Bal: Ty Wiggington: another aging mediocre FA.  Dunn would be *perfect* in Baltimore and at Camden, but are Orioles buyers?
  • Det: Miguel Cabrera; locked in and coming off a great year.  However, they have nearly $60M coming off the books and may be looking for someone to bash and protect Cabrera.  Would mean that Dunn becomes a full time DH.
  • Cws: Paul Konerko, a FA coming off a career year.  But, the consensus seems to be that the CWS won’t pursue Konerko (he’s 34 and clearly should start declining).  A dark horse candidate for Dunn.
  • Min: Justin Morneau; franchise player, long term contract.
  • Kc: Billy Butler; player of the future.
  • Cle: Matt LaPorta, the future of this team right now and bounty from the CC Sabathia trade.
  • Laa: Kendrys Morales; a key hitter whose injury helped derail their 2010 season.
  • Oak: Daric Barton: up and coming hitter, only 24 but they’d never buy Dunn unless it was to flip him later.
  • Sea: Russell Branyon/Casey Kotchman but they have Justin Smoak coming up (bounty for Cliff Lee).
  • Tex: Had a rotating door post Smoak trade between castoff Cantu and rookie Chris Davis, but their 2009 minor league player of the year Mitch Moreland seems to have taken hold of the position.  9 homers in 47 games down the stretch plus he has come up huge in the post season.  Not buyers.  No wonder they were OK with letting Smoak go.

There’s many more AL options.  In various scenarios he could make sense for 5 or 6 AL teams.  At least Chicago, Baltimore, Boston, or Toronto.  Tampa if they weren’t going cheap.

My personal odds/guesses in order on where Dunn may go:

  1. Chicago Cubs: makes the most sense and are already politicking for him.  However, rumors on the street at the start of free agency seem to indicate that the Cubs are standing pat.  They have new ownership in 2010 and a bunch of bad contracts.  After such an awful season how can the owners be compelled to throw good money after bad?
  2. Chicago White Sox: instead of the North Side, he moves to the south side.  Some of the Foxsports.com team belives he’s heading here.  The White Sox won 88 games last year and may be looking to upgrade (and get younger) from Konerko.  Yes its AL, but he’d clearly be the first baseman.
  3. Re-signs w/ the Nats; less likely since Rizzo can’t see the forest (40 home runs) for the trees (Dunn’s defensive liabilities).  And, he has to be insulted by the hemming and hawing that went on all season (not to mention the constant trade rumors, which clearly irritated him as the summer progressed).  There has been a 3-year deal on the table since at least August but Dunn has resisted.
  4. Lesser possibilities but which could arise.

  5. Atlanta: if the braves don’t trust prospect Freeman, they make perfect sense and Dunn would be walking into a playoff team ready to take the next step.
  6. Houston; a return home  … but I don’t think they’re really shopping.
  7. Detroit: A couple of Fox sportswriters seem to think he’s heading to Detroit.  If he does, its clearly a signal of defeat on his part because he’d immediately be a full time DH.
  8. New York Yankees.  The Yankees do have a slight need for a DH, but it would take convincing Dunn to completely give up playing in the field as the Yankees are already stacked with future DHs.
  9. Baltimore; Dunn may reach 700 career homers if playing in Camden Yards for the next 5 years with its short porch.  But, as mentioned before, if he decides to leave Washington (an up and coming franchise that could actually contend by the time his contract ends), why would he go to a place like Baltimore?  Baltimore is the 5th best team in a division that shows no signs of ever having an off year.  In fact, why would ANY marquee free agent ever go to Baltimore?
  10. Oakland: listed by Ben Reiter as a dark horse for Dunn’s services.  Don’t see it.

Now, IF Dunn is absolutely leaving … who are the teams we’d be “rooting” to sign him?  Boston is best, but Atlanta or SF would be great too.  If he goes to these locations we’d own a mid-20s first rounder plus a supplemental.  If he goes to Chicago or Houston, we’re looking at a supplemental and an early 2nd rounder (or worse if these teams decide to sign TWO type-A free agents and the other is higher ranked than Dunn.  Under this scenario we’d get a supp-1st and the signing team’s 2nd rounder.  Not good).

Dunn a type B free agent??

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So, the entire principle behind NOT signing Adam Dunn during the summer was the 2 draft picks we would acquire (the signing team’s 1st pick and a supplimental) after he declines our arbitration offer.

Check out this link at mlbtraderumors.com.  If this site is correct, and the analysis is accurate, then Dunn has fallen just below the threshold and is now a Type B Free Agent.

From a Nats standpoint, this is an unmitigated Disaster.  Now not only is there more incentive for other teams to sign him,there’s even LESS incentive for him to take a deal from us.  And, we’ll get merely a supplimental 1st pick.

Unless the entire 2010 season was just a charade and we plan on signing him anyway.  Per Boswell there’s a 3-year deal on the table now.  But if you’re Dunn, you HAVE  to see what is out there right now, right?

Assuming that he does not consider AL teams, as he has stated he wants to continue to play the field, here’s a quick rundown on NL teams and their 1st basemen situation:

NY: Ike Davis; up and coming prospect
PHI: Ryan Howard: long term contract
Fla: Gaby Sanchez (doesn’t matter, they’re not FA buyers)
Atl: Derrick Lee, who is a FA.  Troy Glaus also a FA but was awful this year. Could be a buyer.

Stl: Pujols
mil: Prince Fielder
Cincy: Joey Votto
Chi; it was Derrick Lee til they traded him.  Possible FA buyers.
Hou; it was Lance Berkman til they traded him.  But are they FA buyers?  I don’t think so.
Pitt: Garrett Jones (doesn’t matter, they’re not FA buyers)

LA: James Loney: cost contained and home grown.  plus no FA $$ spent until ownership divorce settled.
SD: Adrian Gonzalez
SF; Aubrey Huff: a FA and SF desperately needs hitters.
Col: Todd Helton; not the greatest hitter anymore but signed through 2013.
Ariz: Adam LaRoche who is a FA but I sense Ariz is rebuilding and not FA buyers

So, if he goes anywhere I think it could be either Atlanta, Chicago or San Francisco.  Chicago already has some serious payroll issues and an underperforming team.  SF may not have the payroll flexibility to buy Dunn despite really needing him.  Atlanta only has $60M committed next year and has a bunch of arbitration cases … but they’ve spent over $100m on payroll as recently as 2 years ago and may expand it out again.

Adding in AL teams, looking at 1B solutions (I can’t see him signing up for a team that will ONLY DH him, so we have to look at teams where he splits time between 1B and DH).

Bos: Youklis/Victor Martinez
NYY: Teixeira
Tampa: Carlos Pena, a FA who will be allowed to walk.  However, Tampa won’t buy Dunn
Tor: Lyle Overbay, a FA who is 34.  Can’t see Toronto buying an aging FA w/ new GM in town.
Balt: Ty Wiggington: another aging mediocre FA.  But are Orioles buyers?

Det: Cabrera
CWS: Paul Konerko, a FA coming off a fantastic season; i see him resigning here.
Minn: Justin Morneau
KC: Billy Butler
Cle: Matt LaPorta, the future of this team right now and bounty from the CC Sabathia trade.

LAA: Kendrys Morales;
Oak; Daric Barton: up and coming hitter, only 24.
Sea: Russell Branyon/Casey Kotchman but they have Justin Smoak coming up (bounty for Cliff Lee).
Texas: Jorge Cantu/Chris Davis; rotating door post Smoak trade, but Mitch Moreland is prospect of the future.

So, from what I can tell there’s only really 4 AL teams that even have FA spots at 1B.  Chicago (resigning Konerko), Tampa (not FA players), Toronto (are they FA buyers?) and Baltimore (why would Dunn go to a WORSE team than Washington?)

I still see him focusing on the NL.  Based on this … Dunn seems like he may have options in the NL, which means our chances of having him accept a 3 year deal with us less likely.  Not good news for us in 2011.