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Ask Boswell 2/18/14 Edition

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Lots of questions about Mr. Williams.  Photo Nats official 2014 via sportingnews.com

Lots of questions about Mr. Williams. Photo Nats official 2014 via sportingnews.com

Washington Post columnist Tom Boswell must be in heaven: he’s at Spring Training, in 80 degree weather, talking baseball.  Here’s his 2/18/14 WP chat edition and how i’d have answered his baseball questions.  He did an extra long session, doing an hour and then coming back for even more questions, so this is a huge post.

Q: Which Nat is most and least likely to benefit from Matt Williams’ detail-oriented approach?

A: I’ll take the easy way out on this one: I’ll say that the rookies are most likely to benefit and the veterans are least-likely.  But that’s probably not very fair because it assumes that our vets will automatically have a hard time adjusting to a new voice.  In reality, Matt Williamspedigree as a player is going to shut just about any veteran up; name one player on this team who has accomplished anything close to what Williams did as a player?   I mean, we’re talking about a guy with multiple All Star appearances, multiple Gold Gloves, multiple Silver Sluggers, a couple near MVP seasons, more than 200 post-season at-bats spread across 5 post-season trips, three trips to the World Series and one ring.  He also played in two specific games that are both counted among the best games of the last 50 years (Game 7 of the 1997 World Series and 2001’s Game 7 of the World Series).

That’s a heck of a lot of accomplishments.  Who in their right mind is looking him in the fact and doubting his wisdom about anything?

Boswell points out a number of guys who are “introverts” who like the structure, mentions Rafael Soriano as a possible problem child … but then also notes Soriano lost a ton of weight and is playing for a contract, so he doesn’t expect any issues.  Fair enough.

Q: Where can I get good details on the Nats spring training schedules in Viera?

A: CSN’s Mark Zuckerman posts a great intro-to-spring training on his Natsinsider.com blog each year.  Here’s parts 1 and 2, focusing on the Nats baseball Complex and the Town of Viera.  Boswell speaks highly of watching bullpen sessions.  Can’t blame him; man I want to do Spring Training sometime!

Q: What does the Yankees signing of Masahiro Tanaka do for the Yankees season?

A: Not much in my opinion.   Despite Tanaka’s pedigree and $175M paycheck, he’s being touted by his own team as a “#3 starter.”  That’s a heck of a lot of money for a #3 starter.  Now in reality scouts liken him to a young Dan Haren (in terms of his repertoire), but he’s still not nearly in the same Ace class as the most recent Japanese import Yu Darvish.  Plus he’s got to deal with the inevitable adjustment to this country, a new language, 10,000 obnoxious NY beat reporters, the food, the city, and that pesky 4-days of rest schedule we have here for our starters.

As for the Yankees chances in 2014 in general, check out their current depth chart: Their rotation is set to be Sabathia (coming off an awful year), 40-yr old Kuroda, TanakaIvan Nova and David Phelps.  Does that sound like a 95-win rotation?   Here’s their infield: Mark Teixeira (15 games last year), Brian Roberts (77 games last year), Derek Jeter (17 games last year), and Eduardo Nunez (90 games last year).   Does that infield inspire confidence?  What makes anyone think that infield is lasting even a quarter of the season without a major injury?  Plus, Buster Olney or Jayson Stark recently mentioned this factoid:  “No team has ever in the history of the game had a winning season starting a shortstop as old as Jeter.”    Yes the Yankees made some significant signings (Beltran, Ellsbury, McCann).  But I don’t think its enough to make up for what’s going to happen to their infield.  I think years of overpaying for FAs and being unlucky in their player development has caught up with the Yankees in a big way and they’ll be lucky to be a .500 team this year.  Boswell points out that PECOTA has them as 82-80.   And then he drops a scary subtle hint saying that Ian Desmond has already declined an $85M deal and may have his sights on becoming the next Yankees long-term shortstop.  Ouch.  Thankfully the timing doesn’t quite work out; Jeter retires after this year and the Nats have Desmond locked up for two seasons.

Q: Can you go into the stadium and see the view from your seats before committing to a Season Ticket?

A: No idea, but I’d bet the answer is yes.  We could do that before, you know back when I was a season ticket holder, pre Nats stadium, pre kids, pre getting-royally-screwed-in-the-new-stadium-relocation game.  Boswell assumes yes, and posts an answer confirming it from another fan later on who did exactly this.

Q: Why is the name Redskins such a hotbutton while the Braves gets almost no press?

A: (I couldn’t resist this question even if not entirely about Baseball): Probably because one name is a slur and the other is just a noun.  In a politically correct world no person-indicating moniker would ever be used as a team nickname … but then again you can get rather ridiculous (is “Padre” and the drawing of a priest with a goofy smile swinging a bat offensive to the clergy?  I’m of Irish descent; what if I said that the Notre Dame “Fighting Irish” is offensive to me because of my culture?).   Plus, frankly, I don’t get why little Danny Snyder won’t just frigging change the name; I mean, how many gazillions of dollars of new merchandise sales would he get if he re-branded the team?  Why is he so obstinate about this issue?  Every time he posts some dumb letter defending the name it makes him look more and more like a little rich whiny fan-boy who grew up loving the team despite being too sickly to actually play, and now he’s clinging to an iconic symbol of his youth.  As if it was a ratty security blanket.   Boswell talks about cultural change and social progress and hints that he’s going to post his official opinion on the matter soon.

Q: Has Jeter’s retirement caused TOO much media attention?

A: Honestly, I don’t feel like it has; at least not as much as the questioner, who whined about all the coverage and news items related to Jeter.  Perhaps its because he’s gone up against the Olympics and NBC’s force-fed human interest coverage machine that I havn’t noticed.

Olympics Rant/Tangent: Seriously; I thought I had seen it all with NBC’s ridiculous coverage over the years of figure skaters as “athletes” … now the coverage of these silly snowboarders has surpassed it.  I’m sorry; if your “sport” requires judges who take into consideration your “style” or your “costume,” then it isn’t a sport.  “Team skating?”  “Ice Dancing?”  Why not just have a frigging spinning contest or see who can coast the longest on one skate or some other useless reason to award a few more gold medals?  In my opinion, if there isn’t a score or a race to a finish line or one man versus another in a contest … you’re not a sport.  Nothing against figure skaters specifically; what they do is amazing, requires elegance and strength and years of training.  But so does Ballet; why is one an olympic sport and the other a performance art?  All those cirque-de-soleil performers?  Why isn’t that an olympic sport too?

Tangent/Rant off.

I think we’ll all be pretty frigging sick of Derek Jeter once August and September rolls-around.  Yeah he’s a great player, first ballot hall of famer.  But so are about 20-25 other guys playing right now.  I agree with the questioner’s rant about the over-coverage of all things Yankees.   Boswell points out that Jeter’s career WAR is one spot above Bobby Grich, so as to temper some expectations.  That’s harsh; even I recognize his importance to the game as a surpassing point than just whittling down all his accomplishments to one (dubious) number. 

Q: What is Livan Hernandez’s role on this team?

A: Whatever it is, I think its friggin awesome that he’s in Spring Training representing the Nats.  Kudos to whoever reached out and got him to come help out.  Livan Hernandez may have played all over the majors (9 teams in 17 seasons; that’s tough to do when you’re not a left-handed reliever) but he played the most of it with our franchise.  Boswell’s quoting of Drew Storen‘s description of Livan’s role is awesome: “His job is life-coach, bleep-talker and being Livo.”   He also notes that Livan can provide some fielding and instruction on holding runners, a sore spot for several Nats starters.

Q: How is Christian Garcia looking so far? Any chance that he goes north with the club?

A: All reports list Christian Garcia as (finally) healthy.  But its telling that the team is already specifically pointing out that “he’s made it further than he did last year.”  It seems like his fragility is almost a running joke on the team now.  Chances of breaking into the 7-man bullpen?  Remote unless there’s injuries.  But if he goes to AAA and pitches lights out, he’ll be first guy back.   If he stays healthy (four words that should be attached to every single sentence ever written about Garcia).  Boswell says that if he’s healthy, he’s on the team.  I have a very hard time believing that; who makes way?  Not Soriano, Storen, Clippard or Stammen.  Not Blevins.  Ohlendorf?  Roark?  Roark’s numbers last fall were *better* than anything Garcia did in 2012 and in 4 times the innings.  Ohlendorf isn’t being paid north of $1M to screw around in upstate New York.  And, none of this takes into account the statements from Williams about liking to have two lefties in the bullpen… If it were me, I’d want to see Garcia pitch at least a month straight without hurting something on his person.  

Q: How would you grade Rizzo’s off-season?

A:  Pretty frigging good.  Fister: fantastic acquisition.  McLouth; not too bad, should help.  Lobaton: looking better and better, considering the pedigree i’m hearing about the two guys thrown into the deal (Vettleson and Rivero).  I don’t think his lack of acquiring a better lefty will hurt; Sammy Solis is impressing and could contribute immediately, newly acquired Rivero apparently has some stuff, and there’s still the likes of Cedeno and a couple other AAA guys who we could use.  Boswell says A- … and then tells a tid-bit about the Grant Balfour deal that fell through.

Q: Why are the Nats pitchers so bad at holding runners on?  Is this something they’re working on this Spring

A: Why?  beats me.  Maybe a better defensive catcher will help in that category.  They definitely seem to be working on it this spring as noted in the above Livo question.  Boswell doesn’t really answer the question but then uses this question as a segue into talking about Williams’ anger issues.  Random.

Q: If Ryan Zimmerman is going to play some first base … what the heck is Tyler Moore going to do?

A: A decent question, but which assumes that Tyler Moore is anything other than a bench bat.  And it assumes that Adam LaRoche is going to platoon.  I know plenty in the blogosphere want that to happen … but this is a contract year, and the last time couple times LaRoche faced a contract year he played pretty durn good.  Meanwhile, Moore seems like the kind of player who could use a change of scenery and a trade to a team with more playing time.  Boswell likes his swing.

Q: Is team improvement correlation or causation to a hitting coach change, like what happened last year with Eckstein’s firing?

A: You ask me, i’d say its correlation/coincidence.  It isn’t the hitting coach facing 95 mph fastballs.  But I’m no professional.  Boswell can’t figure it out either.

Q: Did they really need another catcher when they had both two young options and Synder as a proven vet? Why waste a pitching prospect with a high upside for a backup catcher who can’t throw out runners, already a major problem. Did Rizzo get taken by the Rays?

A: Sounds to me like this question-er is overvaluing the potential contributions of our catching prospects Sandy Leon and Jhonatan Solano, is incredibly overvaluing what Chris Snyder still brings to the table, and is overvaluing Nathan Karns and what is ceiling seems to realistically be.  Oh, and he’s undervaluing the prospects we got in return (both of which are in our top 14 according to mlbdraftinsider.com’s recent post).  I like the move, it fixes a hole for the team and gives a couple of prospects to shore up a thinned system, all for a guy who I think we all liked in Karns but who likely faces a ceiling of a reliever.  Boswell notes the need for a “real” backup catcher and notes that the team traded from depth.

Q: Have the Braves taken a step back this offseason and are really counting on BJ Upton to do anything on offense this year?

A: Yes and yes.  McCann is a  huge loss.  Tim Hudson may not “seem” like a loss given the Braves pitching depth, but he was their opening day starter in 2013 and was their bulldog staff leader (if not an “ace” in the literal sense of the word).   They also let go Paul Maholm, who gave them a ton of decent innings last year.  They’re depending on Brandon Beachy to come back healthy and on the rest of their young rotation to contribute.  Otherwise they did little this off-season other than extending a couple of guys.   As far as BJ Upton, what choice do they have but to run him out day after day at this point?  Same as Dan Uggla: those two guys are getting paid a ton of money and will be given every chance to prove themselves.  Boswell agrees.

Q: How often have you seen baseball players take a hometown discount?

A: Not very often: Roy Halladay took a bit less so he could play for Philly … because their spring training complex is in the same town as his full-time home.  Hard to think of obvious other players off-hand.  The asker questioned whether Jordan Zimmermann would consider less money to play for his “hometown” Brewers … without really considering the fact that Milwaukee is a cheap-skate franchise and will *never* come close to paying the 9-figure deal that Zimmermann probably earns in two years’ time.  Boswell doesn’t really answer the original question, just notes that so far our FA players are going for the money.

Q: In your opinion, who will end up being the fifth starter? Detwiler, Roark, or Jordan?

A: Ross Emery Detwiler, for the same reasons I pointed out in my 2014 Staff Projections post in late december.   Quoting myself from that post:

Why am I predicting Detwiler will win the rotation spot?  Partly because of options (Detwiler has none while Roark, Ohlendorf and Jordan all do), but partly because I’ve sort of come back around on him after looking more closely at his 2013 season.  He had a decent to good 2012; he posted a 118 ERA+ and even if his advanced FIP/SIERA didn’t indicate he was quite that good, he was still more than a servicable 5th starter.  Then in his first seven 2013 starts he was also very good (he had a 2.53 ERA in his first 7 starts and 42 2/3 innings … he got hurt in his 8th start).  The rest of his season was a mess, with him fighting injury and ballooning his seasonal ERA from 2.53 to more than 4.00 in five more starts.   If he comes back healthy to start 2014, why wouldn’t we expect more of the same performance that he had at the start of 2013?  For these reasons, I think Detwiler breaks camp as the 5th starter.

I like Tanner Roark and feel the team is going to find a way for him to be in the MLB bullpen.  I also now believe Taylor Jordan‘s off-season ankle injury will give the team an excuse to keep him in the minors a bit to season him up and maybe even keep some innings off his arm.   So it’ll be Detwiler until he either falters or gets hurt again.  At least we have a ton of options this year to cover for a starter injury.

Boswell says Detwiler as well but writes a ton on othe other guys, including a glowing talk about Roark.  And he throws in this tidbit: Detroit asked for Jordan and Robbie Ray before settling for Ray and spare parts.  Interesting.  

Q: What’s your read on how the last two bullpen spots play out?

A: Also borrowing from my Dec 2013 post, I’ll go with Ohlendorf and Roark.  Ohlendorf as the long-man, spot starter rubber arm guy.  Roark with the hope he continues his magical run of exceptional command and fearless relief.  I know that only leaves on lefty out there, and leaves guys like Ryan Mattheus and Christian Garcia in AAA.  Hey, I could be wrong.   Boswell doesn’t seem to guess.

Q: Do you think the coaches will let Espi continue to be a switch hitter or keep him as a lefty hitter only? 

A: I hope you mean righty hitter only; he is a career .220 lefty hitter but .262 righty. If I was the Nats brass, i’d try him as a righty-only guy.  But by all accounts Danny Espinosa is a bit stubborn and may not be open to limiting a unique skill that he may continue to think distinguishes himself from other competitors.  I continue to wonder just how hurt he was last year … as others have said, it isn’t like Espinosa suddenly forgot how to hit.  Yes he was always somewhat limited as a player, but 20-homer capable middle infielders don’t grow on trees.  Boswell says the team isn’t messing with Espinosa, and that they want to see what he can do in 2014.  Fair enough.

Q: Are you worried about the power (or lack thereof) in the Nats lineup?

A: Not really.  The capability is there across the lineup.  Zimmerman has hit 30.  So has LaRoche.  Desmond has hit 20.  So has Espinosa.  Ramos has 20+ homer capability if he’s healthy.  Werth is good for 25 and has hit 30+ before.  And none of this talks about our best power hitter Harper and what he can do.   Basically the team is a whole bunch of guys with 20 homer capability.   The Nats were T-3th in the NL in homers last year as a team (trailing two teams in offensive parks) and should improve in this category with a healthy Harper.  Boswell just talks about Ramos’ stats extrapolated to a full season.

Q: Is praise of Williams’ approach tacit criticism of Davey Johnson’s?

A: Yeah probably.  That’s why you change managers; to change the message.  I’m not going to disparage Davey Johnson too much here other than to say what i’ve said before; the team needed a new voice.  Boswell points out that Johnson’s 2012 job was fantastic and that there’s “different jockeys for different horses.” I like that analogy.


One last point: there was a question about MASN that Boswell went off on and gave some tidbits, including a shot at Bud Selig.  Its worth the read; click on the chat link and head to the bottom.

2013-14 Off-season Baseball Calendar

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Now that the WS is over, the official off-season begins.  Since a number of key dates related to player movement are based on the end of the world series, now we can officially list the key upcoming dates.

This document is also available in the links section to the right-hand side of the blog (see the 2013-14 MLB Off Season Calendar link).  I’ve uploaded it to Google XLS.  A few of the dates listed here are estimates or based on the day they occurred last year.  The XLS has urls to back up some of these dates.

Date Event Nats-specific Impact/Winners/Notes
Sept 29th, 2013 Last day of regular season No Nats post-season for 2013
Oct 1st, 2013 Beginning of 2013 Post season (NL WC game).  End of Year BBWAA award ballots due (prior to beginning of post season) Some Nats may get some mentions
Oct 21rd, 2013 Sporting News Comeback Players of the Year AL and NL Mariano Rivera and Francisco Liriano winners
Oct 27th, 2013 Roberto Clemente Award given Carlos Beltran 2013 winner; Zimmerman best Nats candidate
Oct 28th, 2013 Fielding Bible Awards given No Nats mentioned
Oct 29th, 2013 Rawlings AL & NL Gold Glove Announcements Span, Desmond finalists but no awards
Oct 30th, 2013 Last actual day of 2013 World Series; official end of 2013 season Boston wins Game 6 and takes the 2013 WS 4-2
Oct 31st, 2013 (WS end + 1) Official start of FA period (8am CST the day after the last game of the WS)
Nov 2nd, 2013 (WS end + 3) Team and player options must be decided three days after the end of the World Series.  (this may be WS + 5 by 2013)
Nov 2nd, 2013 Clubs have to re-set their 40-man rosters, moving all 60-day DL players back to active. Nats currently sit at 39/40 with two 60-day DL guys; someone has to get dropped unless the FA’s don’t count against this list.
Nov 2nd, 2013 HoF “Veterans Committee” releases ballot.
Nov 4th, 2013 (WS end + 5) 5pm: Deadline to make Qualifying offers for your own Fas (average of top 125 salaries or $14.1M for 2014).  5 days after end of WS was 13.3M for 2013.  Nats highly unlikely to offer Qos to their two Fas.
Nov 4th, 2013 (WS end + 5) End of “Quiet Period.”  Teams have “exclusive” negotiating rights with their own free agents during this period.
Nov 4th, 2013 (WS end + 5) 5 days after WS ends: Free agent filing period and exclusive negotiating window ends at 12:01 a.m. ET. Free agents can sign with any team. Haren, Tracy only Fas for Nats in 2013.
Nov 2013 est MLB Comeback Players of the Year AL and NL
Nov 4th, 2013 (WS end + 5) Free Agency granted to all eligible Minor League free agents (5 days after the end of the WS).  Eligibility done on service time; 6 years ML service for college draftees or 7 years ML service for HS draftees or free agents under the age of 18. Plenty of significant, long-serving Nats farm hands hitting MLFA this year.
Nov 4th, 2013 Wilson Defensive Player of the Year awards, given by MLB to best defensive player on each club. Span or Desmond likely in the mix but unlikely to win
Nov 5th, 2013 MLBPA announces “Players Choice” awards: Player of the year, Comeback Player of the year, etc
Nov 7th, 2013 BBWAA Award Nominees announced on MLB networks
Nov 8th, 2013 Sporting News Executive of the Year announced
Nov 6th, 2013 Louisville Slugger Silver Slugger Awards Desmond, Harper may get some attention here.  Werth also
Nov 11-13, 2013 GM Meetings, Orlando, FL for 2013
Nov 11th, 2013 (WS end + 12) 12 Days after WS ends: Players must accept or reject Qualifying Options No Nats likely getting Qos
Nov 11th, 2013 AL, NL Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Awards Roark get some honorable mention votes?
Nov 12th, 2013 AL and NL Manager of the Year
Nov 13th 2013 AL and NL Cy Young Zimmermann may get some top-5 votes but not likely.  Strasburg?  Doubtful
Nov 14th 2013 AL and NL Most Valuable Player Werth may get some top-10 votes
Nov 14-15th, 2013 Owners Meetings, Chicago for 2013
Nov 20th, 2013 Day to file reserve lists for all Major and Minor League levels.  In other words, Last day to add players to 40-man to protect them from the Rule5 Draft
Dec 2nd, 2013 Midnight: Deadline for teams to Tender contracts to arbitration eligible players.  If not tendered, those players immediately become free agents.   This is the non-tender deadline for arbitration eligible players No real non-tender scares for this year’s arbitration eligible list of Nats.
Dec 2nd, 2013 Last day for teams to offer 2014 contracts to unsigned players.  (same thing as the non-tender deadline above?)
Dec 9th, 2013 Last day to request outright waivers to assign player prior to Rule 5 Draft
Dec 9th-12th 2013 Winter Meetings, Lake Buena Vista/Orlando, FL
Dec 3rd, 2013 HoF “Veterans Committee” officially releases ballot that was made public ??????
Early December, 2013 Baseball America announces its Executives of the Year
Dec 4th, 2013 MLB Balloting results announced for Hall of Fame Ford C. Frick Award for excellence in baseball broadcasting
Dec 4th, 2013 MLB announces winners of 21 “GIBBY” awards (greatnest in Baseball yearly awards)
Dec 12th, 2013 Rule 5 Draft.  Occurs at Winter meetings
Dec 31st, 2013 Deadline for BBWAA ballots for HoF voting.
Jan 9th, 2014 Hall of Fame BBWAA voting announced; the HoF class of 2014.
Jan 15th, 2014 Salary arbitration filing period
Jan 18th, 2014 Salary arbitration figures exchanged
Feb 1-21, 2014 Salary arbitration hearings (actual hearing date per player picked at random), Phoenix AZ
Feb 12th, 2014 Voluntary Spring Training reporting date for Pitchers, Catchers, Injured players
Feb 15th, 2014 Voluntary Spring Training reporting date for non-pitchers and catchers
Mar 2-11th, 2014 Contracts of unsigned players who are not yet eligible for Arbitration may be renewed
Early March 2014 First Spring Training Game for the Nats
March 13th, 2014 Last day to place a player on unconditional release waivers and pay 30 days termination pay instead of 45 days.
March 27th, 2014 Deadline to request unconditional release waivers without having to pay the player’s full salary or $100k bonus for certain types of veterans
March 31st, 2014 2014 Season Opener; Opening Day 2014; active rosters must be reduced to 25 players and 40-man rosters must be established
March 31st, 2014 Opening Night 2014: ? Vs ?
April 1st, 2014 Traditional Opening Day (Cincinnati)

 

World Series Game 2 Pitching Matchup and Prediction

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Game 1 went as I thought; Adam Wainwright may be unbeatable at home, but he’s shown that he’s vulnerable on the road (see the Nationals’ destroying of him in last year’s Game 5 start).  Boston jumped on him early and cruised to an 8-1 victory.

(I don’t know what that green substance was on Jon Lester‘s glove … but i’m sure we’re going to a) be reading all about it and b) it won’t be there when he pitches again in Game 5).

Game 2: Michael Wacha vs John Lackey.   Without doing a bunch of analysis, as badly as St. Louis hits lefties is as well as they hit righties.  Wacha has been unbelievable this post season (a 0.43 ERA).  Lackey has been competent but not un-hittable.  I feel like St. Louis gets a split and goes home with the series tied 1-1.

I think Carlos Beltran will be fine.  I think all the nerves and errors we saw in Game 1 will go away.  St. Louis has been here before and should be able to rebound from the series of bone-head plays that led to many of Boston’s runs.

(btw; interesting piece in the Post today about Wacha, who was drafted a few picks after the Nats took Lucas Giolito.  Lots of second-guessing going on by everyone who skipped him in the 2012 draft.  It is what it is; you setup a draft board, and if you get to your pick and Giolito is ahead of Wacha you pick him.  Albert Pujols was a 13th round pick; sometimes you miss on amateur guys.   Per the story, if Giolito had been gone the team would have taken him).

Written by Todd Boss

October 24th, 2013 at 11:53 am

Roster construction of 2013 playoff teams

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I like doing this post every year (here’s 2012’s version, here’s 2011’s version), looking for trends in baseball’s most successful teams.  How do the best teams generally construct their rosters?

Borrowing from last year’s post, there are four main ways teams can acquire players:

  1. Draft/Development: The player is with the original team that drafted him.  In the case of international free agents, if they’re signed as 16-year olds they are considered in this category as well (i.e. Jose Fernandez is a developed player despite being acquired as an international “free agnet” while Yasiel Puig).  It could be better defined as “Club developed players.”
  2. Trade MLBers: The player was acquired by the team by virtue of trading an established MLB player.  Most of the time these days, this means the player was acquired as a prospect (since most trades seem to be of the prospect-for-established player kind).
  3. Trade Prospects: The player was acquired by the team by virtue of trading prospects.  This is essentially the reverse of #2.
  4. Free Agency: The player was acquired in free agency.  This category also includes several other types of acquisitions: waiver claims, Rule-5 draftees and cash purchases.  These three categories are lumped together since all three indicate that a team has acquired a player with zero outlay in terms of development or prospects.

Sometimes these trades get a bit muddled; if you send a combination of major and minor league talent to the other team, which category does it fall under?  But for the most part trades are simply categorized.

Now, here is the summary of roster construction and “Construction Strategy Category” for all 10 teams that made this year’s playoffs.  I only count the “core players” on a team for this analysis.  The core players is defined as the 5-man starting rotation, the setup and closer, the 8 out-field players, and the DH for AL teams.  I didn’t extend this all the way to the 25-man roster, figuring that these core 15-16 players are the main reasons teams win and advance.  That and huge chunks of the bullpen and the bench are either fill-in FAs or draftees and it would skew the analysis of how teams really got to the playoffs.  Here’s the summary (the table is sorted by count of Draftees):

Team Drafted/Developed Traded Prospects Traded MLBs FA/Waivers Constr Method
Boston 7 1 0 8 #4
Detroit 5 4 2 5 #2/#4
Oakland 3 1 7 5 #3
Tampa Bay 6 1 4 5 #1
Cleveland 4 1 7 4 #3
St. Louis 10 2 2 1 #1
Atlanta 8 0 5 2 #1/#3
Cincinnati 9 2 2 2 #1
Pittsburgh 5 3 3 4 #1/#3
Los Angeles Dodgers 3 4 1 7 #4

So, what are these four Team Construction Methods?  Lets go one by one:

Method #1: Build from within nearly 100% (Tampa, St. Louis and Cincinnati the best examples, Atlanta and Pittsburgh to some extent): Two great fact points drive this team construction for two of the best example teams in this category:

  1. 18 of St. Louis’ 25 man post season roster was drafted by the team and is still with the team.   Another 5 total guys were acquired in trade (including Adam Wainwright who was acquired more than a decade ago).
  2. When Roberto Hernandez got a start this past April, it broke a nearly 8-season long trend of Tampa having every one if its starts being taken by a starting pitcher developed in house.

These are easily the two best examples in the game of success from almost entirely in-house player development.  St. Louis has one core Free Agent (Carlos Beltran and only two on its entire playoff roster).  Cincinnati isn’t too far behind with its sole major FA acquisition on this year’s roster being Aroldis Chapman.   Atlanta and Pittsburgh do qualify for this (Atlanta has a huge number of home-grown players), but also have made enough trades/signings to create their current rosters that they don’t entirely fit here fully.

Method #2Ride your developed Core and use your prospects to acquire big names: Detroit (to a certain extent).  Detroit has a good core of home-grown guys to which they’ve augmented by trading prospects and major FA acquisitions to arrive at their current incarnation; a very good, very expensive squad.

I continue to classify Washington in this category as well, 6 of our core 15 were drafted and another 3 were acquired by flipping our prospect depth.

Method #3: Wheel and Deal: Oakland, Cleveland entirely, then Atlanta & Pittsburgh to a certain extent.  Is roster-turnover the new market inefficiency?  Oakland’s 2013 team featured an entirely new infield from last year’s 2012 AL West winning team.  Only 3 of Oakland’s core 16 players were home-grown this year.  Billy Beane’s M.O. of wheeling and dealing is paying major dividends; his trades of established major leaguers to acquire prospects has resulted in two AL West divisional crowns in a row.  Meanwhile Cleveland has adopted some of the same strategy, with just one real home grown starter and a whole batting order assembled via trade and free agency.

Atlanta and Pittsburgh each have done their fare share of major trades/signings lately, with Atlanta ending up with Justin Upton and Pittsburgh ending up with 4/5ths of a rotation thanks to big moves.  So while both teams have their cores in player development, smart transactions have made big differences in their 2013 playoff pushes.

Method #4Spend what it takes to win: Boston, Los Angeles Dodgers and Detroit to some extent.  Certainly no one can argue with Los Angeles’ planned path; they more than doubled their team payroll from 2012 to 2013 by taking hundreds of millions of dollars off the hands of … Boston, who still remains in this category despite a large bulk of their core 16 being home grown.  You just can’t have a $150M payroll and not be categorized as a “spend what it takes to win” team.  Detroit’s owner has opened up the pocketbook time and again to try to buy a winner, so they aren’t entirely in this category but they’re getting close.

 


So, what’s the *right* way to build your team?  I guess it depends; clearly all four of these methods can result in playoff appearances.  Perhaps its better to look at the downsides of each method:

Method #1 depends on a long track record of consistent player evaluation and drafting.  St. Louis, in my opinion the best franchise in the game, has a great track record.  Their 2009 draft alone produced 5 of their 25 man roster, and Michael Wacha was a 2012 draft pick who shot to the majors and may be the steal of that draft.  But getting there takes time and talent; to me clearly teams like the Cubs and Houston are re-booting in order to get to this point.  It tests the patience of your fan base and your RSNs (as Houston is learning).  Kansas City has tried this method for years and years and has had little luck.  Seattle went this route mostly and a slew of big-name prospects have failed to really pan out.  So you need great player development and some draft-day luck.  The new CBA is going to make this method harder and harder to do.

Method #2 is slightly less harrowing than going entirely by method #1, but does depend on finding trading partners and finding matches for your spots.  This is where I classify the Nats right now; we have a good core of home-grown guys earned on the backs of several years of last place finishes/high first round draft picks.  And now we’ve parlayed some prospect depth into two key members (Gio Gonzalez and Denard Span).  The downside of this method basically is that your farm system gets depleted very quickly.  Washington’s farm system went from the best in the game to being ranked in the low #20s after matriculations, losses of first round picks and the two big trades.  Suddenly your team has no big-time rising prospects, your major league team has no reinforcements coming, and you soon devolve more into category #4, spending hand over fist to extend your stars and to fill in holes.  Kind of like where Philadelphia is right now.

Method #3 can go bad, fast.  If your trades don’t work out … you look bad, quickly.  You’re also buying yourself some known down years (think what Miami is doing; they clearly punted on 2013 while trading away a ton of salary and major league assets).  That can be tough on the fan base; Oakland and Miami’s fan bases already have their own problems, but Cleveland struggled to sell seats this  year even on their way to 90 wins.

Method #4 can go bad, fast as well … and expensively so.  Only three of the game’s 11 most expensive teams made the playoffs this year.  The Yankees got 85 wins for their $228M in payroll and look like they may be in trouble for a time to come.  Philadelphia?  73 wins.  The Angels and Giants were losing teams.   Free Agents are generally being paid for what they DID, not what they’re going to do.  And Free Agents are almost always in their late 20s/early 30s, entering their natural decline years, and invariably are going to be overpaid for their performance.  If you want to build your team through FA, consider that new estimates value a “win” at roughly $7M on the open market … meaning that to build just a 90 win team through free agency would cost more than $300M in free agent dollars.  Or about what Robinson Cano wants this off-season.  There will continue to be high-payroll teams of course (that RSN money has to get spent somewhere), but I feel as if the industry is going to get smarter about these long term deals.  One look at the Angels last few off-seasons should give you every bit of proof you need to know; hundreds of millions committed to aging sluggers, several very productive prospects traded away chasing glory, and the Angels (even with the best player in the game at $500k/year) look lost.

I think the answer to “which way is best” really resides in the skills of the organization at large.  You can succeed using all four methods … its just how *long* can you continue to succeed?

How do Pitchers “tip” their pitches to opposing hitters?

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Zack Wheeler's mechanics are apparently a mess right now.  Photo cnnsi.com

Zack Wheeler’s mechanics are apparently a mess right now. Photo cnnsi.com

I’ve taken an interest in Mets rookie right hander Zack Wheeler since his call-up.  I nabbed him for my fantasy team and have watched his starts when I could.   His name has been in the news for quite a while, ever since he was traded by the Giants for a 2-month rental of Carlos Beltran (a trade that had Giants prospect-watching fans howling).  Moreso because of Wheeler’s pedigree; 100mph heat, #1 starter ceiling.  There’s nothing more exciting than seeing a prospect for the first time, even if he could be the bane of your team’s existance for the next 10 years.

His first few starts have been up and down; now we may know why: reports are coming out of the Mets camp that say that Wheeler’s been tipping his pitches.  Of course, it apparently wasn’t an issue when he threw 6 shutout innings in his debut, but its still something worth looking into.  The team plans on working with Wheeler in the bullpen to make some adjustments (he apparently is doing several things wrong right now; see below for all the different ways he’s tipping).  However, apparently not enough was fixed prior to his last start against the Nationals, who teed off on him as if they knew what was coming.  And you know what?  They probably did.

But this got me wondering: how exactly to pitchers “tip” their pitches?  I’ve played an awful long time and have always been a “feel” hitter at the plate; I look fastball, adjust to the curve, never really give much thought to trying to think along with the pitcher, and generally “feel” my way through at-bats.  I’ve never in my life specifically looked for or noticed a pitcher tipping his pitches or tried to take advantage of it; frankly when a guy’s fastball is only in the upper 70s or low 80s as it generally is in amateur leagues, you don’t really need to get that kind of advantage.

After doing a bit of research, here’s what I’ve found.  Pitchers can “tip” their pitches a number of different ways.

  1. Differing Arm Angles for different pitches.  This (according to the above link) is one current Wheeler issue.  I have seen this personally; usually a curveball comes in at a slightly lower arm angle if the pitcher wants to get more side-to-side action.  Pitch F/X data tracks release points and this type of tip can be worked on.
  2. Differing Arm Action: A common tip is when a pitcher specificically slows their arm when an off-speed pitch comes, especially a change-up.  This is an amateur tip though; professionals throwing change-ups hone their craft to be as deceptive as possible.
  3. Glove Positioning: another apparent Wheeler issue; he was holding his glove in different spots (as pointed out by this fangraphs.com link and as noticed in the video in this article here) depending on the pitch.  This has to be something done unconsciously; there’s no reason to hold your glove in different spots or to hold your body in different positions based on the pitch you’re going to throw.   Others have noted that pitchers will have different “glove widths” depending on the grip; a “12-6” grip (like on a fastball) allows the glove to be slightly more closed than a “3-9” grip, like you’d have on a curve ball.  Another glove tip-off may be the way the glove is held in the set position; some pitchers have a tendency to hold the glove more straight up and down when throwing fastballs.
  4. Differing Motion Mechanics: I’ve often wondered if our own Drew Storen, who uses two different leg kicks, has any sort of telegraphing of his pitch selection by virtue of this mechanical difference.  Andy Pettitte unconsiously was once found to bring his arms together in slightly different ways from the stretch depending on the pitch he was to throw.  Dennis Eckersley admitted (after he retired of course) that he went through a tipping period where batters could tell he was throwing off-speed stuff because he unconsiously was “tapping” his leg with his hand.
  5. Differing Motion Speeds: do you speed up  your motion for one pitch but not another?  Apparently Wheeler may be doing it now.  Conventional wisdom states that a pitcher will take a nice leisurly motion for a fastball to gain natural physical momentum but may forget that momentum when he’s throwing a curve.
  6. Pitch Gripping in the Glove: If a pitcher throws an unconventional pitch that takes a moment to get a grip on, a batter can pickup on different timings or different mannerisms and get a read on the pitch.  I’ve noticed this with pitchers who throw specifically the split-fingered fastball, one of the more difficult pitches to properly grip.  I once watched a guy on the hill who would pre-jam the ball in-between his fingers as he took the sign; it became pretty easy to know what was coming because if he did NOT fiddle with his glove you knew it was a splitter.  Some pitchers have to look down at their grip to get it right after accepting the call; can you glean anything from this fiddling in the glove?
  7. Pitch Grip VisibilityMike Mussina found out from a teammate (Jorge Posada) during spring training one year that his unique change-up grip telegraphed the pitch to opposing hitters.  Posada watched him pitch and called out every pitch in what must have been a rather disheartening bullpen session.  He made a slight adjustment with his finger positioning and eliminated the tell.  This problem is somewhat related to a pitcher’s overall ability to “hide the ball” during his wind-up; if you’re an over-the-top thrower and you throw a pitch that shows a lot of the ball … batters can see it.  Knuckleballers especially are plagued by this, but they don’t much care since everyone knows what pitch is coming anyway.
  8. Poker-face tells: sometimes pitchers just flat out have a Poker table-esque tell that they unconsiously perform on certain pitchers.  They’ll grimace, or puff up cheeks, or stick out their tongue on some pitches but not others.

The best way to find out about any of these tells is to have a former rival hitter get traded to your team.  But even then sometimes players can be secretive.  So video tape work is key, as is 3rd party eyes looking for predictive tells in your body language and motion.

 

Written by Todd Boss

July 2nd, 2013 at 1:31 pm

Time to pull the plug on Haren yet?

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How much longer is Haren going to be wearing this hat? Photo nats official via espn.com

The Nats management waited and waited, but finally gave in and dealt with season-long performance issues in Henry Rodriguez, Zach Duke, Danny Espinosa and Tyler Moore in the first two weeks of June, DFA-ing or demoting as needed and bringing in replacements to try to do a better job and turn this season around.

So, when will it be time to talk about the train-wreck season that Dan Haren is having?  For $13M, here’s what the team has gotten in his first 12 starts, including June 12th’s meltdown:

  • a 4-8 Record with a 5.70 ERA and a 67 ERA+ (his ERA is 6th worst in baseball for qualified pitchers).
  • A 6-10 team record in games in which he’s started
  • a league leading 17 home runs allowed

A quick glance at his advanced stats doesn’t give much credence to any apologists that may try to excuse his line either; his BABIP is slightly elevated but not overly so (.320) and his FIP is still an unsightly 5.06 (5th worst among qualified starters).  Only his expected xFIP and SIERA numbers are relatively respectable, but xFip is just an estimator stat and often times never comes to pass, since it assumes silly things like the fact that Haren can’t possibly keep giving up this many home runs… an assumption that continued to be disproven as he gave up two more in his most recent loss in Colorado.

Game-Log analysis: Haren has yet to have a start where he shut out the opponent.  He’s only got 5 quality starts out of 12.  In half his starts he’s allowed 4 or more runs (not good when your team’s offense is only scoring 3.4 runs a game).  Haren’s only really had a couple of starts that were “grade A” in my book (his best start of the year was an 8 inning 4 hit performance in Atlanta of all places).  In his defense, he has gotten awful run support (2.84 runs per start), heavily indicating team losses every time he pitches.

I’ll admit it; I talked myself into the Haren deal big time after it was announced.  I ignored his 2012 struggles, looked back to the near Cy Young guy he was in 2009 and thought this was the move that could push the Nats to a 105 win team.  Now clearly whatever excuses we made for his performance in 2012 (back injury leading to diminished velocity leading to loss of his sinker leading to crummy numbers) seem like they’re covering up for an aging sinkerballer who never had lights out velocity and who now looks dangerously close to extinct as his very-hittable fastball flattens out and gets hit harder and harder.

So what’s the answer here?

Don’t talk to me about his salary; that $13M is out the door already.  Kaput.  Gone.  Look up the definition of a “Sunk Cost” in economic terms.  If you were worried about $13M in annual salary then you shouldn’t have bought a $15M a year closer who isn’t exactly a complete shutdown guy (Tyler Clippard has almost identical stats this year to Rafael Soriano for a third of the price and he didn’t cost us a 1st round draft pick, which as it turned out could have been spent on one of two pre-draft top-10 talents).  The decision needs to be made; do you still want to try to “win now” in 2013 as all the other off-season moves seemed to indicate?  Because the solution likely is going to be a bit more money and a few more prospects.

Short term (as in, the next week): see how Ross Ohlendorf does in his spot start (Answer: uh, he did awesome, holding a good hitting team to two hits through 6 in the best hitters park in the league).  If he’s anything remotely close to effective, I think you look at an invented D/L trip for Haren and send him on a rehab assignment tour of the minors.

Mid-term (as in, for the next couple weeks): do we have anyone else in the minors worth checking out?  Not on the 40-man and not with enough experience.  Maybe we give Danny Rosenbaum a shot if another spot-start is needed after Detwiler and Strasburg come back.

Longer term (as in, the next two months); Look at the trade market and look at who may be available leading up to the trade deadline.  We’re already seeing some teams completely out of it and clearly some guys will be available:

  • The Cubs probably will look to move Scott Feldman and especially Matt Garza.
  • The Astros probably will cash in on Lucas Harrell and Bud Norris (nobody’s likely interested in Erik Bedard at this point).
  • The Marlins would listen for offers for Ricky Nolasco, though perhaps not intra-division.
  • The Mets aren’t winning this year and could be moving Shawn Marcum (though perhaps not intra-division).
  • I think eventually Seattle becomes a seller: Joe Saunders and Aaron Harang should be dangled.
  • I also think San Diego eventually realizes they’re not going to win the NL West: Edinson Volquez, waiver pickup Eric StultsClayton Richards and our old friend Jason Marquis all make for possible trade candidates.

A few other poorly performing teams are probably going to be too stubborn to wave the white flag, which cuts down on the number of guys that will be available (see the Los Angeles Angels, the Los Angeles Dodgers, Toronto specifically).

The only problem with a trade market move is this: all these teams are going to want prospects back.  And the Nats prospect cupboard has been cleaned out recently to acquire all these fools who are underperforming so far in 2013.  I’m not an opposing GM, so I can’t say for sure, but from a quick look at the Nats best prospects in the minors right now (basically in order: Giolito, Goodwin, Cole, Karns, Garcia, Skole, Purke, Solis, Perez, then guys like Hood, Taylor, Walters, Ray and Jordan round out the list) and I see a lot of injured guys or players on injury rehab, backups or guys barely above or still in A-ball.  I’m not trading a valued asset for an injury-risk guy who has never gotten above AA.  Who on this list is going to fetch us a quality major league starter?

Maybe we trade Haren along with a huge chunk of his remaining salary and multiple prospects to one of these teams in order to get one of these 5th starters back.  But that’d be an awful trade when it was all said and done (about as awful as, say, the Giants trading Zack Wheeler to the Mets for 2 months of Carlos Beltran in a failed effort to make the playoffs in 2012; with all the Giants 2013 pitching issues do you think they wish they had Wheeler back right now??)

Or, it very well may be that the Nats are stuck; we knew going into the season we had no starter depth and those MLFAs we did acquire (Ohlendorf and Chris Young basically) probably aren’t the answer.  But something has to give; we can’t give away every 5th start like we seem to be doing now and claw back into the NL East race.

Nats Rule-5 lossee Spring Training Update pt 1

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Are the Nats gonna get Brad Meyers back? Photo Kevin Littlefield/Milb via mlb.com

I was thinking about the AAA rotation and how thin it stands to be for my “updated minor league rotation” post last week, when I was reminded that we may eventually get back at least one solid AAA starter if Brad Meyers fails to make the Yankees 25-man roster.  Then, spurred on by this Seedlingstothestars.com post reviewing all the Rule-5 draft picks so far this spring, here’s a quick look at both Meyers and Erik Komatsu, who were both taken in the Rule 5 draft last December but who both may very well end up back with the team.

  • Brad Meyers Spring Training Stats as of 3/10/12: No stats.  He reportedly injured his shoulder lifting weights over the winter and, while he’s throwing off flat ground he’s yet to appear in a game.  I’m guessing he’ll get stashed on the DL so the Yankees don’t have to immediately return him, waiting to see if they get an early season injury.

Most pundits (examples here and here) seem to think that Meyers is competing for the Long Man spot in the Yankees rotation, what with the late off-season acquisitions of both Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda filling out all 5 available starter spots for the team (not to mention the jettisoning of AJ Burnett).   It is relatively difficult to see Meyers beating out the likes of Freddie Garcia or Phil Hughes (who themselves seem to be set up to be the 5th starter and long man, depending on the outcome of spring training battles) for this spot, and the rest of the Yankees bullpen seems set.  But, without any spring training stats to go by and with his injury status up in the air, and the possibility of a DL trip looming, I’d say that its safe to say he’s not getting returned to the Nats any time soon.

How about Komatsu?

  • Erik Komatsu Spring Training Stats as of 3/10/12: .333/.385/.583 through 12 at-bats in 6 games, playing mostly right field.  He’s got a double, a triple, and a SB.  Not bad so far.

Here’s a good analysis of Komatsu by a St. Louis focused blog upon his acquisition last December; he’s clearly competing for a backup outfielder spot, what with the team’s acquisition of new RF starter Carlos Beltran (moving incumbent Lance Berkman to the vacated 1B position for 2012). The Cardinals have a clear 4th outfielder candidate in Allen Craig but Craig is injured and most likely won’t start the season with the team.  Komatsu is also competing with a couple other prospects for a backup outfielder job, but may very well stick with the team out of camp.  I’d like to see Komatsu back; he was disappointed that he didn’t get much of a shot in Washington and he was coming off an injury most of last off-season.  But at the same time this team has been looking  high and low for a possible lead-off hitter/center fielder and Komatsu could (if you squint perhaps) fill that role.

Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 12/28/11 edition

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Just how bad is Alex Rodriguez’s knee? Bad enough for an experimental treatment in Germany. Photo John Munson/The Star-Ledger via nj.com

This is your semi-weekly/periodic wrap-up of Nats and other baseball news that caught my eye.

Nationals In General

  • Per CBS’s Danny Knobler (who really needs a new profile picture), the Nats had to out-bid the Red Sox for Gio Gonzalez‘s services, possibly indicating why the price in prospects went so high.
  • Buster Olney ranks the current 10 best rotations in the game after all our recent FA moves and trades.  Philly is still #1, but surprisingly LA Angels have not risen to #2.  Honestly I think the Angels have supplanted the Rays at the near-top.  And, amazing of amazing, he has the Nats at #8.  Here’s a direct quote from the article: “It’s possible that a year from now, we will view the front three of the Washington rotation as the best in the majors.”  That is high-praise indeed; perhaps THREE years from now when we have the likes of Solis, Meyer and Purke shaken out into possible MLB starting roles … but a year from now there will still be the stud 1-2-3 punches in LA, Philly and SF.
  • The next day, Olney ranks the current 10 best bullpens and, again, the Nats come in 8th.  They were 5th in the MLB in bullpen ERA last year and may need one more arm to continue that trend.
  • John Sickels‘ has published his preliminary Nats top 20 prospect list (I may have linked this in the last article frankly).   This was posted just prior to the Gio Gonzalez trade, meaning that his #3, #4, #6 and #9 prospects are now playing for Oakland.   The list is considerably thinned now, of course, but what we got in return may make everyone forget what we gave up.

Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • Carlos Beltran signs with the St. Louis Cardinals, probably pushing Lance Berkman to the Albert Pujols vacated first base position with Beltran playing RF.  Its a good signing for St. Louis, who obviously is taking a step back offensively but Beltran should help soften the blow.  What gets me though is the price Brian Sabean paid for a couple months of Beltran, only to decide in the off-season that he wasn’t worth signing.

General Baseball News

  • Great article on Brian Cashman, the Yankees, payroll and their direction over the past few years from Jonah Keri on Grantland.com.  Whereas most teams operate on payroll budgets, the Yankees never really have before … but they do seem to be targeting the luxury tax threshold now.  Not that any team with a $189M payroll can be really that “constricted,” but the fact remains the Yankees have only won the world series once in the past decade.  This same topic covered here as well by Bob Klapish.
  • Oakland reportedly granted permission to move to San Jose.  This certainly affects the Giants and their market, though probably not as much as people may think.  When the team moved from Candlestick into the city, the move was a significant distance more than just the 7 miles and 15 minutes added onto the drive for most suburban fans.   Now those fans in the far southern parts of the Bay area, the affluent areas closer to Stanford, Sunnyvale and deep in Santa Clara county will be just a few minutes (against the majority of traffic) from an Athletics stadium, even if its built north of San Jose in Milpitas.
  • Of course, the A’s have been in a dismaying sell-off of talent so far this off-season, and don’t have a starting outfielder under contract, so they could be severely struggling until they do secure a new stadium.  Ken Rosenthal talks about this topic here; noting that Billy Beane has taken one look at his division rivals Texas and Los Angeles and concluded that the A’s are a lost cause in 2012.  Now they’re so young and weak that they may very well lose 110 games.
  • Side effect of all the action in the AL west this off-season; does anyone doubt that the AL wild card, long the property of the also-ran in the AL East, may suddenly belong to the AL west titans for the forseeable future?  Texas and Los Angeles look to feast on the incredibly weak Athletics and the still-not-contender status Mariners and could easily take 14 of 18 from these teams (in much the same way that the 103 loss 2009 Nats went 3-15 on the year versus Philadelphia).  Meanwhile, New York has done little to address its needs this off-season, nor has Boston (except to swap relievers but do relatively little to address injuries to its pitching staff).  Tampa continues to be who they always are; a young cheap team meticulously assembled to sneak up on team with 5 times their payroll … but all these teams seem set to beat each other up while their wild card contenders in the west get fat on easy teams.  Perhaps its only a one-year issue; the addition of a second wild card really lowers the difficulty bar for most of these franchises.
  • Boy, if you didn’t think the Mets franchise was in serious financial trouble, check out this article and the high lighted quote from Craig Calcaterra.  Quick calculations show that the team owes around $900 million on various loans coming due in the next few years.  I don’t see how this team could possibly stay solvent for the next 5 years.  But then the question becomes; how do you possibly pay off this much debt on a franchise that you couldn’t possibly argue is even worth $900M?
  • Phew; The Yankees have to be concerned reading this news item: Alex Rodriguez went to Germany to get experimental treatment on his knee.  In case you had forgotten, this is the same guy the team still owes $143M in salary plus a likely $24M more in homer-plateau reaching incentives that he seems relatively likely to reach.

Collegiate/Prospect News

  • Updated 2012 draft order from PerfectGame.org.  This also has a significant amount of interpretation of the new draft and compensation rules in the new CBA, and is honest in admitting that there are some things we just don’t know.  As it stands now, the Nats draft 16th overall and then not again til #80 overall because of the massive number of supplemental first round picks.
  • We have lots of family that went to UCal-Berkeley, so I always take interest in stories about the school.  This article talks about some larger fiscal problems in the State of California, ones that led to the disbanding of their baseball program and the subsequent fund-raising efforts that resurrected it (a good thing, since they made the CWS this year).  We talk a lot in politics about education and funding, but to see tuition rising 18% in one year in California public schools, with more budget cuts set on the horizon, is kind of depressing given the state of our economy in general.
  • One of the few local area Div1 baseball programs George Washington announced their spring baseball schedule.  A three-game set in mid-march versus Georgetown is the local highlight here; one game in Arlington then two at Georgetown’s home field in Bethesda (Shirley Povich stadium).  They have home-and-homes with George Mason but not JMU this year, and have a mid-week visit to the slaughter in UVA.  GWU plays in the A-10 in baseball; a pretty weak baseball conference but with some interesting teams nonetheless.

 

 

 

General News; other

  • Wow, i’m hoping this guy lost a bet.
  • Kobe Bryant; how about a little discretion buddy?  The “proof” is a little lacking though.  This website did the same thing with all of Tiger Woods‘ alleged affairs.


Ask Boswell 12/19/11 edition

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Would Adam Jones solve our CF issues? Photo unknown via blog.prorumors.com

Here’s Tom Boswell‘ weekly Monday chat on 12/19/11.  Of the baseball questions he took, here’s how I’d have answered them.  With a Redskins unexpected win, I’d think this will be heavy on football, but I thought the same about last week as well.  There were a TON of baseball questions.  Maybe the town is tiring of Redskins coverage, now that they’re eliminated from the playoffs.

As always, questions are edited for clarity and I write my own answer prior to reading his.

Q:  Have you heard anything about the possibility of Da Meathook (Dmitri Young) returning to the Nats to be a role player and mentor?

A: No chance.  Dmitri Young was a Jim Bowden reclamation project and no matter how that story may play in the “feel good” category, Rizzo has gone to great pains to rid most of this roster of Bowden players.  It is good to see Young losing weight and looking better though.  Boswell says little chance, that Young really is a DH/PH now and we’re in the wrong league.

Q: Should the Nats consider Carlos Beltran?

A: Again, hard to see.  Beltran was decent in 2011, his first healthy season since 2008.  Ironic that it happened in his walk year.  But he’s already been moved out of CF, and was not really that good defensively in RF.  He’ll want a longer term deal … but we have a certain upper-end RF prospect named Harper coming up who would be blocked.  Beltran makes no sense for us.  Boswell says no chance, then opines on the lack of movement out of the Nats front office.

Q: What do you make of the Nats (non) moves?  Are the Lerners still “cheap?”

A: It was always going to be a weak FA market, and with the Marlins suddenly throwing ridiculous money around and outbidding the team for its targets, it does look as if the team isn’t doing much.  The price of #1/#2 starters has just gotten out of control this off-season (see the unbelievable haul that a low-end #1 guy in Mat Latos just got), so I sense the team is re-evaluating.   Boswell says you can’t be “cheap” after signing a guy to $126M contract.

Q: Does Rizzo deserve an F for the off-season so far? Missed out on Buerle and no CF either.

A: Man, people are impatient.  Maybe the team underbid on Buehrle, but they were NEVER going to go 4yrs and $56M dollars on the guy.  I’m sorry; he’s a #3 pitcher, a soft-tossing lefty who never gets hurt.  That’s NOT an ace, that’s not worth $13M a year.  As for CF, there’s no good FAs out there, so it was always going to be a trade.  Last time i checked its only December and the off-season is only half-way done.  I’d rather stand pat than make a panic buy.  Boswell says Rizzo needs to be judged 5 years down the road on his 2011 draft signings.

Q: Have we seen the last off-season addition?

A: I don’t think so, but the likelihood of seeing a “major” acquisition now seems thin.  It is what it is; 2012’s FA crop was weak and everyone got bid up.  Notice how the Yankees and Red Sox didn’t get anyone either, and BOTH those teams desperately need starting pitching.  Boswell takes his third question on the same topic and just says that if the team hits better they’ll be better next year.  duh

Q: Do you think Endy Chavez could be a decent short-term filler for the Nats in centerfield, or maybe resigning Rick Ankiel, who played pretty well turing the final two months of last season?

A: Well, its too late for Chavez, who signed a deal over the weekend with Baltimore.  I wouldn’t be opposed to re-signing Ankiel but ONLY as a 4th outfielder.  Boswell agrees.

Q: Who’s going to spend the most time in center for the Nats this year? 1. Werth, 2.Cespedes, 3. Ankiel (if he returns), 4. Bernadina (ugh) or 5. someone else?

A: I’ll go with Werth first, but say “someone else” if Rizzo makes his desired trade.  Holding out hope for Upton or Bourjos or someone like that.  Boswell exactly writes what I wrote.

Q: If the Nats are able to sign or trade for a CFer and they bring up Bryce Harper during the season, does Adam LaRoche become the odd man out this season?

A: If Nats get a CFer, then yes eventually it will come down to either Morse or LaRoche making way.  As of now, its hard to see Morse leaving, but you never know in this game.  Morse could break a leg and LaRoche could come back 110% in his walk year, and in June we’ll be singing a different tune.  Boswell thinks LaRoche is mr. comeback in 2012 and will “make the team glad they have a club option.”  Wow, that’s a statement.

Q: Should the Nats really wait til NEXT off-season to hit the FA market?

A: Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  The 2013 FA pool is so much better than this years, that it almost doesn’t make sense to compete and over-pay.  As a longer term fan of this team, I would support and argue for such a move.  Play the kids in 2012 and figure out what you have, then go on a spending spree to make a pennant-contender in 2013.  Boswell says this is exactly what Davey Johnson is advocating.

Q: What are the odds that the Nats do right by the fans and sign Zimm to a Tulo type deal before Spring Training? After watching the Pujols intro in LA, if we have to endure a similar scene w/ Ryan I plan on marching to Nats Park and burn my jersey at the main gate.

A: Lots of repeat questions today.  This question was the Question #1 from last week’s boswell Chat.   Short answer; Nats don’t pursue long term deal with Zimmerman til after next season.  Boswell changes his stance from last week and says the team MUST get it done before the 2012 all-star break.  Why?  Still disagree here.

Q: Is the reluctance to sign Fielder just about money? He is clearly an upgrade over LaRoche at the plate and would instantly upgrade the offense.

A: I’d be reluctant for several reasons.  Money (its a lot), wasted money (on LaRoche), his conditioning (abhorrent for an athlete) and his defensive inadequacies.    He does mash though.  Boswell likes Laroche, says Morse is a good 1B as well, and doesn’t advocate spending $200M on one position.

Q: Remember the knock on Mike Rizzo was that he would have trouble with some of the non-baseball aspects of a GM job (i.e. media)? We’re a few years in and while the Nats are greatly improved, I’m skeptical of Rizzo. He seems like he’s playing out of position — strong on scouting, not so much on other stuff. Does it even matter given the ownership?

A: I still think Rizzo was partly responsible for the Riggleman situation, and should have done a better “people management” job than he did.  But otherwise I don’t have an issue with Rizzo’s performance.  The team has completely turned around in just 2 years under his command; what else do you want out of a GM?  3 great drafts, a 20game improvement on the field?  Are we getting spoiled here?   Boswell agrees, and says that the Werth contract still weighs on him.

Q: Thoughts on the Mat Latos trade? Seems the cost of quality SP is especially high this year—whether you’re Roy Oswalt or the ChiSox looking to trade Danks, the Nats are going to have to spend or give up real value to add that piece to their rotation. Any new developments?

A: The Latos deal is shocking; he’s not exactly a Cy Young candidate in my mind; just a very good, young pitcher.  The Reds gave up two developed #1 draft picks (including a very quick to the majors guy in Yonder Alonso), plus an established (albeit injured) Volquez and another guy for Latos.  That’s a really expensive trade.  Latos better work.  How does that affect the Nats?  It probably scares the crap out of them.  Boswell quotes Jim Bowden’s analysis (?!) and says the Padres may have swindled the Reds here.

Q: Would you be interested in Adam Jones if you were the Nats and who would you be willing to give up?

A: Jones is an interesting candidate.  Good bat but not the best in the field.  I didn’t even consider him a trade candidate in my CF analysis piece but maybe he is.  O’s need pitching, so maybe there’s a fit there.  But, the O’s may not have a ready-made replacement for Jones, who is 25 and still under club control for 2 more years.  So he won’t be cheap.  I’d give up a Detwiler or a Milone but not much more.  Boswell agrees with the trade needs, but says Angelos would never trade with Washington on the off-chance that the Nats looked like they “took” him in a deal.

Q: It’s Opening Day 2012 in DC. Sellout crowd, beautiful weather. Perfect day for baseball. Who’s playing CF for the Nats, & who’s hitting leadoff. For that matter, since I’ve asked you to consult your crystal ball, what’s the pitching rotation?

A: Another repeat question.  Your CF is Werth, with a yet-to-be named 1-yr FA playing in RF.  Rotation is Stras-Zimmerman-Lannan-Wang-Detwiler.  Leadoff is (still) Desmond, because the team hasn’t done anything to replace him.   But i’m still holding out hope that the team a) signs Oswalt and b) trades for Upton.  So we’ll see.  Boswell thinks Harper’s making the opening day roster, and Milone is #5 starter.  I wouldn’t be surprised.

Ladson’s latest inbox; my answers to his questions 10/3/11

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MLB beat writer Bill Ladson doesn’t do mailbags that often, and when he does sometimes his answers are arguable.  Here’s his 10/3/11 edition.

Q: Do you think Davey Johnson will return as manager of the Nationals in 2012?

A: Yes; there’s no reason to replace him at this point and the team finished the year strong.  Ladson says he’s coming back.

Q: Are the Nationals thinking about moving Ian Desmond to center field, Danny Espinosa to shortstop and Stephen Lombardozzi to second? They always say that shortstops are the best skilled players. I think they will get the center fielder they need and improve their infield defense.

A: (the same question was posed in Boswell’s chat on monday): I don’t think Desmond helps the team in Center.  You need more production out of center fielders.  If Desmond can’t cut it for this team at Short, we’ll trade him and put Espinosa there.  Lombardozzi hasn’t shown me that he’s anything more than a Brian Bixler-utility guy, and the team may bide its time until Anthony Rendon is ready.  Ladson reminds us how much the team, and Johnson, likes Desmond.

Q: If the Nationals are looking for a center fielder, why not Carlos Beltran, even though he is aging and has been hurt in the past? He seems to fit all of the Nationals’ needs and is a good veteran presence for some of the young players.

A: Three primary reasons: Beltran isn’t a center fielder anymore.  He’s now a corner outfielder at this point in his career.  Plus I think you’d be overpaying for a contract year.  Lastly, he’s a type-A free agent, meaning it would cost us your #16 overall pick.  Ladson points out that he’s a corner outfielder.  He’d be for a one-year deal, that’s it.

Q: Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and John Lannan are locks for next year’s rotation. Considering Mike Rizzo would like to acquire a veteran starter, that would mean that Chien-Ming Wang (if re-signed), Ross Detwiler, Brad Peacock, Tom Milone and the other Minor Leaguers will all be fighting for one spot?

A: This seems like the current situation, yes.  However, I would not be surprised to see some of this starter depth flipped for a plus defender that we can put out in leadoff/center field.  Lannan could be trade bait (though I think we’d struggle to get enough for him to match how this team values him).  Wang is no sure thing to re-sign.  Detwiler pretty much HAS to make the team in 2012, so you may have your rotation already stated. Ladson just says generically that you can never have enough depth.

Q: I think Chris Marrero has proven in a short time that he is a Major League hitter. What role, if any, do you think he will have with the team next season?

A: Good question: he hit well, but doesn’t seem to have the power you need to man the First Base position in the majors.  Its tough to take a .300 hitter out of the lineup though.  Of course, he wasn’t a .300 hitter by the end of the season (final slash line: .248/.274/.294); a 5-game slide to end the season cost him 40 batting average points.  Marrero’s problem is a lack of power.  His slugging percentage wasn’t even at .300; it needs to be closer to .500 to play first base.  I think he starts 2012 back in AAA, waiting for an injury or slow Adam LaRoche start to get a call-back.  Ladson predicts trade chip or 2012 bench player.

Q: Since being sent to the bullpen, Tom Gorzelanny has done a pretty decent job. Do you see him back in the bullpen next year?

A: Yes you bet.  Gorzelanny’s bullpen split for 2011 was great; 2.42 era in 15 games.  He immediately takes over the primary long-man/spot-starter role and features as a middle reliever as needed.  He’s just the kind of guy that Davey Johnson likes in the pen.  Ladson agrees.

Q: You have reported that the Nats’ front office isn’t sold on outfielder Roger Bernadina. Please explain how Werth, Jonny Gomes and Brian Bixler are improvements.

A: At least Werth provides enough power and OBP to pull his OPS+ value up to nearly 100 in a season where he struggled mightily.  Bernadina doesn’t get on base nearly as much and doesn’t slug as much, meaning on average he’s about 20% less valuable a hitter than a MLB average player.  And he’s done this consistently across 1000+ at bats at the major league level.

Gomes is not an improvement; he was a mid-season bench augmentation who probably gets non-tendered in November.  Meanwhile, Bixler is not an apples-to-apples comparison.  Teams need utility infielders to provide cover at 2nd, short and 3rd.  Bernadina is a backup outfielder who can be replaced, and is replaceable.

I’m not sold on Bernadina either; he’s had plenty of chances and i doubt he’s part of the organization in 2012.  Ladson says he never said these three guys were replacements for Bernadina, but thinks that Gomes and Bixler are not with the team in 2012.

Q: Despite his inconsistency, Hernandez definitely shows that he wants to stay with the Nationals and brings so much to the clubhouse. He is even willing to become a long reliever. With that in mind, do you think he’ll be re-signed?

A: Good question.  Initially I thought he’d be resigned as a valuable and cheap middle relief/spot starter guy.  But now i’m worried there’s not going to be room for the guy in the bullpen.  I think our 2012 bullpen starts with Storen, Clippard, Burnett, Mattheus, HRodriguez, Gorzelanny as near locks.  The 7th guy could be a FA signing, or perhaps Peacock or even Stammen.  Livan needs too long to warm up to really be useful in the bullpen.  Sorry to say; i think we part ways.  Ladson says that Gorzelanny is the “swingman” and that the team won’t need two.  Fair enough.