Mike Rizzo answering the latest question about where the money is coming from for the Werth contract. Photo: centerfieldgate.com
Each year heading into the off-season, I make up a transactional “to-do” list for the team (as if I were the GM). Essentially you look at the roster and kind of work backwards. Based on the way things looked at the end of 2010, the Nationals seemed set on:
- C (Pudge, Ramos)
- most of the infield: 2b (Espinosa), SS (Desmond), 3B (Zimmerman)
- LF (Willingham)
- 3-4 starters (Lannan, Marquis, LHernandez, Zimmermann), and
- several relievers (Clippard, Burnett, Storen)
So, given this, here’s what I listed as off season priorities and where we stand post the Winter Meetings (and counting all the rumors and scuttlebutt we’ve been hearing):
- Power hitting reliable RF
- Top-of-the-rotation Starting Pitcher
- Better Centerfielder/Leadoff Hitter
1. In what was easily the most surprising move this team has done since relocating from Montreal, we acquired a front-line marquee FA in Jayson Werth, satisfying the “power hitting RF” fantasy requirement. Yes there are concerns about the contract’s length and value, but hey, we’re a better team for getting him.
2. Rizzo has definitely made mention of wanting to acquire a “top of the rotation” starter but they are hard to come by this off season. Cliff Lee is the target, and from there the list dwindled quickly to include guys who were middle of the road veterans with question marks (Vazquez, Pavano), FA starters that weren’t exactly planning on going anywhere (Lilly, Kuroda, de La Rosa, Arroyo, Garland, Padilla) and incredibly risky alternatives (Webb, Darvish, Francis).
3. Lastly, despite my desire to upgrade from Nyjer Morgan in center and leadoff (for reasons that include discipline, chemistry and performance), Rizzo seems set on the guy for the time being. I would not be surprised to see no more movement in this area. I advocated trading Willingham to Boston for possible spare-part outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury in a previous post, but despite Willingham’s offensive capabilities Boston may also value defense and may not really be interested in acquiring more bats this off season.
- First Baseman
- 1-2 Veteran FA pitchers
- Utility Middle Infielder
1. Acquiring a first baseman included the possibility of re-signing Adam Dunn, despite all indications that it was never to happen. Rizzo clearly will take less power for more defense at first, and we seem destined to sign Adam LaRoche (after missing out on Carlos Pena, the player I was absolutely sure we’d get). Frankly, for my money I’d rather have LaRoche. He’ll sign a 2 year deal for less than any of Dunn, Pena, Konerko or Huff would have signed for, he hits for power and he is a plus defender. I think he’s perfect until we figure out if Chris Marrero or someone even more remote (like high-A stud hitter and Nats minor leaguer of the year in 2010 Tyler Moore) becomes a possibility. A final thought; I do NOT want to be left with Derrek Lee as the solution. He’s a right handed hitter on a team that is now full of them. Zimmerman, Willingham, Werth all righties; we need a lefty slugger to break up the middle of our batting order.
2. I still see the acquisition of one or two veteran FA pitchers on the horizon. I can see us (unless someone foolishly offers him $10M) signing Brandon Webb on a one year flier. I can see us re-signing Wang to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training.
3. The backup middle infielder is a lower priority but still important. If Desmond/Espinosa are holding down the starting spots and Alberto Gonzalez is begrudingly serving as the primary glove-man backup, we still need a second player that can do middle infield. Willie Harris has been that player but he really tailed off last season. Adam Kennedy served as the backup for the right side of the infield but he clearly wants to start. I was lobbying for Pete Orr as a nice cheap candidate; he had always produced for us when called up, could play 2nd, 3rd or even outfield. But he signed elsewhere as a minor league FA. Perhaps the answer is a prospect to be named (Lombardozzi?) or a FA signing. I like David Eckstein to team him up with his hitting-coach brother but he probably wants a starting job too. And Eckstein wouldn’t make sense unless we traded one of Desmond/Espinosa (still a possibility; see later).
- FA Closer
- Trade for a Veteran pitcher
- 1 veteran bullpen presence
1. There are a couple closer-types on the FA market and I can now see the Nats picking one up ala their deal with Matt Capps to cover for Storen as he grows into the spot. Jenks, Dotel,Gregg, Hoffman, Soriano, Wood all available (Soriano a type-A though, so we wont’ get him). I think this would make for a good piece of business and could serve as a useful trade chip mid season.
2. I can see us working out a trade with Tampa Bay to acquire Matt Garza. Tampa wants to get rid of payroll, not add it, but perhaps we can pre-arrange a one-year deal with Willingham and flip him to Tampa. Washington could eat some of the salary and Willingham would slot nicely into the left field spot recently vacated by Carl Crawford. Tampa may like this deal since Willingham projects to be a type-A free agent and would net them 2 picks when he leaves (you have to think Willingham wants to get at least a 3-year deal when he hits the FA market based on his age and his proclivities for injuries). Of course, getting rid of Willingham also puts a hole into OUR lineup, one that looks pretty promising when we get a power hitting lefty first baseman. And we certainly would like to get some compensation picks to continue to rebuild the farm system. More likely Tampa would ask for someone like Desmond, which would be a tough trade to swallow for a team that hasn’t really developed that many marquee players in the last 5 years. We could trade Desmond, acquire Garza, move Espinosa to short (where he’s a better fielder anyway) then sign a short term 2nd baseman like David Eckstein or Orlando Hudson until one of our high-end 2nd base prospects (Lobardozzi, Rick Hague or Jeff Kobernus) is ready to go.
3. Lastly, with not one but TWO arms picked up in the rule5 draft, the likelihood of us acquiring any veteran bullpen arms seems nil. Perhaps we re-sign Peralta as a long man, but we have plenty of cover there in Balester and Stammen. We have all the arms we could want coming up (Kimball, Carr, Wilkie all project as mid-bullpen arms, and the AA team is filled with good arms with no place to move up to with so many AAA starters on the 40-man) and we have three great live arms in Storen, Clippard and Burnett already in place.
It has been a pretty fun offseason to track thus far for Nats fans. I can’t wait to see what happens next.