Nationals Arm Race

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Ladson’s inbox: 11/29/11 edition

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Lannan gets no respect. Photo via prorumors.com

Another edition of mlb.com beat reporter Bill Ladson‘s inbox, dated 11/29/11.

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

Q: Do Ross Detwiler or Tommy Milone have a chance to beat out John Lannan for a rotation spot?

A: Doubtful.  Lannan may not throw as hard as Detwiler but he’s a more complete pitcher.  Lannan is underrated; look at his career numbers; never missed a start, no injuries, and sits right at 4.00 for his career.  His K/9 numbers are ticking up, as is his velocity.  Milone needs to show that he has Maddux-level control before really showing that he can stick in a major league rotation.  I know Milone looked pretty good in September, but if you look closer at his game log, he didn’t exactly go against the best competition; the Mets twice (fielding a AAA lineup), Houston (worst team in the league by 10 games), Miami in the last week of the season, and Philly during their September swoon.  I’d give Detwiler more love, but he has yet to show during 3 different MLB stints the ability a) stay healthy and b) stay consistent.  He throws too much across his body, making his delivery difficult to repeat and his breaking stuff too flat.  I think Detwiler makes the rotation as a #5 unless we sign another FA; at which point we DFA Gorzelanny and turn Detwiler into a long man-spot starter.  Milone starts in AAA.  Ladson says Lannan is in the rotation, unless he’s traded for a CFer.

Q: What is your opinion on center fielder Yoenis Cespedes, and do you think Rizzo will go hard after him?

A: He looks promising; comparisons to Sammy Sosa without the steroids.  However, he’s not projecting as a true CFer (more of a corner) and this team doesn’t need a corner outfielder.  Plus, the Cuban league isn’t exactly equivalent to the high minors, so he’s not a 2012 option for teams.  He’s looking at at least 1 full year in the minors, perhaps two.  That’s a lot for a reported $30M price tag (or higher).  I think he goes to a team looking for the longer term.  Ladson agrees with the above, but says the Nats are interested.

Q: Trying to acquire Roy Oswalt is lacking any real logic. Oswalt had a losing record last year. His balky back meant he had the fewest starts in his career. He will be a year older next season. It would be risky at best to acquire Oswalt. Why do it?

A: The questioner really should look at Oswalt’s career stats; yes he had an injury last year but it was the first of his career.  In fact, for an 8-year stretch he was among the most durable (and best) starters in the league.  Who cares about his record; look at his performance.  3.69 era in a hitters park, 1.33 whip not great but not terrible.  K/9 down slightly, but his bb/9 is consistent with his career.  How much of this was due to his pitching with the injury?  I’d much rather have Oswalt on a 3-year deal than Buehrle.  Ladson agrees, noting the same items I did and throwing in some glowing quotes from Jayson Werth.

Q: Do you think Coco Crisp could help the Nats? He is a free agent and I don’t think he would cost a lot of money for even a two-year contract.

A: NO.  Look at my CF-only post, where you find that Crisp had a 91 ops+ and a negative UZR/150.  So, he can’t hit AND he’s a defensive liability.  Why do we want him again?  I’d rather stick with Werth in center and get a one-year alternative for a corner OF.  Ladson says the Nats aren’t interested in any FA not named Cespedes, and will pursue a trade.

Q: Is Michael Cuddyer an option for the Nats? He’s got a good bat and is good defensively. Would the Nats consider starting Werth in center and let Cuddyer take over in right?

A: Presumably this was written before Cuddyer was linked with the Phillies.  I’m not sure i’d entirely say he’s good defensively (he was marginally positive UZR/150 in RF, his primary position, after two years of being awful, and is mostly horrible at 2B, 3B.  Only at 1B is he ok … but we have two guys for 1B already).   But he did pound the ball in 2011.   I’d be up for him in RF and Werth in CF, if for a short time.  He is right-handed though, adding to a very RH heavy lineup (Ramos, Zimmerman, Desmond, Werth and Morse all RH-only).  Ideally we’d find some LH-hitting outfield options to help balance things out.  Ladson though says he’s not a fit, that Harper would be considered before Cuddyer.

Ask Boswell 11/14/11 edition

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Glad to see the Ramos situation handled with no violence or harm. Photo ESPN screengrab via wvec.com

I somehow missed last week’s Tom Boswell chat; brain fart I suppose.  Either that or I got caught up in work and life and never got to it. However he only took three baseball-related questions this week, so I dug back and answered last week’s chat too.

Here’s the 11/14 version.  Despite Redskins meltdown, he did manage to squeeze in some baseball and Nats related questions.

As always, I edit the “questions” for clarity and pen my own response before reading Boswell’s.

Q: What are the chances that the kidnappers in Venezuela took the wrong person?

A: The implication being, why kidnap Wilson Ramos when he’s the one with access to all the money.  Wouldn’t it be better to kidnap (say) Ramos’ brother or another relative, then squeeze Ramos for cash?  Answer: yeah that does make more sense frankly, unless the kidnappers had plans of grandiose and were thinking that the Nationals franchise or MLB in general would pay a multi-million dollar ransom.  Boswell notes that we may eventually find out, as it is in Venezuela’s best interest to get to the bottom of the story to preserve their winter league.

Q: Why would any MLB player return home to face the violence or risks that Ramos did?

A: A sense of country, a sense of pride, home-sickness, visiting family, or a sense of loyalty to the grass roots programs that enabled the player to make it.  Take your choice.  Foreign players returning home in the off-season will never stop.  Boswell doesn’t really answer.

Q: Worse Owner: Snyder or McCourt?

A: McCourt by far; he took a cherished franchise and bankrupted it for personal gain.  Snyder has done nothing but vastly increase the value of the Redskins.  In that respect he’s one of the BEST owners out there.  So what if the Redskins are headed for another sub .500 season; the stadium is still sold out, idiots, er I mean “Redskins Fans” are still paying $60/day to park, and a hot dog and beer at the stadium still sets you back nearly $20.  If you want change, stop giving Snyder thousands of dollars and stop going to the games.


Here’s the 11/07 version.

Q: Since the Nats are a year away, do the pursue Grady Sizemore as a stop gap and if he plays well trade him and get value like Matt Capps?

A: That’s not a bad idea in theory, but in reality I’m pretty sure Sizemore‘s days of being a productive and (more to the point) reliable outfielder are done.  The Nats NEED a center fielder; they don’t need another experiment (Nyger Morgan) or another stop-gap (Rick Ankiel).  I’ll bet Sizemore doesn’t get more than a veteran FA deal (1yr, $1.5M) based on his injury history.  And he’ll go to a team that already has OF coverage and could use him as a DH or a 4th OF.  Boswell says forget Sizemore and look at Coco Crisp.  Or wait til the Rays non-tender BJ Upton and go after him.  I concur.

Q: Why are the Nats looking for a #3 starter, like Mark Buehrle? It seems like they have more than enough pitching between Strasburg, Zimmerman, Wang, Detweiler, Lannan, Peacock, Milone.

A: A good question … unless you don’t really trust your rookies.  Detwiler had a few good starts in September, but the previous two years of trials didn’t turn out so well.  Peacock and Milone similarly looked good in September … is that enough?  Buehrle is a known quantity, a better pitcher than most of the above, and would allow the team to enter 2012 with a relatively veteran rotation.

Another angle; sign Buehrle (or Oswalt for that matter, the goal with both is the same; to find a vet innings eater who can win) and non-tender Lannan.  This saves $4M or so, and then you have Detwiler, Peacock and Milone compete for #5.  I’m not saying this is a wise direction at all mind you; Lannan is a known quantity as well.  A sub 4.00 era who allows more base-runners than you’d like but who gets results.  Boswell notes that with Wang‘s signing, we don’t NEED another starter but may end up with one.  And he says don’t sleep on Yu Darvish, who apparently the Nats brass has been asking about for years.  Great.

Q: How accurate is Adam Kilgore’s article projecting the Nats salaries?

A: In my opinion, he was probably guessing low (he guessed $62M prior to any Fa signings).    Per my own calculations I project the Nats salary rising from last year’s $68M range to at least $72M before any more FA signings after Wang.  I’ve got $49M in guaranteed salaries to guys already signed for 2012, plus $15.9M for arbitration raises, plus around $6.7M for the min-salary guys.  This also assumed we were tendering both Lannan and Gorzelanny.  But this is all hypothetical anyway.  In reality the only number that matters is the payroll ceiling given to Rizzo by the Lerners. Boswell hadn’t read it and didn’t comment, then went off on a tangent on Davey Johnson’s pirate ship.

Q: What do you think the Nats will do with Norris? It looks like his path is blocked due to Wilson Ramos.

A: I’d say that eventually they trade Jesus Flores to bring up Norris, then allow Norris to compete with Ramos for starts.  There’s never a bad thing with having depth; it allowed the Twins to trade Ramos to acquire a resource they felt they needed in Matt Capps, whether or not you though it was a poor trade or not.  So eventually maybe Norris becomes trade bait as well.   Boswell didn’t really say what he thought would happen to Norris, just that its a good thing to have this “problem.”

Q: Hey Boz At what point do you have to look at Jose Reyes as the catalyst the Nats need?

A: Hopefully, never.  As I opined here, Reyes played well above career values in his contract year and seems sure to regress and disappoint.  Boswell agrees, noting also rumors of character/clubhouse issues that led to the Mets collapse a few years ago.

Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 11/4/11 edition

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Wang re-ups for his 3rd year in a Nats uniform. Photo from Washington Nationals photo day.

Here’s a weekly wrap up of Nats-related news items, with my thoughts as appropriate.

  • MLBtraderumor’s Tim Dierkes announced that the cutoff for this year’s “Super-2″ status is 2 years, 146 days.  This cutoff means that two (and possibly three) Nats players made the cut and will be in line for a 4th arbitration season.  Jordan Zimmermann made it by 8 days, Tyler Clippard by 2 days (!), and Roger Bernadina (at least according to Amanda Comak‘s calculations; he’s missing from Dierkes’ list).  In Bernadina’s case, it may not matter, as he’s out of options for 2012, isn’t likely to make the roster anyway and seems a certainty for a non-tender.  We’ll save salary speculation for a future post as we get closer to the arbitration dates.  11/1 update: Dierkes responded to my comment in this blog posting and said that his personal calculations determined that Bernadina missed the cutoff.
  • Tim Dierkes is a busy man; he has a series of FA analysis by position and posted his Center Field analysis over the weekend.  Considering that the Nats have been looking for a quality center fielder essentially since moving to Washington, the analysis is a good read.  The news isn’t good; Dierkes only projects ONE viable CF FA candidate: Coco Crisp (quotes later in the week though confirm that Crisp wants to stay on the west coast, making him a less likely candidate).  He mentions Grady Sizemore as being worth a flier but no guarantee to be healthy.  There’s some “thinking outside the box” candidates, guys who are older and who could hold on to CF for another year, but if the Nats were to do that we might as well either go with Jayson Werth in center or re-sign Ankiel.  Trade potential BJ Upton is still there, and I’m sure he’s still available for the right price.  Perhaps the Nats could package a bunch of prospects for both Upton and Shields.  One other interesting name to consider: Melky Cabrera.  Nice season, nearly a 20/20 guy.  Getting a bit expensive for KC… maybe we could flip them some pitching surplus.
  • Sammy Solis has marginally improved as the AFL has gone forward, putting in a 4ip, 1run performance on Oct 29th.  Meanwhile, what is going on with Matthew Purke?  In three appearances through 10/29 he’s given up 11 runs on 10 hits in 3 1/3 innings.  Not good.  We may have to just shield our eyes until spring training.
  • Bill Ladson reported on a conversation he had with Mike Rizzo about the Nats off-season plans, and the takeaway seems to be that the team “has made no promises” to Adam LaRoche about playing time in 2012.  I just have a hard time believing that the team plans on just ignoring 1/8th of their payroll (LaRoche’s $8M salary on last year’s $68M payroll) by signing a replacement.  Rizzo pursued and signed LaRoche for a reason; good defense and adequate bat.  At least, that’s the idea.  Personally I have a hard time believing that Albert Pujols is leaving St. Louis, and I’ll bet that Fielder stays in the NL central as well (perhaps replacing Carlos Pena in Chicago as Theo Epstein‘s first big signing).
  • ESPN’s Buster Olney believes the Nats will look at Grady Sizemore, recently having his 2012 option declined by the Indians, as a center field option.  I suppose Sizemore is no more of a risk than it would be to resign Rick Ankiel, or to experiment with Werth in center and a player to be named (Laynce Nix?) in right.  It would be ironic to see Sizemore come back to the team that drafted and developed him, only to trade him in an incredibly damaging deal for a few months rental of Bartolo Colon.
  • Taken from a link in the previous Olney posting, the “Field of Dreams” property in Iowa used to make the movie of the same name is being sold.  Visitors come by the thousands even to this day to see the makeshift field built into a century-old farmland.  What I find neat is the apparent unassuming nature of the owners and the fact they’ve never really attempted to commercialize the property.  In that respect, it reminds me of Cooperstown, which I visited for the first time this past summer (blog post in the works with pictures) and found to be amazingly quant and un-tarnished by the type of tourist-driven revenue generators you find at other places in this country.
  • A post courtesy of Rob Neyer‘s blog about the seemingly imminent move of the Astros to the AL West points out a salient points the Houston fan base would have to put up with; more 9:05pm local starts as the team travels to play new rivals on the West coast.  This likely will badly affect their TV ratings.  Will the Astros take to having new divisional rivals in the Angels, A’s and Mariners well?  It doesn’t seem to have really hurt the Rangers, who have the same issue.  One has to think an intra-state, intra-divisional rivalry with the Rangers would be fantastic for both teams though.  Imagine 18 games and state bragging rights at stake for a state that takes its bragging rights (in all matters, both sports and non) very seriously.
  • All 8 of our free agents filed as soon as the FA filing period opened, as reported by Adam Kilgore.  I’ve got a post coming up on thoughts on the 8 free agents and which I think we should look at resigning.
  • Jon Heyman‘s first off-season column addresses some of the main “questions” facing baseball this off-season and he includes answering some of the major FA rumors.  He lists the Nats as favorites for both Prince Fielder and CJ Wilson.  Signing both would instantly add $30M of payroll to a team that already projects at somewhere in the $65M already basically allocated (we owe $45M in guaranteed contracts on the books now, probably somewhere in the range of $13M to clear our arbitration cases, and the rest being minimum salaries to 40-man guys).  Are the Lerners ready to step up and pay this kind of money?
  • Heyman’s article also notes that the last remaining issue in the MLB contract negotiations relates to Draft Slotting.  Bud Selig has been pushing hard for this, as he feels smaller market teams get screwed by agents who know bigger market teams will pay the money for their guys.  Meanwhile the league is apparently read to ditch free agent compensation picks as a bargaining chip.  Certainly the union has to like this (especially for relievers, who get labeled type-A and suddenly can’t find work).
  • Dodger Fan’s long nightmare may be over: Frank McCourt is apparently willing to sell the team for $1B in a deal that seems to completely remove him from gaining any additional benefit from the team (meaning, he has to divest the parking lots he was threatening to keep control over).  Now if only Bud Selig would consider a decent replacement owner instead of one of Selig’s friends or whoever greased his palm most recently … ah modern baseball.  11/2/update: maybe there won’t be a Selig-appointee; apparently the team will be sold at auction.  Great!  That means an owner not necessarily hand-picked by Selig and his cronies.  I’d love to see Mark Cuban get involved but apparently he was approached a few months ago and backed out.
  • Baseballamerica.com had a front-page feature on the Nats on 11/1.
  • FanGraphs’ top 15 Nats prospects wasn’t too surprising (also posted 11/1).  I’m amazed how high AJ Cole is (called the top pitcher in the system, barely eclipsing the promise of both Alex Meyer and Matthew Purke).  And I’m amazed how far Derek Norris has fallen.  The article also points out something rather interesting: the Potomac rotation could be Meyer, Purke, Cole, Ray and then someone like Selik.  Wow.
  • SI.com’s Ben Reiter put out his list of the top 50 FAs available and has the Nats on Jose Reyes and Coco Crisp, but not Prince Fielder or Edwin Jackson.  I guess I wouldn’t complain if we got both or either guy; either would ably fit into the lead-off spot that we’ve struggled with for years (and if we got both put them 1-2 … and move both Espinosa and Desmond’s .220 batting averages to the bottom of the order).
  • And here’s Tim Dierkes’s top 50 FA list with guesses on destinations: He has the Nats mentioned as an interested party with most of the top names and signing only CJ Wilson of his top 50 list.
  • And here USA Today’s Paul White‘s top 50 FA list, with the Nats projected to land Coco Crisp, Freddie Garcia (?!?) and Chein-Ming Wang.   His comment as to why we’d sign Garcia?  “Short term fix while the kids develop.”  It makes one wonder if he’s seen the state of our starting pitching frankly.  There’s little reason to doubt Milone or Peacock (or some combination of both) being able to fit into the 5th starter.
  • Ron Dibblewow.
  • Gold Glove winners announced; there doesn’t seem to be any egregiously bad winners like there was last year (Derek Jeter).  There were some complaints from the likes of Rob Neyers about the AL shortstop selection, using the Fielding Bible awards as his source.  But lets face it; the voters for the golden gloves probably spend about 20 seconds on it, when handed the form while dealing with a gazillion other items in September after a long season.  They’re voting reputations, not Uzr/150 results.  In fact i’d wager that fully 75% or more of the voters couldn’t tell you what Ultimate Zone Rating is or how it measures defensive capabilities.
  • SI’s Joe Sheehan puts out a nice overview of each division’s “state of franchise” post, and his thoughts on the Nats are interesting.  He has no idea if the team is going to be spooked byWerth’s contract and poor production, and suggests trading Tyler Clippard for a CF.
  • Chien-Ming Wang has officially re-signed with the team, per this SI article late Wednesday night.  We got details thursday: 1yr, $4M with some incentives.   That’s a bit more than I predicted (I was thinking something in the range of $2.5M as a guess).  But it still seems like a good deal, all things considered.  I’ll take a $4M #4 pitcher versus the $7.5M Marquis cost, and he seems like he could very well improve on his 2011 performance.
  • Byron Kerr has a rather effusive article on Sammy Solis (calling his fastball “lethal” and “high-velocity?”  Sorry Byron; he’s got #3 starter stuff, not Randy Johnson-esque power) and his efforts to learn a new pitch; a regular curve-ball.  Solis has used a knuckle-curve that spins/breaks more violently, but is harder to control.  He’s reached the point in his career where he needs alternatives to fastballs and change-ups that he can count on, and hopefully this helps him to the next level.  This is a common theme; high schoolers with merely upper 80s stuff can routinely get away with blowing the ball by most of the opposing lineups of weakling 16-18yr olds and sometimes experience a reality check when going up against hitters who can make the adjustment.
  • The Nats exposed Brian Bixler to waivers (i.e., designated him for assignment to remove him from the 40-man) and he got claimed by the Astros.  Not a major loss (he had a 47 ops+ last season), but still someone who could have helped out next year had he passed through to our AAA roster and been able to be “stashed” in Syracuse.  Best of luck to him.  His position is easily replaced from within from someone like Lombardozzi, or on the FA market similar to our 2011 signings of Hairston and Cora.
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