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Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 11/18/11 edition

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With more Wild Cards, get ready to see scenes like this more and more. AP Photo via infopop.cc

Here’s a weekly wrap up of Nats-related news items, along with other general interest baseball articles, with my thoughts as appropriate.  (Note: these news items are more or less chronological in the Saturday-to-Friday blog post news cycle i’m using, with me going back and adding in clarifying links as needed).

  • Great news: Wilson Ramos was rescued with apparently on 11/11/11 no bodily harm and no ransom paid.  This is a great end to this saga, which really could have gone so much worse for Ramos and his family.  Mark Zuckerman reports on the details of the rescue.
  • Interesting read from Jon Paul Morosi, who interviews an anonymous american player about life in the Venezuelan Winter League.  The player wanted to stay anonymous, but he didn’t seem to really say anything of note that would require protecting his identity.  Better safe than sorry though.
  • Joe Sheehan, writing for si.com, mentions both Bryce Harper and Sammy Solis in his AFL review of players to watch on 11/10/11.  He saw Solis’ 4-inning/9 K game and was impressed.  I would be to if a 6’5″ lefty could throw 94mph and punch out guys at will.  That’s Solis’ “ceiling.”
  • As if it wasn’t enough to do analysis of the current FA crop, Buster Olney apparently was bored and did a year-too-early analysis of the 2012 free agent crop.  I only post this because it corresponds with one of my frequent matras about this off season; don’t waste your FA dollars competing for 2-3 front-line pitchers.  Wait for 2012 when there’s 10-12 good candidates.
  • More BA links related to the Nats top 10 prospects, announced last week.  Here’s the free version of the top-10 with scouting reports, the Organization quick-overview page.
  • BA’s Jim Callis 11/9/11 editorial piece about how the Nats picked “a good time to be bad.”
  • For Yu Darvish fans, yet another scouting reportAnd another oneTom Verducci posted a very well done piece demonstrating how most pitchers from NPB hit “The Wall” 2 years into their MLB careers, also noting that there has never been a single Japanese pitcher to make more than one all-star team.  Fangraphs.com has a bunch more articles on Darvish from a few weeks ago, and BaseballAmerica has some as well for you to find at your leisure.  Side-story: In one of the weekly chats last week (can’t remember which one) a very good point was made about using previous Japanese pitchers as comparisons to Darvish.  The chat-host flat out called it racist.  I have certainly drawn those same comparisons, looking at player’s birth place (as a way of determining NPB-graduates) and asking whether or not there’s ever been a huge success story for a Japanese-born pitcher.  I don’t view this as racist; just factual.  When I point out that there’s never been (for example) a French-born star baseball player, there isn’t a subsequent implication that “there fore all French baseball players are crap.”  Therefore I will continue to point out that Darvish, as a NPB-graduate, comes with risk no matter what his scouting report or genetic make up happens to be.  And my stance is that the risk involved isn’t worth the likely 9-figure price tag.
  • Wow the Marlins are doing some serious FA inquiries.  Rumors this week that they’re talking with Jose Reyes, Albert Pujols, Mark Buehrle AND new Cuban FA Yoenis Cespedes.  Those players alone would probably represent something in the range of $400M of guaranteed contracts.  I just have a really hard time believing that this club, which has sucked revenue sharing money for years and easily transferred it into the owner’s pockets, will suddenly do an about-face and actually spend the money they need to be competitive.  Really hard time believing it until I see it.  Jeff Passan agrees with me.
  • Thanks to DistrictOnDeck for transcribing a few points of the Mike Rizzo-Jim Bowden conversation on mlb radio this week.  I can’t help but taking note of the glaring discrepancy in Rizzo’s double-speak when it comes to pitching.  Despite having his 1-2-3 already being set for the 2012 rotation (Strasburg, Zimmermann, Lannan) and re-signing Wang this week, Rizzo still says that at the same time he wants to “bring in another starter” AND have the likes of Milone/Peacock/Detwiler compete for the 5th starter.  Well, which is it?  Because if you buy another FA starter, there is no 5th spot available.  Not unless we’re about to see a non-tender for John Lannan.
  • Excellent post from David Schoenfeld, in the wake of the Ryan Madson $44M contract being withdrawn, about the value of closers and the need to have a marquee closer at all in the modern game.  In the post, he lists the named closers of the past 10 WS winners, and his point is this; its littered with names of guys who were clearly not elite-level closers.
  • Interesting opinion piece from Jim Breen on FanGraphs about Hard-Slotting.  Breen posits the same opinion i’ve read over and over from Keith Law in the anti-draft slotting camp; they both claim it will “drive players to other sports.”  They use names like Zach Lee, Bubba Starling, and Archie Bradley as recent examples of guys who were legitimate 2-sport stars and were “bought” out of football commitments at major Div-I universities by virtue of the large bonuses they received.  Here’s the problem I have with this stance: where’s the proof?  I just have a hard time believing that these athletes, when presented with a choice, would have a larger-than-slot bonus make up their minds.  You’re either a baseball-first player or not, irrespective of your talents and desires in a secondary sport.  Nowhere in these arguments have I ever seen an interview or a survey where these two-sport stars are actually asked the basic question, “Would you be playing college football if your guaranteed baseball bonus was smaller than what you got.”  Its all assumptions, and this article is no different (posting the assumption that Lee “would not be playing  baseball right now if there was a hard-slotting system.”
  • Good information to know from Dave Cameron‘s fangraphs chat: the BABIP on ground-balls is .235 for ground balls, .130 for fly balls, .720 for line drives.  Cool.
  • Here’s a funny article from Baseball Prospectus on Hot Stove League terminology and how to interpret it.
  • Joe Lemire writes a great piece highlighting the safety issues and general decline of Venezuelan baseball over the past decade, in light of the Ramos kidnapping.
  • I first took note of Tax issues during last off-season’s Cliff Lee sweepstakes, noting that he faced perhaps a 12% difference in salary by taking a deal to stay in Texas versus New York.  Eric Seidman looks at the same issue and more with his great article in FanGraphs titled “Jock Tax.”  Conclusion; taxes for athletes are ridiculously complex.
  • Phillies sign Jonathan Papelbon to a 4 yr/$50M contract.  Well, I guess they’re not going to be re-signing Ryan Madson. The Phillies resign Papelbon basically for the same money they had been paying Brad Lidge, so its not going to directly lead to an increase in their payroll.  But as someone who openly questions the value of closers in general, I have to criticize the move as wasting money on a player they could replace from within for a fraction of the cost.  David Schoenfield agrees with this sentiment.
  • Adam Kilgore has a nice little primer on the upcoming GM and Owners meetings in Milwaukee.  He does some quick Nats off-season planning analysis, and I agree with him that it’s looking more and more like the team is going to pursue someone like Mark Buehrle or Roy Oswalt, meaning that the Detwiler/Peacock/Milone battle for 5th starter may not actually happen.  This would imply the team is looking to trade these guys, presumably for CF talent.  Lots of moving parts.
  • Si.com’s Jon Heyman broke news on 11/14 from the GM meetings that prospective Houston Astro’s owner Jim Crane has accepted the condition of moving his team to the AL west as a prerequisite to ownership approval.   Interleague blurring, here we come.  ESPN reports that this MLB “demand” was a condition of the sale of the team to Crane.  You have to love Bud Selig and his hard-line ways, given his precious anti-trust exemption.
  • The Nats outrighted both Cole Kimball and Corey Brown from the 40-man on 11/16/11 and lost Kimball to Toronto.  My thoughts here along with a healthy discussion.
  • Courtesy of Craig Caltaterra, a fantastic blog entry just crucifying Peter Angelos.
  • Op-ed piece about proposed draft changes, from ESPN’s David Shoenfeld.
  • Another Collective bargaining agreement fall out: elimination of compensation picks for type-B free Agents.  Probably a wise move; type B free agents are usually not valued nearly as much as a supplemental first round pick, leading to hijinks in the draft system by teams who covet these picks.  Frankly, the revampment to the system that needs to be done is the reliever classification.  How is Darren Oliver, a 41-yr old loogy possibly a type A free agent??  That classification immediately eliminates half the league from even looking at him, and probably the other half as well (meaning they’d be giving up a 2nd round pick at worst).  The union has to be upset at the way their veteran players have their job movement limited by this classification.  Ironically, about 5 minutes after I wrote this, Buster Olney also used Oliver as an example as to why the system needs to change.
  • In the “no surprise here” category, Hanley Ramirez isn’t keen on switching positions should the Marlins, who have been woo-ing every FA out there this off season, somehow acquire Jose Reyes.  Ramirez is pretty much the ultimate non-team player and the Marlins have spent far too long coddling him and cow-towing to his demands.  Good luck EVER getting him to agree to anything that isn’t Hanley-first.
  • Ex-Nats rumors: Jason Marquis apparently has interest from his “hometown” NY Mets for a 2012 contract.  I say that’s great news for the Veteran hurler, who had to be dismayed when he broke his leg in a contract year.  Even if its a non-guaranteed deal, or for significantly less money than he got from us two years ago (2yrs $15M), he deserves another shot.
  • Interesting side effect of MLB’s obscure player transaction rules: by virtue of the Angels only sending Mike Trout down for 17 days instead of 20, the demotion still counted towards his 2011 service time.  This has two implications: Trout officially now has served his rookie season and won’t be eligible for the 2012 Rookie of the Year award, AND the Angels now are in serious jeopardy of exposing Trout to eventual “Super-2″ status.  The first point is a slight shame for Trout, who seems set to rocket into prominence in this league based on his minor league production.  The second point is “shame on the Angels” for not knowing the rules; if Trout is as good as promised, this mistake could cost them millions and millions of dollars.  WP Dave Sheinen did a great study about Stephen Strasburg‘s super-2 status, comparing it to Tim Lincecum‘s, and concluded that avoiding super-2 for superstars can save a team almost $20Million.  Seriously.
  • Why is this news?  The Nats and Ryan Zimmerman, a player who is signed through 2013 havn’t talked about a contract extension.  So what?  This shouldn’t be news until NEXT off-season.  I don’t care that Kemp signed a big deal, or that Braun got locked up for a few more years, or that Tulowitzki signed a ridiculous deal through 2020.  Just because YOU jumped off a bridge doesn’t mean I have to.  If i’m the Nats GM, I wouldn’t sign on for an 8year contract, let alone a 5year, for a guy who has missed significant chunks of the last few seasons through injury until I saw him back at the 155-160 game level.  He’s only 26, but has already had three major injuries (hamate bone surgery, left labrum and this year’s abdomen surgery).  Plus he missed the last couple weeks of the 2010 season with a muscle strain.  That’s a lot of medical on a young guy.  Maybe the musings of some other Nats bloggers on the topic could have some credence.
  • Its official; two wild cards coming in 2013Judge Landis is rolling in his grave.  Actually I’m somewhat ok with this news; I think more needs to be done to mitigate the possibilities of Wild Cards winning the World Series.  If a play-in round is introduced that thins your pitching staff and makes it harder to advance, i’m all for it.  I’m not a 100% traditionalist but I do like to see teams that win the most regular season games actually competing for the World Series, instead of the St. Louis Cardinals sneaking in as a last-second wild card and winning the championship.

Tell me again why Holland wasn’t the game 7 starter?

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Would game 7 have gone differently if Holland had thrown on full rest? Photo unk via businessinsider.com

I know this is going to sound like a classic “hindsight is 20/20″ post, but you can ask my wife (who listened to me ask this same question when Derek Holland came in to pitch relief in game 6 and Matt Harrison took the mound to start game 7) for confirmation that I was already asking this question prior to the outcome of last night’s game 7.

Why didn’t Ron Washington use the extra day off gifted to him by the rain delay on October 26th and use Holland on full rest as his 7th game starter?

I’m sure the answer you get from the old-school Washington is that Harrison did nothing to “lose” the opportunity to take his normally scheduled rotation spot, despite taking the loss in game 3 and giving up 5 runs (3 earned) on 6 hits in 3 2/3 innings.  However, in the post season you ride the hot hand and you go with your best arms.  That’s why Chris Carpenter was on the mound in game 7 on 3 days rest instead of Kyle Lohse (the starter opposite Harrison in Game 4 and the scheduled starter) and that’s why Washington should have gone with Holland (on a short leash) instead of Harrison.

Instead, we got a predictable result; Harrison knocked out of game 7 after a 4 innings and 3 runs and took another loss.  Washington had to go to his shredded bullpen early again, and it cost him.  Scott Feldman walked 3 guys, CJ Wilson forced in another run by hitting a batter with the first pitch he threw and the game was effectively out of reach.

Coincidentally, Wilson finishes off a post season where he was the “ace” starter yet issued a post-season record number of walks and had a 5.79 era.  He had one effective start and three awful ones.  Please, Mike Rizzo, think long and hard before throwing ace money at this guy.  I’ve said it in several spaces before; I think Wilson is a good, effective mid-rotation pitcher who will get vastly overpaid this summer (think John Lackey) and will fail to live up to the contract.  You can see this coming a mile away.  With one Nats player already fitting that contract description (ahem Jayson Werth), lets not saddle the team with another.

As for the series itself, I didn’t feel the need to write my own “Game 6 was the best ever” post after waking up and reading 20 others from every baseball columnist that I follow in RSS.  But i’ll say it here; Game 6 was the best baseball game I’ve ever personally witnessed.  Several times I stated aloud that the “game was over,” only to follow that up with an audible “wow” when the Cards hitters would reach back and get a clutch hit to tie the game late.  Game 7 featured more clutch hitting, with David Freese picking up right where he left off the previous night and keeping his team (and the crowd) in the game early.  You have to hand it to both teams; they slugged their way into the World Series and the series featured a ton of power, lots of clutch hitting, lots of offense and little in the way of clutch pitching.

Side note: I hate the trend of naming things that just happened or current players “the best ever;” we saw it when Albert Pujols hit 3 homers earlier in the series (despite their being relatively meaningless in the grand scheme of that blow out victory) and we saw it again within hours of the end of Game 6.  Does Game 6 stand up to the immortal World Series games played in 2001, 1991, 1988, 1986, 1975 or 1960?  We think so, but we won’t really know for years to come.  Why isn’t it enough to just say, “Wow, that was one of the best games i’ve ever seen” and leave it at that?

What does Texas take away from this World Series?  Despite having a great 7th-8th-9th inning set of relievers in Mike Adams, Darren Oliver and Neftali Feliz, their bullpen failed them badly this off season.  Ogando had an era in the 11′s for the post season.  So did Oliver.  Their bullpen blew THREE save chances in the infamous game 6.  All credit to the team for making it back to the World Series after losing Cliff Lee, but clearly the team needs a bit more starting depth to outlast a 7-game series against a quality team.  To that end, look for Texas to work long and hard on retaining Wilson, moving Feliz to the starting rotation and supplementing their bullpen for next year.

Welcome to the off-season!