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Ladson’s Inbox 11/5/13 edition

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Can Roark win a 2014 rotation job? Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

Can Roark win a 2014 rotation job? Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

Well, we finally got a manager, so hopefully MLB.com Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson will stop taking “Who do you think the next Nats Manager” questions.  I’m not ruling it out though :-)  Nonetheless, here’s the latest Ladson inbox, dated 11/5/13.  As always, I write my response before reading his and edit questions for clarity.

Q: Will Davey Johnson still play a role in the organization?

A: Who cares?  Does it matter?  Whatever role Davey Johnson could play would have so little significance on the on-field play of the 2014 team that I find it useless to even speculate.  I’m sure the Nats offered him a limited role out of respect, and I’d assume Johnson accepted it as long as it allowed him to go relax in Florida for a while, hoping another managerial job opens up.  Ladson expects he’ll consult to the team and advise on trades and FA signings because he’s such a great “talent evaluator.”  Hey Bill; if Johnson was such a great talent evaluator why exactly did he run Danny Espinosa out for so many at-bats?  Why didn’t he push to make a change in the rotation when it was clear that Dan Haren wasn’t pitching at even a replacement-level?  How come he didn’t see the rising talent that made such a difference in September?

Q: After Stephen StrasburgGio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann, how do you see the rest of the rotation shaking out?

A: A good question.  After going into the 2013 season with almost no high-minors starting pitching depth, you have to think the team is going to cover themselves for 2014.  So count on there being more seemingly worthy candidates than roles going into spring training 2014.  The answer to this question may depend on payroll issues: right now Cots has the Nats with about $80M committed for 2014 prior to its arbitration cases, which MLBtraderumor’s Matt Swartz is estimating will run the team another $37.3M (which honestly I think is slightly low).  That’s roughly $117M in payroll before even looking at a single FA candidate.   You could save some of this money with non-tenders or trades (Tyler Clippard at $6.2M is a candidate to be moved), but not enough to get an impact player.

Will the ownership group expand the payroll even more for 2014, knowing their “window” with this group of players is shrinking?  Or will they stay the course and know that nearly $30M of mostly underperforming veteran FAs (LaRocheSpanSoriano) come off the books after next season, allowing them to reload in the FA market towards 2015 and beyond?

If ownership frees up some cash, by trade/non-tender or by expansion of the payroll limit, there are FA pitchers to be had.  I’ve seen more than one pundit with the Nats linked to Matt Garza, but I don’t see it; I don’t think he’s worth what people seem to think he’s going to get (4 yrs/$60M).  More likely is the team going with a modification of the Edwin Jackson/Dan Haren plan and getting a reclamation project in the ilk of Josh Johnson on a one-year/low paying contract with big incentives.

Less predictable is the trade acquisition.  Nobody saw the Gio Gonzalez trade coming until it happened, and something similar could happen now.  The team is in the same position generally this off-season as it was in 2011 in terms of having a slight surplus of closer-to-the-majors arms and bats and could put together a similar package.  If we moved Brad PeacockTommy MiloneDerek Norris and A.J. Cole for Gonzalez in 2011 (or in otherwords, a good-looking starter with great initial call-up numbers, a solid lefty starter who dominated AAA, a decent looking catcher prospect and a high-leverage low-minors prospect) would a similar package of something like Tanner RoarkNathan Karns, Eury Perez and Robbie Ray fetch a #2 starter in the trade market?   Oakland isn’t facing the same issue they were in 2011 with any of its pitchers, so the most likely eager-to-make-a-trade GM in Billy Beane is out.  But that being said, they’re paying Brett Anderson a LOT of money for Oakland’s payroll (roughly 1/6th of their payroll for next year), and he could be moved.  Anderson wouldn’t cost nearly this much in prospects, but would be a huge risk; he hasn’t pitched a full season in years.

Meanwhile everyone knows Tampa is looking to move David Price, but any trade for him has to start with your two best prospects and build from there, and the Nats are just back to the point where the farm system is looking respectable again.  I’m not sure the Nats are going to be willing to give up what the Rays will demand.  The Nats have done business lately with the Chicago Cubs, who may look to move the arbitration-eligible Jeff Samardzija, but they’d be selling incredibly low on him after his poor 2013.  Lastly the Tigers reportedly are considering moving Max Scherzer, who enters his last year of arbitration looking for a big pay day and with Ken Rosenthal reporting that the Nats are his best fit, but I just cannot see purposely moving a Cy Young winner and disrupting a team that continues to be one of the best in the AL.

With no FA acquisitions and no trades, I see a competition next spring that likely sees Ross Detwiler in the 4th spot (no options, theoretically healthy again), Tanner Roark in the 5th spot (he keeps his spot until he shows that his remarkable September numbers are human), Ross Ohlendorf as the spot starter/long man in the MLB pen, and Taylor Jordan-Nathan Karns being the #1 and #2 starters in AAA Syracuse.  Some speculate that Detwiler would lose out to both Roark and Jordan and become a lefty out of the pen … but I don’t see that.  I’m not counting it out, but I don’t see that happening if he’s healthy.

With any significant FA acquisition or trade, you line up Stras-Gio-Zimmermann-New Acquisition and Detwiler to start off 2014, just as you did in 2013.   Roark and Ohlendorf likely work out of the MLB pen and Jordan/Karns still in AAA.   Maybe Karns comes up and works the 7th inning as well, while Jordan remains starter insurance plan #1.

Ladson also mentions Price, also mentions what I do about the difficulties lining up, thinks the Nats will acquire someone for #4 spot and then says Roark has the inside edge on #5 spot, even over Detwiler (who he thinks could move to the bullpen). 

Q: What did you think about the Nationals hiring Williams as manager last week?

A: Well, I guess Ladson had to get in one last question about the managerial situation.  My take: I like the move, I think Matt Williams‘ combination of successful playing career and MLB coaching experience will instantly give him the respect of the veterans and the rookies on this team.   He will get this team in line, he will bring some old-school notions to this team and won’t back down in a fight (as Johnson clearly did with Atlanta all year).  I think he will give this team the spine it lacked and will do nothing but help move the team forward.

One other opinion; I do see some critics who say that Williams’ lack of direct managerial experience at any level hurts him.  I say BS; he was a major league coach for four years, working underneath a successful, respected manager.  He presumably contributed to the decision making process, got to witness first hand how decisions worked out, got to decide for himself how he would have handled situations, and in some ways I think this experience supercedes being a manager of a lower-level ball-club where there’s no egos and just a bunch of kids who you can cower into submission.

Ladson says its too early to tell, but that Williams had a great news conference.  Honestly I didn’t really expect much of an answer here from an employee of MLB.

Q: What is Christian Garcia‘s status? Will he join the Nationals in 2014? He was a great late addition to the bullpen in 2012.

A: He’s finally healthy, and pitching in the Mexican Winter League.  I think the team sees the error of its ways in trying to convert the injury-riddled pitcher to being a starter.  He’s working as a reliever in winter ball, and I hope to see him continue to work as a reliever in the spring.  I’d love to see him earn a spot in the bullpen; lord knows the team could use one more reliable arm in the 6th/7th inning (Ryan Mattheus needs to be on guard; your spot is in jeopardy for 2014).  Ladson agrees with everything I’ve said.

Q: Do you think the Nationals will trade Danny EspinosaTyler Moore and Steve Lombardozzithis winter or sign a couple free agents? I believe they need a lefty middle reliever, a left-handed bat coming off the bench and a veteran backup catcher.

A: Trading any of those three guys after the seasons they had at the plate would be selling incredibly low.  So no, I don’t think any of them get moved unless they’re part of a larger deal.  Espinosa needs to get healthy, learn how to hit left handed, and build trade value.  I believe he can be a valuable player for someone, somewhere, just based on his incredible defense.  But he has to hit better than .150.  Moore needs to return to his 2012 power ways, but I still see him as a useful player who we have no reason to trade; he still has options, he’s still pre-arbitration and thus he’s cheap.  Lombardozzi is the quintessential utility guy; he can play 2nd, 3rd, left, right.  You have to have one of these guys around … and if he can’t hit, it is’t going to kill you.  But when this player gets 300 ABs (as Lombardozzi got last year) … then you have a problem.  This is why the team got Scott Hairston and why they’re likely to give some looks to Zach Walters in 2014.   Maybe the team looks for a cheap veteran to replace Chad Tracy but i’d hope for a bit more positional flexibility.

I can also see the team kicking the tires on a veteran lefty but don’t entirely see the need; Ian Krol may have faltered down the stretch but he was mostly good.  Abad was good.  Cedeno was good.  We have all these guys locked up.  You see who wins a competition and switch them out if they’re ineffective.

Ladson thinks Espinosa is getting traded no matter what, and has played his last game as a National.

Q: Are Gold Glove Awards given with consideration to the offensive stats of a player? Otherwise, how could Denard Span miss out on the award this year?

A: They’re not supposed to be … but we all know old habits die hard and bit players who are awful at the plate often times have a hard time getting a Gold Glove.  Span as it turned out led all NL centerfielders in one defensive metric (Total Zone Total Fielding Runs), but I have zero problem with the NL winner Carlos Gomez.  Ladson says he was “shocked” that Span didn’t win, and then used “# of errors” as a metric.  Poor form Ladson; you need to reference some of the advanced stats in question.  Gomez led the NL in Defensive Runs Saved, one of the two major defensive metrics.  So your argument fails.  Span may have great range, but he wasn’t best in the Ultimate Zone Ratings measurement either.  See the Fielding Awards spreadsheet link to the right to see all the leaders in one place.

Ladson’s Inbox 6/24/13

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What a week!  Both Bill Ladson and Tom Boswell doing chats/email inboxes!  As I sit here as my flight has been delayed a second time, I find myself with the time to bang out Ladson’s latest inbox.

As always, I write my response here before reading Ladson’s and edit questions as needed for clarity.

Q: With right-hander Dan Haren going on the disabled list, is it possible the Nationals will try and trade for left-hander Cliff Lee or another top-of-the-rotation pitcher near the Trade Deadline?

A: Rumors on the street are that Mike Rizzo is working the phones, hard.  That sounds to me like he’s looking for serious reinforcements to try to salvage this “go for broke” season.  But somehow I seriously doubt it’ll be Cliff Lee.  Lee is owed too much money, he’s already 34, and the likelihood of Philadelphia dealing intra-division seems remote.  There’s plenty of other pundits out there reviewing the likely pitchers on the Trade market and there’s some intriguing names out there.  But it’ll be a sellers market and the Nats farm system has already been thinned recently.  Will they thin it even more in a desperate attempt to keep the 2013 dream alive?  I hope not; we’re already seeing how poorly thought out trades by other teams in similar positions have backfired and cost their teams significant prospect depth.  As others have noted, Ladson predicts the callup of Taylor Jordan for the time being.  Lets hope he comes out of no where and pitches 6 shutout innings.

Q: Does Wilson Ramos remind you a bit of Jesus Flores — a promising young catcher who can’t seem to stay off the disabled list?

A: Yeah, except that Ramos is twice the size of Flores and still can’t stay healthy.  That Kurt Suzuki move is looking better and better.  Derek Norris has yet to really pan out in the majors for Oakland (hitting below .200 this year and for his career), and Suzuki is holding down the fort for now.  That being said, we need Ramos back to spell Suzuki, who seems to be tiring as he catches the large majority of the innings.  Ladson doesn’t say much … but says the Nats miss Ramos.  Duh.

Q: Is there any chance we might see Ryan Zimmerman at second base?

A: Zero chance.  He’s a big dude; he’s not a 2nd baseman.  Now, Anthony Rendon looks like a 2-bagger to me.  Shorter guy, agile, quick arm, good glove.   Ladson agrees.

Q: What do you think of the Nats’ start this year, compared to last? Are they a stronger team?

A: Lots of injuries, lots of under-performing on the offense, and a couple of depressing pitching issues.  They’re better than a .500 team but they need to have at least a league-average offense (not one of the worst).  Ladson says they need Harper back.  Duh.

 

 

 

Ladson’s inbox 1/28/13

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Espinosa's shoulder injury is the big news this week. Photo AP Photo/Nick Wass

These Inboxes are coming fast and furious!  Its almost like we’re just a few days away from Pitchers and Catchers reporting or something.  I should do an inbox response.  Except nobody emails me any questions.   Sometimes I wonder who emails Bill Ladson some of these questions, frankly, especially the people who keep asking about who the manager will be in 2014.  Anyway, here’s his 1/28/13 inbox and how i’d have responded.

Q: What is the status of Chris Marrero? Does he figure to contribute in the Major Leagues at all this year?

A: The phrase “what have you done for me lately” never seems more appropriate than when talking about Chris Marrero.   In November 2007 he was listed by Baseball America as our #1 prospect.   #1 over the likes of Detwiler, Zimmermann, Maxwell, Clippard, Desmond, Peacock, Norris and even Bernadina.    A season-ending injury in 2008, slow progress up our system and then last off-season’s torn hamstring have now dropped him to the Nats #23 ranked prospect overall.  #23 puts him behind “prospects” such as Corey Brown and right above 7-year minor leaguer Carlos Rivero.

The status of Marrero is this: he’s stuck at first-base, seemingly can’t play anywhere else, but doesn’t hit nearly enough homers in order to be a MLB first baseman.  So he seems sort of in a quandry.  Unless he suddenly turns into a 30-home run hitter over-night, or figures out how to play another position, he’s really in a tough spot.  On the Nats depth chart at 1B, he seems to be no better than 4th right now (LaRoche, Moore, Tracy).  That doesn’t bode well for him contributing at the MLB level.  It seems to me that the only way he’s playing meaningful minutes at first this year is if both LaRoche and Moore come down with season-ending injuries.

On the bright side; despite us hearing about him for years, he’s only 24.  But he’s running out of time.  He’ll burn his 3rd and last option in 2013 and isn’t going to be eligible for a 4th.  Marrero needs to hit lights out in AAA this year, get an injury on the big club and gets some big-league ABs, and build trade value.

Ladson has answered this question before and repeated his answer; he thinks Marrero needs to be traded.  Great idea!  Now, who exactly is going to trade for him right now?  And what exactly could the Nats get in return?  These sort of things matter when looking at trade candidates and it irritates me when they’re not taken into consideration by supposed “professionals” in the field.

Q: Given Danny Espinosa’s torn rotor cuff and disappointing second half last season, is there any chance Steve Lombardozzi will become the Opening Day starting second baseman?

A: Boy, the revelation that Danny Espinosa has a torn rotator cuff is big news to me.  Even though its in his non-throwing shoulder (obviously; if it was in his right shoulder he’d likely have had the surgery as soon as it happened), you have to think this affects his hitting.  In fact, the blog Nationals Review did just this yesterday in a great bit of analysis: before the estimated injury date Espinosa was hitting 255/.321/.416.  Afterwards (including his awful playoffs): .156/.241/.234.  That’s rather definitive, even if “after injury” only included a few weeks of the regular season and a 5-game series.

I think the injury gives the team a built-in excuse to replace him if he starts off the year struggling.  Opening Day though?  No way; Davey Johnson is a players’ manager, is old-school and will go with the team at hand unless someone gets hurt in Viera.  Ladson says lets see what happens in Spring Training.  I think that’s the baseball writer equivalent of an Economist saying, “It depends.”

Q: Do you think Johnson will sit Espinosa more often this season because of his injury?

A: Doubtful; he’s either going to produce or not.  If he doesn’t produce, look for him to be sent to the DL for surgery.  I don’t see him getting sat sporadically.  Ladson says that Espinosa won’t let that happen.  Last time I checked though, Espinosa was the player and Johnson was the manager.  So I’m not sure how he can make that command decision.

Q: What role do you foresee Christian Garcia playing this year?

A: I see Christian Garcia starting the year as a starter in AAA and then one of two things happening; either he hurts himself again, thus destroying the whole starter experiment.  Or, someone in the MLB bullpen gets hurt or gets ineffective (ahem, Henry Rodriguez anyone?) and Garcia-as-starter is scrapped as he’s brought up to pitch meaningful innings.  Ladson says he expects Garcia to be a bullpen member and doesn’t buy into the starter experiment.

Q: Assuming 2013 is Johnson’s final year, do you think his replacement will come from inside or outside the organization?

A: I just don’t get how people are obsessing over the 2014 manager.  Call me when the World Series is over and AFTER Johnson actually retires.  Ladson predicts someone from within.

Q: After Adam LaRoche’s contract runs out, could Ryan Zimmerman move across the diamond to first base and let Anthony Rendon play third?

A: This is exactly what I believe should happen.  My ideal world has Rendon hitting his way into a utility infielder role this year, pushing for more playing time next year (perhaps even forcing the Nats hand at 2nd base), and Zimmerman logically moving across the diamond to alleviate his mental issues with routine throws and to protect his body from the constant pounding he gets at 3rd.  Ladson wants Zimmerman at 3rd for a long time, apparently forgetting that Zimmerman increasingly has difficulty making routine throws and being incredibly fragile.

Q: What are the chances of the Nats opening the season with Bryce Harper in right field and Jayson Werth in left?

A: Zero.  But, honestly, Werth in left is a better defensive team.  Harper‘s so good in center while Werth‘s range is eroding in right, it just makes more sense to switch them up.  Why won’t it happen on opening day?  Deference to the veteran.  Deference to the contract.  I expect the OFs to switch around and get each of them playing time in all three positions.  Ladson says that Harper is more comfortable in left while Werth is an “above-average” right fielder.  Uh, not according to UZR/150, which had Werth at a very poor -14.2 in 2012.  Harper belongs in RF but it won’t happen overnight.

Nats Franchise Draft history; biggest, best, worst Draft Picks

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Face of the Franchise Zimmerman easily represents the best player drafted in the Washington era (by WAR). Photo team official

This is the Third in a long-delayed series of “Best of” posts, breaking down the transactions of both the club’s General Managers.  Previously:

1. Biggest/Best/Worst Trades in Nats History (March 2012)

2. Biggest/Best/Worst Free Agent signings in Nats History (November 2012).

Here’s Part 3: looking at the Biggest, Best and Worst Draft picks the team has made since arriving here in Washington.

Ground rules for this article:

1. Unlike the trades and free agent posts, assiging “credit” or “blame” for draft picks on the General Manager is not entirely straightforward.  Baseball teams rely heavily on Scouting Directors and their staffs when it comes to the draft, especially once you get past the first few rounds.  So, perhaps for the purposes of this article it is better to talk about the “Reign of Jim Bowden” and the “Reign of Mike Rizzo” instead of insinuating that every draft decision was made by the GM during these times.  Much like the President of the US gets credit/blame when  the US economy as a whole rises or falls (whether or not you’d like to argue that a president’s decisions can influence a multi-trillion dollar economy), so does the GM get the credit/blame for his staff’s draft picks.  Most baseball pundits that I’ve read generally say that the GM/Team Ownership is always directly involved in making any 1st round and supplemental first round picks (because of the money), and will be involved if over-slot bonuses come up in later rounds, but that by the 5th round or so the entire draft is being conducted without the GM’s involvement.  Which leads us to point #2…

2. Related to #1; Mike Rizzo, whom Bowden hired in July of 2006, may not have been the Scouting Director but he certainly had a say in the drafts (coming from a scouting background in Arizona).   I’ll list scouting directors tenure here as well, related to #1 and #2.  But, it probably isn’t going to be entirely fair to the GM to say that such-and-such a pick was “good” or “bad” if it was actually being done by his staff.

3.  It is entirely “hindsight is 20/20″ in nature.  But, it is what it is.  If you draft a 1st rounder who flames out in low-A, he’s a failure.  If you draft a major leaguer in the 21st round, he’s a fantastic success.  Mostly here in judging the “best draft picks” I’m looking for value in later rounds.  As it turns out judging “worst” draft picks mostly will be around first round busts.

Just for review, here’s the tenure period of both GMs:

  • Nov 2004 – Mar 2009: Jim Bowden
  • Mar 2009 – present: Mike Rizzo

And here’s the tenure period of Scouting Directors during our time here in Washington:

  • Mid 2002 – Mar 2009: Dana Brown
  • Mar 2009 – Present: Kris Kline

The quintessential Nats Draft resource is the Draft Tracker Spreadsheet, initially created by NatsFarm.com’s Brian Oliver and now maintained by “SpringfieldFan. ” It has all our draft picks, where they came from and signing bonuses.  A file I’ve kept recently (The Draft Prospects Worksheet) is a file I started to create when the Nats started getting some upper-end draft picks as a way to track who we may take.  Lastly, you can query the entire amateur draft results per team at baseball-reference.com (the link will go to the 2009 draft by way of example).

Jim Bowden Tenure: Nov 2004 – Mar 2009

Bowden’s Biggest Draft Picks (in terms of dollars committed).

  • 2005 1st rnd: Ryan Zimmerman, $2.975M
  • 2007 1st rnd: Ross Detwiler, $2.1M
  • 2007 6th rnd: Jack McGeary: $1.8M
  • 2006 1st rnd: Chris Marrero: $1.6M
  • 2006 1st rnd: Colten Willems: $1.4M

Bowden’s Best Draft Picks

  • 2005 11th rnd: John Lannan out of Siena College.  A durable and servicable lefty starter with MLB average numbers out of a small college in the 11th round is a great find.
  • 2005 12th rnd: Craig Stammen out of Dayton.  He didn’t look as if he’d be successful until his transition to the bullpen, where his arm action and movement have baffled hitters during his shorter reliever stints.
  • 2006 41st rnd: Brad Peacock out of a Florida HS as a “draft and follow” guy (which enabled teams to take late round fliers on good talent, so this isn’t exactly the same as finding a true 41st round player who made the majors, since Peacock likely wouldn’t have been taken without the DDE rules in place and would have been an upper round draft pick the next season he was eligible).
  • 2007 2nd rnd: Jordan Zimmermann out of U Wisconsin Stevens Point (not because of his draft position, but because of the scouting out of such a small school).  Zimmermann survived TJ surgery and now looks like a hidden Ace in the making.
  • 2007 4th rnd: Derek Norris out of a Kansas HS: possibly the best HS player the team has drafted since arriving in DC.
  • 2008 10th rnd: Tommy Milone out of USC.  Rizzo may not have rated him, but he looks to be in Oakland’s rotation for many years to come.
  • 2008 16th rnd: Tyler Moore out of Mississippi State.  Scouts continually have downplayed Moore’s power; I have never read a scouting report on Moore that didn’t focus on “holes in his swing” or “defensive liabilities.”  All he’s done is mash the ball at every level he’s been challenged with in his career.
  • 2008 19th rnd: Steve Lombardozzi out of St. Petersburg JuCo.  Despite his pedigree (his father played in the Majors in parts of 6 seasons), Lombardozzi was lightly pursued and surprisingly signed as a late round JuCo draftee.  He’s scraped his way to the top though and could find himself starting if the team decides to move Espinosa.

Despite the issues at the top of the 2008 draft, it may have been Bowden’s best.  He took no less than 6 guys who now are on 25-man rosters in this league (Milone, Moore, Lombardozzi, Espinosa, and Crow).  2005 wasn’t bad either, with 7 guys that have MLB appearances (though only 3 remain with the team).

Bowden’s Worst Draft Picks

  • 2006: almost the entire draft.  Bowden blew the first 6 picks on high schoolers, the best of whom was Chris Marrero, who has contributed -0.7 WAR in his career thus far.  First round pick Colten Willems flamed out and just gave up playing in the middle of the 2010 season, Stephen Englund was released (but not before earning a 50-game suspension for Amphetemine usage), Sean Black didn’t sign and Stephen King has yet to succeed above A-ball despite being in his his 6th pro season (and, just for good measure, had his own 50-game drug suspension in 2009).  Only one player in the top 12 rounds of picks even played a day in the majors.  Just a complete debacle of a draft.
  • 2007′s high schoolers: Smoker, Souza, Burgess, and Smolinkski: all top 3 round picks, all busts.
  • 2007′s Jack McGeary, who insisted (admirably) on also going to college, but probably at the detriment of his baseball career.  I’m sorry; if someone pays you $1.8M dollars in cash, you probably should work for that money.   McGeary never was able to master anything above rookie ball and was so under-valued by the team that they failed to protect him in the minor league phase of the 2012 Rule 5 draft (where he was subsequently taken by Boston).
  • The 2008 Aaron Crow debacle.  Yes I know that this pick turned into 2009′s Drew Storen.  And yes I know that Crow has now been turned into a middle reliever while Storen has turned into an effective closer.  At the time, this move helped continue the “incompetent” labels that the organization was earning, as Bowden reportedly refused to negotiate with Crow’s agents and failed to do his due diligence before drafting the player.  Who is to say whether Crow’s electric arm wouldn’t have turned into a regular rotation member in our organization (Kansas City doesn’t exactly have a stellar record of developing pitchers).  In the end, getting Storen and also not losing the opportunity cost of missing a year’s development time of a first round pick (by virtue of the rest of the team being so awful) ended up not hurting the team.  But it still goes down as a draft failure for Bowden.

Mike Rizzo Tenure: Mar 2009 – present

Rizzo’s Biggest Draft Picks (in terms of dollars committed).

  • 2009 1st rnd: Stephen Strasburg: $7.5M bonus, 15.1M guaranteed
  • 2010 1st rnd: Bryce Harper: $6.25M bonus, $9.9M guaranteed
  • 2011 1st rnd: Anthony Rendon: $6M, $7.2M guaranteed
  • 2011 3rd rnd: Matthew Purke: $2.75M bonus, $4.15M guaranteed
  • 2011 1st rnd (supplemental): Brian Goodwin: $3M
  • 2012 1st rnd: Lucas Giolito: $2.9M
  • 2011 1st rnd: Alex Meyer: $2M
  • 2010 4th rnd: A.J. Cole: $2M
  • 2009 1st rnd: Drew Storen: $1.6M

As we saw with the Free Agent post, Rizzo clearly had more money to work with from Ownership than Bowden did.  Spending $2M on a 4th round pick (AJ Cole) would have been unheard of in the Bowden reign.

Rizzo’s Best Draft Picks

  • 2009 12th rnd: Nathan Karns out of Texas Tech: Karns got 4th/5th round money in the 12th round but has been bedeviled by injuries until this year.  By now we know what he’s capable of; our organization’s Minor League pitcher of the Year earned a spot on the 40-man roster and could be in line for a 2013 late season call-up.  It could be too-early to tell, but right now this is looking like one of Rizzo’s best.
  • 2009 22nd rnd: Danny Rosenbaum out of Xavier; despite the team not protecting him and losing him in Rule-5, he had come out of no-where to be one of our best pitching prospects.
  • 2010 12th rnd: Robbie Ray out of a Tennessee HS; he had a great debut and has been steadily rising up the ranks.  The team was able to buy him out of a committment to the University of Arkansas by offering 2nd round money.
  • 2010 22nd rnd: Cameron Selik as a U Kansas senior has made it to AA and looks like a great later-round steal, especially for a college senior this low in the draft.
  • 2011 5th rnd: Matt Skole out of  Georgia Tech looks like he could be an excellent hitting prospect and is making it into the top 5 lists of Nationals prospects.
  • 2011 1st rnd supp: Brian Goodwin out of a Miami JuCo looks more advanced than anyone would have thought at this point, and could be pressing for playing time in 2013.  I don’t normally give plaudits for 1st round talents, but the team aggressively pursued and captured Goodwin at a time when it looked like he was heading to UNC.

Rizzo’s Worst Draft Picks

  • 2009 2nd rnd: Jeff Kobernus out of Cal Berkeley.  Perhaps less because of his production (which was mostly poor for his career), but moreso because the decision not to protect him and value your investment in the player, leading to his departure in the 2012 rule-5 draft.  No worries for Nats fans: Rizzo drafted almost the doppelganger of Kobernus in 2012: again taking a 2nd baseman from California in the second round (Tony Renda).  Lets hope it works out better this time.
  • 2009 3rd rnd: Trevor Holder out of Georgia.  A blatant punt on the draft pick to save money, Holder was a college senior with zero leverage and should have been offered closer to $1,000 instead of the $200,000 he got.  Holder has struggled for years in our system.  He did have a decent 2nd half in Harrisburg, so there is hope yet.  But 3rd round picks should have more promise than Holder has shown.
  • 2010 3rd rnd: Rick Hague out of Rice.  He hasn’t lived up to his 3rd round billing yet, though (to be fair) he has struggled with some injuries.

Rizzo’s Too Soon to Tell Draft Picks

  • 2010 2nd rnd: Sammy Solis was looking promising out of U San Diego, but has been side lined by Tommy John Surgery.
  • The 2011 college-arm gamble: Rizzo drafted dozens of college players this draft, stocking the system with experienced amateurs.
  • 2012 1st: the Lucas Giolito gamble won’t play itself out for a couple of years, but it is safe to say Rizzo went “all in” on this player.  A 1-1 talent but damaged goods upon drafting, the team is putting a lot of faith into its experience in dealing with hurlers going through Tommy John.
  • 2011 3rd: Matt Purke got a MLB deal and a whole lot of money, and has done relatively nothing to earn it because of lingering shoulder injuries.  I’m listing him as too early to tell, but the signs are not good.


We miss you; How Oakland’s Gio Gonzalez haul did in 2012

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We miss you Tommy; Glad to see you're doing well. Photo AP/Ben Margot via dailyrepublic.com

Nationals farm system observers certainly knew we gave up a ton of talent to acquire Gio Gonzalez back in late 2011.  Most of the pundits I read at the time thought the Nats overpaid for a high-walk guy who overly benefited from playing in the “pitcher friendly” Oakland Coliseum (I say that in quotes since the multi-year park factors for that stadium can be nearly neutral depending on which statistic and which time period you choose).  We know what we’ve gotten in Gonzalez so far; a gregarious, pro-team guy who pitched lights out in 2012, increasing his K/9 and decreasing his BB/9 from both last season and from his career norms and who led the majors in wins.  He struggled in the playoffs of course, but his 21 wins were a big reason we were in the playoffs in the first place.

How about our 4 former Nats?  How are they doing so far?  In rough order of impact:

1. Tommy Milone: 13-10 with a 3.74 ERA and 1.279 whip in 31 starts after winning Oakland’s #5 starter job out of camp.   His debut was a sterling 8-inning 3 hit gem, and his season was a series of sterling outings interrupted by blow-out starts.  Scouts routinely pegged him as a 4-A starter, with not enough stuff to last in the majors, but he got results for us last year and continued to get results this year.  He helped lead Oakland to an improbable AL West crown and was the team’s #2 starter in the playoffs.  For a guy that I thought was a 4-A starter, Oakland has to be happy to have him on their squad.

2. Brad Peacock: Oakland is keeping him as a starter for now, and he toiled the entire season in AAA in Sacramento.  However, Peacock took a significant step backwards in 2012, posting a 12-9 record with an astounding 6.01 ERA.  Even accounting for the known hitters parks in the Pacific Coast League, to go from a 3.19 ERA in Syracuse to nearly double that in Sacramento spells issues.   I still think he’s bound for a middle-relief role on account of his only really having two pitches, and on account of the amazing starter depth Oakland possesses in their system.  But, starter or reliever, Peacock has to pitch better in 2013.

3. Derek Norris returned to the hitting form that we all knew and loved a couple years back once he reached Oakland’s AAA squad.  He hit .271/.329/.477 in about a half season in Sacramento and was then called up.   His MLB numbers weren’t great (.201/.276/.349) but he’s young and the team traded away its 6 year starter in Kurt Suzuki (to the Nats as we all know; sending Oakland yet another catcher prospect in the process) so Norris could be getting his chance sooner than later.

4. AJ Cole, the “gem” of the trade completely melted in the High-A California league, with a 0-7 record and a 7.82 ERA in 8 starts.   He returned to form upon his return to low-A, going 6-3 with a 2.07 ERA in 19 starts in the Midwest league.  All is not lost; he’s only 20, and there’s no shame in a 20-yr old failing at his first shot at high-A (where you see a lot of college draftees in their second pro year).


One year later, how does this trade look for both teams?  My trade reaction post from December 2011 talked about how this trade would come down to how closely the four traded guys came to matching their “ceilings.”  One year later, I think its safe to say that Milone has surpassed his ceiling, Peacock is in danger of never even fulfilling his “floor,” Norris is somewhere in the middle and its just way too early to judge Cole.

Meanwhile Gonzalez has surpassed what anyone could have hoped for in his first season; I thought he was a #2 starter but he put in an “Ace” year.  He may not win the Cy Young but he’ll be in the top 3 in voting.  He’s clearly a great clubhouse guy, a skill that you cannot put a dollar figure on.

I think both teams probably do this deal again.  There were no “winners” and “losers” thus far; both teams got exactly what they wanted out of the trade.

Written by Todd Boss

October 15th, 2012 at 3:20 pm

Ask Boswell 3/5/12

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Here’s Tom Boswell‘s weekly Monday chat from 3/5/12.  Of the baseball questions he took, here’s how I’d have answered them.  While lots of questions pertained to the recent Gregg Williams “bounty” issues and whether or not the Redskins partook during his time here, the starting of spring training has got Nats fans pretty excited.

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

Q: What do you think the Nats w/l record will be?  Can they win 90 games?

A: For a team that won 80 last year (though their pythagorean W/L record was slightly worse), I don’t think its a stretch to assume they can improve another 10 games.  Mark Zuckerman did a nice little WAR analysis and showed that full seasons from Zimmerman, LaRoche and Strasburg, along with the new additions of Gonzalez and Jackson *should* give the team at least another 10 wins, perhaps a bit more.  That’s assuming basically that everyone else performs at the same levels they did last year, and it assumes that the WAR stat directly translates to wins on the field.  In reality, you have to plan for some people to step up while others step back.  Can we assume that Morse will hit 30 homers again?  Its a tough one to assume; he could break a leg and suddenly our offense is in tatters.

That’s why I’ve been a bit more conservative, predicting 8 more wins for this team and have them at 88-74 with this squad.  If the team is in the WC hunt, and they augment the offense, or if Harper comes up and produces … suddenly that’s a 90-91 win team.  Boswell didn’t really answer this question, just went off on Strasburg tangents.

Q: Who is your opening day starter?

A: barring injury it has to be Strasburg.  I think your initial 5-man rotation goes like this, in this order: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Jackson and Wang.  This gives you a decent righty-lefty matchup at the top.  Perhaps you replace Wang with Lannan and have Jackson go out 5th to get a true R-L-R-L-R rotation.  Or perhaps Davey Johnson doesn’t care about lefty/righty matchups.  I’m more interested to see who the home opener starter is, since it happens 7 games into the season.  Right now it looks to be Gonzalez, which would be great, but early season rain-outs can greatly affect rotation orders.  Boswell says Strasburg but had a good caveat; if its 30 degrees and snowing in Chicago on opening day Strasburg probably won’t go.

Q: Where is this team’s Lenny Dykstra-esque scrappy mean streak player?

A: Honestly, the Mets-to-Nats comparisons may not ever bee 100%.   I don’t see a Dykstra type on this roster.  Mostly because this roster still does not have a center fielder/lead off type, which is exactly what Dykstra was.  Boswell says that Werth may still fill this role.

Q: Why didn’t the team keep Bixler and Nix?

A: Bixler is a good question; for reasons unknown the team designated him for assignment in the off-season while still possessing 40-man room (inexplicably; they did this a number of times, losing Kimball at one point but also losing two decent players in the Rule 5 draft).   Nix they probably thought was replaceable on the FA market … or at least obtainable for cheap.  There does always seem to be a number of halfway decent corner outfielders on the market who are available for less than what Nix got.  Boswell says Nix’s 2yr contract was the problem … the Nats want flexibility for 2014.  No mention of Bixler.

Q: If Tyler Clippard is our “MVP,” why isn’t he being paid more?

A: Two reasons; clearly the questioner doesn’t understand the whole arbitration process.  Just because Clippard is our best pitches doesn’t equate to him being the highest paid player.  Veterans always make more than pre-arb guys; don’t forget the players belong to a Union, and Union members reward longevitiy.  Secondly; Clippard unfortunately is a commodity player; he’s a non-closer reliever who doesn’t rack up saves and thus won’t ever be compensated like a Jonathan Papelbon or a Mariano Rivera, despite his value to the team.  Its an unfair world in some respects, and I just hope that the Nats do him right and keep paying him while he’s productive for the team.  Boswell mirrors my two thoughts but then also says that relievers are starting to become aware of newer stats like WPA that value Clippard highly (1st in the NL last year, above big name starters like Roy Halladay).

Q: What are your thoughts on the extra wild card?

A: Baseball purists may whine and complain, but the modern professional sports scene in this country, fortunately or unfortunately, places a ton of emphasis on playoffs versus regular season accomplishment.  Even with these two additional WC teams, Baseball still has the fewest of its teams reaching the regular season of any of the four major sports.  And, in a sport where payroll disparities may not determine the World Series victor every year they clearly help predict the playoff contendors (Yankees: one missed playoff appearance since 1994), having more teams in competition for the playoffs is good for the sport.  Frankly I’d like to see Baseball go to a 32-team/8-division structure similar to the NFL and adopt the NFL’s exact playoff structure.  The problem there is finding two more markets without cannibalizing the NY or LA market.  Boswell says “time will tell,” but also admits that he hated the first WC round initially but likes it now.  He also points out something I hadn’t thought of; the importance of your #3 starter with a new round of playoffs.

Q: Should the team just skip Strasburg’s start every few times to extend his 160IP limit until the end of the season?

A: It isn’t a bad idea; Zimmermann skipped one start and hit his 160IPs at roughly September 1st.  So skipping a few more starts for Strasburg would put him well into September.  But I don’t think he’ll be served well by jacking around his days rest.  Starters depend on getting into routines in order to pitch their best.  Honestly I think this situation may very well play it self out naturally; even in 2010 Strasburg had two separate DL stints; if he spends 30 days or so on the DL at various times we’ll get a full season out of him.  Boswell agrees with me on the not-skipping-a-start theory.

Q: How secure is Ramos as the #1 catcher?

A: I’d say he’s pretty secure.  Flores may have had a good winter, but winter leagues aren’t exactly MLB quality.  Flores’ injury history has more or less derailed his career, and that’s unfortunate.  The team has found a solid #1 in Ramos and will stick with him, with Flores getting his typical 1 or 2 starts a week.  The inclusion of Derek Norris in the Gonzalez package also spoke volumes about where this team thinks it is in terms of catcher depth, as does the 40-man addition of Maldonado, a journeyman catcher who now benefits from a distinct lack of upper-level minor league catcher depth.  Look for the team to make catcher a focus in the 2012 draft to start back up the catcher pipeline.  In the mean time, I doubt Flores will be trade bait even if he performs amazingly well, at least until we find another catcher in the wings.  Boswell says Ramos is as #1 as any #1 can be.

Q: Who are the best catchers ever?

A: For a combination of defense, calling games, arm strength as well as offense, i’d go with Johnny Bench.  But you also have to throw in Ivan Rodriguez in his prime.  Mike Piazza was notoriously bad defensively.  Jorge Posada was subpar defensively in his later years but was a monster bat.  I’d include other names from the past few decades like Carlton Fisk. Before Fisk and Bench, there was a dearth of HoF inductees from the catcher position for some 30 years, to Yogi Berra who is probably the benchmark for all-around catchers (with Bench).   Boswell says Bench as well, but mentions Varitek with Posada.  Interesting.

Q: What is the team going to do with Ian Desmond?

A: I’d guess that 2012 is the make it or break it year for Desmond.  If he’s hitting .220 at the all-star break without significant value proven at the SS position, the team may make a change.  Move Espinosa to SS, install DeRosa as starting 2B, look to move Desmond and perhaps make Lombardozzi the utility guy.  I also find it very interesting that Anthony Rendon is getting reps at both 2B and SS; if that kind of hitter can slot in at short stop on even an as-needed basis he could be even more of a dangerous prospect than he already is.  Boswell agrees; this is a big year for Desmond.

Q: If catcher is so important, why did we move Bryce Harper away from the position?

A: one word: longevity.  Yeah he was a catcher growing up but catchers get the crap beat out of them, have constant injury concerns, and the wear and tear of catching affects their hitting.  With such a bat potential, he needs to be on the field and playing 162 games.  That being said, I was slightly surprised that he didn’t at least try to stick at C for at least a little bit of his career … but understand the reasoning stated.  Boswell said the same things I said, but added that scouts didn’t really think he was a natural catcher anyway, so he got moved to the OF quickly.

Q: What would MLB’s response be to the same “bounty” scandal going on in the NFL?

A: Hard one; its not like purposeful bean-balls without context are common in the MLB.  And the game is just too random to purposely try to spike someone, or slide into them on purpose, or to purposely hit a catcher.  These plays are so bang-bang and so naturally occurring to baseball players who have played all their lives that they’re hard to script.  If it was found out to be happening?  Long suspensions.  Boswell thinks such a situation would be lifetime bans, if proven.

Q: Strasburg has never pitched more than 7 innings, at any level, ever.  Is this a concern?

A: I have a hard time believing this, but won’t challenge the questioner since I’m not entirely in a position to go searching through the guy’s college career.  Is it a concern?  eh.  Its modern baseball.  No more 150 pitch games, no more 38 start seasons.    Little leaguers have pitch count/innings limits, high school teams only play twice a week.  College rotations you go once a week.  I’d only be concerned if he showed any inclination of slowing down later in games, which he doesn’t.  Boswell isn’t concerned.

Ladson’s inbox: 1/4/12 edition

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Will Steve Lombardozzi get a shot at sticking on the 25-man roster? Photo via Syracuse Chiefs

Another edition of mlb.com beat reporter Bill Ladson‘s inbox, dated 1/4/12.  As always, I write my response before reading his, and sometimes edit questions for clarity.

Q: How many wins do you expect the Nationals to have this year? Will a full season of pitchers Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez translate into a spot in the playoffs?

A: Tough question; If you believe the statistical measurement Wins Above Replacement (WAR), then Mark Zuckerman made a very convincing argument that this team is already 11.7 wins better than 2011 without adding anyone else.  However; even best laid plans don’t pan out.  There are always regressions, injuries and setbacks that you can count on.  So to say that the Nats will win 90 games is probably incredibly optimistic.  However; if this team is really an 85 win team, then they’re going to be in the Wild Card race and may be buyers instead of sellers, and could get pushed over the top.  I’ll say, right now pre Prince Fielder nonsense this is an 88 win team.  Ladson says 85 wins but Fielder would turn them into a competitor for the NL East title.

Q: How do you think the bullpen is shaping up? Will Se an Burnett stay or should we be looking for another lefty? Will Tyler Clippard earn closing opportunities in 2012?

A: Our 2011 bullpen was the strength of the team and it comes back mostly in tact.  We have yet to replace Todd Coffey, who was serviceable in 2011, but we look to be stronger in the “long man/spot starter” role.  Kimball is hurt but Mattheus was pretty good in 2011.   Burnett is signed through 2012 so he’s not going anywhere; do we need another lefty if we have both Gorzelanny and Detwiler projected in the bullpen?  I’m sure either one could prepare on a rotating basis for a one-out role.  Clippard is the set-up guy; he and Storen seem set in their roles and that’s great, since I think Clippard is a better pitcher and is getting the more high-leverage appearances.  Not much to add from Ladson.

Q: What is the situation with Rick Ankiel? Will he be coming back to the Nationals?

A: Ankiel‘s not coming back; if the team wanted a plus defender who couldn’t hit, they can find him much cheaper.  Kinda like Mike Cameron.  Its too bad; he was so good in CF but so bad at the plate.  Ladson thinks the team could still be interested in Ankiel as a 4th outfielder.

Q: There is no doubt the Gonzalez deal helps the Nationals right now. But do you think they should have dealt their prospects for a center fielder?

A: It seems like Mike Rizzo cashed in his prospects on a deal he couldn’t turn down, taking advantage of Billy Beane‘s firesale in Oakland to get a pretty good pitcher.  Did he *need* another starter?  Maybe, maybe not.  Does he *need* a center fielder?   Yeah he does.  He also needs a lead-off hitter.  And a better short-stop.  But you can’t solve all your problems at once.  I like Gonzalez; like what we got and think it was a good return on the prospects we gave up.  I’m ok living with Werth for a year in CF and buying someone on the open market next off-season.  Ladson agrees.

Q: Are there any potential trade suitors for Jesus Flores? He shouldn’t be the Nationals’ backup catcher.

A: Well, the second we traded Derek Norris, Flores became that much more important to this team.  Yes he’s our backup, and yes we think he could start elsewhere, so perhaps at some point (if we feel confident that Ramos look strong) we can flip Flores and use Solano for backup purposes at the MLB level.  But suddenly we may be looking at needing to develop more catcher depth.  Ladson is right in saying that Flores is a project, and that we’d be selling low by trading him now considering his injury past.

Q: With the bench still something of a question mark, will Stephen Lombardozzi be given a shot to crack the roster? If he plays well, what chance is there that he will start playing every day?

A: I suppose; I wasn’t incredibly impressed with Lombardozzi‘s Sept 2011 call-up.  I thought he looked beyond over-matched at the plate.  I’d like to see if he could actually be a good middle infielder and not top-out as a Brian Bixler utility infielder.  The team needs a 2nd utility infielder after DeRosa and Lombardozzi could fit the bill.  Start?  Hmm; Desmond isn’t going to be allowed to hit .220 forever, so yes its conceivable that at some point if Desmond doesn’t start hitting he’ll get replaced in the field, and it’d be great if the team had someone like Lombardozzi to step up.  Ladson says its a long-shot.

Q: Why is right-hander Yuniesky Maya still with the Nationals?

A: Two words: guaranteed contract.  Clearly he’s not the guy that the team thought he was; we have two more years for him to toil in AAA and serve as a spot starter/emergency backup.  Its too bad; he has the arsenal and the moxie but not the stuff to survive.  Ladson calls him a disappointment.  Clearly.

Gio Gonzalez: Big Trade, Big Risk

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Nats go all-in for Gonzalez. Is it worth the cost? Photo Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images via nydailynews.com

Well, the rumors turned out to be true.  The Nats today traded four major prospects for Oakland’s Gio Gonzalez.  Early reactions from fans on MLBtraderumors were all over the road; some said this will give Washington the Wild Card in 2012, others said Oakland fleeced Rizzo on the deal.  Predictably, Keith Law said that the Nationals over-paid in terms of prospects, calling AJ Cole the gem of the deal but paying little attention to the other three players.  Law is obsessed with ceiling arms and would rather have a projected #1 in Low-A versus a bird-in-hand guy like Peacock who has already debuted, so you have to take his opinion with a grain of salt.

First things first, how good do you think Gonzalez really is?  Without having done major analysis of the guy, I’ve considered him in the past to be one of a slew of “#2 pitchers” on Oakland’s rotation.  He’s put in two straight solid seasons pitching in Oakland, but we all know that Oakland’s a pitcher’s park with massive foul grounds that turn souvenirs into outs.  However, even I was surprised when checking the Park Effects of Oakland; it only rates as a 97 or 98 in the Park effect measurements on baseball-reference.com for the last couple of years.  By comparison, San Diego’s Petco Park (notoriously the best pitcher’s park in the league) was a 92/100.  Other known pitcher’s parks in San Francisco, Tampa, Anaheim and Seattle all scored well below Oakland’s park this year.  So, maybe the Oakland effect is over-stated by the media.

A quick glance at Gonzalez’s 2011 splits give me a bit more to go on; yes he was good in Oakland (10-5 with a 2.70 era) but he was more than servicable away (6-7, 3.62 era).  When he’s winning, he’s fantastic (1.37 ERA in 16 wins), but his ERA in his no-decisions was BETTER than in his wins (1.09 in 4 no decisions), indicating that he had a few unlucky no-decisions and could have been a 20-game winner with a bit better run support.  Looking a bit deeper at his advanced pitching stats shows that there’s nothing surprising; he’s got a normal BABIP of .287, his Fip was a pretty good 3.64 last year, and his xFIP was just slightly higher at 3.73.  All good signs; there’s nothing that really indicates that his conventional numbers were really “lucky” in any way.

He’s a low ERA, so-so WHIP (1.32 last year), high walk, high strikeout lefty arm that should benefit from coming to the NL.  Simple as that.  He’s going to put guys on base and depends on a good defense to bail him out, but he also strikes out a ton of guys and can get himself out of jams.

One last thing that is a huge plus on Gonzalez; he’s under team control for FOUR more years.  He’s heading into his first arbitration year this spring, is going to be a super-2, meaning the club controls him THROUGH 2015.  Honestly, when you look at the cost of our prospects given up, a lot of that has to do with this fact here.  A strong young guy who isn’t hitting FA for years to come?  That’s pretty valuable in this league.

Ok, I’ve talked myself into being excited to see this guy in our rotation.  Now, can I stomach the prospect loss?  Here’s the four guys we sent over.

  • AJ Cole
  • Brad Peacock
  • Tommy Milone
  • Derek Norris

Or, put another way, Baseball America’s #3, #4, #9 prospects from our system, plus a 4th guy in Milone who didn’t rate but was relatively successful in a couple of late season 2011 stints and who has been successful at every level of the minors.

We have a tendency to over-rate our own prospects.  I do especially, as someone who follows the minor leagues and has been tracking our pitching as it has risen for years.  And especially for a team like Washington, that has struggled in recent years to develop talent.  So when it comes time to cash them in for a pitcher like Gonzalez, sometimes it can be difficult to be objective about what we give up to get something we value in return.  So, lets play best case/worst case for these four guys:

Best Case

  • AJ Cole turns into a near #1 starter with an electric arm, in the mold of Justin Verlander.
  • Brad Peacock finds a reliable third pitch and maybe even a 4th, and peaks as a #3 starter.
  • Tommy Milone turns out to have 80 control and becomes this generation’s Tom Glavine, a serviceable back-end starter for years.
  • Derek Norris recovers from Hamate bone surgery to become a .260/.410/.550 catcher with 20-homer capability.

Ok.  Now what about worst case?

  • AJ Cole burns out as a starter and turns into a hard-throwing middle to late innings reliever.
  • Brad Peacock never harnesses a 3rd pitch and becomes a 2-pitch pony destined for middle relief.
  • Tommy Milone gets routinely pounded in the majors as a guy with no out pitch and becomes a 4-A guy.
  • Derek Norris never reaches his potential and settles in as a backup MLB catcher.

The reality will, of course, fall somewhere inbetween these two scenarios when all is said and done.  Norris was always going to be traded; we have found the catcher of the future in Wilson Ramos, Norris has seen his stock fall with two consecutive sub-par offensive seasons and he’s got little chance to supplant Ramos in our organization.  So I have no issues turning him into another player.  Its the pitchers we have to worry about.  In my Prospect Ceiling post I thought that Cole was a future #2, Peacock a future reliever and Milone a 4-A guy, somewhat mirroring the “worst case” scenario above.  If that’s the case, then we’ve essentially gambled on Cole or Peacock turning into something more valuable than they appear to be capable of right now in return for Gonzalez.

Yes, the price of pitching has skyrocketed this off-season, and a lot of analysts will say that we’ve over-paid.  But clearly the team has made a determination that Norris was expendable, Milone is topped out, and that Cole and Peacock are replaceable with guys like Meyer and Purke from the 2011 draft.  Fair enough.  For all the griping in yesterday’s post about how the Nats have “missed” on their starting pitcher goal, how the tides turn.

Can’t wait for 2012!

http://insider.espn.go.com/mlb/blog/_/name/law_keith/id/7380907/oakland-athletics-get-quality-quantity-gio-gonzalezhttp://insider.espn.go.com/mlb/blog/_/name/law_keith/id/7380907/oakland-athletics-get-quality-quantity-gio-gonzalez

Written by Todd Boss

December 23rd, 2011 at 8:47 am

Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 12/21/11 edition

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Can't wait for the first Darvish-Pujols matchup when Texas visits Los Angeles. Photo unknown via beatofthebronx.com

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

Nationals In General

  • John Sickels does in-depth system reviews, but allows his readers to pipe in about the prospects down on the farm.  Here’s the discussion on the Nats, which (as is apt to happen) devolved into arguments about Bryce Harper.  Still, lots of the usual suspects piped up and offered opinions.  Here’s a link to his preliminary list of Nats prospects.
  • In case you havn’t seen enough scouting reports on our precocious star, here’s another from the blog prospectjunkies.com.  I will say it was refreshing to see this author go out of his way to dispell the whole “Harper is a brat” storyline that most lazy sportswriters pen, without having ever interviewed or even *seen* the guy.
  • I hope this isn’t our starting CF for 2012; Nats sign Mike Cameron to a minor league contract.  I actually don’t mind this deal; yes he’s old and yes his production slipped badly in 2011, but he’s still a high-end defensive player.  Maybe he’s just a cheaper version of Rick Ankiel.  Odds are, as posted elsewhere, that Cameron is a half-season option just holding court until Harper is promoted sometime in June.  Works for me.
  • Hmm.  Reports from Ken Rosenthal that the team is “pushing hard” for Gio Gonzalez, offering Billy Beane a “4 for 1″ deal.  Not sure I like hearing that; while he’s got decent stats two years running, there’s some chinks in that armor.  He lead the league in walks last year and gives them up at nearly a walk every other inning.  His ERA jumps nearly a point when he pitches away from the friendly confines of Oakland’s pitcher-friendly stadium.  He’s not an “Ace.”  What four players are we talking about giving up?  If this is anything like the Mat Latos deal, it probably would be something like Detwiler, Norris, a major league arm and a lower minor league arm.


Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • First Reports on the winning Yu Darvish bid?  $48M.  No, wait, then it was even higher than Dice-K’s bid.  I privately thought he’d eclipse Daisuke Matsuzaka‘s record of $51M (and change) from 2005.   Another nugget from this article; Darvish wants a 5yr/$75M contract.  That’s $120M+ for this guy.  Does anyone still want to argue that he’s worth $120M, when the absolute best FA pitcher purchase in recent years (Cliff Lee) himself got 5yrs/$120M guaranteed from Philadelphia?
  • Who won the Darvish sweepstakes?  First thought to be Toronto, then Texas.  On 12/20 we were confirmed: Texas won with a $51.7M bid.  The AL West is turning into a shootout.
  • Breaking news over the weekend: Cincinnati gets Mat Latos for a package of prospects that includes their uber rising star Yonder Alonso, another 1st rounder in Yasmani Grandal and former ace-pretender Edinson Volquez.  That’s an awful lot for a guy who, while certainly is “good,” isn’t among the elite pitchers of this league.  That seems like more than what Zack Greinke fetched, and he as a Cy Young award to his credit.  It also begs the question; why does San Diego need Alonso?  They already traded for a top-end 1B prospect, Anthony Rizzo.  Alonso was blocked in Cincinnati by Joey Votto and was clearly on the trading block, but San Diego is a curious spot.   Oh I see now: he’s officially listed as a left fielder now.  Except that scouts openly scoff at his abilities to play anywhere but 1b or DH.  The Padres can always put together a competent pitching rotation by virtue of their park; if some of these hitters pan out they could be a very good team, quickly.  Meanwhile Cincinnati gets a good pitcher who hopefully wasn’t under-exposed by pitching in the cavern in San Diego but who most say is a legit front-of-the-rotation ace.  Update: now we’re hearing that Rizzo is in play possibly for Matt Garza.  That’s probably Theo Epstein trying to get his boy back.

General Baseball News

  • An excellent take at Grantland from Jonah Keri, another favored writer, on Steroid use in baseball, inspired in the post Ryan Braun mania.  As it has turned out, Braun’s case isn’t about Steroids, but he does dispute the notion frequently posted on the internet that “no positive test has ever been appealed successfully.”  In reality, according to both players and well-connected writers, no “leaked” positive test has ever been appealed, and that initial positives have been overturned on more than a few occasions.  Here’s a player who says he successfully appealed a positive test himself.  He also links to very interesting articles on testosterone and false positives, one of which (If i’m reading it correctly) notes that about 1 in 4 positive tests is actually a false positive.  I can’t believe any official test is that inaccurate, so perhaps its either old technology or i’m mis-interpreting the story.  Subsequent reports show that Braun’s test was from medication taken for a “personal issue.”  Sounds like Viagra, doesn’t it?
  • Another takeaway from Keri’s article is another pet peeve of mine; the notion that Matt Kemp was a “more worthy” MVP candidate than Braun but that Braun won the award because “his teammates were better.”  That’s one take on the award, IF you interpret the “MVP” to be given to the “best player” in a particular year.  But that’s not the definition of “Most Valuable Player” that most writers adhere to.  Simply put, how can you be the “Most Valuable player” to your team if your team stinks?  If your team already has a losing record, and the star player wasn’t there, wouldn’t that team just have a WORSE losing record?  To me, that’s the essence of the MVP argument; you simply cannot be the most valuable player on a bad team, unless your season is so historically amazing that it stands out on its own merit.  If we want to “invent” a new award, say the “Cy Young” of hitters (almost an uber “Silver Slugger”) so that we can properly award a guy like Kemp, I’d be for it absolutely.  In fact, it would pretty much end these ridiculous arguments that will only continue to get louder as more and more stat-heads who never actually watch games but just interpret advanced statistical tables on websites as if baseball players were robots playing in a nil-gravity vacuum gain admittance to the BBWAA and start voting on these awards themselves.
  • Yet another excellent Grantland.com article, this time analyzing whether or not the Economics of Moneyball still exist.  After this article published, I saw some criticisms of the statistics used on more stat-heavy blogs like Fangraphs.  Not sure why; the article makes sense to me.
  • I sometimes take issue with Craig Calcaterra‘s stuff on Hardballtalk, but his opinion on ESPN Legal Analyst Lester Munson‘s love affair with the abject failure of the Barry Bonds case is spot on for me.  Bonds was convicted of one really shaky obstruction of justice count after years and MILLIONS of dollars of expenses, and was sentenced to 30 days of home confinement.  The prosecutors who led this monstrosity need to be fired, frankly.
  • Ugh.  Bill Conlan of the Philadelphia Daily News, a hall of fame baseball writer, resigns ahead of child molestation charges being filed.  Interestingly, it is the rival Philly newspaper, the Philadelphia Inquirer, filing the charges.

General News; other

  • I like Grantland, and I like stuff that Chuck Klosterman writes.  Here, he writes about the “Triangle Offense” that we’ve heard so much about from Phil Jackson during his time with the Bulls and Lakers.  My takeaway; the Triangle is dying out because (according to Jackson) the league is dominated by me-first scorers (whether they be slash and burn or 3-point specialists) and because the Triangle is considered really complex.
  • Kobe Bryant‘s wife is leaving him, reportedly because she caught him cheating.  Really??  What, that whole incident in Colorado wasn’t evidence enough?
  • In case you somehow missed the front page of cnnsi.com this week, yet another example of the absolute hypocritical nature of the NCAA is on display once again: a former St. Joseph’s basketball player is being held hostage by an (apparently) petulant basketball coach who refuses to grant his waiver to play for another school.  Coaches can change schools like they’re changing suits, but if a player changes they have to get approvals from their releasing school (a conflict of interest if there ever was one) and approval from the NCAA, AND then have to give up a year of eligibility.  How is this possibly fair?  Coaches can coach for 50 years and don’t lose any eligibility; players can only play for four (five if they red-shirt) but have to give up 25% of that time if a situation isn’t right for them.  Every time I read something about college athletics like this (or the UKentucky/Oliver case, or the Colorado WR/snowboarder case, or the entire player images case) I’m more and more infuriated and hope that the organization has to face congressional review.  More links on the topic: lawsuit threatened.  Possibly “the other side” to the story here.  There’s other interesting links to twitter comments and blog op-ed pieces throughout.  Another opinion here.

Nationals off-season todo-list: 2011 edition

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Signing Wang took care of one of our most important off-season tasks. Photo via Washington Nationals

(I’ve had this in draft form for weeks; might as well publish it now that the FA period has started).

Before we get too deep into the off-season, I thought it’d be good to do a level set of what exactly this team is in the market for.  Last year’s to-do list included a Center Fielder (Ankiel), a Right Fielder (Werth), a First baseman (LaRoche), a couple of Utility Infielders (Cora, Hairston), some veteran Starting Pitching (Gorzelanny), and some bullpen help (Coffey, Ramirez).

Based on how the team has played down the stretch and watching some players rise and fade in September, here’s what I think the team’s off-season to-do list may look like.

First, lets start with what we know we do NOT need.  Here’s players that seemingly have spots already locked up for 2012:

  • C: With Pudge leaving, Ramos and Flores seem set to be the 2 catchers for a while here.  Flores is healthy but clearly inferior to Ramos right now both defensively and at the plate.  We just added Solano and Norris for catcher cover in case someone gets hurt.
  • 1B: LaRoche should be back healthy, and Morse has shown he clearly can play first if not, though that would lead to a hole in left field.
  • 2B: Should be ably filled by Espinosa, or Lombardozzi if we move Espinosa to short (see next).
  • SS: Desmond‘s one of the lowest qualifying OPS hitters in the league, but the team management loves him.  I’m guessing he’s given one more season.  Rizzo has already stated he’s not after Jose Reyes, and the Marlins seem set to over-pay him.
  • 3B: Zimmerman isn’t going anywhere, despite some blogger’s statements that he should be moved.
  • LF: We’re assuming that Morse is the starter in left.
  • RF: As with Zimmerman, Werth is set to play right field well into the next presidency.
  • SPs: Strasburg, Zimmermann, and Lannan seem locks to be in the rotation.  We re-signed Wang for the #4 rotation spot.  There’s some talk here and there about non-tendering Lannan; he’s a solid mid-rotation guy who is still under arbitration control who is underrated by most people outside of this area, and I believe it would be a mistake to cut him loose at this stage.
  • Setup/Closer: Clippard and Storen managed to survive silly trade rumors this season and should be the 8th/9th inning tandem for at least 2012.
  • Loogy: Burnett: He struggled at times in 2011. He’s also under contract for 2012 with guaranteed money.  So he’s going to be back.  He’s more than a loogy though, so we’ll look for the team to replace Slaten.
  • Middle Relief: Henry Rodriguez and Ryan Mattheus look to return in their middle relief roles.  Kimball will be on the 60-day DL until he’s proven to have regained his fastball.

That’s actually a pretty large chunk of our planned 25-man roster (17 of the 25 are already accounted for, for the most part).

So, what do we need?  In rough priority order:

  • Center Field: again, we go into an off season with questions about center field.  Ankiel had a decent September but overall his 2011 offense was poorl.  He does fit Rizzo’s defensive mind, but is he the answer?  Perhaps this is the off-season Rizzo finally gets Upton or Span or someone of that ilk.  Or perhaps we re-sign Ankiel to a holding deal, waiting for wunder-kid Bryce Harper to come up and take over.  Or, perhaps the lineups that Johnson has been fielding in September featuring Morse in LF, Werth in CF and Nix in RF are telling enough that we can “get by” without investing in a center fielder for 2012.  (I’ve got a very large CF-only post coming up, with lots more detail).
  • Right-handed middle relief: we may have to go digging for one-year FA Todd Coffey types again, because Kimball is on the DL til probably July and Carr was flat out released in September.  That’s it in terms of 40-man roster options for right handed relievers.  An internal option could be using Peacock as a 7th inning guy in 2012; he’s shown he can bring it 95-96 and perhaps even higher in short term situations.  The team doesn’t seem to trust either Balester or Stammen, meaning we need a one-year guy.
  • Utility guys: we used Hairston, Cora, and Bixler as backup infielders.  Hairston did a great job starting at 3B in Zimmerman’s absence; the other two were awful.  So we need a couple replacements.  Lombardozzi could fit in, but he’d be better served with a full season in AAA.  Bixler was waived and claimed, so we’re almost guaranteed to go hunting on the FA pile.
  • Backup Outfielder: Bernadina seems to have run out of chances with this team.  Corey Brown has been god-awful in AAA this year and was assigned off of our 40-man to the AAA team.  Nix and Gomes are FAs.  We can’t possibly offer Gomes arbitration and guarantee him a $2M salary, and Nix can’t hit lefties. In any case, we look like we may need a backup outfielder from somewhere.  Nix has been getting starts in RF (as mentioned above) down the stretch and certainly has enough power to feature 6th in a lineup.  Perhaps he’s worth another year.  The team was in preliminary talks on a 2012 contract with him but nothing official has been signed.
  • Loogy: we could use a one-out guy, assuming that we need a 2nd lefty to Burnett.  I’m guessing that Severino is not the answer, based on how little use he got in September.  Or maybe he is.  Certainly I’d prefer giving him a shot versus scraping the bottom of the reliever barrel again and finding another guy who performs as badly as Slaten.
  • Starting Pitcher: We re-signed our own FA Wang, and continue to be in the mix for more of a marquee name like Buehrle and Oswalt.  Do we need another starter?  Signing either of these two vets will probably indicate team flexibility to trade some of our younger starting pitching cache of Detwiler, Peacock, and Milone, but also may end up blocking a guy who could be just as good for a fraction of the price.
  • Long man: I’m guessing that we assign a long man from one of  Gorzelanny (most likely), Detwiler (somewhat likely), Balester and Stammen (less likely).  The team seems down on both the latter guys, who are probably destined for DFA when they run out of options.

So, thats a somewhat big todo list.  Some spots are clearly fill-able from within, but we’re still looking at a few acquisitions.