Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Archive for the ‘doug slaten’ tag

Lidge DFA and a bullpen unravelling

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Lidge just couldn't regain his past glory with the Nats. Photo unknown via baseballasreligion blog

I was mildly surprised to see the news wire report today before the Nats-Yanks series finale; the Nats have designated Brad Lidge for assignment.  Not because Lidge didn’t “earn” this release; his numbers on the season are abysmal for a mid-to-late innings reliever (9 1/3 IP, 12 hits and ELEVEN walks for a ridiculous WHIP of 2.46.  And not because Lidge was singularly involved with both of the Yankess losses this weekend (he allowed Gio Gonzalez‘s inherited runner to score before allowing another three runs in on friday night, then wasting six shutout innings from his fellow bullpen members by giving up 3 hits and a walk in the 14th inning yesterday).

I say I’m mildly surprised because I honestly thought the next guy to get the axe out of our suddenly struggling bullpen would be the curiously called-up Mike Gonzalez, who may have decent ancillary numbers so far (no runs in 4 IP over 6 games) but he’s allowed a Doug Slaten-esque 4 of 9 inherited runners to score, including 2 in friday night’s bullpen implosion as well.  Gonzalez seemed to be a two week solution, signed off waivers only to provide cover until we got a couple of arms back off of the DL.  I certainly didn’t expect him to be seeing as much game action as he has lately.

The Nats are starting to see the real effects of losing two of their three best arms (Storen and Rodriguez); guys who should be the 5th or 6th guys out of the pen are now the 1st and 2nd guys out of the pen.  Clippard, who was doing just fine as the best 8th inning guy in baseball (he did lead the majors in Holds in 2011) now is, well not “wasted” as the closer but certainly not doing what he does best; being the guy who cleans up and fixes the highest leverage situations.

More to the point the team faces now; the loss of Storen and Rodriguez, as well as the trickle-down effects of stashing Ross Detwiler in the bullpen so the (so far) inferior Chien-Ming Wang can continue to put up sub-replacement player numbers out of the #5 starter role, combined with the presence of THREE swing-men/ex-starters (Gorzelanny and Stammen to go along with Detwiler) means that suddenly our bullpen has found itself ill-prepared to face the challenges that it was meant to face.  We really only had four true back-of-the-bullpen relievers who could close out games.

The team needs Ryan Mattheus back, now (Editor’s Note; about 2 minutes after I penned this the team announced that Mattheus was, indeed, back).  I know plantar fasciitis is painful but, hey, this is the majors.  Get a cortisone shot and get back out there.  We also need to think about giving some minor league arms a chance.  Or making a trade for some bullpen help.  Maybe we can flip one of our swing-men for a back of the bullpen arm from a team that needs starter help (Colorado anyone?)

The team’s still in first place, a third of the way through the season.  With no reason to think we can’t maintain the lead now that our big hitters are back and getting healthier.  We need to shore up this problem so it doesn’t derail the progress this team has made.

Is there any Spring Training pitching competition for the Nats?

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Is it too early to guess who starts the Home Opener? My guess is newly acquired Gonzalez. Photo Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images via cbssports.com

We’re getting reports of players getting to Viera early, and we’ve had a slew of off-season moves.  Beat reporters are starting to talk about the 25-man roster (here’s WT’s Amanda Comak‘s take).  The Nats pretty much took care of every off-season need the had:

  • Top-end Starting Pitcher: Gonzalez
  • Backup Outfielder: Ankiel and Cameron (though, apparently Cameron is retiring instead of competing for a spot…)
  • Lower-end Starting Pitchers: Re-signed Wang, signed Jackson
  • Utility Infielders to replace Cora, Bixler, Hairston: signed DeRosa, claimed Rivera
  • Bullpen arm depth (to replace Coffey, Kimball): signed Lidge, traded for Perry

The notable exception to the off-season shopping list, of course, is a lack of a proven center fielder.  Perhaps one could quibble that a shortstop should have been on that list; it seems the team is giving another year to the Ian Desmond experiment, hoping he builds on the strong end of 2011 (he hit .294 in Aug and Sep of 2011).  The backup infielders and backup outfielders listed here, to go along with a slew of minor league/invite to spring training signings, should be where most of the competition for roster slots occurs.

The big question for me is; Is there any real competition for pitching spots this spring?

Starters

We all know the narrative; we now have 6 starters with multi-million dollar commitments for 5 spots, and someone has to give.  The Edwin Jackson signing has pretty much made John Lannan the odd-man out of this rotation.  Mike Rizzo likes power arms, and has gone to great lengths to acquire guys who throw more than 89-90 to replace what he inherited in 2009.   Wang and Jackson can’t be moved until June 15th without his consent by virtue of the FA signing rules (as discussed in this article here), Gonzalez just signed a long-term deal, and Strasburg/Zimmerman are our future.  To me, there’s no mystery who’s going to be in the rotation, and frankly articles that say there’s going to be a competition for the 5th starter between Wang, Lannan, Detwiler and Gorzelanny are not really paying attention to the contract realities of the situation.  Barring injury, your opening day rotation will be (in this order):

  • Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Jackson and Wang.

Should someone go down with injury, Lannan steps in to take the 4th or 5th rotation spot (depending on whether Davey Johnson likes to mix up LHSP/RHSP in any fashion).  Otherwise, Lannan is trade-bait and should be moved during the spring.  There are plenty of teams that could be trade partners if we wanted to focus on a center fielder (see this article I did in November talking about the CF market for the whole of baseball for some thoughts).  Barring a trade, it seems inconceivable but Lannan does still have a minor league option left and could be sent down, but a $5M pitcher toiling in Syracuse (to go along with $2M bust Yuniesky Maya) could make the Nats AAA team the most expensive minor league rotation in the league.  (We won’t say “most expensive ever,” since the Yankees kept Kei Igawa and his $46M commitment in the minors for most of his contract).

Relievers

A recent post on option status at Nationalsprospects.com (the option status of every player is now kept on the Big Board, which is good for me since I did this work last year and its a nightmare to keep track of), as well as a question asked of Bill Ladson leads to this conclusion: there literally is no question right now who your 7 bullpen members will be.  Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett, Henry Rodriguez, Tom Gorzelanny and Ross Detwiler ALL are out of options.  Brad Lidge can refuse a demotion based on his service time and Drew Storen is your closer.  There’s your 2012 bullpen; not much room for anyone else.

The only wiggle room may be with someone like Detwiler: he’s clearly a starter and seems set to be the first Spot starter to fill in for an injury (assuming we trade Lannan of course).  Does the team keep him in the bullpen, where he basically fills the exact same role as Gorzelanny (ex-left handed starter long man/spot starter in a pinch)?  Or does the team cash him in to fill a hole?

This configuration leaves newly acquired Ryan Perry, Ryan Mattheus and Atahualpa Severino in AAA.  Cole Kimball starts on the 60-day DL (and, frankly, probably stays there; the odds of him coming back from that shoulder injury are low).  Lastly Craig Stammen joins Maya in AAA as deep-need emergency starters.

So, here’s your bullpen:

  • Closer: Storen
  • Setup: Clippard
  • 7th inning guys: Lidge, Rodriguez
  • Loogy: Burnett
  • Long Men: Gorzelanny and Detwiler

What’s nice about this bullpen is that, despite my naming players to roles, there’s lots of flexibility.  Rodriguez on a good day has 8th or even 9th inning stuff.  Lidge is a former closer and clearly can do the setup or closing roles.  Clippard excels in the 8th inning role and doesn’t seem to aspire to replace Storen.  Burnett is far more than just a one-out guy, but can serve that role in a pinch.  Lastly both Gorzelanny and Detwiler can be anything from a one-out lefty to a 3-4 inning mop-up guy, given the day.  I like the way this sets up and I think we go into 2012 with a better bullpen than in 2011 (when, if you recall, we wasted a spot on Brian Broderick, had the failure of Doug Slaten in the loogy role and watched Chad Gaudin pitch horribly).

Who starts the Home opener?

Quick guess: based on the way the schedule plays out it looks like our home opener will be thrown by our #2 starter Gonzalez.  We play two 3-game series away to Chicago and New York, then open at home with what should be the #2 rotation spot up.  There’s only one off-day in between, meaning the starters most likely stay on normal rest.

Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 2/19/12 edition

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RIP Gary Carter, one of only two Montreal Expos enshrined in Cooperstown. Photo via garycarter.org

This is your semi-weekly/periodic wrap-up of Nats and other baseball news that caught my eye.  I try to publish this about weekly or if it gets up to about 1500 words, so that it’s not to voluminous.

Nationals In General

  • Mark Zuckerman writes about a favorite topic of mine w/r/t the current Nats 40-man roster and its construction.  See here for a similar discussion of the 2011 Nats (along with analysis of the 8 playoff teams) from last October.  Clearly the more players you’re using as your “primary 15″ that were developed in house, the better you’re doing as a player development machine.  But there’s also the measure of cashing in those prospects in order to acquire resources.  (Coincidentally the “primary 15″ of a team means its 8 starters in the field, 5 rotation members, setup man and closer).  By last year’s end, the Nats were starting 9 of these 15 as players developed in house and were down to just three acquired via FA/Waivers.  That’s a massive step up from just a few years prior, when most of the team was FA/Waiver pickups.  We’ll revisit this topic once the 25-man rosters for teams are finalized and play starts in April.
  • The Washington Franchise leads the league in employment of Negative WAR players over the past decade.   A staggering 31% of our players in this time have shown negative WARs per season.   This is not surprising given what we know of the construction of the first few iterations of the Nationals; Zuckerman has done studies in the past related to the staggering number of players the Nats have played at the MLB level who, after leaving us, never appeared in a major league game again.   The last time Zuckerman did this study that I could find was Nov 2010, when he identified 59 such players just since 2005.  I don’t know what percentage that is of all players who appeared for us in that time-frame, but it seems high.  (note: I just did some analysis and will return with a blog posting on this topic soon).
  • Back to the negative war topic, here’s a list of such negative WAR seasons for the 2011 iteration of the team: Alex Cora, Jesus Flores, Chris Marrero, Steve Lombardozzi, Matt Stairs, Livan Hernandez, Doug Slaten, Brian Broderick, Yuniesky Maya, Collin Balester and Chad Gaudin.  That’s 11 of the 44 players who appeared in the majors for us last year, or exactly 25%.  So we’re not exactly out of the woods yes; clearly we continue to employ a ton of players who end up hurting the team.  (For the record I used bWAR instead of fWAR for this, since its a bit easier to see that data.  But i’d guess the analysis would come out the same for either measurement method).
  • Another article on Edwin Jackson and pitch-tipping.  Is it possible that a player could play for years and never have a hitter teammate tell him he’s tipping his pitches?  I think it depends on what team the pitcher plays for.  Mike Mussina infamously was told he tipped his change up once he moved to the Yankees, and he made the adjustment that enabled his stellar 2006 season.  Maybe the team should have just kept its mouth shut about their thoughts and not told every reporter in every press conference that they think their new $11M pitcher is flawed.

Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • Interesting thoughts on whether “4-A” players really do exist and how to quantify them from Fangraphs.com.  Read through the comments for some better thoughts.  For me, this issue touches on two opinions I’ve been growing.  1st; yes there does exist 4-A players; the Nats have shown to have a slew of them recently.  Guys whose minor league performance literally disappears upon reaching the majors.  I don’t know how to quantify it but there’s clearly guys who bounce freely between the two levels and seem destined to max out as such a 4-A player.  2ndly: Is AAA now a “lesser” league than AA?  Perhaps not with all systems (for example, Tampa Bay insists all their prospects play full seasons at each level, as does Atlanta), but for the Nats we’ve seen some interesting promotion behavior lately.  Stephen Strasburg got hit harder in AA than in AAA during his brief minor league apprenticeship, but the difference is rather slight.  But watching the games you got the distinct feeling that his AA competition was getting decent wood on the bat, while in AAA it was like he was pitching to little leaguers.  This goes to my theory that AAA is morphing into a “spare parts” league, where teams stash backup utility players (mostly catchers, middle infielders, relief pitchers) who are on the 40-man and can quickly be recalled to fill a spot, while AA is the place where your rising prospects play full seasons in preparation for promotion to the majors.  Jordan Zimmermann never pitched a AAA inning, rising from a full season in Harrisburg straight to our rotaton.  Strasburg probably could have done the same.  Will we see Bryce Harper jump straight from AA to the Majors or will the strategy of Mike Rizzo going forward be more Tampa-esque, requiring each prospect to “master” each level rising upwards?
  • A surprise team lands Yoenis Cespedes, namely the penny-pinching Oakland A’s in a 4yr/$36M deal.  4 years and $36M!?  That’s more than they will spend in payroll on their entire TEAM in 2012.  Maybe.  That’s a lot of cash for a completely unproven, if talented player who I’d say is not entirely MLB ready.

General Baseball News

  • Excellent article on the Demise of the Spitball and other Doctoring techniques from Grantland’s Jonah Keri, whose writing I’ve always liked and who is working on a historical retrospective on the Montreal Expos franchise.   Keri’s article talks about the Kenny Rogers pine-tar incident in the 2006 World series, but I don’t consider that “doctoring” the baseball.  That was simply using pine-tar to get a better grip on a cold, wet night.  Not that its legal; just different from the more conventional definition of a “spitball.”   Keri’s conclusion as to why the spitball has disappeared is attributed to the invention of the modern split-fingered fastball (attributed to Bruce Sutter) and to the lack of proper teachers (the craft of doctoring the ball has been handed down generation to generation by pitching coaches).  But honestly I believe the decline is more attributable to two other factors; the lingering stigma of getting caught being higher now post-PED era than every before, and the fact that the true “spitball” is damn difficult to throw (imagine trying to “throw” a baseball with the same motion you might use to squirt a pumpkin seed from your fingers?  That’s what throwing a spitball is like to a certain extent).
  • In typical modern day sabrematrician blogger nerd fashion, someone at a stats-oriented site goes about attacking another writer’s observation column.  In this case, it is someone at Baseball Prospectus attacking the Verducci Effect.  I can’t argue with his stats (other than to quibble with the lack of publication of his control group for comparison), but I suspect he misses the point.  I don’t think Verducci passes this list off as a statistical study; i think its passed off as a subjective list of candidate pitchers who HE THINKS may regress.  See, there’s the rub.  He’s already done the breakdown from the “control” group of pitchers who may be candidates for his study but whom he thinks may not be in jeopardy.  So I’m presuming that, because of this pre-selection and expression of opinion this is no longer a statistical study but an opinion piece.  I’d liken it to analyzing statistically the results of an amateur scout’s player recommendations; sure you could run one in order to judge a scout’s prognostication ability, but there’s so much variation in what happens to players once they sign that it wouldn’t be meaning ful.  I guess my take away is this: Verducci does a pretty durn good job of predicting red-flags for these pitchers (84% over the past 5 years), that maybe we should just recognize his study for what it is, and not overanalyze it to try to discredit it.
  • A nice article about another favorite topic of mine: the relationship between Wins and salary.  The familiar narrative is that payroll discrepancies are killing modern baseball, and to a certain extent I do agree; its no coincidence that the high payroll Yankees have only missed one playoff appearance in the nearly-20 years since the wild card era began.  But the ratio of wins to salary is dropping.  Why?  Because several teams have sacrificed several seasons to basically reset and start over.   Tampa Bay and Texas are the best recent examples, but we’re also seeing remnants of this theory here in Washington and starting anew in Houston and Chicago.
  • Nice little Intro to Sabremetrics from Espn-W.  The author doesn’t go into the real in-depth stats that a lot of people are gravitating to but does cover the basics.  OPS, Fip, UZr, wOBA, Vorp and WAR.  Now if we could only decide on a standard WAR.  :-)
  • Another classy move from baseball’s classiest organization; the Miami Marlins.  Yeah, lets un-retire the number of a former employee who died tragically since, well, he didn’t work for the current ownership group.

General News; other

  • Excellent article at Grantland.com on the Effects of CTE and the possible future (end?) of Football as we know it.  This is something I have been saying for a while and agree with; the increased awareness of concussions and their relationship to the longer term effects (the affliction known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE) may soon start to really change the way that people think about the sport.  More to the point, as a parent does the thought of repeated concussions inflicted on your young football-playing son give you pause?  It would for me.  Read this article and it makes some very good points.  90,000 recorded pre-collegiate concussions per year?!


Arbitration-eligible Salary Guesses; how close was I?

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Morse's arbitration case (if it gets to that point) would be interesting. Photo Cheryl Nichols/Nats News Network

Borrowing from my “Arbitration Tender Deadline” post from December 12th, here was my salary guesses for our seven Arbitration eligible players.  Note, this was obviously done prior to the Gio Gonzalez trade and included a theoretical salary guess for Doug Slaten, despite my (correct) prediction at the time that he’d be non-tendered:

Player Current or 2011 Contract 2011 2012 2012 guess
Clippard, Tyler 1 yr/$0.443M (11) $443,000 Arb 1 $1,700,000
Flores, Jesus 1 yr/$0.75M (11) $750,000 Arb 3 $800,000
Gorzelanny, Tom 1 yr/$2.1M (11) $2,100,000 Arb 3 $2,800,000
Lannan, John 1yr/2.75M (11) $2,750,000 Arb 2 $4,500,000
Morse, Michael 1 yr/$1.05M (11) $1,050,000 Arb 2 $3,900,000
Slaten, Doug 1 yr/$0.695M; (11) $695,000 Arb 3 $900,000
Zimmermann, Jordan 1 yr/$0.415M (11) $415,000 Arb 1 $1,800,000

This week, ahead of the salary exchanging deadline, we’ve seen the Nats re-sign a slew of their players.  How close was I to properly guessing the salaries of these players?

  • Tyler Clippard: re-signed but terms unknown as of 1/17/12.  My guess matches mostly what our beat reporters are guessing, but as of the time of this post we don’t know the exact terms.
  • Jesus Flores: guessed $800k, signed for $815k.  That’s pretty close, and slightly higher than I thought he’d get.  He gets a modest raise from the $750k he got for 2011.
  • Tom Gorzelanny: guessed 2.8M, he gets $2.7M.  Again, pretty close to guessing correctly, but still surprised he earned such a raise during a year when he went from starter to reliever.  That had to factor into the tempered number (a 2nd year starter in Gorzelanny’s situation probably would get something closer to Lannan’s figure).
  • John Lannan: guessed $4.5M, unsettled as of 1/17/12 so they submitted competing figures: $5M from the team, $5.7M from the player.  Wow; I really under-estimated what Lannan is worth.   If this went to arbitration, I’d have to think the team would win.
  • Michael Morse: guessed $3.9M, unsettled as of 1/17/12, so they submitted competing figures: $3.5M from the team, $5M from the player.  A massive gap; my number is closer to the team’s valuation and I think Morse has really overbid what he’s worth.  I think Morse loses an arbitration hearing (he made only $1M last year and certainly the concern would be that he’s a one-hit wonder).
  • Doug Slaten, as we all know, was non-tendered and recently signed a minor league deal with Pittsburgh.  I’m not sure what the terms of that deal would be if he made the team but would guess its somewhere below the typical veteran minimum line of $800-$850k.
  • Jordan Zimmermann; guessed $1.8, he gets $2.3M in salary.  I was way off here; I guess I figured that his relative youth would keep the salary lower than it may have been otherwise.  This award bodes badly for the team for the next three years; if he’s at $2.3M now he’ll likely push close to $10M by the time he’s reaching his 4th time through.  A good problem to have, honestly.

One last player: Gio Gonzalez as we know was arbitration eligible but signed a 5 year deal late last week, buying out all his arbitration years plus the first couple free agency years.  $8M AAV is a decent club risk, and gets us a #2 level starter for about the same amount of money we were paying Jason Marquis off the open FA market.

I’m especially happy to see most of these cases settled prior to even exchanging figures.  The Lerners are clearly learning (no pun intended) from past arbitration cases that they serve little purpose but to alienate players over (in the grand scheme of things) pocket change.  Lets hope that they can find some middle ground on Lannan and Morse prior to needing to go before an arbitrator.

Written by Todd Boss

January 18th, 2012 at 10:37 am

Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 1/14/12 edition

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I’m looking for a contract “This Big!” Photo unknown via iusport.com

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

Nationals In General

  • Talk about rumors that just won’t go away: Nationals apparently remain the favorites for Prince FielderKen Rosenthal says the sameBuster Olney has a nice overview with pros/cons laid out.  For me (as discussed in the comments of the previous posts), I think he’d be a mistake for 8-10 years, but an absolute steal for 3.  Here’s some thoughts from Tom Verducci, who thinks the Nats are his destination.  And here’s a post that says one of the 3 candidates for Fielder I identified in this space a few days ago (Toronto), is out of the running.
  • Imagine a lineup that goes like this: Espinosa-Werth-Zimmerman-Fielder-Morse-Ramos-Desmond-Cameron to open the season, and then potentially inject Bryce Harper hitting behind Morse and replacing Cameron in the outfield.  That’d be 5 straight home-run hitting threats in the middle of your order, with good L-R balance.  I know he’d be expensive, but that’s a 95 win offense.  It’d be even better if we got a one-year stop gap hitter to open the year playing RF and who we could flip in trade if Harper comes up sooner than later.
  • From Jdland.com: the concrete factory across the street from Nats park is finally coming down!
  • Whoops: Zech Zinicola hit with a 50-game suspension for non-PED drug abuse.  Sounds like Marijuana to me.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Nats release him after this, his 2nd transgression.
  • John Sickels‘ new rankings of the Oakland A’s top 20 prospects, post trades this off-season.   6 of the 10 top were acquired in the Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez trades, while three more represent Oakland’s #1 draft picks in 2011 (Sonny Gray) and 2010 (Michael Choice) and 2009 (Grant Green).  Say what you will about Billy Beane, but he’s clearly building a big-time farm system for the future right now.
  • A nice review of the Nationals 2012 outlook from seamheads.com.
  • We lost Doug Slaten.  Now he can go be horrible for Pittsburgh.
  • Good news on both Sammy Solis and Bobby Hanson from Byron Kerr.
  • Adam Kilgore says the team is still talking to Rick Ankiel about coming back as a 4th OF… I wouldn’t be totally opposed to that; he’s essentially the same player we got in Mike Cameron, right?  Only difference seems to be lefty versus righty.
  • Fun little position-by-position exercise: ranking the NL east teams position by position from David Shoenfield.  I must admit though I think he was a bit generous with his Nats rankings in some cases.

Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • MLBTraderumors is great; they’ve created arbitration tracking pages that will “keep score” of all the cases coming up in Jan-Feb.
  • If you believe Jim Bowden, the Rangers are playing hardball in their Yu Darvish negotiations.  If this falls through … look for pandemonium both on the Prince Fielder front and with Darvish next year when he’s an unrestricted FA and could attract interest from pretty much every team in the league.
  • Makes sense: Marlins plan to aggressively pursue Yoenis Cespedes.  Getting the latest big name Cuban defector can only be a good thing for the franchise as they try to re-build a fan base in a heavily latino/cuban community.
  • Well, the  Yankees shored up their rotation in one 3 hour period on Friday night; trading for Michael Pineda and then signing Hiroki Kuroda.   They went from having three question marks in their rotation to now wondering if AJ Burnett can hold onto the 5th rotation spot.  Wow.  Here’s Keith Law‘s analysis, predictably giving the “edge” to the Mariners in the deal despite the obvious fact that Pineda is MLB proven while the other three guys in the deal, aren’t.

Hall of Fame items

  • Mike Silva becomes one of the very few BBWAA writers with a HoFame vote to publish support for Jack Morris.  I’m sure I’ll be seeing the inevitable Craig Calcarerra blog posting questioning Silva’s IQ for doing so.
  • David Shoenfield has a little missive on the HoFame, voting procedures and comments on how few players are getting elected these days.
  • Chris Jaffe does an excellent job predicting HoFame votes every year; here’s his guess on 2012’s election.  Bad news for Bagwell and Morris, good news for Larkin though.
  • Other interesting HoFame notes: one site in particular collects ballots; here’s a summary of the 80-some ballots she has right now.  Very good support for Larkin.
  • No Bagwell votes here; prepare for the ridiculing.  Danny Knobler and Scott Miller.
  • I think i’m just about fed up with bloggers who see everything in modern baseball through little spreadsheets of data and who never even saw Jack Morris and Bert Blyleven tell me I’m an idiot because i think the former is a better pitcher than the latter.  At some point statistics are just that; numbers that prove or disprove whatever your theories are.  You can’t just ignore 20 years of performance and context of playing in the league by boiling down thousands of innings pitched into one number, whether it is ERA+ or WAR or whatever.   For me, when you talk about whether a player is a Hall of Famer, you look at individual season accomplishments.  Morris basically had 15 seasons of full time pitching.  In 5 of those seasons he was a top-5 vote getter in the Cy Young; that means in 5 seasons those people who covered baseball that season considered him among the best 5 pitchers in his league.   In another two seasons he didn’t finish top 5 but still received votes.  He was god-awful his last two seasons, lowering his career totals.  And there’s dozens of examples of him completing games despite having given up 3-4 runs and sitting on 140 pitches.  Maybe Morris just needed to pitch in the current era, where he would be taken out in the 7th on a pitch count and then replaced by specialized relievers.  Meanwhile Blyleven, in 21 full seasons of starting made exactly TWO all-star games and received comparable Cy Young support 3 times.  I’ll ask again; how can you be considered one of the best of all time if nobody who covered you day in and day out during your career thought you were even among the best of your day??
  • Jorge Posada announces his retirement; the inevitable “Is he a Hall of Famer” articles start.  Immediate gut reaction from me: yes he’s a HoFamer.  Unlike some of his Yankees dynasty team members (Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte) Posada seems a bit more transcendent in terms of talent and legacy.  A quick glance though at his career stats show some of the problems with his eventual candidacy.  He’s a late bloomer; not playing a full-time season til he’s 25.  However for the 10 seasons he had from 25 to 35 he was fantastic; 5 all-stars, 5 Silver Sluggers and two top-6 MVP votes.  After he turned 35 though he struggled with health and had a relatively poor final season at the plate.  He has no gold gloves and had a reputation for having a very weak throwing arm but had a 121 OPS+ for his career (a great offensive player for a catcher).  His compareables in b-r are heady company (including Carlton Fisk and Gabby Hartnett).  I guess we’ll see in 5 years’ time.
  • Jan 9th 2012: the wait is over.  Only Larkin elected, Morris and Bagwell vote totals rise but still not close.
  • Spreadsheet of all published/known hall of fame votes, with links to explanations.  Interesting to say the least; several blank ballots and several very odd ballots to say the least.

General Baseball News

  • Buster Olney continues his rankings of the top 10s of baseball; this time with lineups.  Predictably its very AL East heavy. Previously he had done rotations, bullpens, infields and outfields.  Links to other lists available from this article (ESPN insider only; consider spending $2/month for it; its worth it).
  • Buster, after finishing the above rankings, publishes his preliminary 2012 top 10 Power Rankings.  Rays #1, Nationals essentially #11/”Best of the Rest.”  Boy this team’s reputation has come a long ways in just a few short years.
  • Jeff Passan‘s A-to-Z discussion on Baseball this off season and in 2012.  I link it since I like most everything Passan writes.
  • Joe Torre joins an ownership group chasing the LA Dodgers … but not the one that Stan Kasten is heading.  Bad move; I think Kasten’s a shoe-in to be Selig‘s pick.
  • This could have a bigger effect than the loss of Albert Pujols: St. Louis pitching coach Dave Duncan is taking a leave of absence from the team to care for his ailing wife.  Duncan has been such a miracle worker for reclamation project starters over the past few years that its hard to imagine the Cardinals pitching staff not to take a dent.
  • The Chicago Cubs franchise potentially takes another hit: Starlin Castro reportedly accused of sexual assault.  Castro returned home for the off-season and isn’t in the country; could this incident prevent him from getting a work visa in 2012?
  • Jonah Keri takes on one of my favorite topics; calling out Billy Beane and showing how he’s closer to being an incompetent GM than he is to his vaunted reputation as the game’s best GM.
  • Great article on Baseball Prospectus about SLAP tears in baseball players (normally pitchers).  The article is very heavy on medical jargon but talks about the different types of tears and surgical remedies.  This is the injury that Chris Carpenter had and recovered from (though I’m pretty sure he ALSO had Tommy John surgery too).
  • Nice book review for “A Unique Look at Big League Baseball.”

Collegiate/Prospect News

  • 2012 AL rookie of the year favorite Matt Moore, profiled at seedlingstostars.com.  This is part of a series of prospect reviews, counting down to #1 and Moore is ranked #4 … but the author immediately caveats it by saying that any of the top 4 could be #1.  I talked about Moore after his playoff start on this site, coming away with a Wow factor that I havn’t had since Strasburg.
  • Scout.com’s top 100 Prospect list for 2012Bryce Harper #3 behind Moore and Mike Trout.  Can’t argue there.  Other Nats on the list include Anthony Rendon (#56).  AJ Cole (#76) and Brad Peacock (#85) would have made us a bit more respectable pre-Gonzalez trade.  Here’s hoping that the Nats “other” big prospects (Meyer and Purke in particular) turn in stellar 2012’s and beef up our presence on the national prospect scene again.

General News; other

  • Article on 10 “trendy sports medicine” fixes.  Including some exotic baseball remedies we’ve heard about recently.
http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2012/writers/tom_verducci/01/13/ryan.madson.prince.fielder/index.html

Who is going to start for Syracuse in 2012?

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Craig Stammen looks set to lead a potentially weak 2012 AAA rotation. Photo unknown via sabermetrics.com

We all know who went the other way in the Gio Gonzalez trade; A significant portion of our starter depth, especially at or near the majors.  Both Tommy Milone and Brad Peacock got a few starts in September last year, and both fared relatively well (albeit against somewhat weakened or dis-interested opponents).

Prior to the Gonzalez signing, one would have thought that the MLB 2012 rotation was mostly set, with Ross Detwiler taking the 5th spot over Milone and Peacock by virtue of his (lack of) options status.  That would have left both these younger starters in AAA waiting for their opportunity.  With them now in Oakland’s organization … who is going to start for Syracuse in 2012?  Who represents our starter depth in case someone gets hurt?

At the end of the 2011 season, if one had to guess Syracuse’s 2012 rotation you would have probably guessed it to be Milone, Peacock, Brad Meyers, Craig Stammen and Yuniesky Maya.  This would essentially be the same rotation Syracuse ended their regular season with (replacing spot starter JD Martin with Milone, who by that point had departed for the majors).  Now consider this same group:

  • Milone: traded to Oakland
  • Peacock: traded to Oakland
  • Meyers: picked up by New York in the rule 5 draft
  • Martin: signed a minor league FA deal with Miami

Only Stammen and Maya now remain, and frankly I’m not sure who else the team is going to get to start in Syracuse in 2012.  Here’s a list of every one who made starts in 2011 at Syracuse: Red means they’re no longer with the organization, Blue means they were making re-hab starts or were starts by guys who are out of options for 2012 and aren’t appearing in Syracuse:

Name W L ERA whip G GS
Tom Milone 12 6 3.22 1.03 24 24
Craig Stammen 10 7 4.75 1.43 25 24
Yuniesky Maya 4 9 5 1.24 22 22
Brad Meyers 6 5 3.48 1.31 17 16
Ross Detwiler 6 6 4.53 1.49 16 16
J.D. Martin 3 7 3.93 1.13 30 14
Brad Peacock 5 1 3.19 1.25 9 9
Garrett Mock 0 3 6.28 1.67 16 4
Erik Arnesen 0 2 3.57 1.42 3 3
Ryan Tatusko 3 4 4.54 1.79 23 2
Chad Gaudin 0 2 4.38 1.62 6 2
Chien-Ming Wang 0 1 6.75 1.59 2 2
Stephen Strasburg 0 0 1.8 0.4 1 1
Tom Gorzelanny 0 1 9 1.5 1 1

So, by category of starts:

  • 69 were made by players no longer with Washington (including Rule-5 draftee Meyers, who may very well be returned but for now is a New York Yankee)
  • 20 were made by Detwiler and other MLBers on re-hab assignments.
  • the remaining 51 games made by guys who may or may not feature in 2012.

That’s 63% of your AAA starts made by guys who won’t be making any 2012 AAA starts for this organization.

Well, you may say, perhaps we should just be expecting all those AA pitchers from 2011 to be rising up.  Except that our AA rotation was filled with reclamation projects and minor league free agents in 2011.  Here’s a comparable look at those who made AA starts for the franchise in 2011 (again, with red and blue indicating the same as above):

Name W L ERA whip G GS
Shairon Martis 8 6 3.05 1.22 23 23
Tanner Roark 9 9 4.69 1.4 21 21
Erik Davis 5 7 4.79 1.61 19 18
Erik Arnesen 8 4 2.43 1.1 26 16
Oliver Perez 3 5 3.09 1.39 16 15
Brad Peacock 10 2 2.01 0.86 16 14
Ryan Tatusko 2 4 5.94 1.83 12 9
Daniel Rosenbaum 3 1 2.29 0.97 6 6
Brad Meyers 3 2 2.48 0.96 6 6
Jimmy Barthmaier 5 3 5.05 1.55 39 2
Carlos Martinez 3 4 5.34 1.42 32 2
Chien-Ming Wang 2 0 0 0.73 2 2
Garrett Mock 0 1 13.5 2.05 2 2
Luis Atilano 0 1 13.5 2.5 2 2
Stephen Strasburg 1 0 0 0.17 1 1
Evan Bronson 0 0 2.25 1.75 1 1
Henry Rodriguez 0 0 0 0.75 3 1
Doug Slaten 0 0 0 1 1 1

AA Start Summary:

  • 67 were made by players no longer with Washington (including all minor league Free Agents for the time being, even though some may re-sign eventually)
  • 4 were re-hab assignments by current MLBers.
  • the remaining 71 games made by guys who may or may not feature in 2012.  This includes a few starts by Arneson

That’s 50% of your AA starts made by guys no longer with the organization or re-hab starts.  Arneson pitched well enough, but he’s no prospect; he’s 28 and starting his 6th minor league year.  Roark and Tatusko both struggled in 2011 and seem destined for the bullpen.  Davis was demoted, Bronson only called up for a spot AA start, and Rosenbaum pitched well in 6 late season starts but needs more AA seasoning.  So not a lot of help coming up from Harrisburg.

Luckily, the Nats have been adding minor league free agent signings left and right, guys who probably will feature.  By my notes, here’s the arms we’ve added so far this off season:

  • Matthew Buschmann, rhp: taken in the rule5 draft (AA phase) from San Diego, he was reasonably successful in 2011 in the AA Texas league before getting pounded in 20 appearances (15 starts) in AAA.  By virtue of his rule-5 drafting, he’s pretty much guaranteed to be on the AAA roster in some capacity.  He is a starter; will be be one of Syracuse’s starters?
  • Joaquin Waldis, rhp, signed to a 1yr ML FA (former club: San Francisco) with an invite to Spring Training.  He was a reliever all of 2011 and was most likely signed to provide some depth in the middle relief phase.  Not a starter option.
  • Jeff Fulchino, rhp, signed to a 1yr ML FA (Houston), invite to ST (split contract).  Was relatively mediocre for Houston and San Diego last year, again signed for some reliever depth/spring training competition.
  • Robert Gilliam, a rhp thrown into the Gonzalez trade, is a starter but only was at Oakland’s Class-A entry in the California League last year.  He seems set to be in the AA rotation in 2012.
  • Mike Ballard, a lhp starter given a 1yr ML FA (Baltimore), invite to ST.  He was relatively effective for Baltimore’s AA affiliate in Bowie, but less so at AAA Norfolk, where he started the season.  He is a full-time starter and seems a likely candidate for our AAA rotation.

Ok, It seems like we may have our answer.  It looks like your AAA rotation will be Stammen, Maya, Arneson, Buschmann and Ballard.  Here’s a quick rundown on these 5 guy’s AAA numbers for 2011:

Name Age as of 4/1/12 W L ERA whip G GS CG SHO SV ip H R ER HR hb bb so
Craig Stammen 28 10 7 4.75 1.43 25 24 1 1 0 142 163 80 75 18 1 40 127
Yunesky Maya 30 4 9 5 1.24 22 22 1 0 0 129.2 133 73 72 14 5 28 98
Erik Arnesen 28 0 2 3.57 1.42 3 3 0 0 0 17.2 22 7 7 2 0 3 15
Mike Ballard 28 2 4 4.91 1.624 10 9 1 1 0 51.1 66 31 28 7 17 38
Matthew Buschmann 28 6 5 7.31 1.837 20 15 1 0 0 88.2 129 75 72 11 33 60

Without sounding too judgmental … that’s not a lot of AAA depth in case something happens.  Only 2 of these 5 are even on the 40-man, and those who are have either proven to be ineffective at the major league level (Maya) or seem destined to be used as middle relief/organization filler (Stammen).  If Meyers gets returned, look for him to replace Arneson one for one (since Arnesen seems destined to be the minor league utility guy, as he was used last year).

I’d have to say; if someone goes down with injury, we’ll most likely look from within the MLB bullpen (in the form of Gorzelanny or Detwiler) for starts.

Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 12/13/11 edition

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Fare the well Mr Balester; we'll miss your moustache's twitter account. Photo Nats official Al Bello/Getty Images North America via zimbio.com

I have a new rule: when this post hits 1500 words, I’ll publish it no matter what the date.

Nationals In General

  • Re-signing Ryan Zimmerman thoughts, since it keeps coming up thanks to the Pujols signing, Jim Bowden comments and Natmosphere bloggers bringing it up.  After an injury-plagued year (and really, the 3rd such injury-marred year he’s had out of 6 full pro seasons, including 2 surgeries and one torn labrum he just rehabbed but which cost him 1/3 of a season), the team rightfully should be concerned about giving him a Troy Tulowitzki like deal, guaranteeing money for 10 years.  But on the flip side, ironically after such an injury year his value is down and the team probably can save some money by signing him longer term.  The new CBA takes away a lot of the draft pick compensation we would expect by letting him go to Free Agency, and trading him in the middle of 2013, while we’re probably in the middle of a pennant race, would be a non-starter.
  • Speaking of Zimmerman, everyone’s favorite ex-Nats GM Jim Bowden posts some potential Hanley Ramirez trade ideas, you know, since he’s a petulant superstar already prone to being a clubhouse cancer and now in the position of having to move to 3B, probably without being told ahead of time that the team was nearing a deal with Jose Reyes.  His #1 option: Ramirez for Zimmerman straight up.  Bowden is convinced the Nats, by virtue of not having addressed Zimmerman’s contract status, are going to let him walk at the end of 2013.  Its not the first time he’s brought it up.  Hey Jim; stop trying to MAKE the news and just report on it.
  • Some cool blog posts from Nats minor leaguer Ryan Tatusko, on the differences between learning in Pro ball versus College, and another posting just before it on the “art of throwing a ball.”
  • Trade announced Friday 12/9/11: Collin Balester to the Tigers for rhp Ryan Perry.  A good move for both sides: the Nats were likely to have to waive Balester at the end of spring training by virtue of his lack of options, so we get something for nothing.  Perry has an option left and, while his 2011 numbers were pretty bad, he does have one more  option remaining so the team can use spring training as a tryout of sorts.  Perry could be a natural replacement for Todd Coffey, and is a good move since clearly Balester’s value to the team has ceased and we still need a couple of bullpen arms.  Great analysis of the trade here from Masn’s new beat reporter Pete Kerzel.  Great human-interest angle here from Amanda Comak: Balester’s wife is from Detroit so the family is ecstatic that he’s playing so close now.
  • Byron Kerr, whose writing I normally like, wrote a laughably pro-team article about some of our marginal relievers.  The quotes about Doug Slaten are especially ridiculous, quoting our new bench coach Randy Knorr as saying that Slaten is “one of the three best left-handed relievers in the National League.”   That is so ridiculous that I had to comment on the article and call Kerr’s reporting into question.
  • Henry Rodriguez‘s change-up was listed among the “more interesting” pitches to talk about in baseball by Sam Miller from Baseball Prospectus.  Also thrown in there is Roy Halladay‘s cutter, Mariano Rivera‘s cutter, Javier Lopez‘s drop-down side-arm fastball and Brad Lidge‘s slider.  All of these pitches are analyzed in various statistical measures.
  • The Non-tender deadline came and went, and the team acted as I predicted here.  They protected all their arbitration-eligible guys outside of Doug Slaten.  Here’s a link to MLBtraderumors non-tender tracker for all 30 teams, and there are definitely some interesting names out there now for the Nats, who definitely have some FA needs.  Peter Moylan, Ryan Theriot, Joe Saunders, Andy Sonnanstine and a few others.  BJ Upton was tendered, meaning we’re going to have to give up some prospects to get him.  Mind you, some of these non-tenders are part of pre-arranged deals to come back to the club, but some are definitely the team cutting ties.

Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • Let the bidding begin!  Yu Darvish officially posts, and as a side-effect makes his soon-to-be-ex-wife a multi-millionare.  Good for him (and her).  Mike Rizzo and the Nationals have definitely scouted the guy and are interested; how high will be willing to go on the posting fee to “win” the negotiations?  Another thought: why wouldn’t we just blow out the posting fee, guarantee the win, then play uber-hardball with Darvish on a contract to make the entire package reasonable?  If we can’t agree on terms, he goes back to Japan (where he clearly has nothing left to prove) but nobody else gets him?  Sounds a little disingenuous but its a strategy.  In any case, we’ll know the posting winner by Wednesday.
  • How do the Tampa Bay Rays keep doing this?  Phenom pitcher Matt Moore signed a 5yr/$14M contract that has club options that could max it out at 8yrs/$40M and buys out the first two free agency years.  I wonder if, 4 years from now, we’ll be looking at this contract and absolutely shaking our heads in disbelief at how underpaid he is.  Kinda like how we look at Evan Longoria‘s contract and say the same thing.
  • A good point about the Angels’ Pujols signing: they now have way too many guys who play first base and outfield.  Morales, Trumbo, and Abreu seem to be first basemen only, and they still have the outfield quartet of Wells, Hunter, Bourjos and uber prospect Mike Trout.   They fixed some catcher depth issues, they don’t need starting pitching.  I wonder what the Nats could do to take some of these hitters off their hands?
  • Arizona lands one of the Oakland starters Trevor Cahill in trade.  Arizona bolsters their division-winning rotation, now looking at Kennedy, Hudson, Cahill, Saunders and Collmenter.  Not bad.  Most pundits are calling the trade a steal for Arizona, who gave up a 1st rounder but only two other mediocre prospects.
  • Turns out the Nats were off by a significant amount on Mark Buehrle.  We offered 3yrs/$39M versus the 4yrs/$58M he got from Miami.  No wonder he took their deal.  Too bad; he would have been a good addition.  Not the addition I would have gone after, but still a solid #3 starter for the next few years.
  • All those people who write “Pujols should have stayed”  or “Pujols has tarnished his legacy” articles should probably zip it.  As is depicted here, the Angels clearly showed they wanted Albert for the long term, including the personal services contract.  Not to mention their offer beat St. Louis’ by $40M.   You just cannot leave $40M on the table.  A few million over a number of years, sure.  $40M?  No way.  Oh, and for everyone who says “well, Stan Musial stayed with St. Louis his whole career,” I will counter with this: “Musial had a reserve clause, Pujols does not.  If icons from the pre 1970s had free agency as an option to earn more money and move to better situations, you’d be a fool to think that they wouldn’t have used that system.”
  • Would you take a flier on AJ Burnett?  The Yankees apparently are willing to eat $8M of the $33M owed to him over the next two years.  If he moved from the AL East to the NL East, he’d probably see a full point reduction in his ERA.  But a quick look at his career stats lends me to believe that he’s barely above mediocre but paid like a super-star.  Burnett’s career ERA+ is now 105.  Our own John Lannan‘s?  103.

General Baseball News

  • Since I’m a bay-area native, I’m always interested in reading news blips about San Francisco and Oakland teams.  Here’s Andrew Clem with a quick blog post with some interesting links to potential new stadium sites and designs.  The big sticking point, obviously, is that the Giants claim San Jose as their territory.  And its hard to argue with them; clearly the “bay area” of San Francisco is exactly the suburbs of San Francisco.  Even though its roughly the same geographical distance from DC to Baltimore as it is from San Francisco to San Jose, there are three major highways to ease the traffic flow (as opposed to one between the two east coast cities) and people routinely make their way up and down the peninsula to commute.  Thus, its going to be a very difficult sell for Oakland to move south, even if they stay across the bay in the Fremont area.  I don’t know the solution; just that the A’s now reside in the same division as the 2-time defending AL champs AND the Angels with their newly minted $170M payroll.  Ouch.
  • Unbelievable: the reigning NL MVP Ryan Braun reportedly has tested positive for a synthetic testosterone and faces a 50-game ban.  What an unexpected piece of news; one of the “new generation” of sluggers who wasn’t tainted at all by the shenanigans of the last 90s now has thrown us back into the same PED conversation we’ve been having for years.  That being said, there is some hope in reading the linked article.  Apparently he asked for a second test, and he was clean in the second test.  There are “false positive” tests all the time.  The case is under appeal but has leaked out (unfortunately for the slugger, who now faces the stigma of the positive test even if its a false positive).
  • Boston announces that Daniel Bard will be moved to the starting rotation in 2012.  Excellent move by Boston; if Bard is just a decent starter, he’s still far more valuable than as a reliever.  Of course, this more or less guts the back end of their bullpen, so look for Boston to sign some of the reliever/closer talent still available on the FA market.

General News; other

  • Not that you may care about the BCS and college football, but here’s a fantastic analysis of the BCS formulas and the flaws contained within them.  It isn’t a bombshell article, but does show some troubling facts about a system that has built in flaws, with coaches voting on items that have a direct effect on their own teams’ successes.


Nats non-tender deadline decisions

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Is Gorzelanny going to be tendered? Find out today. Photo via Nats.

The next big date on the MLB offseason calendar happens today, Monday December 12th.  This is the “Non-Tender Deadline,” or the last day for teams to tender 2012 contracts to players under reserve.  In english, this means that all the Nats arbitration eligible players must be “tendered” a 2012 contract by this date or else they become immediate free agents.

Here’s a list of the Nationals that are arbitration eligible this off-season, their 2011 salary and an estimate of what they would cost for 2012 if offered arbitration.

Player Current or 2011 Contract 2011 2012 2012 guess
Clippard, Tyler 1 yr/$0.443M (11) $443,000 Arb 1 $1,700,000
Flores, Jesus 1 yr/$0.75M (11) $750,000 Arb 3 $800,000
Gorzelanny, Tom 1 yr/$2.1M (11) $2,100,000 Arb 3 $2,800,000
Lannan, John 1yr/2.75M (11) $2,750,000 Arb 2 $4,500,000
Morse, Michael 1 yr/$1.05M (11) $1,050,000 Arb 2 $3,900,000
Slaten, Doug 1 yr/$0.695M; (11) $695,000 Arb 3 $900,000
Zimmermann, Jordan 1 yr/$0.415M (11) $415,000 Arb 1 $1,800,000

Both Tyler Clippard and Jordan Zimmermann achieved “super-2″ status, meaning they’ll get a 4th arbitration year down the road.  Contrary to other reports, Roger Bernadina did NOT qualify for this super-2 status, despite being right on the borderline of service days.  The above salary guesses are partly taken from mlbtraderumors.com analysis and partly adjusted to what I think the player would really earn.

Side note on the way to estimate/guess the salaries: For those with three years of arbitration, the salary achieved is usually a representation of an eventual percent of the FA salary would be for the player, based on the arbitration year.  These percentages are usually 40% of FA value for the first year of arbitration, 60% for second and 80% for third year.  Thus, using John Lannan as an example, his first year Arbitration salary was $2.75M, meaning that his 100% FA salary value would be $6.875M/year.  After his good 2011 season though, I’m estimating his 100% value to be $7.5M/year, or exactly what we paid Jason Marquis per year, which puts his 2012 arbitration figure at the $4.5M estimate.

So, what should the Nats do with these arbitration cases?

To me, five of these seven cases are straight-forward; you absolutely tender Clippard, Flores, Lannan, Morse and Zimmerman.  MASN’s Pete Kerzel posted his thoughts on this same topic over the weekend and seemed to indicate there would be a question as to whether we would tender Flores; that’s crazy talk.  In a league where quality catchers are a scarcity and with Flores tearing up the Venezeulan Winter League right now, there’s no reason to think the team would possibly lose him.  After all, we just put a journeyman AAA catcher Jhonatan Solano on the 40-man specifically to keep HIM from being poached.  Also, I hear rumblings that Lannan may be non-tendered under the theory that he’s not providing value worth what he’s going to be paid (roughly $4.8-$4.9M); again I think that’s misguided.  He’s a solid pitcher who gives good innings from the left hand side, and he’s only been improving since he earned a spot in the rotation.  He’s never missed a start due to injury, and if not for the first half of 2010 (when he lost his way and was demoted) he’d have a sub 4.00 career ERA, a rarity in this league.  Replacing him on the open market would absolutely cost more than he’s set to earn next year.  Plus, with any decent run support (the Nats averaged only 3.6 runs/game in games when he started in 2011) he’d probably have a much better W/L record.

That leaves Gorzelanny and Slaten.  Case by case.

1. Doug Slaten.  Here’s a list of pertinent stats for Slaten’s 2011 season as the primary LOOGY out of our pen:

  • 4.41 era.
  • 2.143 whip.  That’s so ridiculously bad as to be almost laughable.  He gave up 26 hits and 9 walks in 16 1/3 innings.
  • He had a -0.1 WAR.
  • He had a .356 batting average against.
  • Opposing batters had a 1.036 OPS with him on the hill.
  • He allowed 47% of inherited runners to SCORE.  Not advance, but score.  15 of 32 runners.
  • Lastly, in lefty-lefty matchups, the whole reasons he is put into games?  Lefties hit him for this slash line: .333/.368/.639 for nifty 1.007 OPS.

He struggled with injury last year, and yes its difficult to determine how much of the above performance was due to the lingering effects of the injury.  So be it; this isn’t personal; he was awful in the role and he’s replaceable either from within (Severino, VanAllen or Smoker) or on the FA market (where there’s always an older lefty in the Ron Villone mold looking for work).  Verdict: Basically, not only should Slaten not be tendered a contract, he should have been flat out released months ago.

2. Tom Gorzelanny.  A tougher call.  The Nats traded three prospects just a year ago to acquire him (though, in fairness, none of the three guys we traded have done much to improve their prospect status; AJ Morris didn’t play any 2011 games, Graham Hicks had a 4.01 era in 14 starts while repeating low A-ball for the 3rd time, and Michael Burgess batted .225 after being demoted to high-A.  So it seems we basically got Gorzelanny for nearly nothing).  He lost his spot in our starting rotation after 15 starts in 2011, but was excellent in 15 relief appearances.  His starter/reliever splits show a 4.46 era in his 15 starts but a 2.42 era in 15 relief appearances.

I think Gorzelanny would make an excellent long-man/spot starter out of the bullpen, a role that Davey Johnson values heavily.  His flexibility to be anything from a one-out guy to a 6 inning spot starter is indeed invaluable, and his 8.2 k/9 rate from the left hand side shows that he can be a shut down pitcher,when he needs it.

So what is the problem?  His salary.  Is he set to make more than a mediocre middle reliever is worth?  He made $2.1M this year in his first arbitration year, when his salary and value was being measured as a starter.  One would have to think that he’d easily get an increase if the team tendered him (I estimated $2.8M for his 2012 salary if tendered), and it would be difficult to argue against an increase despite his failure as a starter.  So the question becomes: is $2.8M too much money for a middle reliever?   A quick glance at some of the reliever FA signings thus far gives some comparables : Jeremy Affeldt signed a 1yr/$5M contract and Javier Lopez signed a 2yr/$8.5M.   Both these guys are mostly loogies (especially Lopez) but also both had far better numbers than Gorzelanny, even just looking at his reliever splits.  Meanwhile a couple of non-closer right-handed middle relievers (Dotel, Frasor) signed deals for between $3.5 and $3.75M/year but aren’t nearly the long-man capable guys that Gorzelanny is. So perhaps a salary in the $2.8M range for Gorzelanny isn’t too bad.

Verdict: Tender him.

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.

Why did Rizzo expose Kimball to Waivers?

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Fare the well Cole Kimball. Photo Robb Carr/Getty Images via zimbio.com

Surprising news hit today: per story-breaker Mark Zuckerman, both Cole Kimball and Corey Brown were waived off the 40-man roster earlier this week.  We got word today that Kimball was claimed by Toronto, while Brown passed through waivers and is now assigned to our AAA squad.

Why would the team choose to expose Kimball to waivers?

Possible reasons:

  1. The team figured they could gamble and slip Kimball through waivers by virtue of his surgery.  (Except that we have former employees scattered around the league who know our personnel, including one in Toronto)
  2. The team figures he won’t be ready by mid-2012, so he wasn’t worth keeping on the roster (hard to believe given his pre-injury performance for the team).
  3. Rizzo knows something the rest of us don’t.  Maybe Kimball’s injury is worse than we thought.  Maybe he’s assuming (a good assumption frankly) that hard throwers with shoulder surgeries don’t really come back that often.

However, what I don’t get about the move can be summarized in these points:

  1. The team was already sitting with 6 open slots on the 40-man roster, more than enough to add in what I figured would be most of their off-season work (adding a few rule-5 eligible players and signing a few free agents).
  2. The team could have easily shed a few more people off the 40-man by non-tendering Doug Slaten, designating Roger Bernadina or non-tendering Tom Gorzelanny.  Even Atahualpa Severino seemed to be less valuable than Kimball.
  3. Kimball could be stashed on the 40-man roster til April 1st of next year, then stuffed onto the 60-day DL until you needed him, thus freeing up the roster room at that point.

A curious move.  Either Rizzo was gambling and had his bluff called, or he knows something that the rest of us don’t.

Written by Todd Boss

November 16th, 2011 at 5:12 pm