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Ask Boswell 5/28/13 Edition

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Apparently shelving Danny Espinosa will solve all the Nats problems. Photo AP via mlb.com

Its the end of May, the Nats are still lingering around .500.  Are the natives getting restless in Washington?  Lets check in on Tom Boswell‘s 5/28/13 chat.

Q: Pretend there is some kind of supplemental draft and only 3 players are available – Machado, Harper and Trout. Would you mind channeling your inner Mel Kiper and give us your “big board” and rank these 3 phenoms?

A: I’d likely go Trout, Harper and Machado.   I think Trout slightly beats out Harper right now in terms of overall talent, though its really really close.  I like Trout’s advantage on the basepaths and in the outfield.  Harper’s 80 power is hard to find though.  Meanwhile Machado’s supposed defensive prowness isn’t even being exploited by the O’s, but given that he plays a premium position to either Trout or Harper he may end up being in the mix for #1 overall too.   Boswell puts them in the same order.

Q: Can Ryan Zimmerman play 2B? What about moving him over there and making room for Rendon at third? Ryan played SS in college and in his major league debut, and his quick reflexes seem to give him the range necessary to play the position. And the best part: the throws are a lot shorter from 2B.

A: Michael Morse played shortstop in high school, why wouldn’t we want him to play middle infield now?   (sorry, taking a ridiculous similar stance with a player’s athletic abilities NOW versus when he was 18 or 21).  I perceive Zimmerman to be “quick” but at the same time “slow.”  I don’t think he’s make it as a middle infielder any more.  Boswell says almost the same thing; he’s “quick but not fast.”  Wow, Boswell and I are 2-for-2 like minded so far!

Q: Is Espinosa ever going to find his swing? I know you were tooting his horn a while back, do you still feel the same about him?

A: Danny Espinosa needs to stop hiding significant injuries from his management.  You can’t blame him though; he knows he’s likely out of a job if he sits and someone else succeeds in his place while he heals.  But, this is now two major injures he’s basically hidden and tried to play through.  No judgement can be made about him any more before he gets completely healthy.  I believe the team should D/L him, get both his injuries fixed and re-assess when he’s healthy.  He’s certainly not doing the team any favors by hitting .150 with loose bone fragments in his wrist.  Of course, his current BABIP is .202;  That’s so low as to be amazing, so even with his struggles he should be set to improve.  Wow, Me and Bos are 3-for-3; he talks a bit about Espinosa plus tools, his issues post first 1,000 at-bats, and then mirrors my statement of wanting him shutdown to heal for the rest of 2013.

Q: Shouldn’t Harper just be placed on the DL until he heals up enough that he won’t be missing a few games every week? The way they’re doing it, the team is short a player and a bat for two or three days on a regular basis, or has Harper playing at 70 percent

A: I agree.  Harper‘s splits since running into the wall at the end of April are pretty distinct.  April: 1.150 OPS.  May: .687 OPS.  And that was before Los Angeles.  An now he’s got this knee issue.   I think he needs a D/L trip, rest, sit in the hot tub for two weeks and come back refreshed.  Between him and Espinosa and Detwiler the team has been playing 22 against 25 for days now.  Boswell agrees; he thinks Harper should have been given the 7-day D/L stint when he hit the wall.

Q: Has anyone suggested Espinosa get his vision tested? He has absolutely no pitch recognition, he looks like the world’s [biggest] guess hitter.

A: I don’t think its his vision.  I think he’s just an awful left-handed hitter, and unfortunately he takes most of his switch-hitting swings from the left side.  He’s just lost at the plate.  I went through a game like this once; the umpire’s zone was so unpredictable that I was just up at the plate swinging at whatever came.  It was like BP when you know you’re only getting 10 swings and the pitcher sucks; swing at everything.  Boswell says Espinosa has the worst plate discipline on the team, and talks about how Espinsoa is swinging before the ball even comes to the plate.  Sounds familiar.

Q: With a lack luster offense, poor defense, a bullpen you can’t seem to count on and only two starters pitching well, why do you believe the Nats will turn it around?

A: Because of their upcoming schedule of course!  Here’s my post on the topic on April 24th.  The gist of it is this; by the time May 31st rolls around, the Nats will have played 27 of their 55 games against 2012 playoff contenders.  Look at their season so far; they’ve played the Reds, the Braves, the Cardinals, the Reds again, 4 at Atlanta, the Tigers, at the Giants and now 4 straight against Baltimore.   June and July are significantly easier.  Look at the teams they play for the next 8 weeks; yes Cleveland and Arizona are improved, but a lot of the games on their slate are easy, winnable games.  You can get confident quickly when you have a bunch of winnable games.

To this question specifically, the offense has absolutely been affected by injuries.  People will get healthier.  The Defense was great last year; what changed?  If anything we’ve got a better defensive team now than in 2012 (replaced Morse with Span, replaced Flores with Suzuki).  The bullpen is fixable; Storen has just been unlucky, not bad.  Only 2 starters doing well?  I’d say at least 3 are doing well (Strasburg, Detwiler and of course Zimmermann, one is inconsistent but at the high end when he’s on (Gonzalez) and one has been a pretty severe disappointment in Haren.  My hope is that Haren slowly gets back to a 100 ERA+ level pitcher and then is left off the playoff roster.  Boswell eventually talks about the schedule, but goes off on a huge Pecota Rest-of-Season projection tangent.

Q: Big day (maybe) for the Nationals future if Karns can establish himself as a future 3-4-5 starter. Everything I hear and read about him says he has plus stuff and makeup, and an especially good fastball. What are you looking for tonight vs. the Os and how many starts can we expect Karns to make?

A: I’m looking for Nathan Karns to make it through the lineup tonight against Baltimore giving up just a minimum of damage frankly.  I don’t think Karns has a servicable 3rd pitch, which means he can get by on heat and his great slider for a while … but eventually Baltimore’s hitters are too good to get fooled more than twice.  I’ll be ecstatic with a line like this: 6 ip, 2 runs, 5 hits, 2 walks, 6 k’s.   I think he makes this start and perhaps 1 more before going back down when Detwiler returns.  Boswell didn’t really answer the question.  Editor Update: Karns had flashes of good and bad in last night’s game, going 4 1/3 and giving up 3 runs on 5 hits and two homers.  Didn’t agree with Johnson’s yanking him and taking away his Win though.

Q: Are the Nats and Harper going the way of Shanahan and RGIII with this knee business OR will we see common sense prevail so we can see our best player Harper rest up and make a difference when it really counts? Didn’t Harper come to bat with the score already 5-1 (6-1 ?) , in the bottom 8th when the Nats already had a commanding lead?

A: Hardly the same situation.  A brused knee from a foul ball versus a blown ACL?  Come on.  Must be someone begging the question.  Boswell does have some criticism for the Harper handling considering the kid gloves that Strasburg has been handled with his whole career.

Q: Why are people praising Espinosa for being “tough” and playing through his broken wrist? He was HURTING the team, it’s time to sit down at that point!

A: Because we live in a macho football culture, and playing through pain is a football mentality.  Boswell punts.

Q: The Nationals bats have not lived up to expectations. What move or moves could the Nationals make to get these bats going? Maybe a new hitting coach, an additional hitting coach, minor league players or some through a trade.

A: Why do people think hitting coaches make a difference?  Is Rick Eckstein part of the problem here?

Actually, looking at the Nats starting eight hitters; four of them have OPS+ figures > 100 (meaning they’re better than MLB average).   Suzuki is a bit below but he’s the catcher.  Span has slowly started to be come a liability at the top; he’s only got a .332 OBP with zero power right now.  Espinosa of course is the big black hole.  So while we’re knowingly in a rut offensively … the individual pieces aren’t really that bad.  There’s some bats in the minors but not much.  We really have very little prospect depth that’s tradeable for a bat mid-season.  This is your team ladies and gentlemen; get used to it.  Boswell also says we have to ride it out, but points out that the team hasn’t been healthy and has replaced Morse’s ABs with almost zero production from our bench.

Q: Any early predictions as to who will be managing the Nats next season? Davey’s also dropped a couple of hints that his retirement isn’t entirely his idea. Assuming they don’t win the World Series and he gets to ride off into the sunset, any chance that he comes back next year?

A: I’m continually amazed at the amount of curiosity about the manager.  Maybe Davey Johnson is back, maybe he isn’t.  Maybe the team hires a name guy, maybe they hire from within.  Lets focus on 2013 first.  Boswell mentions Don Mattingly, as we’ve heard in the national media.

Ask Boswell 4/29/13 edition

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Loved Zimmermann’s 1-hitter last week. Photo AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta

We havn’t done an Ask Tom Boswell chat response in a while; I started one from last week’s chat but ended up deleting it.  Nothing really to add to what Boswell was responding.

Here’s the 4/29/13 edition, after an up and down week with the Nats; getting swept by St. Louis and then taking three of four from Cincinnati behind some of the best starting pitching we’ve seen in a while.

As always, I’ll write a response here before reading Boswell’s, and will edit questions for clarity.

Q: Did Strasburg learn anything from watching Gio’s and JZimm’s efficient starts against the Reds?

A: We talked a bit about Stephen Strasburg‘s issues last week in this space.  I’m not sure what he could have learned from Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann‘s consecutive 1-hit outings that he didn’t already know; get ahead of hitters, throw first-pitch strikes, use your whole arsenal.  Cincinnati is a good hitting team, but Atlanta is better.  At least we have the distinct pitching matchup advantage in game one (when the struggling Julio Teheran goes for Atlanta).  Boswell repeats both my points here; first pitch strikes and a favorable Teheran matchup.

Q: Why is blocking the plate by the Catcher now suddenly such an issue?

A: I think it starts with the horrible injury suffered by Buster Posey; a needless debilitating injury that took out an MVP candidate and cost him a year off his career.  Locally, we all remember Chase  Utley‘s cheap shot on Jesus Flores, which essentially cost him two years and a job in the majors.  And I think it is the general climate in sports today to try to avoid concussive injuries at all costs in the wake of the very scary CTE studies that are out there and may change the very fabric of Football as we know it.  Every time there’s another injury, another collision the drumbeat gets louder.  Just because catcher collisions have always been a part of the game doesn’t mean they’re right.  I’m in favor of eliminating the play, and If I was a MLB manager i’d advise my catchers to give the runner half the plate and try to avoid injury.   Boswell agrees.

Q: Why isn’t Solano catching any games?

A: Two reasons: Kurt Suzuki by virtue of the off/on schedule with Wilson Ramos for the first couple of weeks is relatively rested and can catch 6 straight days.  The other?  Jhonatan Solano just isn’t as good of an offensive option, and with the whole team struggling at the plate why put a guy in who is clearly overmatched?  The guy only has about 100ABs above AA after all.  Boswell says the last thing you should do when struggling is bench a veteran for a rookie, especially at catcher.  Ramos returns from the DL tonight so its a moot point.

Q: If you were betting on a team to win the next World Championship in DC who would be that team?

A: You have to think its the Nats right?  Redskins are lookup up with RGIII but aren’t a complete team yet and may be a couple years off (and no more salary cap penalties) from putting together a SB team.  The Wizards may not be relevant for another decade.  The Caps are hot and may go for a decent run in the NHL playoffs, but those series are such coin flips that if they couldn’t win when they were the league’s best regular season team, its hard to see why they’d win now.  Lastly DC United is just getting back to some respectability after years of decline, but winning an MLS title over some of the powerhouses in the league is a tall order.  Boswell says Nats, Caps, Skins.  Doesn’t even mention the other two franchises :-)

Q: Any chance Bud steps in ala with the Dodgers and Frank McCourt and forces Loria’s to sell the team?

A: I think there’s a chance, but something “illegal” would have to happen.  Selig was able to force McCourt to sell when the league was being embarassed and the team was clearly suffering financially because of mis-management.  Selig has allowed Loria to already do several unsavory things to fan bases in both Montreal and Miami, so its hard to see what else could happen.  However, if this supposed SEC investigation finds real evidence of fraud and the team is sued, I can see Selig stepping in and forcing Loria out.  Boswell doesn’t really answer the question.

Q: When he gets sent down next week, would you be surprised if he played second base exclusively given that Espinosa is now struggling with the bat and glove?

A: Anthony Rendon was ALREADY playing multiple positions in the minors this season, starting mostly at 3B but also getting a few games at 2B and at least one at SS.   But I don’t think Rendon would be Danny Espinosa‘s replacement; Steve Lombardozzi would be.  If Espinosa were to be sent to the DL, Lombardozzi starts and then Rendon probably gets called back up to provide some infield cover.  Boswell thinks Rendon could make the transition, but needs more minor league time.  He also talks a lot about Espinosa vs Lombardozzi and (in my opinion) overrates the defensive value of Espinosa a bit.  In the age of rising strikeouts, it isn’t as important to have Gold Glove calibre fielders everywhere.  This is just a partial answer that may need eventual expansion in a blog post of its own.

Q: Mr. Boswell, why did Davey insert Rendon instead of Lombardozzi (following Ryan’s injury) into the lineup and why did he not allow Tyler Moore to start Sunday with Cingrani on the bump?

A: Good questions, both.  I think the team likes Rendon’s defense at 3B more than Lombardozzi or Chad Tracy, so that makes sense at least against lefties.  Why didn’t Tyler Moore play against the tough lefty Tony Cingrani?  I do not know.  You could see Adam LaRoche‘s o-fer a mile away going against the second coming of Randy Johnson (Cingrani’s now has 37 Ks in 23 MLB innings).  Perhaps veteran preference/veteran blind spot on the part of Davey Johnson?  Boswell agrees at least with the LaRoche assessment.

Q: Have the Nats have over-managed Strasburg (in terms of pitch counts, innings limits and pitching to contact) since his injury and gotten into his head?

A: I don’t see Strasburg’s issues being a result of lack of confidence.  If that was the case we’d be seeing 3ip-8 run explosions, not “first inning bad then lights out for the next 6 innings” outings.  Have the Nats over-managed him?  Perhaps; we know Strasburg didn’t like the 2012 shutdown but I supported it (as did the surgeon who performed the damn operation, nobody ever remembers).  I think Strasburg also understands the value of getting hitters to hit your pitch instead of going for blow-em-away Ks every time.  Call it “pitch to contact” but I like to call it “making them hit your pitch.”  You want to try to get a great swing in after falling behind in the count?  Fine; hit my 97mph inside fastball for power, or try to drive my 94mph sinking 2-seamer on the outside corner.  I’ll tip my hat to you if you do.

But Strasburg misses his spots; his command has not been great.  97mph flat on the corner is good; in the middle of the plate is bad.  He’s been missing in the middle way too much.  Boswell defended his column, saying Strasburg needs to “keep it simple.”

Q: What does the team do with Henry Rodriguez?

A: So far this year we’re seeing nothing but “bad” Henry Rodriguez: more walks than hits, too many base-runners, and too many pitches that he just has no idea where they’re going.  He only threw FOUR of Seventeen pitches yesterday for strikes.  Luckily for him, its only a “wild pitch” if someone advances right?  Because some of those pitches were just ridiculous.  I’ll chalk it up to the wet conditions, as (likely) will management.

What can they do with him?  As often repeated in this space, he’s a human roster logjam.  The team has been forced to carry him and his Jeckyl and Hyde pitching for 3 years now because he was out of minor league options when we acquired him.  We’ve invented nebulous DL trips to stash him in extended spring training.  He’s now the lowest leverage guy on the bullpen, when he should be in the mix for 7th and 8th inning opportunities.  But the thing is, there’s not really a guy in Syracuse who is beating down the door to come up.  Maybe Erik Davis, who has pitched really well in AAA and has shown why the team put him on the 40-man.  Or perhaps the team could call up one of its veteran lefties (Fernando Abad or JC Romero) in a pinch.  But I think we’ll see at least another month of H-Rod trying to find his way before that happens.

Boswell raves about his career BAA (.211).  To that I say this: he has now for his career walked 91 batters out of 606 plate appearances.  That’s 15%.  6.1 bb/9.  I’m sorry, but how can you have a reliever with those kind of walk rates be put into any close game?  You can’t.  So in my opinion there’s better ways to use the 7th bullpen slot.

Q: What’s a good ratio for balls to strikes?

A: I’ve always used 60% strikes to pitches thrown as a benchmark for a good outing.  In Jordan Zimmermann‘s 1-hitter he threw 59 of 91 for strikes, or 64%.  In Yu Darvish‘s near perfect game in early April he threw 78 of 111 pitches for strikes for 70%.    Boswell says 65% is a good goal; honestly that’s a bit too high for me realistically.

Q: Do you think Soriano’s presence is helping or hurting Storen?

A: Good question.  Drew Storen‘s struggles so far are really baffling; how do you go from a career 1.099 whip in your first 3 seasons to a 1.7 whip in 2013?  And it isn’t on walks; he’s giving up a ton of hits.  Perhaps it is mental; when Rafael Soriano himself has been a non-closer, his numbers have never been as good than when he’s getting the Saves.  Perhaps Storen is struggling to adapt to this mindset so far.  It also could just be small sample size syndrome too; its only April 29th after all.  Boswell basically says that Storen isn’t a kid anymore and that he should “man up.”

Q: What are Harper’s MVP chances looking like right now?

A: Pretty good.  MVP voting usually starts with “the best players on the best teams” and then whittles down from there.  Bryce Harper is clearly the best hitter on what should be a playoff team, and has been making a game-wide name for himself so far with his performance.  If Washington wins the division and Bryce keeps playing like this, he’s a shoe-in.  However, some guy named Justin Upton has been just as strong; if Atlanta wins the division Upton may be the name people vote for.


Updated Nats Resource Links and their impact

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With the slew of off-season activity nearly complete, I’ve updated some of the tracking worksheets that I maintain related to the Nats roster.  From non-tenders, FA signings and re-signings, trades and Arbitration settlements a lot has changed in terms of the Nats payroll, expected WAR estimates and 40-man options statuses.  All these resources are now updated in Google Docs.  Links (which should also be along the right-hand side of the page):

Here’s the implications that the last few months have had in each case:

Nats WAR Estimate Impact: We last visited this topic on 1/3/13 and I had a 2013 fWAR best case estimate of 57.6, equating to a 103 win season.  Now we’ve replaced Michael Morse‘s 3-win estimate with Adam LaRoche‘s 3.5 win estimate and added in Rafael Soriano‘s 1.2 fWAR estimate and are looking at a fWAR estimate of 59.1 and a 105 win capable team.  As with before, this doesn’t mean i’m predicting 105 wins; i’m saying that if everyone plays to their potential and nobody gets hurt, its hard not to see this being a 105 win team as constructed.

Nats 2013 Payroll Impact: When we last visited this topic on 12/3/12, we were sitting on a 2013 estimated payroll of just $88M.  Since then, we re-signed LaRoche, signed Dan Haren, stunningly signed Soriano and settled a slew of pre-arbitration settlements (most of which seemed to trend higher than MLB’s estimates for the players).  I’m now estimating the Nats 2013 payroll to be $121,823,500 (but see the caveat in the next paragraph).  There are still two payroll figures to be announced/decided: Zach Duke‘s 2013 pay has yet to be disclosed (I’m using an estimate of $1.5M) and Jordan Zimmermann was not able to settle with the team ahead of the filing deadline (i’m using an estimate of $4.9M for him).  The team filed at $4.6M while Zimmermann filed at $5.8M, meaning they’re $1.2M apart at current.  The midpoint would be $5.2M, meaning that the overall payroll could creep even higher and hit $122M.

Coincidentally, I’m not sure how to treat Soriano’s deal from a payroll perspective.  2 years, $28M but as we’ve learned half that money is deferred.  The spreadsheet shows it as a $14M aav contract but he’s only being paid $7M this year.  With the deferred money, the calculated AAV of the contract is only in the $11M/year range.  Cots shows $14M/year right now on its main page, but it hasn’t fixed its internal google XLS’s yet.  I think the right way to go would be to show $7M being paid this year and next, and then when the deferred payments kick in show them as the annual $2M payments that they’ll be.  So maybe the current payroll isn’t $121M but closer to $114M.  I’ll be curious to see how the sites like Cots and Usatoday (the two main sites that publish team payroll figures) treat this contract going forward.

Option Status: We last visited this topic on 11/14/12, before the non-tenders of Flores, Lannan and Gorzelanny, before the Rule-5 additions and before all the signings.   New signings Haren and Soriano are both 5+ year vets so Options don’t matter.  Interestingly, Duke has 6+ years of service time and signed a MLB deal, meaning he cannot be assigned to AAA withouth is consent and/or passing through waivers; the team is clearly counting on him to be in the MLB bullpen the whole year.  The most interesting options cases now belong to Ryan Mattheus and Craig Stammen, both of whom have options and both of whom (despite Stammen’s new 2 year deal) could be affected by the crowded bullpen.  I think we’re all under the assumption that Christian Garcia is starting the year in AAA; he has 3 options to use and may be on the train back and forth often in 2013.  I remain curious as to what the team will do with Carlos Rivero, who hit well in AAA and even better in winter ball, but has no options remaining and doesn’t have a single day of MLB service time.

Lastly (unrelated to the Nats), I’ve updated somewhat my “Best versus Winner” xls with the results from the NFL playoffs over the weekend.  For the 9th straight year in the NFL, the Superbowl winner will NOT be the team that also had the best regular season record.  This year, Denver and Atlanta shared the best regular season record and both were eliminated before reaching the Superbowl.  I keep track of this particular finding for all four major sports and generally have found that very infrequently does the team with the best record in any sport actually take the year end title any more.  Baseball has only seen it a few times in the last 20 years.

I’ve got a draft post that has an overview of all the random documents and spreadsheets that I’ve uploaded to Google Docs over the years (including the 4 discussed in this post).  I”ll publish it during a slow period this winter.

Possible 2013 WBC Nationals participants?

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Harper makes perfect sense to represent the US in 2013 WBC. Photo GQ magazine Mar 2012

I read a quickie piece with some Mike Rizzo quotes from the Washington Time’s beat reporter Amanda Comak on November 11th, 2012 and there was an interesting tidbit at the bottom: per Comak,  Rizzo has not been approached yet about any Washington Nationals participation in the WBC, but would approach each request on a “case-by-case basis” to determine what is in the best interests of the team.  This got me thinking about possible Nats representatives on 2013 WBC teams.

Lets take a quick look at the Nationals representatives on WBC teams from the past, talk about whether its really in the best interests of the team to even let these guys play, and then talk about who may be candidates for the 2013 WBC regardless.

(Note: I’ve added updates highlighted in red since the original 11/21/12 publication date on players mentioned here).

Washington has sent a decent number of players to play in the WBC over the years, with very mixed results for the team’s interests.  In 2006 the team sent seven different players to the inaugural WBC:

  • Luis Ayala for Mexico
  • Chad Cordero, Gary Majewski and Brian Schneider for team USA
  • Ronnie Belliard, Alberto Castillo, and Wily Mo Pena for the Dominican Republic.

The tournament was marred for the team by a blown UCL ligament to Ayala, who had undergone elbow surgery earlier in the off-season but pitched for his home country anyway.  The team did not want Ayala to participate in the inaugural event, did not want him used by the Mexican team, and team officials were “livid” by the injury, which cost Ayala the season and cost the team its 8th inning setup guy.  Ayala recovered to pitch again in 2008 but was never as effective, and was shipped out in 2009 for a PTBNL.  Coincidentally, I suspect the team still harbors some ill-will towards Ayala to this day.  Meanwhile the other two relievers who participated both experienced regressions in form; Cordero’s ERA nearly doubled (from 1.82 to 3.19) from his breakout 2005 season while Majewski’s numbers dipped slightly before he was traded in the big Cincinnati deal of 2006.

In 2009, the team had 5 participants:

  • Pete Orr playing for Canada
  • Joel Hanrahan and Adam Dunn playing for the USA
  • Saul Rivera and Ivan Rodriguez playing for Puerto Rico.

The WBC seemed to energize particularly Dunn, who enjoyed playing in a post-season atmosphere for the first (and only) time in his career.  Nobody suffered any injuries, but Hanrahan in particular may have been affected by his lack of a proper spring training; he posted a 7.71 ERA for the team while losing the closer spot and was shipped to Pittsburgh.  Ironically, Rivera also experienced a huge regression of form, going from a 3.96 ERA in 2008 to a 6.10 ERA in 2009 and was eventually released.

This begs the question; do we even WANT our pitchers playing on this team?  The first two WBCs have shown pretty distinctly that our pitchers have regressed greatly after playing.  This only makes sense: the spring training routines are greatly impacted to play in this event.  We may see a ton of front-office resistance to specific guys (especially those coming off injury) playing in the 2013 event.  Which could affect the eligibility of some specific players for 2013.

Now, which Nats may play for the 2013 teams?  First off, looking at the Nationals 40-man roster, we have become an amazingly heavy USA-born team (we’ll get to non-40man roster players in a moment). Thanks to the Nats big board resource (originated by Brian Oliver and now maintained by “SpringfieldFan”), which has the country of origin for players, here’s a breakdown of the home-country of our current 36 active (as of November 15th, 2012) roster players:

  • USA: 27 (would be 29 if adding in our rule-5 avoidance players)
  • Venezuela: 5 (Jesus Flores, Sandy Leon, Wilson Ramos, Henry Rodriguez, and Carlos Rivero)
  • Cuba: 1 (Yunesky Maya)
  • Columbia: 1 (Jhonatan Solano)
  • Dominican Republic: 1 (Eury Perez)
  • Netherlands (via Curacao): 1 (Roger Bernadina)

As you can see, the massive bulk of our team is USA born, and essentially our entire post-season starting roster was USA born as well.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that these USA-born players will actually play for team USA (Alex Rodriguez played for Puerto Rico despite being born and raised in Miami, and our own Danny Espinosa is eligible to play for Mexico by virtue of his first-generation born in the US status), but almost all of these guys will be up for consideration for the USA team.  And this only accounts for our 40-man players; as we’ll see below there’s plenty of lower-minors players from smaller countries that will participate.

Who from the Nationals franchise may make a 2013 WBC roster?  First off, thanks to James Wagner‘s 11/15/12 NatsJournal post we already know of three WBC participants; Solano is on the Columbian team, minor leaguer Jimmy Van Ostrand is on the Canadian team, and A-ball catcher Adrian Nieto is on the Spanish team.  Curacao qualifies to play with the Netherlands, and I’d guess that Bernadina would make a great choice considering the lack of Dutch players in baseball (Baseball Continuum’s projections agree.  And as of 12/4/12 he’s officially been listed as a Netherlands participant).. Venezuela is already qualified for the main draw and has a relatively strong possible team.  The Baseball Continuum blog posted an early projection of the Venezuelan team and listed Flores as a likely participant (specifically mentioning that Ramos wasn’t considered due to injury recovery; I’d suspect these two players to switch based on Ramos’ recovery and Flores’ awful 2012).   If Henry Rodriguez was healthy i’d guess he would be on that list too, but his season-ending surgery probably precludes his participation.  The Dominican Republic has perhaps the strongest depth and has no need for the recently called up Perez among its outfield depth.  Maya’s defection eliminates him from discussion for the Cuban team.  (12/4/12 update): Chien-Ming Wang has been announced as a member of Chinese Taipei’s team (for the purposes of this article I investigated all 2012 Nats).

Which leaves our large contingent of American players.  A couple of writers have started postulating on these rosters (David Schoenfield‘s very early guess as to a potential USA roster is here, Baseball Continuum’s latest projection is here).  So using these two posts as a starting point, lets go position-by-position and give some thoughts as to who may get some consideration.  Keep in mind the WBC rosters are generally very reliever heavy, since no starter is going to be “allowed” to pitch a complete game in March.

(Note: I’m still considering our Free Agents as “Nats players” for the purposes of this analysis, since this really goes position by position from our 2012 team to find candidates).

  • Catcher: Kurt Suzuki isn’t nearly in the class of the likes of Buster Posey, Brian McCann, Joe Mauer, or Matt Weiters.  There are a ton of quality american backstops right now.
  • First Base: Free Agent Adam LaRoche probably faces far too much competition from the likes of Prince Fielder, Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn, Allen Craig, Eric Hosmer, and Mark Teixeira to make this team.  If it were me, I’d go with Fielder and Teixeira.  But, LaRoche’s great 2012 season and his Gold Glove recognition may get him a spot.  He is a FA though, so i’d guess he won’t commit until he signs and gets the go-ahead from his new team.  Or, perhaps he uses the WBC to showcase himself?  Not likely needed; he should sign long before the WBC kicks off in March.
  • Second Base: Danny Espinosa is a decent player, but not in the same league as  Shoenfield’s projection of Dustin Pedroia and Ben Zobrist.  Brandon Phillips is also in the mix for the team.
  • Shortstop: Ian Desmond‘s breakout 2013 season may get him some consideration.  There’s not a lot of American quality short stops out there.  Troy Tulowitzki is the obvious leading choice (as was Derek Jeter in the first two WBCs), but is he ready to come back from injury?  Looking around the majors there are a couple other possibilities (JJ Hardy, Brendan Ryan, Jimmy Rollins and Brandon Crawford all could be alternatives as well).   I think Desmond’s combination of offense and defense, combined with Tulowitzki’s injury recovery could get him on the team.
  • Third Base: Ryan Zimmerman cannot break the hegomony of David Wright and Evan Longoria right now, even given Longoria’s injury struggles this season.  Chase Headley and David Freese are also in the 3b mix.  12/4/12 update: Apparently Wright is committed, Longoria is out due to injury recovery and Headley “was not asked,” so perhaps Zimmerman is back in the mix.
  • Outfielders: I think Bryce Harper is a natural to make this team, not only on talent but also because of the brand-name recognition (and TV ratings and fan interest) it would generate.  Same goes for Mike Trout.  Otherwise there’s a slew of top-end american players who can man the outfield and they read like the top of the MVP boards: Braun, Kemp, McCutchen, Stanton, Hamilton, and Granderson are all candidates to make this team.  12/6/12 update: Scott Boras has stated that Harper will skip the WBC to focus on his sophomore season.
  • Starters: The two logical Nats candidates to be considered would be Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg.  But lets be honest; there is no way in hell Strasburg would be allowed to play.  Could Gonzalez make this team?  Given the depth of American starter talent right now (just off the top of my head: Verlander, LincecumCain, Hamels, Halladay, Kershaw, Lee, Weaver, Sabathia, Medlen, and so on) perhaps this will be a selection of attrition moreso than a selection of availability.  So if a number of the older guys on this list beg out, perhaps Gio gets his shot.  The WBC’s location in San Francisco has already lead to Ryan Vogelsong committing to play in his home town, and could lead to other Bay Area players signing up.  I’m not sure any of the rest of our starters are really candidates, given the reputations of the above list plus the reliever-heavy nature of the roster.
  • Relievers: our two most well known relievers (Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen) are possibilities; would the Nats block Storen based on his 2012 injury?  Craig Stammen‘s breakout 2012 season could get him looks, based on the reliever-heavy needs of the team.  Normally Sean Burnett may be in the loogy mix, but there’s better lefty relievers out there AND Burnett’s FA status may lead him to bow out to curry favor to his new team (Schoenfeld lists Burnett as a possible member back in July, before knowing he’s declared free agency).  The question is, would you take Clippard/Storen against the likes of this list of quality american back-of-the-bullpen arms: Kimbrel, Ventors, Marshall, League, Janssen, Papelbon, Hanrahan, Motte, Boggs, Bailey, Reed, and Nathan?  Possibly, considering that a lot of these guys probably bow out.  We’ve sent multiple relievers to each of the past two WBCs and its likely going to be the same thing this year.

Summary: here’s my guesses as to which Nats (and recent ex-Nats) will play in the WBC:

  • Venezuela: Ramos
  • Spain: Nieto
  • Canada: Van Ostrand
  • Columbia: Solano
  • Netherlands: Bernadina
  • Chinese Taipei: Wang
  • USA: Harper, Desmond, Gonzalez, Clippard.  Perhaps Zimmerman and Stammen.

March 2013 update: here’s the post-WBC actual list of participants when all was said and done, helped by  the list of rosters via Wikipedia.  MLB reports that nine (9) Nationals are participating in the classic, though the below list (excluding Wang) totals more.  They’re not counting Solano/Columbia, having lost in the preliminaries.

  • Columbia: Jhonatan Solano (AAA/Mlb in 2012)
  • Spain: Adrian Nieto (low-A in 2012)
  • Canada: Jimmy Van Ostrand (AA in 2012)
  • Italy: Matt Torra, Mike Costanzo (both AAA in 2012, Washington MLFA signings for 2013)
  • Netherlands: Roger Bernadina, Randolph Oduber (high-A in 2012)
  • Chinese Taipei: Chien-Ming Wang (former Nat, non-signed FA for 2013 start of season)
  • USA: Gio Gonzalez, Ross Detwiler
  • Dominican Republic: Eury Perez (3/4/13 addition to DR team)

Nats 2012 Rule 5 Protection Analysis

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Is Nathan Karns a 40-man roster addition candidate ahead of the rule-5 draft? Photo Potomac Nationals official via milb.com

In part I on this topic yesterday, we talked about the Nats Rule 5 draft history.  Today we’ll talk about Parts II and III: who the Nats may think about protecting ahead of this year’s Rule 5 draft, and what the team may be seeking if they participated and drafted a player or two in the Rule 5 draft themselves.

Part II: Nationals Rule-5 Draft Protection Candidates.

I kvetched a little bit about this topic in this space earlier this off-season, talking about the lack of roster space for the upcoming Rule 5 draft.  I suspected that as a result of MLB deals given to guys like Anthony Rendon and Matthew Purke, in addition to the glut of guys we had to add mid season, we may be seeing some guys not getting protected this year that would be in other years.  As of today, the Nats 40-man roster sits at 36 players with a bit of immediate room to spare (we could non-tender the likes of John Lannan, Tom Gorzelanny or Jesus Flores (speaking of Rule 5 additions) in a pinch, and I think Carlos Rivero may be imminently DFA’d), but we also have several 25-man roster spots departing via free agency that need to be filled, quickly filling back in those empty spots.  So, perhaps the issue isn’t as bad as I thought it might be.

That being said, here’s a look at some of our Rule 5 eligible guys that may warrant protection.  For “official” opinions here’s Mark Zuckerman‘s Rule5 post, along with Adam Kilgore‘s version of the same analysis.  This is a combination of first-time eligible guys for the 2012 draft (mostly, guys who were college junior draftees from 2009 or high school draftees in 2008), prior year eligible guys who have suddenly worked their way onto the radar, and any International FA signing from 2008 or before (they are treated the same way as high school age draftees).  Working off a list that Luke Erickson posted LAST november, along with his post on the same topic this week, and of course referencing the two great nats farm system resources maintained by “SpringfieldFan” (and formerly by Brian Oliver): the Nats Draft Tracker and the Nats Big Board, here’s some thoughts on protection candidates:

Stronger Candidates to protect

  • Nathan Karns: he finally had an injury-free season, and he put up numbers as expected when the team gave him an above-slot deal in 2009.  He is older, and only projects as a AA starter in 2013, but he is an intriguing starter prospect for the Nats in 2014.
  • Destin Hood: I don’t think the team is ready to give up on the long-term 2008 2nd round project.  His numbers have been increasing as he reportedly is learning the game better.  I suspect the team protects him to protect their investment.
  • Danny Rosenbaum; the “Ace” of Harrisburg this year, and our furthest advanced legitimate starter prospect, Rosenbaum projects more like a Tommy Milone or John Lannan right now.  I’d suspect that the team may protect him, thinking that someone could stash him as a loogy for a year.  I’m not sure his ceiling is in the Nats rotation, but he could be a good trade candidate.  He hit the DL late last year, which makes it slightly less likely that a team would take a flier on him, but his track record warrants his mention.
  • Patrick McCoy: he just repeated AA and despite already being Rule-5 eligible last  year he improved on his numbers in 2012.  Why protect him?  Because this team needs a Loogy, and McCoy may be the leading lefty reliever in our upper-minor leagues.
  • Jeff Kobernus has put up consistent numbers his whole career, but still projects as a power-less middle infielder.  Would the team protect him, thinking he has a chance to become the next Steve Lombardozzi?  Would the team protect him just to protect their bonus money?

Weaker candidates to protect

  • Trevor Holder: a 3rd round pick roundly criticized at the time of being an underslot money saver, Holder had decent peripherals in high-A and AA this year.  But, he doesn’t seem to project as the dominant right-hander he was in college and seems likely to top out as an org-arm.  Despite his 3rd round pedigree, I don’t see a team taking a flier on him in rule-5.
  • Pat Lehman; a local guy (GWU), but despite having good numbers in AAA he remains a very common commodity; a right handed minor league reliever.  Even if he’s drafted, it isn’t that great a loss because of the depth we already have at the position.
  • Paul Demny; despite making the AFL team this year, I don’t quite see Demny as being a draft risk.  His ERA this year and in years past has been substandard.
  • Robert Gilliam; only really mentioned here since we just acquired him last off-season in the Gio Gonzalez trade and the team probably doesn’t want to lose him, but his 6.37 ERA in AA makes it extremely unlikely someone grabs him in the Rule 5.
  • Erik Davis: technically rule-5 eligible last year, he stepped up this year and put up pretty dominant AA numbers.  As with Lehman, he’s a righty reliever in AA so the odds of his getting picked (or protected) seem slim.

Players not worth protecting for various Reasons

Now, there’s a bunch of “good names” that are Rule 5 eligible in our system but who are not listed here, including guys who toiled as high as AA last year.  Anyone not listed here is probably not going to be missed, even if they are drafted.  Plus, the likelihood of a decent pitcher prospect who has never played above A-ball being drafted in rule-5 is extemely slim.  Most of the guys above are mentioned because of their capability to be “stashed” on a MLB roster.  This includes:

  • last year’s departures Brad Meyers (coming off injury) and Erik Komatsu (clearly been passed on the organizational OF depth chart).  Yes they got picked last year, but both got returned and I’d be surprised to see them picked again.
  • higher profile draft picks Josh Smoker and Jack McGeary: neither has advanced far enough in their careers to realistically stick with a MLB team.
  • Jeff Mandel may be an accomplished AAA pitcher, but I don’t think he’s anything more than that.
  • Rob Wort hasn’t advanced far enough up the chain to be considered.
  • Justin Bloxom could be a dark horse prospect next year, but only made it to AA the second half of last year.

Who would I protect, If I was the GM?  I’d protect Karns, Hood, Rosenbaum and McCoy right now, filling the four current openings on the roster.  If a move needs to be made (a FA signing or a trade), then you make one-for-one DFAs or non-tenders as needed.  You have 40-man room; might as well use it.  My order of protection is probably Karns, McCoy, Hood and Rosenbaum (from most important to least important to protect).  Odds are that the team only opts to protect a couple of guys to give immediate roster flexibility heading into the winter meetings.

Part III: Might the Nats participate in the Rule-5 draft this year?

This year’s Rule 5 draft has some intrigue for the team; unlike last year, we have definite holes in the bullpen and on the roster which can be “more easily” filled via the Rule 5 draft.  We need a lefty out of the bullpen, we need a backup middle infielder and we need a 5th starter.  The odds of finding the latter in the rule 5 draft are very slim, but the odds of finding one of the first two are better.  If you look at the last couple of Rule 5 drafts, nearly every player drafted is either a Pitcher or a Middle Infielder.  Most teams carry a second backup middle infielder who gets very little playing time, ideal for “hiding” rule 5 draftees.  And of course every bullpen has a “mop up” guy who pitches once or twice a week in low-leverage situations, also a great place to hide a rule-5 guy.

Besides, the “penalty” for drafting a guy and returning him is pretty small in baseball terms: $25,000 net (it costs $50,000 fee to select a player, then if you “offer” them back the original team has to refund $25,000 of that fee).   So I’d be surprised honestly if the team didn’t roll the dice with at least a flier on either of the two needs mentioned above.

Personally, I’m not a big fan of the Rule 5 draft any longer.  It was created as a way to liberate players who were stuck in farm systems behind established players (much the way that minor league free agency rules attempted to do the same), but now seems to be a cheap method of teams to get an extended tryout of players.  I’ve now come to believe that the draft is not necessarily in the best interests of the players or the teams; just read below for the organizational transaction chaos that followed players.  It also seems like a high number of players who get drafted in rule-5 immediately suffer season-ending injuries; coincidence or correlation?  If you’re a rule-5 drafted arm, the drafting team knows you must perform at a MLB level to stay in the organization.  Wouldn’t that imply there’s added pressure to compete, leading to overthrowing and arm injuries?  Plus, teams that lose players often get them returned damaged and having lost a season of service time.  I suppose players are the ones that are pro-Rule 5 draft, in that it immediately means a promotion to the 40-man roster, MLB service time and higher pay.

In the end, it makes for a good reason to write a 2,500 word blog post, and it may result in our team having new prospects to evaluate and dream about, so perhaps I protest too much.

Nats Arbitration Decisions/Non-Tender deadline 2012; my predictions

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Tyler Clippard faces what could be a very interesting arbitration case this offseason. Photo Jonathan Newton/wp.com

Once the dust settled on this year’s Super-2 cutoff (and we discovered that Drew Storen will be arbitration eligible this year while Ryan Perry will not), the Nats will have no less than TEN arbitration-eligible players this off-season, setting the stage for some non-tender decisions, some possible contract extensions, and (hopefully not) some arbitration cases.  The Non-tender deadline isn’t until November 30th, but its never too soon to talk about what the team may do.

Here’s the 10 players eligible, a discussion as to what kind of salary they may obtain and whether or not the team will even tender a contract.  Note: the salary estimates are from mlbtraderumors Matt Swartz‘s arbitration projections model, with my own thoughts adjusting up or down based on opinion and noted as such).  Arbitration salaries essentially try to project the full FA value of a player and then award 40%/60%/80% of that FA salary in each of the three typical arbitration years.  For guys getting a 4th, I generally assume they’re getting nearly 100% of their FA value in the last year.

Locks to get a Contract Tender

  • Ian Desmond. 1st year Eligible/$3.2M estimate: Breakout season in 2012 will earn him plenty of dollars in his first and subsequent arbitration cases.  $3.2M equates to nearly a $10M/year full FA value, probably fair for now but could escalate if Desmond continues to provide Gold Glove calibre defense to go along with middle-of-the-order power.  It may be slightly early to think about a longer-term contract extension for Desmond; I’d want to wait and see if his 2012 production continues into 2013.  Remember; he’s just one year removed from a time when most Nats fans wanted him replaced.
  • Drew Storen: 1st year Eligible/$1.7M estimate: Storen will get a 4th year of eligiblity by virtue of a quick call-up after getting drafted.  $1.7 over 4 arb years equates roughly to a FA value of $7M/year, which seems a bit low for a good closer.  I’d guess Storen could get slightly more money, though the team probably argues that his injuries in 2012 prevented him from giving full value, and is probably why he’s estimated at $1.7 instead of nearer to the $4M that Chad Cordero got his first arb year with this team.  Rizzo has dangled Storen in trade talks in the past, but seems likely to keep him (at the possible expense of Clippard) for the coming season.
  • Craig Stammen: 1st year Eligible/$900k estimate: Another super-2 guy who was incredibly valuable to the team this year.  I’d guess he’ll get more than 900k despite his role as a middle reliever, since 900k is barely more than the typical veteran minimum (which is roughly $800k, what Mark DeRosa made in 2012).  Though, 900k equates to roughly a $3.5M FA value, which seems high for the kind of middle relief right-hander that are a dime a dozen in this league.  I’d guess Stammen is the right kind of guy for the team to buy out a couple of arbitration years, much as they did with Sean Burnett a couple years ago.   But, being a fungible middle-relief arm, don’t look for anything other than a 2 year deal so the team is protected in case of injury.
  • Jordan Zimmermann: 2nd year eligible, $4.9M estimate: Another super-2 guy who will get a 4th year of arbitration, this estimate also seems low considering the season that Zimmerman just put in.  It also roughly equates his FA value at roughly $10M a year, which I’d guess is also undervaluing Zimmermann.  Ask yourself; if he was on the open market, you’d have to think he’s getting more than $10M/year (point of comparison: Kyle Lohse turned down a 13.3M qualifying option and may get 4/60; who would you rather have?)
  • Tyler Clippard: 2nd year eligible, $4.6M estimate: I see this estimate as high frankly, as being too much of a raise over his 2012 salary of $1.625 despite his being the closer most this year.  Clippard said it himself; its better to be the closer, get the saves and get the salary.  But $4.6M for a setup guy is way too hefty.  If Clippard comes in this high with his demand, look for an ugly arbitration hearing.  Honestly, I could see Clippard being a trade candidate and making this arbitration decision someone else’s headache, and the team goes into 2013 with Storen firmly entrenched as the closer with the likes of Mattheus, Garcia and Henry Rodriguez vying for the 8th inning role.
  • Ross Detwiler: 1st year eligible, $2.2M estimate: This seems right in line with what Jordan Zimmermann got last year ($2.3M in his first eligible year).  A successful young starter going through this process the first time.
  • Roger Bernadina: 1st year eligible, $1.1M estimate: A year ago I thought Bernadina was going to get DFA’d at the end of spring training.  Now I wonder if he’s got enough value to be flipped in trade after a standout season for this team as its 4th outfielder.  $1.1m is very reasonable for a 4th outfielder with his defensive skills, so don’t be surprised to see Bernadina remain in this role with the team for several years.

Most likely Non-Tender candidates

  • Jesus Flores: 4th year eligible, $1.2M estimate.  Flores represents an interesting test case.  Clearly he no longer has a 25-man catcher spot, having fallen behind both Wilson Ramos and Kurt Suzuki on the depth chart.  The team also has shown itself to have decent rising catcher depth in the likes of Sandy Leon and Jhonatan Solano.  And Flores really regressed this year both offensively and defensively, so much so that the team had to go out and acquire Suzuki late in the season.   So I completely understand those that think that Flores is a non-tender candidate.  BUT, you don’t just cut loose valuable commodities, and a healthy catcher who can serve as a backup in the majors is still worth keeping.  That being said (as I reported in an earlier post), Flores seems to have achieved 5 service years, meaning that despite his option availability he’d have to agree to be assigned to AAA.  Which means his flexibility is completely compromised for this team in 2013.  The only remaining reason to sign him would be as insurance in case Suzuki or Ramos get hurt in spring training.  If he doesn’t get traded in the next two weeks, look for a non-tender.
  • Tom Gorzelanny: 4th year eligible, $2.8M estimate.  I’m not sure I agree with the MLBtraderumor estimate here, because the likelihood of players getting pay DECREASES in arbitration is pretty slim.  Its not like Gorzelanny posted a 6.00 ERA in 2012 after all.  Gorzelanny made $3M in 2012, where he predominantly served as our long-man/mop-up guy out of the pen.   The question the team has to ask itself is this; is $3M too expensive for the last guy out of the pen?  I believe it is, and thus I believe Gorzelanny is destined to get non-tendered.  I believe the team likes him but his salary isn’t matching up to his role any longer, so I see him being forced to take a significant salary cut if he wanted to stay here.  Were I the Nationals, I’d rather take a shot at a MLB-minimum guy (or even a rule-5 guy) in that mop-up role.  The only thing that gives me pause in declaring that the team is ready to cut ties with a lefty reliever is the apparent sky-high cost of lefty relievers on the market; Jeremy Affeldt just signed a 3 year $18M deal to stay with San Francisco.  Would this contract convince the Nats management that perhaps Gorzelanny is a player worth hanging on to?
  • John Lannan: 3rd year eligible, $5M estimate.  There are two schools of thought with Lannan in the Natmosphere right now.  One group believes that the team will let Edwin Jackson walk, Lannan will naturally take his place as the 5th starter and the team won’t pursue any starter talent in trade or in free agency.  The other school of thought (and the one to which I subscribe to) states that Mike Rizzo values power arms and doesn’t rate Lannan at all, that $5M (which I think is a low estimate if he were to actually reach arbitration) is far too expensive for a soft-tossing 5th starter, and that the team will be actively searching for a 5th power arm to replace Jackson in the rotation.  I think the team would rather take that $5M+ and use it to pay an acquisition versus continuing to fund Lannan’s sub 100 ERA+ exploits.  This opinion ignores the rising cost of lefty starters, and the relative dearth of quality starts on the FA market, so perhaps the Nats hang on to him one more year.

Having so many arbitration eligible guys means that the Nats payroll will take a significant hit.  Assuming that the team tenders the above 8 players (including Flores), here’s what the payroll implication will be:

Player 2011 salary 2012 estimate
Desmond $512,500 $3,200,000
Storen $498,750 $1,700,000
Stammen $485,000 $900,000
Zimmermann $2,300,000 $4,900,000
Clippard $1,650,000 $4,600,000
Detwiler $485,000 $2,200,000
Bernadina $493,500 $1,100,000
Flores $815,000 $1,200,000
subttl $7,239,750 $19,800,000
Gorzelanny $3,000,000 $2,800,000
Lannan $5,000,000 $5,000,000

The team needs to plan on paying more than twice it did in 2013 for the services of the top 8 arbitration eligible players in 2012.  Most of that money can be made up by non-tendering both Gorzelanny and Lannan … except that those players would need to then be replaced on the roster.   Still, getting these 8 players for less than $20M a year while the Yankees owe Alex Rodriguez $28M for 2013 alone sort of puts things in context.  It is a good problem to have, having to pay your arbitration-eligible stars more and more each year.

Nationals Players’ Service Time and Option Status for 2013

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Jesus Flores achieved 5 full years of service time in 2012, complicating his roster status going forward. Photo Toni Sandys/Washington Post

In the process of opining on some preliminary Nats hot-stove moves this coming off-season, I found myself asking certain service-time/options questions about players on the 40-man roster.

So, I took the time to create a Spreadsheet of all Nats 40-man roster players with Options status for the coming season (well, actually update a version I had of this information from last year).  I also tried to update everyone’s service time to what it should stand at at the end of the 2012 season (though honestly some of the service time calculations, especially for someone bounced up and down this year like Corey Brown, can be tricky).

I know that Luke Erickson‘s Nats Big Board has an “Options Status” tab, and I didn’t mean to circumvent the work there; i’m just not sure whether it has been updated for the coming season.  The big board Options tab also has some helpful links to decipher some of the options ramifications, especially the tricky 4th option (which will notably come into play for several of our guys very soon, as discussed below).

Nonetheless, if I have the Options statuses and Service time calculations correctly done, there are some interesting roster management moves on the horizon.  The below analysis includes a disputed 4th option for Ryan Perry; I’m pretty confident I’m correct in determining his option status but will caveat that opinion (and this whole article) by reminding the reader that I’m not in fact a professional baseball executive and may have a couple of these calculations wrong.

Here’s a full list of our current 36 40-man players (this is where we stand as of today, post FA declarations of our seven free agents plus the reverting of our former three 60-day DL guys to the 40-man roster).  I’ve got these players divided into four categories, with some discussion after each:

Category 1: Vets who can refuse demotion (5 or more years of service)

Players in this category and their service time at the end of 2012:

Name Svc Time First Added to 40-man Option Years Used # Ops Left
Gorzelanny, Tom 5.16 Sept 2005 2006, 2008, 2009 0
Flores, Jesus 5.079 Dec 2006 2008, 2011 1
Suzuki, Kurt 5.113 Jun 2007 none 3
Tracy, Chad 7.000 Nov 2004? ? ?
Zimmerman, Ryan 7.032 Sep 2005 none 3
Morse, Michael 5.114 Nov 2004 2005, 2006, 2007 0
Werth, Jayson 9.102 Nov 2002? ? ?

Discussion: Most of the guys on this list are no-brainer core pieces of the team in 2013 and beyond, but two names in particular raise interesting questions.  First Tom Gorzelanny has now achieved enough MLB time so that he cannot be sent down without his permission, but that was largely irrelevant based on his lack of options anyway.  He remains a non-tender candidate because of his expected raise from his 2012 $3M salary given his role as long-man/mop-up guy for the team (well, that is unless you’ve seen the price of left-handed relief on the FA market this off-season … maybe he’s NOT a non-tender candidate).  The bigger surprise on this list is Jesus Flores, who I believe achieved his 5th full service year in 2012 and now (despite having a minor league option left) can refuse an assignment to AAA.  This represents an interesting decision for the team, who clearly has Suzuki and Ramos as its #1/#2 catchers.  Most think he’s also a clear non-tender candidate for 2013, but I tend to think that he’s a valuable commodity worth tendering a contract.  Despite his poor batting in 2012 (slash line of .213/.248/.329) there is a market for backup catchers in this league, especially ones that once showed the hitting promise that Flores has (a slash line of .301/.371/.505 in the early part of 2009 prior to his injuries).  Maybe this service time issue becomes the straw that breaks the camel’s back of his tendering decision; if we tender him, we’ll immediately have to trade him because he’ll likely refuse an assignment and be declared a free agent if he doesn’t make the 2013 team.  Perhaps the team cuts bait on him before having their hand forced.

Category 2: Players with Options but who are entrenched on the 25-man roster for 2013

Name Svc Time First Added to 40-man Option Years Used # Ops Left
Gonzalez, Gio 3.162 Aug 2008 2009 2
Mattheus, Ryan 1.111 June 2011 none 3
Storen, Drew 2.140 May 2010 none 3
Strasburg, Stephen 2.118 Aug 2009 2010 2
Zimmermann, Jordan 3.154 Apr 2009 2010 2
Ramos, Wilson 2.047 Nov 2008 2009, 2010 1
Desmond, Ian 3.027 Nov 2008 2009 2
Espinosa, Danny 2.033 Sep 2010 none 3
Lombardozzi, Steve 1.023 Sep 2011 none 3
Harper, Bryce 0.152 Aug 2010 2011, 2012 1
Moore, Tyler 0.113 Nov 2011 2012 2

Discussion; the likelihood of seeing any of these guys optioned to the minors in 2013 seems slim; mostly they are starters and key players for the team going forward.  That being said, John Lannan‘s surprise demotion in 2010 while he struggled was enabled by his options availability, and a struggling player like Moore or Lombardozzi could be sent down to make room if need be.

Category 3: Players whose Options almost guaranteed to be used in 2013

Name Svc Time First Added to 40-man Option Years Used # Ops Left
Kimball, Cole 0.138 Nov 2010 2011, 2012 1
Maya, Yunesky 0.070 July 2010 2010, 2011, 2012 1?
Perry, Ryan 2.142 Apr 2009 2009, 2011, 2012 1?
Purke, Matthew 0.000 Aug 2011 2012 2
Leon, Sandy 0.096 May 2012 2012 3
Solano, Jhonatan 0.092 Nov 2011 2012 2
Marrero, Chris 0.033 Nov 2010 2011, 2012 1
Rendon, Anthony 0.000 Aug 2011 2012 2
Perez, Eury 0.030 Nov 2011 2012 2

Discussion; This list is where some of the 4th option availability comes into play.  First Yunesky Maya has already used 3 options but clearly isn’t in the plans of the team for 2013 (the final year of his 4yr/$8M wasted contract).  But, if I read the options rules correctly his lack of achieving 5 professional seasons will give him a 4th option, which is likely to be used for 2013.  The same goes with Ryan Perry, who was drafted in 2008 but made the Tiger’s MLB roster in 2009, nearly out of Spring Training, meaning he’s just finishing his 4th professional season.  This means (as was pointed out by a reader a few posts ago) he’s eligible for a 4th option, which is likely to be used as Perry continues to remake himself as a starter.  (Note: the 4th option validity for Perry has been questioned here and there and revolves around 2010, when I don’t believe he was optioned).  I see him being in the AAA rotation and serving as injury insurance for the MLB rotation.  Marrero and Kimball are both in the same boat; they both missed all (or most) of 2012, burning an option in the process, and unless the organization makes the decision to designate them to make room on the 40-man they will each burn their last minor league option in 2013.  The rest of these players are working their way up the minor league system, or in the case of Matthew Purke, hopefully working their way back into 100% health.

Category 4: Players with Options available, jeopardizing their 25-man status in 2013

Name Svc Time First Added to 40-man Option Years Used # Ops Left
Christian Garcia 0.027 Sep 2012 none 3
Lannan, John 4.045 July 2007 2010, 2012 1
Stammen, Craig 2.160 May 2009 2009, 2011 1
Brown, Corey 0.059 Nov 2010 2011, 2012 1

Discussion: I probably should have put Stammen into the 2nd category of players, based on his breakout 2012 performance.  Lannan is a likely non-tender after getting the surprising option to Syracuse in 2012 and demanding a trade; however if he’s offered arbitration he can have the same thing happen to him again in 2013, serving as a multi-millionare AAA starter/insurance policy.  The question is whether or not the team wants to spend money in that fashion.  It remains to be seen what the team does with Garcia; numerous reports talk of him converting to a starter.  If so, his options availability would allow the team to send him to AAA to hone his craft were he to not be ready for a rotation spot out of spring training.  Lastly Brown seems stuck in 4-A status right now, having cleaned up in AAA but struggled at the MLB level.  Perhaps he’s also a “guarantee” to be optioned in 2013 and belonging in the 3rd category; I put him here only because the Nats outfield situation remains in so much flux.  If LaRoche walks, Morse likely moves to first, Moore likely starts in left (absent another FA outfielder signing or other acquisition), Bernadina continues as the 4th outfielder and the team may possibly need a 5th outfielder candidate.  Brown is a lefty though, and the team has already invested in a lefty bench bat in Chad Tracy, so perhaps this works against him.  There’s so much yet to be decided though, its hard to guess how it will shake out.

Category 5: Players with no options left

Name Svc Time First Added to 40-man Option Years Used # Ops Left
Clippard, Tyler 3.148 May 2007 2007, 2008, 2009 0
Detwiler, Ross 3.002 Sept 2007 2008, 2009, 2011 0
Rodriguez, Henry 2.114 Nov 2007 2008, 2009, 2010 0
Rivero, Carlos 0.000 Nov 2009 2010, 2011, 2012 0
Bernadina, Roger 3.146 Oct 2007 2008, 2009, 2011 0

Discussion: The main player that has a worry here is Carlos Rivero, claimed off waivers from Philadelphia and who burned his last option in 2012 without even getting a Sept 1 call up.  He had a decent season in AAA (.303/.347/.435) but seems to be without a position (he played 3rd primarily in AAA and doesn’t seem to have another position).  I’m guessing he’s DFA’d this off-season and the team attempts to re-sign him to a minor league contract.  Henry Rodriguez‘s lack of options has resulted in some dubious DL-trips several times for this team, as he clearly could use some minor league time to fix his Jeckyl-and-Hyde performances.  But he can’t be optioned, so in some ways the team is stuck.  Honestly, I think its just a matter of time before they run out of patience and DFA him as well.

Thoughts?  Corrections?  Any and all feedback is welcome.

MLB 2012-13 Off Season calendar

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Just as an FYI, I’ve created a link to a spreadsheet of key events, dates and deadlines for this coming MLB off-season.   A quick summary of those dates is listed below.  With the new CBA and new rules regarding contracts and options, I still have some guesses as to when the exact date for some contract specific items are.  Feel free to comment/provide feedback if you know the exact date.

Bolded/Italicized Events are post-2012 season awards, official or otherwise.

Date Event Nats Specific Impact
Oct 19th, 2012 MLB Comeback Players of the Year AL and NL Adam LaRoche possibly getting some votes?
Oct 23rd, 2012 Sporting News Comeback Players of the Year AL and NL Dunn, Posey winners
Oct 25th, 2012 Fielding Bible Awards given
Oct 28th, 2012 Roberto Clemente Award given Zimmerman nominated
Oct 28th, 2012 Last actual day of 2012 World Series; official end of 2012 season n/a
Oct 29th 2012 Official start of FA period (12:01am the day after the last game of the WS) LaRoche, Jackson, Burnett, Gonzalez, Duke, DeRosa
October 30th, 2012 Rawlings AL & NL Gold Glove Announcements Desmond, LaRoche are finalists
Nov 1st, 2012 Team and player options must be decided three days after the end of the World Series.  10/31/11 at midnight LaRoche, Burnett have options from the Nats.
Early November? Clubs have to re-set their 40-man rosters, moving all 60-day DL players back to active.  Happened in the past about 11/9.  May be changed date w/ new CBA
Nov 2nd, 2012 5pm: Deadline to make Qualifying offers for your own Fas (average of top 125 salaries or $13.3M for 2012).  5 days after end of WS Nats likely to make Qos to both Jackson and LaRoche, neither of whom is likely to take the deal and thus guaranteeing the Nats draft pick compensation if we lose both guys.
Nov 2nd, 2012 HoF “Veterans Committee” releases ballot.  Officially announced12/3/12
Nov 3rd, 2012 5 days after WS ends: Free agent filing period and exclusive negotiating window ends at 12:01 a.m. ET. Free agents can sign with any team. LaRoche, Jackson, Burnett, Gonzalez, Duke, DeRosa
Nov 3rd, 2012 Free Agency granted to all eligible Minor League free agents (5 days after the end of the WS).  Eligibility done on service time; 6 years ML service for college draftees or 7 years ML service for HS draftees or free agents under the age of 18. http://www.baseballamerica.com/blog/prospects/2012/11/minor-league-free-agents-2012/ has full list; notable names include Arneson, Pucetas, Severino, VanAllen
Nov 4th, 2012 Wilson Defensive Player of the Year awards, given by MLB to best defensive player on each club. Adam LaRoche wins the award for the Nationals.
Nov 5th, 2012 MLBPA announces “Players Choice” awards: Player of the year, Comeback Player of the year, etc No Nats awarded MLBPA’s version of the BBWAA awards.
Nov 7th, 2012 BBWAA Award Nominees announced on MLB networks
Nov 7-9, 2012 GM Meetings, Palm Springs, California for 2012 Rizzo may be laying groundwork for big FA signings.
Nov 8th, 2012 Last day for players to accept arbitration from current club. Would the Nats offer arbitration to its Fas?
Nov 8th, 2012 Louisville Slugger Silver Slugger Awards LaRoche, Desmond likely candidates.
Nov 9th, 2012 12 Days after WS ends: Players must accept or reject Qualifying Options LaRoche only Natioanls FA to get a QO.
Nov 12th, 2012 AL, NL Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Awards Harper or Willey?  We’ll see if Harper’s great finish gets him the award.
Nov 13th, 2012 AL and NL Manager of the Year Johnson should get the NL manager of the year for the Nats winning 17 more games than 2011.
Nov 14th 2012 AL and NL Cy Young Gio Gonzalez in the discussion but likely to lose out.
Nov 15th 2012 AL and NL Most Valuable Player No real Nats MVP candidates; perhaps LaRoche gets some top 5 votes.
Nov 15-18th, 2012 WBC Qualifier #4, Taiwan (Chinese Taipei, New Zealand, Phillipenes, Thailand)
Nov 15-19th, 2012 WBC Qualifier #3, Panama City (Brazil, Columbia, Nicaragua, Panama)
Mid November, 2012 Sporting News Executive of the Year announced I think Mike Rizzo is NL GM of the year.
Mid November, 2012 Owners Meetings, ? Location for 2012
Nov 20th, 2012 Day to file reserve lists for all Major and Minor League levels.  In other words, Last day to add players to 40-man to protect them from the Rule5 Draft A host of rule-5 eligible decisions pending for Nats; Rosenbaum, Karns, Kobernus, Hood, etc.
Nov 30th, 2012 Midnight: Deadline for teams to Tender contracts to arbitration eligible players.  If not tendered, those players immediately become free agents. Lannan, Gorzelanny, Flores possible non-tenders here.
Early December, 2012 Last day to request outright waivers to assign player prior to Rule 5 Draft
Dec 3rd-6th, 2012 Winter Meetings, Nashville, TN for 2012
Dec 3rd, 2012 HoF “Veterans Committee” officially releases ballot that was made public 11/2/11.
Early December, 2012 Baseball America announces its Executives of the Year
Dec 4th, 2012 MLB Balloting results announced for Hall of Fame Ford C. Frick Award for excellence in baseball broadcasting
Dec 6th, 2012 Rule 5 Draft.  Occurs at Winter meetings Nats are likely to at least participate in the Rule5 draft, but their draft position leaves them picking last of the 30 teams.  A utility infielder or a bullpen arm could be had here.
Dec 31st, 2012 Deadline for BBWAA ballots for HoF voting.
Jan 9th, 2013 Hall of Fame BBWAA voting announced; the HoF class of 2013.
Jan 5-15, 2013 Salary arbitration filing period Nats could have as many as 10 arbitration cases to settle (but more likely 7 or 8).
Mid January 2013 Salary arbitration figures exchanged
Feb 1-21, 2013 Salary arbitration hearings (actual hearing date per player picked at random)
Mid February 2013 Mandatory Spring Training reporting date for Pitchers and Catchers
Mid February 2013 Voluntary Spring Training reporting date for non-pitchers and catchers
Early March 2013 Contracts of unsigned players who are not yet eligible for Arbitration may be renewed
Mar 2-5, 2013 WBC First Round, Pool B in Taiwan (Korea, Netherlands, Australia, tbd)
Mar 2-6, 2013 WBC First Round, Pool A in Japan (Japan, Cuba, China, tba)
Early March 2013 First Spring Training Game for the Nats
Mar 7th-10th, 2013 WBC First Round, Pool C in Puerto Rico (Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, tba)
Mar 7th-10th, 2013 WBC First Round, Pool D in Phoenix (USA, Mexico, Italy, tbd)
Mid March 2013 Last day to place a player on unconditional release waivers and pay 30 days termination pay instead of 45 days.
Mar 17th-19th, 2013 WBC Championship round, San Francisco, CA
Late March 2013 Deadline to request unconditional release waivers without having to pay the player’s full salary
March 31st, 2013 2013 Season Opener
April 1st, 2013 Traditional Opening Day (Cincinnati) Nats open at home to Miami
April 15th, 2013 Jackie Robinson Day

Ladson’s Inbox: 10/22/12 edition

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LaRoche's status with the team will dictate a number of cascading roster moves. Photo Rob Carr/Getty Images via bleacherreport.com

I havn’t seen mlb.com beat reporter Bill Ladson do an inbox response since February.  So I was excited to see one pop in this past Monday, 10/22/12.  As a reminder, I write my response before reading his, and sometimes edit questions for clarity.

Q: What are the Nationals’ plans for Tyler Moore? He is a power hitter who deserves to play every day. If Adam LaRoche returns next year, where does Moore fit in?

A: Tyler Moore indeed had excellent numbers in limited action, getting called up at the end of April to cover for a dearth of outfielders on the Nats roster.  His slash line was .263/.327/.513 for an OPS+ of 124 with 10 homers in 156 Abs.   Thats a homer ever 15.6 ABs and correlates to nearly a 40 homer pace for a full season of roughly 600 at-bats.  That is of course if you believe in what we saw in 2012 versus the continued lack of respect for Moore from the scouting pundits (who think his minor league power numbers were more a function of age than talent, and who continued to think that Moore had too many holes in his swing to be an impact MLB player).

Unfortunately though for Moore, if Adam LaRoche is re-signed there may not be an immediate place for Moore in the lineup.  LaRoche can only play 1B, Michael Morse is signed through 2013 and has become a club and fan favorite in LF.   Those are basically the only two positions Moore can play.

I think the better question here is, “Will the Nats extend Adam LaRoche?”  Because that’s the question that drives several other roster moves for 2013.  If LaRoche comes back and the team favors giving Moore more playing time, maybe they package Morse in trade.  Perhaps Moore sits and waits for another injury to give him playing time; LaRoche was incredibly healthy in 2012 and could regress for 2013.  Or, perhaps LaRoche (as basically the leading 1B power hitter on the FA market) will get a 3-4 year deal (likely) and the Nats won’t over-pay for his decline years, will install Moore at first and keep Morse in left.   Honestly, I think this last scenario is what plays out, and we’ll see Moore as your starting first baseman in 2013.

Ladson basically echos exactly what I say above.  Glad we’re on the same page.

Q: Do you think the Nationals will go after Michael Bourn this offseason?

A: No no no!  As I opined on September 13th, after seeing yet another Jim Bowden article intoning last off-season’s mantra of “the Nats need a center fielder,” the Nats HAVE a center fielder, and a darn good one, in Bryce Harper.  Harper finished the season with the 4th best UZR/150 for any CF with 500+ innings, even better than the vaunted defensive wizard Mike Trout.  It took about 5 games for his arm to be respected league wide, and he’s only 19 and will only get better.  Why would we possible move Harper off CF in the next 4-5 years?  Yes, eventually we expect a bulked up power hitting Harper to move to a corner spot, but not at age 20.  Besides, if Harper moves off CF … who makes way in left or right?  Do you move Jayson Werth to left field?  If so, then what happens to Michael Morse?  Do you move him?  Harper’s defensive value is wasted in right field.  Werth’s defensive value (while inarguably slipping) is also wasted in left field, where you can “hide” a poor defensive player who is plus-plus power.

*sigh* I wish this rumor would go away.  I’m pretty sure the Yankees never said to Mickey Mantle at age 19, “Hey Mick!  We like you in center but we to move you to a corner outfielder so we can sign a sub-average hitter to lead-off and play in your position.”  Of course not, so why would the Nats do so?

Unfortunately Ladson perpetuates the ridiculous myth himself and says he thinks the team goes after Bourn and puts Harper in LF.  Just ridiculous.

Q: Any news on Cole Kimball’s recovery?  Will we see him in a Nats uniform in 2013?

A: Shoulder injuries in power pitchers are never an easy recovery.  That’s why we never really saw Kimball in the summer and why he’s currently in the AFL getting some extra time on the hill.  As of this writing he only has 3 2/3 innings, so not much to go by.  We are seeing some reports that he looks decent.  2013 prognosis?   He faces an uphill battle to make the bullpen; there’s several right handers that are now clearly ahead of him on the depth chart.  Storen, Clippard, and Stammen are locks (if not traded).  Rodriguez has no options.  Mattheus has pitched his way onto this team.  That’s your 5 righties out of the pen (Davey Johnson likes 2 lefties).   And we havn’t even talked about Christain Garcia, who pitched well enough to make the post season roster.   So the answer may be that Kimball starts in AAA and waits for an opportunity.  Ladson says he thinks Kimball can make the 2013 bullpen.  How exactly?  Who is he going to be ahead of?  Not much provided in the way of deep analysis, Bill.

Q: Do you think there is any chance the Nationals bring up Corey Brown to play center and bat second?

A: No.  Brown looks to me like the definition of a 4-A guy, and will be stashed in AAA as outfield depth until further notice.  Batting second?  Really?  We’re currently batting Werth at leadoff despite his having middle-of-the-order power.  What makes anyone think Brown deserves to bat anywhere in this lineup, let alone ahead of the power guys?  And, if Brown makes the 25-man roster which outfielder does he replace?  Certainly not the starters in Morse, Harper and Werth.  Certainly not Roger Bernadina, who more than earned his stay.  And certainly not above Moore.   Ladson agrees.

Q: What do you think about the addition of Kurt Suzuki to the roster?

A: Somewhat of a panic/reactionary move at the time, but it has worked out great for both sides.  Jesus Flores wasn’t stopping the one-way street for opposing base-runners, and we needed more of a plus-defensive guy behind the plate.  Flores did himself  no favors batting .213 either.  Suzuki immediately upped his batting stroke too,  batting .267 here after hitting just .218 in Oakland in 2012.  Clearly Suzuki and Wilson Ramos are your two catchers heading into 2013.  What do we do with Flores?  Do we dare non-tender him and give him away?  Do we tender him and try to trade him?  I’d hope for the latter, thinking that even a .213 hitting catcher has value in this league.  I hate to say it, but Ramos can’t stay on the field and we needed the insurance.  Ladson agrees, but doesn’t mention Flores’ fate.

Q: The Shark, aka Roger Bernadina, had a career year and will probably get a raise this offseason. Do you think the Nats are going to try to move him, or can we expect to see The Shark with the team next year?

A: Great question.  Do we sell-high on Bernadina and make-do with a 4th outfielder like Corey Brown or Eury Perez in 2013?  We could, if it brought us back something worth having.  We do have some rising quality OF depth that would replace Bernadina (Brian Goodwin comes to mind, perhaps even Anthony Rendon if he hits his way to the majors in 2013).    Ladson thinks Bernadina will be back.  I have no problem with that; he hit great this year, knew his role and is fantastic defensively.

Q: Do you think Davey Johnson is the best manager in Nationals/Expos history? Felipe Alou is tough to beat, but Davey has my vote on this one.

A: Why not Jim Fanning?  He led the franchise to its only prior post-season appearance.  I dunno; what exactly makes a “good” manager?  I think Johnson has absolutely done better with this team than anyone thought, so yeah that makes him a great manager (and my favorite for winning NL Manager of the Year).  Best ever for the franchise?  Why do people think Felipe Alou was so great?  His last three Expos teams each lost 90 or more games.  Who can really talk intelligently about how well Buck Rodgers mangaged the team in the mid 1980s?  The team improved 19 wins from 1978 to 1979 under Dick Williams.  Those are good managers too.  Ladson thinks Johnson is the best ever but says Alou was great.  I don’t get it.

Nats Franchise Trade history; biggest, best, worst

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Was getting Gonzalez the "biggest" trade the franchise has ever made? Photo Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images via nydailynews.com

In response to a topic that came up in the comments section, I’ll do a 3-part series reviewing the biggest/best/worst moves by the franchise since arriving here in Washington.  We’ll differentiate between Jim Bowden and Mike Rizzo moves as we go through.  We’ll talk about trades, then draft picks, then FA signings.

First up: Trades.

The Nats have made dozens of trades since 2005, and by my records have traded with every team in the league save for three: Baltimore, Cleveland and the Los Angeles Angels.  In fact, the franchise has not done business with Baltimore in any capacity since the year 2000, a testament perhaps to the difficulties of dealing with Peter Angelos even before the team moved to Washington.  Now post-relocation, the conventional wisdom is that the two teams would never do business on the off-chance that one team ended up “winning” a trade with the other.

I’ll divide this post into into 3 sections: the “biggest” deal (not the most players, but the biggest impact/most news worthy), the “best” deal(s) and the “worst” deals.  For Rizzo, we’ll add a 4th category for “Too Early to Tell,” since the big off-season trade of last season probably won’t shake it self out for a few more years.

Jim Bowden Tenure: Nov 2004 – Mar 2009

Biggest Trades

  • 2005: Soriano deal
  • 2006: Kearns/Lopez deal
  • 2007: Milledge deal
  • 2008: Willingham/Olsen deal

The Alfonso Soriano move made all sorts of news; he wouldn’t move to LF, threatened not to play at all, then ended up putting in a 40/40 season in a pitcher’s ballpark and then resulted a host of national news as the team debated whether to trade him, re-sign him or let him go.  Bowden held firm on his demands in the trade market, never traded him and landed two compensatory draft picks (which the Nats turned into Jordan Zimmermann and Josh Smoker).

The Kearns/Lopez deal, in the end, was more about moving deck chairs than making progress for either team.  Bowden was obsessed with players that he knew from his Cincinnati days, and showed a proclivity to trade for or acquire them throughout his tenure here, and this deal was just the biggest example.  The only player in the deal who still remains with his original team is Bill Bray, and most of the players in the deal have become large disappointments for their careers or are out of baseball.  The Reds accused Bowden publically of selling them damaged goods (Gary Majewski got injured about 5 minutes after the trade was completed) and Kearns/Lopez never really lived up to anything close to their potential.

We’ll talk about the other two deals below.

Best Trades

  • 2007: Getting Tyler Clippard
  • 2009: Getting Michael Morse
  • 2008: Getting Willingham/Olsen

Bowden gets major credit for obtaining two core members of the current Nationals squad for almost nothing.  He obtained Tyler Clippard from the Yankees for Jonathan Albaladejo in a like-for-like trade of under-performing minor league relievers.  Of course we all know what’s happeend since; Clippard has become a super-star setup man, the 2011 league leader in holds.   Getting Michael Morse in return for sending the feeble Ryan Langerhans to Seattle in what most thought was a mercy trade at the time (i.e., trying to send good-guy Langerhans to a team that would actually play him) seems like one of the steals of the decade.  Nobody thought Morse had a fraction of the potential he’s now shown to have.

I include getting Josh Willingham and Scott Olsen as a win based on who we gave up: PJ Dean, Emilio Bonifacio and Jake Smolinski.  I’ve always had a soft spot for Willingham and thought his offense potential was the key to this deal; we got two major leaguers for two dead-end minor leaguers plus a backup infielder.  Luckily for the Nats, Florida was always ready to give up arbitration candidates to save a buck.

Worst Trades

  • 2007: Milledge deal

Honestly, I had a hard time really saying that I thought one of Bowden’s trades was egregiously bad.  Most of his deals (outside the deals mentioned above as biggest or best) were minor leaguer swaps or dumping veterans at the trade deadline.  Even the acquisition of Elijah Dukes wasn’t really that “bad” based on who we gave up (Glenn Gibson, who was released a couple years later by Tampa Bay and ended up back with us anyway).

However, the acquisition of Lastings Milledge for Ryan Church and Brian Schneider might be the one trade that I’d most quibble with.  Bowden showed his obsession with “toolsy” and “potential” players in this deal, acquiring the malcontent Milledge and giving the Mets two immediate starters.  At the time I certainly defended the deal; neither Church or Schneider were slated to be starters for the 2008 Nats so you could argue that we got a plus prospect for two backups.  I know I certainly argued that point.  Church seemed to be a brooding platoon outfielder who wouldn’t be happy unless he was starting and Schneider had lost his starting spot to Jesus Flores and was a relatively weak hitter.

As it has worked out Church was a very productive player for New York, Flores got hurt and left the team in a very serious catcher-dearth position, and Milledge turned out to be not nearly the talent that we thought we were getting.  By the time we flipped him to Pittsburgh in 2009 he was barely hitting his weight in AAA and was completely out of the picture for this team.

Mike Rizzo Tenure: Mar 2009 – present

Biggest Trades

  • 2011: Gio Gonzalez deal

  • 2009: Morgan/Burnett deal

  • 2010: Ramos for Capps deal

  • 2011: Henry Rodriguez/Willingham deal

  • 2011: Gorzelanny deal

You have to hand it to Mike Rizzo; he’s not been afraid to make deals.  In his 3 year tenure he’s made 5 significant deals that have vastly changed the way this team is constructed.  Two of those deals (Morgan/Burnett and the Willingham deals) were mostly about cleaning up the roster to get it more in his image of pro-clubhouse guys and pro-defense.  Trading away Milledge and Willingham succeeded in moving the team towards these goals.  The Gorzelanny and Gonzalez trades were about acquiring power arms to shore up the rotation, another tenant of Rizzo-constructed teams.

Best Trades

  • 2010: getting Wilson Ramos

Clearly Rizzo’s best move was stealing Wilson Ramos for a closer (Matt Capps) that we had ample candidates for internally.  The Twins panicked post-Joe Nathan injury and overloaded their bullpen with closer candidates.  Meanwhile Rizzo turned an astute FA signing (a minor league signing that turned into an All Star) into an even more astute trade by getting a nearly MLB-ready catcher in return for a guy who the team wouldn’t be re-signing anyway.  Great move.

Worst Trades

  • 2011: Gomes for Rhinehart/Manno
  • 2009: Bruney for ptbnl (eventually rule5 top pick Jamie Hoffman)

Most readers here loved Christopher Manno and the promise he was showing in A-ball.  Most were also aghast to see Manno go the other way to Cincinnati for a 4th outfielder Jonny Gomes.  At the time, the argument was that Davey Johnson wanted a bat off the bench and that the team needed some OF depth.  What really happened was that Gomes hit his way out of his type-B arbitration status and played so poorly the 2nd half of 2011 that the team couldn’t dare offer him arbitration to get a compensatory draft pick.  So we traded two decent prospects for a half season of awful production.  Not a good move.

Even worse, trading anything to acquire Brian Bruney.  The team acquired Bruney, promptly argued against him and beat him in arbitration, and then (unsurprisingly) Bruney vastly underperformed until being flat out released a few months into the 2010 season.  For me this is a lesson in what not to do with your arbitration eligible players.  It wasn’t so much what we gave up (the first pick in the rule-5 draft *could* have been used to acquire someone of value), it was what we got in return.

Too Early to Tell Trades

  • 2011: Gio Gonzalez deal

Pro-prospect pundits (anyone at Baseball Prospectus, Keith Law, etc) will already tell you that the Nats vastly overpaid for Gio Gonzalez.  That’s because they value the potential of prospects more than the proven commodity of the major league player.  But the fact is this; you KNOW what you’re getting in Gonzalez but you have no idea how a low-A prospect will play out.  The Nats rolled the dice that AJ Cole isn’t going to turn into the next incarnation of Justin Verlander and that Brad Peacock‘s promise will peak as a middle reliever.  The only way to tell how this trade turns out is to track the progress of those players we gave up versus what Gonzalez does for this team over the next 3-4 years.

Thoughts?  Any trades out there that stick in your minds that you thought should be mentioned?