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Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 1/22/12 edition

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Gonzalez signs a long term deal; we're committed now. Photo Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images via nydailynews.com

This is your semi-weekly/periodic wrap-up of Nats and other baseball news that caught my eye.  Apologies for the delay in posting; new rules on laptop usage at work have thwarted my typical read-sports-news-at-lunch habits.  I’ll have to get creative.

Nationals In General

  • Nats extend Gio Gonzalez for 5 years.  Terms: 5yrs, $42M with two more club options.  A little more than $8m AAV, or in other words what we were paying Jason Marquis.  I’m sure its backloaded somewhat, but I like the deal for two main reasons.  First, we buy out all the arbitration years ahead of time and avoid the arbitration process altogether (which does nothing but serve to bruise the fragile egos of professional athletes over a few hundred thousand dollars of salary).  Secondly, it locks up the player for the longer term and gives the team some stability for the next few years.
  • Jim Callis at BaseballAmerica answered a question about what an updated Nats top 10 prospect list would look like post trade: he’d promote up Destin Hood, Chris Marrero, and Michael Taylor.  Considering what Marrero’s prospect status is now, considering how long it has taken Hood to get the hang of playing baseball, and how far away Taylor is from the majors, I think its safe to say our farm system is officially “thin.”
  • Nice little piece on Bryce Harper from Buster Olney, who relays the well known opinion that Davey Johnson really likes young superstars and predicts that Harper may break camp with the team.  Why doesn’t anyone relay all the facts in this case?  Like the fact that there wasn’t a concept of “Super-2″ when Johnson promoted Gooden and Strawberry and there wasn’t a punitive financial issue lurking by doing so.
  • Great news to see so many of our arbitration eligible guys settled well ahead of going in front of the arbitrator.  These cases don’t help anyone in the long run and end up arguing semantics over a few hundred thousand dollars that the team can clearly pay.
  • Though I havn’t seen any confirmation of this elsewhere, Bill Ladson reports that the Nats are engaged in extension talks with Ryan Zimmerman.  If so, this comes at a relatively good time for the team to be doing the negotiating; Zimmerman’s value is as low now as it has been since before his rookie season, on account of multiple injuries and a lack of overall production.   Which is exactly why I don’t think any long term deal is going to be struck this off-season frankly; Zimmerman would expect a Troy Tulowitzki like deal and I don’t think he’s done enough to earn it.


Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • The arbitration case to watch this coming off-season will be Tim Lincecum; he is asking for $21.5M for 2012, with the Giants offering $17M.  Wow.  There’s really no case like his out there to use as a precedent; if you think he should earn roughly 80% of his FA value, then $21.5M equates with an annual salary of $26.875/year AAV.  That’s more than Cliff Lee, CC Sabathia or Johan Santana (the three highest paid pitchers at current).  So I guess you have to ask yourself; is Lincecum the best pitcher in the league?  Because he’s about to be paid in line with that title.


Hall of Fame items

  • Not HoF specific, but inspired by it.  David Shoenfield compiles a list of the best players by running 5-year WAR figures to show some enlightening information.  WAR has some limitations over longer terms but I like what it shows for season-to-season value for players.  His point was that some relatively unsupported hall of fame claims appear on these lists.  For me the last couple periods showing guys like Chase Utley and Matt Holliday were kind of eye opening.


General Baseball News

  • Phillies sign Joel Pineiro to a minor league deal.   I know he struggled in LA last season, but at one point this guy was pretty decent.  If he can regain his health and his St. Louis form, suddenly the Phillies might have themselves a pretty good 5th starter option to take mediocre innings away from Joe Blanton.  I’m surprised they were able to get him on a minor league contract.
  • I’ve read bits and pieces about the fall of Puerto Rican baseball before; but this is the first article i’ve seen that really delves into it deeply.  Rob Neyer lists the cause and effect; baseball subjected Puerto Rican’s to the normal draft and almost immediately killed baseball in the country.  This is the lesson/concern about going to an international draft; individual teams won’t cultivate and build off-site academies if they serve to build players who can be drafted by other teams.  This is what happened in Puerto Rico and its probably what would happen in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and other developing countries.  Its a scary thought.
  • Related to the above Puerto Rican story is this: Cleveland pitcher Fausto Carmona arrested in the Dominican Republic for falsifying his name and age ahead of his big signing.  For all the lamenting of the above Puerto Rican situation … this is yet another example (see Gonzalez, Smiley for Nats fans) of the flip side of the lack of an international draft.  Draft experts and scouting mavens lament the loss of Puerto Rican development and think that the exact same thing would happen in the D.R. if they were included in the draft, and yes its hard to argue differently.  But the down side of having such a “lottery” for 15-16 yr old players in the impoverished D.R. is the continued fraud among players growing up there related to age falsification.
  • Sabre-nerds may decry the lack of statistical science behind it, but Tom Verducci‘s annual “Year After” effect (which has come to be known as the Verducci-effect by others) has had an 84% success factor in predicting either injury or distinct decline in performance for his named pitchers.  The most interesting names on the list are newly traded Michael Pineda, Jeremy Hellickson, and both Texas mid-rotation starters Matt Harrison and Derek Holland.  Holland in particular threw a whopping 77 more innings this year over last.

General News; other

  • Not that any of us needed to read any more about the Jerry Sandusky/Penn State Scandal, but reading Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins‘ front page story with Joe Paterno‘s first interview post-scandal was an interesting read.  Frankly, I don’t buy some of the way the story reads (intimating that Paterno had “little to do” with Sandusky by the time the 2002 allegations came around, for example).  It doesn’t seem like Paterno was really challenged in the interview.  Gene Wojciechowski echos some of these sentiments in this analysis piece here, criticizing Paterno’s convenient stance on the scandal and on the multitude of other stories that have come out about his manipulation of the system and real influence at the university. The real problem is just the nature of dealing with a legend; he worked for Penn State for 61 years and made the university what it is; how do you possibly deal with such a figure, who clearly was larger than the university?  Update: just prior to publishing this, Paterno lost his battle with lung cancer, a quick and unfortunate end to his legendary career.  Its amazing to consider that just 3 months ago, Paterno was still the larger than life legend and nothing bad had ever happened on the campus.
  • I’m sure the real story is somewhere in-between the original story and the “Update” at the end, but there seems to be enough truth in the former to not necessarily believe the latter.  A new Utah high school’s board decided that the student-voted mascot name “Cougars” can’t be used because the name is derogatory towards middle-aged women who hook up with younger men.  Seriously.


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

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All other news items are meaningless until we know if Wilson Ramos is safe. Photo Al Bello/Getty Images via federalbaseball.com

Here’s a weekly wrap up of Nats-related news items, along with other general interest baseball articles, with my thoughts as appropriate.  (Note: these news items are more or less chronological, with me going back and adding in clarifying links as needed.  Hence the Ramos news is towards the bottom, having happened late in the Saturday-to-Friday blog post news cycle i’m using, despite clearly being the most important item to the team right now…)

  • MLB’s Bill Ladson reports that the Nats have interest in Roy Oswalt, late of the Phillies.  I don’t think its a serious interest frankly; yes Oswalt would be nice to have and would be a better member of the rotation than either Detwiler or Milone (your probable #5 starters right now), but I suspect that this is just Mike Rizzo claiming interest in every good FA.  I’m sure if you asked Rizzo if he was interested in Pujols he’d say, “yes!”  But its not worthy of an 800 word article.
  • Nice start in the AFL from Sammy Solis on Friday 11/5/11: 9 K’s in 4 scoreless innings.  He gave up 3 hits and 3 walks though, so not an entirely clean outing, but that many strikeouts against an AFL hitting all-star lineup is good.  Also on the night, Matthew Purke had a 1-2-3 inning, progress considering what he’s done earlier in the AFL.  Solis’ next start wasn’t as clean, 3 runs in 3 innings for the loss.  We’ve all been cautioned not to read too much into any stat line coming out of the AFL; its the end of a long season, the pitchers are tired, the hitters are tired, its a hitters league in hitters ballparks, etc.  So perhaps I’ll stop trying to analyze performances in Arizona.  I’d like to see some progress, some decent scouting reports about Purke specifically, but Solis, who just finished a full season, probably isn’t a concern.  Especially if, by previous accounts, he’s working on a new curve ball.
  • For anyone who cares about our neighbor franchise in Baltimore, their GM search did not go very well.  The lost out on their (presumed) top choice Jerry Dipoto to the Angels, then had their #2 choice Tony LaCava turn down the job.  Why?  According to Danny Knobler, owner Peter Angelos refused to clear out his cronies in the front office, so LaCava declined the job.  Now we hear that the #3 candidate DeJon Watson has pulled out, seemingly because (according to allegations in this post) he was only being interviewed to satisfy minority-consideration requirements out of the front office.  Wait, it gets better; Boston assistant Allen Baird declined to even interview for the job.  Finally on 11/6, former Montreal and Boston GM Dan Duquette signed on for the job.  Still, what a joke; at what point does Angelos look in the mirror, and look at the 15 years of destruction he’s done to what was once the best team and best franchise in the sport, and admit to himself he needs to change his ways?  I don’t have a reference necessarily, but recall an article discussing this decline of the once proud Orioles as a classic case of successful business executive in one field (in Angelos’ case, law) obtaining a sports franchise and then immediately assuming (because of ego) that because he was successful in business, he will be successful in sports ownership.  You see this clearly with Dan Snyder‘s tenure of the similarly once-proud Redskins.  How do the Orioles get out of this mess?  Unfortunately, it may take the untimely death of Angelos to get some movement towards reality in the ownership group.
  • Is it just me, or is the Oakland franchise heading for some dark days?  Per Ken Rosenthal, they’re taking offers on nearly any player on the team, their entire OF and DH are free agents and not likely to be pursued, and they may look to actually pare salary from last year’s 21st ranked salary team.  The A’s have a slew of younger arms that all put up good numbers (albeit in a pitcher’s ballpark), and could be entertaining phone calls on some of their arbitration-eligible starters.  Perhaps the Nats, who have a history of trading with Billy Beane, could flip some prospects for someone like Trevor Cahill or Gio Gonzalez, both entering the first year of arbitration and sure be in the $3M range (Rosenthal’s article says Cahill is signed long-term, but its not in Cots).  Or, they could pursue a non-guaranteed deal with Dallas Braden, who clearly will be non-tendered coming off major shoulder surgery but who could be the next Wang-like reclamation project.  Lastly, Brandon McCarthy is a free agent,  and pitched pretty well in 2011 when he wasn’t hurt.  He could be another injury-reclamation, low-cost acquisition.
  • Frank McCourt, as we all know by now, is selling the Los Angeles Dodgers.  About time.  But did you also know he’s selling the Los Angeles Marathon?  Question: how do you “own” a marathon?
  • Silver Sluggers announced on 11/2/11:  No Nats mentioned, hardly a surprise.  Michael Morse was never going to beat out the NL outfield trio of Kemp, Braun, and Upton, who may finish nearly 1-2-3 in MVP voting.  No room in the NL outfield for Lance Berkman either.
  • Thanks to Nats blogs District on Deck and NationalsProspects for pointing out BA’s published list of all 500-something Minor League Free Agents.  There’s several very familiar names on the list (Garrett Mock, JD Martin, and Shairon Martis to start) and it could be interesting to see if these guys try their luck elsewhere.  I’ll probably put together a re-cap of these FAs along with my commentary culled from my minor league review articles later on.
  • My former teammate and GM/coordinator of the collegiate wood bat franchise Antonio Scott just got enough backing to enter his team into the Cal Ripken league for next season.  His team, which generally tries to recruit from historically black colleges and also spends a great amount of time reaching back into the DC youth baseball community, will partner with Gallaudet University and play at their new facility.  Great news for Antonio and for youth baseball in the District.
  • Per Byron Kerr, Baseball America released top 10 prospects for NL East teams on 11/6.  Here’s the BA link directly for the Nationals.  The rankings show just how good BA thinks our 2011 draft was, and more or less mirrors the Fangraphs.com ranking that came out earlier this off-season.  Here’s 2010’s rankings for comparison.  There is some complaining in the Natmosphere about the over-ranking of our 2011 draft crop, but (as I pointed in in comments on other blogs) there’s little argument in ranking Rendon, Purke, Godwin and Meyer over the guys most likely ranked 11-15th in our system (guys like Hood, Kobernus, Marrero or Smoker).
  • The next great hope from Cuba: Yoenis Cespedes. Wants $30M contract, projects as a center fielder (albeit with a poor arm) and a #5 power hitter. Of course, the Nats have their name listed as “interested.”  One wonders if the Yuniesky Maya experiment will color their opinions of the next great Cuban question mark.
  • I found a random blog related to Cuban baseball; here’s their reaction to Cespedes’ FA announcement.  All I can say is, wow.  Can’t say I’ve ever seen a blog post calling someone the “N-word” for pursuing a free agent contract.
  • Awful news coming out late Wednesday: Wilson Ramos kidnapped in Venezuela.  This is, as noted in Adam Kilgore‘s article, a growing trend in certain South American countries.  Lets hope its done for a quick buck and Ramos is returned unharmed.  The call to return home in the off-season is large for latin american players; I wonder how much incidents like this (along with other well publicized incidents of late involving family members of other prominent baseball players, as well as numerous accounts from pro Soccer players and their families) will force teams to “strongly advise” against their players returning to latin america in the off season.  Ryan Tatusko, Nats farm-hand and fellow Venezuela Winter League participant, blogged about his thoughts of the safety issues in the country.
  • Rob Neyer scanned and published (with Bill James’ consent) the first set of Baseball Analyst articles edited and written by James back in the early 80s.  You can save-as all the PDFs and cover art JPGs.
  • Great, great Nationals Prospect chat by Aaron Fitt at Baseball America, in the wake of their top 10 for the system.  Lots of interesting nuggets of opinion from Fitt.  Unfortunately Baseball America is subscription only but its worth the $30/year for content like this (as is ESPN insider).
  • Why are the Phillies getting ready to give Ryan Madson $40M+??    And why would the Nationals POSSIBLY be involved in the bidding for a $10M/year right-handed reliever when we already have that, in spades, at a fraction of the cost??!  That would be a colossal waste of money.  Closers are a colossal waste of money in general (google Joe Posnanski and the history of the save for his excellent article on how team’s save percentages are virtually identical through the  years despite the rise of highly paid closers.
  • My 2 cents on the entire Sandusky/Paterno/PSU mess: I couldn’t have said it better than Tom Boswell said it on the front page of the WP on 11/10. Paterno may not have done anything “illegal,” but he certainly did not use his best judgement throughout the years, allowing Sandusky to continue to be in the good graces of the program.  And that is why Paterno doesn’t have a job any more (as opposed to being charged with a perjury felony like the administrators who lied to the Grand Jury).  Just a sad event all around, for the victims, for Paterno (who found himself in an impossible situation) and for the Penn State students and alumni who are not exactly distinguishing themselves for not seeing what poor judgement was used by their icon throughout the years.